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COURAGE FOR BEGINNERS

With gallows humor and believable small victories, this unusual novel is a window into making friends and facing fears.

Harrington (Sure Signs of Crazy, 2013) offers another perceptive story of a resilient preteen coping with a parent’s mental illness.

Mysti Murphy has a knack for storytelling. It gives her what her family can’t: adventures beyond her front door. Her mother has severe agoraphobia, which means her father shoulders the responsibilities of work, shopping and transportation, and things like home repairs or dental work are postponed. Fortunately, Mysti’s only friend, Anibal, doesn’t mind her situation. However, as her father often says, change comes for everyone. Hoping to date a popular cheerleader, Anibal becomes a hipster—and a bully in the process. Then, Mr. Murphy falls out of a tree, injuring his brain and plunging Mysti and her family into quiet, suspenseful panic. As emergency groceries run low, Mysti scrambles to hide their situation from her teachers and her quirky new friend, Rama Khan. Inspired by the Battle of the Alamo, she becomes determined to stand up not only to Anibal, but to the unpredictable world outside. Mysti’s curatorial narration—as if she were describing paintings or book characters—works on multiple levels, showing off her snark and emphasizing her mother’s sheltered influence. Her mother is flawed but sympathetic; she knows her fears are disproportionate, but their debilitating effect is real.

With gallows humor and believable small victories, this unusual novel is a window into making friends and facing fears. (Fiction. 9-13)

Pub Date: Aug. 12, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-316-21048-5

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: May 27, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2014

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HOLES

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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THE SCHOOL FOR GOOD AND EVIL

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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