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IT ALL COMES DOWN TO THIS

A slice of African-American life seldom explored in stories for young people and a must for readers of middle-grade fiction.

Awards & Accolades

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT


  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2017


  • Kirkus Prize
  • Kirkus Prize
    finalist

Twelve-year-old Sophie is the younger of two sisters in an upper-middle-class African-American family in 1965 Los Angeles.

Her older sister, Lily, is about to leave for college, and Sophie worries about her life without her. It is obvious that her parents’ marriage is having problems, and she can no longer count on Jennifer, the one white girl who had been her friend. Despite some misgivings, Sophie decides to try out for a play at the community center, which will bring her in close contact with the prejudiced girls in the neighborhood. In addition, the new housekeeper, Mrs. Baylor, seems to have it in for her. When Mrs. Baylor’s son begins doing odd jobs around the house, sparks fly between him and Lily—but despite Nathan’s success at college, Sophie’s mother deems him unsuitable for Lily due to his class and dark complexion. Nathan’s arrest during the Watts riots brings things to a head. This is a wonderfully written novel, one that manages to address complex subjects such as racism and colorism without sinking beneath them. Both the differences and similarities between the worlds of Sophie’s family and Nathan’s are handled with nuance. Most of all, this is an impressive coming-of-age story whose fully realized protagonist is surrounded by a rich supporting cast. Cultural details artfully evoke the tenor and tone of the times.

A slice of African-American life seldom explored in stories for young people and a must for readers of middle-grade fiction. (Historical fiction. 10-12)

Pub Date: July 11, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-544-83957-1

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Clarion Books

Review Posted Online: April 16, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2017

MILLIONAIRES FOR THE MONTH

Cinematic, over-the-top decadence, a tense race against time, and lessons on what’s truly valuable.

A reward of $5,000,000 almost ruins everything for two seventh graders.

On a class trip to New York City, Felix and Benji find a wallet belonging to social media billionaire Laura Friendly. Benji, a well-off, chaotic kid with learning disabilities, swipes $20 from the wallet before they send it back to its owner. Felix, a poor, shy, rule-follower, reluctantly consents. So when Laura Friendly herself arrives to give them a reward for the returned wallet, she’s annoyed. To teach her larcenous helpers a lesson, Laura offers them a deal: a $20,000 college scholarship or slightly over $5 million cash—but with strings attached. The boys must spend all the money in 30 days, with legal stipulations preventing them from giving anything away, investing, or telling anyone about it. The glorious windfall quickly grows to become a chore and then a torment as the boys appear increasingly selfish and irresponsible to the adults in their lives. They rent luxury cars, hire a (wonderful) philosophy undergrad as a chauffeur, take their families to Disney World, and spend thousands on in-app game purchases. Yet, surrounded by hedonistically described piles of loot and filthy lucre, the boys long for simpler fundamentals. The absorbing spending spree reads like a fun family film, gleefully stuffed with the very opulence it warns against. Major characters are White.

Cinematic, over-the-top decadence, a tense race against time, and lessons on what’s truly valuable. (mathematical explanations) (Fiction. 10-12)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-593-17525-5

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: June 29, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2020

MY LIFE AS A POTATO

On equal footing with a garden-variety potato.

The new kid in school endures becoming the school mascot.

Ben Hardy has never cared for potatoes, and this distaste has become a barrier to adjusting to life in his new Idaho town. His school’s mascot is the Spud, and after a series of misfortunes, Ben is enlisted to don the potato costume and cheer on his school’s team. Ben balances his duties as a life-sized potato against his desperate desire to hide the fact that he’s the dork in the suit. After all, his cute new crush, Jayla, wouldn’t be too impressed to discover Ben’s secret. The ensuing novel is a fairly boilerplate middle–grade narrative: snarky tween protagonist, the crush that isn’t quite what she seems, and a pair of best friends that have more going on than our hero initially believes. The author keeps the novel moving quickly, pushing forward with witty asides and narrative momentum so fast that readers won’t really mind that the plot’s spine is one they’ve encountered many times before. Once finished, readers will feel little resonance and move on to the next book in their to-read piles, but in the moment the novel is pleasant enough. Ben, Jayla, and Ben’s friend Hunter are white while Ellie, Ben’s other good pal, is Latina.

On equal footing with a garden-variety potato. (Fiction. 10-12)

Pub Date: March 24, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-593-11866-5

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Nov. 23, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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