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From the Kids Under the Stairs series , Vol. 2

Accomplished, lively, and heartfelt.

An emotionally charged, dynamic novel in verse.

Holt’s follow-up to 2020’s Benbee and the Teacher Griefer follows another character from the ensemble cast. This entry focusing on Ben Y, who prefers Ben to the full name Benita and is exploring gender identity, is accessible without exposure to the prior volume; although it picks up without much explanation of past relationships, the strong narrative style does all the heavy lifting. Reeling from the death of a sibling and the subsequent social fallout of “dead-brother-itis,” Ben Y retreats deeper into friendships, game worlds, and the escape provided by the Newspaper Typing Club led by the trusted Ms. J. Over the summer, in this safe space for divergent learners, close bonds formed between Ben Y, Ben B, Jordan, and Javier. At school, Ben Y wavers between feeling unseen and being picked on and takes bold steps to carve out personal space, including an interest in newcomer Ace. Ben Y also faces challenges as the bullish principal imposes limits on their school paper and becomes invested in punishing dress-code violations. This focused character study delivers layered attention to grief and self-exploration. Multiple formats, including chat messages in the Minecraft-like Sandbox, combined with extraordinary pacing make this a win for reluctant readers, while the humor and emotional reach will draw in anyone interested in middle-grade emotional realism. With minimal physical descriptions, names cue ethnic diversity.

Accomplished, lively, and heartfelt. (Verse novel. 8-13)

Pub Date: Sept. 28, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-4521-8321-3

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Chronicle Books

Review Posted Online: July 26, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2021

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Good Guys and Bad get just deserts in the end, and Stanley gets plenty of opportunities to display pluck and valor in this...

Sentenced to a brutal juvenile detention camp for a crime he didn't commit, a wimpy teenager turns four generations of bad family luck around in this sunburnt tale of courage, obsession, and buried treasure from Sachar (Wayside School Gets a Little Stranger, 1995, etc.).

Driven mad by the murder of her black beau, a schoolteacher turns on the once-friendly, verdant town of Green Lake, Texas, becomes feared bandit Kissin' Kate Barlow, and dies, laughing, without revealing where she buried her stash. A century of rainless years later, lake and town are memories—but, with the involuntary help of gangs of juvenile offenders, the last descendant of the last residents is still digging. Enter Stanley Yelnats IV, great-grandson of one of Kissin' Kate's victims and the latest to fall to the family curse of being in the wrong place at the wrong time; under the direction of The Warden, a woman with rattlesnake venom polish on her long nails, Stanley and each of his fellow inmates dig a hole a day in the rock-hard lake bed. Weeks of punishing labor later, Stanley digs up a clue, but is canny enough to conceal the information of which hole it came from. Through flashbacks, Sachar weaves a complex net of hidden relationships and well-timed revelations as he puts his slightly larger-than-life characters under a sun so punishing that readers will be reaching for water bottles.

Good Guys and Bad get just deserts in the end, and Stanley gets plenty of opportunities to display pluck and valor in this rugged, engrossing adventure. (Fiction. 9-13)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 978-0-374-33265-5

Page Count: 233

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2000

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From the School for Good and Evil series , Vol. 1

Rich and strange (and kitted out with an eye-catching cover), but stronger in the set pieces than the internal logic.

Chainani works an elaborate sea change akin to Gregory Maguire’s Wicked (1995), though he leaves the waters muddied.

Every four years, two children, one regarded as particularly nice and the other particularly nasty, are snatched from the village of Gavaldon by the shadowy School Master to attend the divided titular school. Those who survive to graduate become major or minor characters in fairy tales. When it happens to sweet, Disney princess–like Sophie and  her friend Agatha, plain of features, sour of disposition and low of self-esteem, they are both horrified to discover that they’ve been dropped not where they expect but at Evil and at Good respectively. Gradually—too gradually, as the author strings out hundreds of pages of Hogwarts-style pranks, classroom mishaps and competitions both academic and romantic—it becomes clear that the placement wasn’t a mistake at all. Growing into their true natures amid revelations and marked physical changes, the two spark escalating rivalry between the wings of the school. This leads up to a vicious climactic fight that sees Good and Evil repeatedly switching sides. At this point, readers are likely to feel suddenly left behind, as, thanks to summary deus ex machina resolutions, everything turns out swell(ish).

Rich and strange (and kitted out with an eye-catching cover), but stronger in the set pieces than the internal logic. (Fantasy. 11-13)

Pub Date: May 14, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-06-210489-2

Page Count: 496

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Feb. 12, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2013

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