Easy to read and strong on sibling devotion, with frustratingly mixed messages about personal responsibility.

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HOUSE ARREST

A boy works desperately to keep his sick little brother safe.

Twelve-year-old Timothy has a probation officer, a court-appointed psychologist, and a yearlong sentence of house arrest. He also has a 9-month-old brother who breathes through a trach tube that frequently clogs. Heavy oxygen tanks and a suction machine as loud as a jackhammer are their everyday equipment. Timothy’s crime: charging $1,445 on a stolen credit card for a month of baby Levi’s medicine, which his mother can’t afford, especially since his father left. The text shows illness, poverty, and hunger to be awful but barely acknowledges the role of, for example, weak health insurance, odd considering the nature of Timothy’s crime. The family has nursing help but not 24/7; the real house arrest in Timothy’s life isn’t a legal pronouncement, it’s the need to keep Levi breathing. Sometimes Timothy’s the only person home to do so. His court sentence requires keeping a journal; the premise that Holt’s straightforward free-verse poems are Timothy’s writing works well enough, though sometimes the verses read like immediate thoughts rather than post-event reflection. A sudden crisis at the climax forces Timothy into criminal action to save Levi’s life, but literally saving his brother from death doesn’t erase the whiff of textual indictment for lawbreaking. Even Mom equivocates, which readers may find grievously unjust.

Easy to read and strong on sibling devotion, with frustratingly mixed messages about personal responsibility. (Verse fiction. 9-13)

Pub Date: Oct. 6, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-4521-3477-2

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Chronicle

Review Posted Online: July 15, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2015

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Readers who don’t need endings tied up with tight little bows will find much to think about here.

INFINITE SKY

Tragedy emerges from the commonplace miseries of everyday life in this evocative mood piece.

Thirteen-year-old Iris lives with her dad and older brother, Sam, in rural England. Until recently, Iris and Sam had a mum as well, but she’s taken off to Tunisia on a mission to find herself. Now Sam’s associating with ruffians, Dad’s taken to drinking, and Iris is avoiding her best friend, unable to bear the smug pity. When a few caravans of Irish “travelers” squat illegally in Dad’s paddock, Iris sees the possibility of something fresh and untainted in her life. But Dad and Sam loathe the travelers, calling them “Gypsies,” “parasites” and worse. Iris strikes up a friendship—and maybe more?—with 14-year-old Trick, but her father becomes increasingly erratic as he sees his control over his family slipping away. Her Dad repeatedly threatens eviction, and Iris must decide whom to believe in the face of petty crime. A senseless act of violence leads to heavily foreshadowed tragedy. This brief, gloomy debut concludes tidily though with an unclear trajectory: After a summer’s adventure, everyone’s right where they started yet nothing’s the same, mirroring the intransigence of hate.

Readers who don’t need endings tied up with tight little bows will find much to think about here. (Fiction. 10-13)

Pub Date: May 27, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4814-0658-1

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Atheneum

Review Posted Online: March 12, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2014

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Emily’s motives turn out to be little more than a pretext, but the author delivers another clever, suspenseful drama in the...

DEADLY PINK

Vande Velde again traps teenagers inside an authentically depicted arcade game—but here she works twists into the premise that are both amusing and crank up the danger.

As in User Unfriendly (1991) and Heir Apparent (2002), the game, called “The Land of Golden Butterflies,” is manufactured by the shadowy Rasmussem Corp. and is fully immersive, fed directly into the brain through electrodes. Into this game 14-year-old Grace Pizzelli’s big sister Emily has gone; moreover, she has refused to come out and altered the code so she can’t be forcibly ejected. As sessions that run longer than a few hours cause brain damage and death, the corporation desperately turns to Grace to follow Emily in and persuade her to leave. Reluctantly agreeing, Grace discovers to her disgust that, rather than offering the usual heroic-fantasy or science-fiction setting, this digital world has been colored in pinks and lavenders. It is stocked with (supposedly) benign magical creatures and hunky male servitors—in general, it seems designed to cater to 10-year-old would-be princesses. The idyll has gone sour, though, because thanks to Emily’s fiddling, not only have the wish-granting sprites turned nasty, but the game’s governing Artificial Intelligence has changed the Rules—disabling the “Quit” function and forcing both Grace and her already-failing sister to embark on a seemingly hopeless quest with their real lives at stake.

Emily’s motives turn out to be little more than a pretext, but the author delivers another clever, suspenseful drama in the digital domain. (Science fiction. 10-12)

Pub Date: July 10, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-547-73850-5

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Harcourt

Review Posted Online: April 12, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2012

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