High marks for ambition, middling for delivery.


The lives of a wolf, a witch, and an orphan are intertwined in this fantasy.

This story inspired by Russian fairy tales is told in alternating chapters by three characters: the witch Baba Yaga, a young female wolf named Zima, and an orphan girl named Nadya. Nadya, wandering in the forest near the orphanage, is determined to escape her life of drudgery, but she is torn between her need for freedom and her longing for a home. Meanwhile, Zima the wolf is also struggling with feelings of restlessness and insecurity. Her older sibling has told the pack to kill humans, but when Zima comes upon Nadya in the forest, she doesn’t kill her; and worse, Zima brings a younger wolf sibling, injured by a human, to the feared and hated witch, Baba Yaga, to be healed. Baba Yaga agrees on the condition that Zima switch bodies, through a spell, with her. Thus begins the enmeshing of the three main characters’ destinies. The plot’s many interesting twists are, however, undercut by a less-than-clear delivery. Italics rather than quotation marks are used to denote when animals are speaking (why?), which makes things confusing when Zima and Baba Yaga switch bodies and thus modes of speech; moreover, clunky contrivances jar the finer originality of the whole. The theme of the value of family and friends seems too thin and ordinary for such a complicated plot—something more revelatory is expected. The black-and-white illustrations, however, have a stark, effective beauty.

High marks for ambition, middling for delivery. (Fantasy. 9-13)

Pub Date: Dec. 1, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-593-12165-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: June 2, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2020

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


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

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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Entrancing and uplifting.


A small dog, the elderly woman who owns him, and a homeless girl come together to create a tale of serendipity.

Piper, almost 12, her parents, and her younger brother are at the bottom of a long slide toward homelessness. Finally in a family shelter, Piper finds that her newfound safety gives her the opportunity to reach out to someone who needs help even more. Jewel, mentally ill, lives in the park with her dog, Baby. Unwilling to leave her pet, and forbidden to enter the shelter with him, she struggles with the winter weather. Ree, also homeless and with a large dog, helps when she can, but after Jewel gets sick and is hospitalized, Baby’s taken to the animal shelter, and Ree can’t manage the complex issues alone. It’s Piper, using her best investigative skills, who figures out Jewel’s backstory. Still, she needs all the help of the shelter Firefly Girls troop that she joins to achieve her accomplishment: to raise enough money to provide Jewel and Baby with a secure, hopeful future and, maybe, with their kindness, to inspire a happier story for Ree. Told in the authentic alternating voices of loving child and loyal dog, this tale could easily slump into a syrupy melodrama, but Pyron lets her well-drawn characters earn their believable happy ending, step by challenging step, by reaching out and working together. Piper, her family, and Jewel present white; Pyron uses hair and naming convention, respectively, to cue Ree as black and Piper’s friend Gabriela as Latinx.

Entrancing and uplifting. (Fiction. 9-12)

Pub Date: Aug. 13, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-06-283922-0

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Katherine Tegen/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: April 9, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2019

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