A stirring Southern middle-grade book that burns brighter than fireworks on the Fourth.

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JUST SOUTH OF HOME

Twelve-year-old aspiring astrobiologist Sarah Greene digs into a dark history to help heal her family, both those present and from the past.

Sarah’s thieving cousin, 11-year-old Janie, a “citified” Chicago native, stays with her family in their small, country town of Warrenville, Georgia, for the summer and continuously uses her “five-finger discount” whenever she wants. When Janie disturbs the town’s haints, restless spirits with unresolved business on this spiritual plane, by taking a necklace from the haunted ruins of a black church burned down by the Klan, Sarah must lead her cousin, little brother, Ellis, and their friend Jasper into the woods during the dangerous Witching Hour in order to communicate with and save the souls trapped there. Strong’s prose pours from her pen like iced sweet tea on an August afternoon—it’s refreshing, steeped in tradition, and mixed with love. Many characters are familiar Southern staples in black communities. Devoted deaconess Mrs. Greene, the children’s paternal grandmother, whom they always address formally, with her loose, wavy hair and light skin, leans deep into colorism; her nemesis, Mrs. Whitney, the town conjuring woman, is dark-skinned and always adorned in all white, and she memorializes the victims of lynchings in their county. No punches are pulled when these personalities collide in this sometimes-spooky ode to how an unacknowledged past can come back to haunt us.

A stirring Southern middle-grade book that burns brighter than fireworks on the Fourth. (Supernatural adventure. 8-12)

Pub Date: May 7, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-5344-1938-4

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Feb. 13, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2019

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Classic action-packed, monster-fighting fun

THE LAST KIDS ON EARTH

From the Last Kids on Earth series , Vol. 1

It’s been 42 days since the Monster Apocalypse began, and 13-year-old Jack Sullivan, a self-proclaimed “zombie-fighting, monster-slaying tornado of cool” is on a quest to find and rescue his not-so-secret crush, June Del Toro, whether she needs it, wants it, or not.

Jack cobbles together an unlikely but endearing crew, including his scientist best friend, Quint Baker; Dirk Savage, Parker Middle School’s biggest bully; and a pet monster named Rover, to help him save the damsel in distress and complete the “ULTIMATE Feat of Apocalyptic Success.” Middle-grade readers, particularly boys, will find Jack’s pitch-perfect mix of humor, bravado, and self-professed geekiness impossible to resist. His sidekicks are equally entertaining, and it doesn’t hurt that there are also plenty of oozing, drooling, sharp-toothed monsters and zombies and a host of gizmos and gadgets to hook readers and keep them cheering with every turn of the page. Holgate’s illustrations play an integral role in the novel’s success. They not only bring Brallier’s characters to life, but also add depth and detail to the story, making plain just exactly how big Rover is and giving the lie to Jack’s “killer driving.” The marriage of text and illustration serves as a perfect example of what an illustrated novel can and should be.

Classic action-packed, monster-fighting fun (. (Graphic/horror hybrid. 8-12)

Pub Date: Oct. 13, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-670-01661-7

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: July 22, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2015

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A lighthearted mystery starring seriously smart kids.

THE AMBROSE DECEPTION

A mysterious scholarship contest launches this middle-grade mystery.

The action begins when three Chicago middle schoolers—Bondi Johnson, a black boy; Wilf Samson, a white boy; and Melissa Burris, a white girl—are selected to compete in the Kaplin/Baron scholarship contest. No one at the three students’ schools has heard of this scholarship, and even stranger, none of these students is known for exemplary academics. In fact, they are better known for scheming, daydreaming, and schmoozing. The scholarship rules appear straightforward: untangle the clues, provide a photo of each, and win $10,000. With these guidelines, a provided cellphone, a personal driver, and a no-strings-attached debit card, each student is ready to tackle the task. Bondi attacks his clues with diligence; Melissa, though suspicious, enjoys the chase; Wilf would rather cross items off his bucket list than solve the riddles. When the hunt for clues draws to an end, Bondi, Melissa, and Wilf discover there is another mystery surrounding this scholarship and the money, leading them to band together to unravel the remaining clues and unearth the truth before the $10,000 slips out of their hands. In the tradition of The Westing Game or Chasing Vermeer, this is a plot-driven brainteaser centered on Chicago landmarks and Chicago history. The twists and turns are well-paced and believable, and transcripts of texts, emails, and letters within the chapters add dimension to the strong cast of secondary characters.

A lighthearted mystery starring seriously smart kids. (Mystery. 8-12)

Pub Date: Feb. 13, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-4847-8838-7

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Disney-Hyperion

Review Posted Online: Nov. 13, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2017

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