A solid middle-grade fantasy and an auspicious debut.

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THE GAUNTLET

A young hijabi finds herself, her brother, and her friends trapped in a very dangerous game.

Upper East Side Bangladeshi-American Farah’s having a hard time clicking with her old friends from Queens when they come to her 12th birthday party. But when her trying-but-adorable little brother—he has ADHD—vanishes into a mysterious board game called The Gauntlet of Blood and Sand, white Essie and brown-skinned Alex don't hesitate to join Farah in jumping in to rescue him. Once in the game, they are given three challenges—and failure to win all three will trap them there. Farah’s desperation to find Ahmad heightens these deadly stakes. In her debut, Riazi gives readers a Muslim protagonist who resists genre clichés: she’s resolute rather than feisty, smart but aware of her weaknesses. Secondary characterization is not so strong; Essie and Alex seem more types than people. The superb worldbuilding offers an ever shifting topography, rather like an Escher vision of the East. Riazi’s lush descriptions reject exoticization, Farah's cultural familiarity positioning readers within her perspective: a “sweet sunset pink mosque, beautifully domed and proudly placed,” reminds her of buildings she’s seen in Bangladesh and India, “sharing a linked history of wide arches and rounded roofs.” Riazi combines such tropes as a magic map with the winningly original lizard Resistance corps, offering just the right mix of familiarity and newness.

A solid middle-grade fantasy and an auspicious debut. (Fantasy. 8-12)

Pub Date: March 28, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-4814-8696-5

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Salaam Reads/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Feb. 4, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2017

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Is this the end? Well, no…the series will stagger on through at least one more scheduled sequel.

CAPTAIN UNDERPANTS AND THE TERRIFYING RETURN OF TIPPY TINKLETROUSERS

From the Captain Underpants series , Vol. 9

Sure signs that the creative wells are running dry at last, the Captain’s ninth, overstuffed outing both recycles a villain (see Book 4) and offers trendy anti-bullying wish fulfillment.

Not that there aren’t pranks and envelope-pushing quips aplenty. To start, in an alternate ending to the previous episode, Principal Krupp ends up in prison (“…a lot like being a student at Jerome Horwitz Elementary School, except that the prison had better funding”). There, he witnesses fellow inmate Tippy Tinkletrousers (aka Professor Poopypants) escape in a giant Robo-Suit (later reduced to time-traveling trousers). The villain sets off after George and Harold, who are in juvie (“not much different from our old school…except that they have library books here.”). Cut to five years previous, in a prequel to the whole series. George and Harold link up in kindergarten to reduce a quartet of vicious bullies to giggling insanity with a relentless series of pranks involving shaving cream, spiders, effeminate spoof text messages and friendship bracelets. Pilkey tucks both topical jokes and bathroom humor into the cartoon art, and ups the narrative’s lexical ante with terms like “pharmaceuticals” and “theatrical flair.” Unfortunately, the bullies’ sad fates force Krupp to resign, so he’s not around to save the Earth from being destroyed later on by Talking Toilets and other invaders…

Is this the end? Well, no…the series will stagger on through at least one more scheduled sequel. (Fantasy. 10-12)

Pub Date: Aug. 28, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-545-17534-0

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: June 20, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2012

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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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