Born in a gulag, 12-year-old Lina has known only deprivation, pain, and cold, but a daring escape proves that the outside world holds more mystery than she could have ever imagined.

Everyone inside the wire knows that the chances of surviving an escape are minimal. But when plucky Lina is drawn into a madcap breakout scheme, she agrees to help; her best friend, Bogdan, determined to protect Lina, follows. Both children are desperate to reconnect with lost family and forge new lives outside. Their escape is thwarted at every turn, however, by mythic elements from forbidden tales that turn out to be frighteningly real: hidden powers, ghost hounds, and a preternaturally omnipresent sorceress possessing both a fanatical vendetta and a heart-wrenching secret. Orton weaves a somewhat far-fetched tale, seemingly drawing more on fantasy of her own devising than on Russia’s own rich folklore. As a result, the two salient aspects of the story—the Stalinist-era purges and prison camps and the magic—never fully cohere, and small gaps in believability tarnish what could have been a fascinating story. Although the story is rife with interesting personalities, Orton does little to flesh them out, and the limited third-person narration does little to advance the development of characters other than Lina. The story is largely redeemed, however, by some truly beautiful images and relationships; the warm friendship between Bogdan and Lina is a particular delight. Lina is literally Caucasian; Bogdan is Tuvan. Cai’s scratchy, flowing chapter heads enhance the fantastical atmosphere.

A subtle, haunting debut. (Historical fantasy. 9-12)

Pub Date: April 14, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5362-0712-5

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Walker US/Candlewick

Review Posted Online: Jan. 12, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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Entrancing and uplifting.


A small dog, the elderly woman who owns him, and a homeless girl come together to create a tale of serendipity.

Piper, almost 12, her parents, and her younger brother are at the bottom of a long slide toward homelessness. Finally in a family shelter, Piper finds that her newfound safety gives her the opportunity to reach out to someone who needs help even more. Jewel, mentally ill, lives in the park with her dog, Baby. Unwilling to leave her pet, and forbidden to enter the shelter with him, she struggles with the winter weather. Ree, also homeless and with a large dog, helps when she can, but after Jewel gets sick and is hospitalized, Baby’s taken to the animal shelter, and Ree can’t manage the complex issues alone. It’s Piper, using her best investigative skills, who figures out Jewel’s backstory. Still, she needs all the help of the shelter Firefly Girls troop that she joins to achieve her accomplishment: to raise enough money to provide Jewel and Baby with a secure, hopeful future and, maybe, with their kindness, to inspire a happier story for Ree. Told in the authentic alternating voices of loving child and loyal dog, this tale could easily slump into a syrupy melodrama, but Pyron lets her well-drawn characters earn their believable happy ending, step by challenging step, by reaching out and working together. Piper, her family, and Jewel present white; Pyron uses hair and naming convention, respectively, to cue Ree as black and Piper’s friend Gabriela as Latinx.

Entrancing and uplifting. (Fiction. 9-12)

Pub Date: Aug. 13, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-06-283922-0

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Katherine Tegen/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: April 10, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2019

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A worthy combination of athletic action, the virtues of inner strength, and the importance of friendship.


From the Legacy series , Vol. 2

A young tennis champion becomes the target of revenge.

In this sequel to Legacy and the Queen (2019), Legacy Petrin and her friends Javi and Pippa have returned to Legacy’s home province and the orphanage run by her father. With her friends’ help, she is in training to defend her championship when they discover that another player, operating under the protection of High Consul Silla, is presenting herself as Legacy. She is so convincing that the real Legacy is accused of being an imitation. False Legacy has become a hero to the masses, further strengthening Silla’s hold, and it becomes imperative to uncover and defeat her. If Legacy is to win again, she must play her imposter while disguised as someone else. Winning at tennis is not just about money and fame, but resisting Silla’s plans to send more young people into brutal mines with little hope of better lives. Legacy will have to overcome her fears and find the magic that allowed her to claim victory in the past. This story, with its elements of sports, fantasy, and social consciousness that highlight tensions between the powerful and those they prey upon, successfully continues the series conceived by late basketball superstar Bryant. As before, the tennis matches are depicted with pace and spirit. Legacy and Javi have brown skin; most other characters default to White.

A worthy combination of athletic action, the virtues of inner strength, and the importance of friendship. (Fantasy. 9-12)

Pub Date: Aug. 24, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-949520-19-4

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Granity Studios

Review Posted Online: July 28, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2021

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