A dry plot with little investment in character development makes for a weak detective story.

THE NORTH STAR

From the Gemini Mysteries series , Vol. 1

Four kids solve a theft of jewelry in this series opener.

When 12-year-old Sophia Boyd decides to auction off the North Star necklace, a family heirloom, to support a fundraiser for a sanctuary for endangered gibbons, the necklace is stolen at a party held to preview it. Twins Zach and Evie Mamuya, the biracial children of a deceased Tanzanian-immigrant cop dad and white crime-reporter mom, along with their South Asian friend Vishal Desai, wind up at the crime scene with the twins’ mother, ready to investigate. After finding a magnet used to open safes, the young self-appointed detectives, along with Sophia, decide to take matters into their own hands and question the guests who attended the party. Following much trial and error (punctuated by the occasional lesson in American racism patiently delivered by the three kids of color to wide-eyed, white Sophia), their path of investigation leads them to the unlikely conclusion that the stolen necklace changed more than one pair of hands after it was taken. As a whodunit, the story underwhelms; readers are unlikely to be able to follow the clues and red herrings to the solution and so will be stumbling along with the characters. Character development takes second place to plotting, furthering dissatisfaction.

A dry plot with little investment in character development makes for a weak detective story. (Mystery. 8-12)

Pub Date: March 5, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-4998-0809-4

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Yellow Jacket

Review Posted Online: Dec. 5, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2019

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Readers can still rely on this series to bring laughs.

WRECKING BALL

From the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series , Vol. 14

The Heffley family’s house undergoes a disastrous attempt at home improvement.

When Great Aunt Reba dies, she leaves some money to the family. Greg’s mom calls a family meeting to determine what to do with their share, proposing home improvements and then overruling the family’s cartoonish wish lists and instead pushing for an addition to the kitchen. Before bringing in the construction crew, the Heffleys attempt to do minor maintenance and repairs themselves—during which Greg fails at the work in various slapstick scenes. Once the professionals are brought in, the problems keep getting worse: angry neighbors, terrifying problems in walls, and—most serious—civil permitting issues that put the kibosh on what work’s been done. Left with only enough inheritance to patch and repair the exterior of the house—and with the school’s dismal standardized test scores as a final straw—Greg’s mom steers the family toward moving, opening up house-hunting and house-selling storylines (and devastating loyal Rowley, who doesn’t want to lose his best friend). While Greg’s positive about the move, he’s not completely uncaring about Rowley’s action. (And of course, Greg himself is not as unaffected as he wishes.) The gags include effectively placed callbacks to seemingly incidental events (the “stress lizard” brought in on testing day is particularly funny) and a lampoon of after-school-special–style problem books. Just when it seems that the Heffleys really will move, a new sequence of chaotic trouble and property destruction heralds a return to the status quo. Whew.

Readers can still rely on this series to bring laughs. (Graphic/fiction hybrid. 8-12)

Pub Date: Nov. 5, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-4197-3903-3

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Amulet/Abrams

Review Posted Online: Nov. 19, 2019

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Dizzyingly silly.

CAPTAIN UNDERPANTS AND THE TYRANNICAL RETALIATION OF THE TURBO TOILET 2000

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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