A solid middle-grade fantasy and an auspicious debut.


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.


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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Dizzyingly silly.


From the Captain Underpants series , Vol. 11

The famous superhero returns to fight another villain with all the trademark wit and humor the series is known for.

Despite the title, Captain Underpants is bizarrely absent from most of this adventure. His school-age companions, George and Harold, maintain most of the spotlight. The creative chums fool around with time travel and several wacky inventions before coming upon the evil Turbo Toilet 2000, making its return for vengeance after sitting out a few of the previous books. When the good Captain shows up to save the day, he brings with him dynamic action and wordplay that meet the series’ standards. The Captain Underpants saga maintains its charm even into this, the 11th volume. The epic is filled to the brim with sight gags, toilet humor, flip-o-ramas and anarchic glee. Holding all this nonsense together is the author’s good-natured sense of harmless fun. The humor is never gross or over-the-top, just loud and innocuous. Adults may roll their eyes here and there, but youngsters will eat this up just as quickly as they devoured every other Underpants episode.

Dizzyingly silly. (Humor. 8-10)

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-545-50490-4

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: June 4, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2014

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