A moving story about the struggles of an Iranian migrant.

A YOUNG PALADIN OF ZABUL

A young boy with a heroic name faces an uncertain future in this myth-inspired novel.

As Lillehei’s book begins, an 11-year-old named Sam is traveling across barren terrain in Iran with a driver and two other boys, 15-year-old twins Amir and Amin, with an aim to cross the border into Turkey. Although Sam is very young, he senses that this trip is different from any other he’s taken; he’s leaving behind his mother and sisters, and his father clearly expects never to see him again. Against this humble, even desperate backdrop, Lillehei establishes a steadily stalwart folktalelike tone: “Warriors appear in many sizes, shapes and guises. Sometimes they’re only eleven years old, slight of frame, but with the heart of a lion and the strength of a tiger.” Sam’s father is a devout Muslim and a proud Persian, and he’d steeped Sam in heroic stories from Persian legend, to which the story often alludes; Sam is even named after a legendary king. The plot follows Sam and his fellow travelers on their sometimes-arduous journey through hostile country, and over perilous border crossings, in their attempt to reach the West. Throughout, Lillehei tells the tale in a straightforward manner, and this simplicity meshes well with its focus on Sam’s youthful perceptions during his voyage, including extracts from the youngster’s notebooks. Occasionally, however, the author spoils the tone with ungainly moments of exposition: “Turkey relied on agricultural products from Iran. Therefore, the trade continued but was hidden from the western countries whose desire to isolate Iran was unrelenting.” That said, this remains an ultimately uplifting tale of indomitable heroism.

A moving story about the struggles of an Iranian migrant.

Pub Date: N/A

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 307

Publisher: Manuscript

Review Posted Online: Feb. 16, 2022

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NIGHTBIRD

There’s a monster in Sidwell, Massachusetts, that can only be seen at night or, as Twig reveals, if passersby are near her house.

It’s her older brother, James, born with wings just like every male in the Fowler line for the last 200 years. They were cursed by the Witch of Sidwell, left brokenhearted by their forebear Lowell Fowler. Twig and James are tired of the secret and self-imposed isolation. Lonely Twig narrates, bringing the small town and its characters to life, intertwining events present and past, and describing the effects of the spell on her fractured family’s daily life. Longing for some normalcy and companionship, she befriends new-neighbor Julia while James falls in love with Julia’s sister, Agate—only to learn they are descendants of the Witch. James and Agate seem as star-crossed as their ancestors, especially when the townspeople attribute a spate of petty thefts and graffiti protesting the development of the woods to the monster and launch a hunt. The mix of romance and magic is irresistible and the tension, compelling. With the help of friends and through a series of self-realizations and discoveries, Twig grows more self-assured. She is certain she knows how to change the curse. In so doing, Twig not only changes James’ fate, but her own, for the first time feeling the fullness of family, friends and hope for the future.

Enchanting. (Magical realism. 9-12)

Pub Date: March 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-385-38958-7

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Wendy Lamb/Random

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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A solid third installment.

THE WITCH'S APPRENTICE

From the Dragons in a Bag series , Vol. 3

Jaxon and company return in this follow-up to The Dragon Thief (2019).

Jax is frustrated with Ma, the witch he’s apprenticed to. Instead of teaching him about magic, she’s teaching him about plants. Then, mysterious ash starts falling from the sky and the adults of New York City start falling asleep all over the place, just as Ma, Jax, and Ma’s coven leave Brooklyn for the annual convention in Chicago. Jax’s first-person narration chronicles his frustrations with Ma, which go beyond her unwillingness to teach him magic to a deeper theme: adults who don’t communicate thoroughly with children and don’t allow children agency. When a face from the past shows up and challenges his assumptions, Jax begins questioning much of what he’s been told—and believes. In the end, Jax must decide whether using his voice or following orders is more important, but the consequences may be steeper than he bargained for. While the themes are compelling, the plot unfortunately relies on the device of miscommunication to propel it. Apart from this, fans will be happy to return to Jax’s story (and encounter a new magical creature). The cliffhanger ending points to a future series entry. Most characters are Black; some names cue South Asian heritage.

A solid third installment. (Fantasy. 8-12)

Pub Date: Jan. 18, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-593-42770-5

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Oct. 26, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2021

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