A tale that’s half engaging but never effectively plumbs its full potential.

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A POSSIBILITY OF WHALES

Rivers introduces two middle schoolers who could help each other: Natalia, the motherless, paparazzi-plagued daughter of a loving, famous actor, and Harry, a transgender classmate who’s embracing his male identity in spite of his intolerant father’s rejection of his true self.

Natalia, new to Harry’s small, Canadian community, and her earnest, ebullient father, Xan Gallagher, share an understanding of the boy’s needs, but her classmates are more inclined toward ridicule. Unfortunately for Natalia, in an effort to find accepting male friends, Harry often pushes back against her yearning for a BFF. She needs one badly. Adolescence is sneaking up on her; it’s not a change she welcomes, and she feels it’s especially hard to navigate this complicated passage without the mother who apparently rejected her at birth. A scene in which she tries to select products for her first—unexpected—period in a supermarket is especially touching. Harry’s situation is ultimately helped by Xan’s intervention with Harry’s mildly star-struck parents. The tale is told in alternating third-person voices, but Natalia’s is far better captured than Harry’s; his complex needs and emotions are never fully explored the way Natalia’s are. In fact, Harry’s predictable history of transphobic assault, forced use of the girls’ bathroom, humiliation in front of his classmates, and constant deadnaming make him a collection of the pitiable tropes that are familiar to cis audiences but likely discouraging and alienating to trans readers. Harry, Natalia, and Xan all present as white.

A tale that’s half engaging but never effectively plumbs its full potential. (Fiction. 11-14)

Pub Date: March 13, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-61620-723-6

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Algonquin

Review Posted Online: Dec. 3, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2018

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Not for the faint of heart or stomach (or maybe of any parts) but sure to be appreciated by middle school zombie cognoscenti.

ZOMBIE BASEBALL BEATDOWN

Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle meets Left for Dead/The Walking Dead/Shaun of the Dead in a high-energy, high-humor look at the zombie apocalypse, complete with baseball (rather than cricket) bats.

The wholesome-seeming Iowa cornfields are a perfect setting for the emergence of ghastly anomalies: flesh-eating cows and baseball-coach zombies. The narrator hero, Rabi (for Rabindranath), and his youth baseball teammates and friends, Miguel and Joe, discover by chance that all is not well with their small town’s principal industry: the Milrow corporation’s giant feedlot and meat-production and -packing facility. The ponds of cow poo and crammed quarters for the animals are described in gaggingly smelly detail, and the bone-breaking, bloody, flesh-smashing encounters with the zombies have a high gross-out factor. The zombie cows and zombie humans who emerge from the muck are apparently a product of the food supply gone cuckoo in service of big-money profits with little concern for the end result. It’s up to Rabi and his pals to try to prove what’s going on—and to survive the corporation’s efforts to silence them. Much as Bacigalupi’s Ship Breaker (2010) was a clarion call to action against climate change, here’s a signal alert to young teens to think about what they eat, while the considerable appeal of the characters and plot defies any preachiness.

Not for the faint of heart or stomach (or maybe of any parts) but sure to be appreciated by middle school zombie cognoscenti. (Fiction. 11-14)

Pub Date: Sept. 10, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-316-22078-1

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: June 26, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2013

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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.

THE SCHOOL FOR GOOD AND EVIL

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. 13, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2013

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