PLAYING WITH FIRE

Supposedly rigged séances summon a genuine Presence through the Infernal Gates in this deliciously melodramatic page-turner, set in the Roaring ’20s. Swept from their tenement room to the Long Island mansion of a wealthy Theosophist by domineering con-man Drake Morley, latest in a line of "uncles," 14-year-old Greer Duquesne and her mother, the beautiful, otherworldly fortuneteller Madame Camille, find themselves in a specially prepared room, holding hands with moneyed guests seeking contact with the Beyond—or at least an evening's amusement. Madame Camille has the right patter and a genuine sense of empathy, but it's Greer who can actually see people's auras, and whose psychic powers suddenly have her mother roaring out harsh revelations in the voice of a spirit named Merlin. With the séances beginning to bring in serious amounts of money, Greer's ambition to lead a normal, settled life looks to go glimmering, unless she can find a way to escape Drake's clutches. Karr (The Boxer, 2000, etc.) builds suspense with fine expertise, leading to a lurid climactic session that brings together Merlin, a wild storm, a power failure, a well-armed band of bootleggers, and some ugly news about Drake's past that pitches him past the brink of insanity. Readers will admire Greer for the plucky way she stands up to her mother's menacing impresario, and though the wrap-up seems too quick, the prospect of a sunnier future for Greer and her mother ends the tale on a satisfyingly rising note. (Fiction. 11-13)

Pub Date: March 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-374-23453-1

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2001

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SEVENTH GRADE TANGO

PLB 0-7868-2427-1 The content and concerns of Levy’s latest is at odds with the young reading level and large type size, which may prevent this novel’s natural audience of middle schoolers from finding a fast and funny read. In sixth grade, Rebecca broke her friend Scott’s toe at a dance. Now, in seventh grade, they are partners in a ballroom dance class, and they soon find they dance well together, but that makes Rebecca’s friend Samantha jealous. She gives a party during which spin-the-bottle is played, kissing Scott and then bullying him into being her boyfriend. While Rebecca deals with her mixed feelings about all this, she also has a crush on her dance instructor. Levy (My Life as a Fifth-Grade Comedian, 1997, etc.) has great comedic timing and writes with a depth of feeling to make early adolescent romantic travails engaging; she also comes through on the equally difficult feat of making ballroom dancing appealing to young teens. The obsession with kissing, pre-sexual tension, and sensuality of the dancing will be off-putting or engrossing, depending entirely on readers’ comfort levels with such conversations in real life as well as on the page. Precocious preteens will find that this humorously empathetic take on budding romance is just right. (Fiction. 10-12)

Pub Date: March 1, 2000

ISBN: 0-7868-0498-X

Page Count: 154

Publisher: Hyperion

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2000

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DON'T CALL IT PARADISE

Pearson (The Secret Box, 1997, etc.) leaves nothing between the lines in this patchy tale of a perfect family that turns out to be anything but. To Maddie, the vivacious, unconventional McBeans have always made her own Illinois family look dull, and so, a year and a half after their move to California, she looks forward eagerly to a two-week stay with them. She finds them as welcoming as ever—more so, as her friend Beanie’s older brother Buddy, formerly a bully of the worst sort, gives her a warm hello. Beanie, on the other hand, seems more of a wimp than ever, moody, self-deprecating, and clumsy. Initially, Maddie finds Buddy’s recklessness more exciting than scary, and discounts Beanie’s warnings, but his true colors come out, in a contrived way, during a beach party. Refusing, as always, to see what Buddy is really like, the McBean parents turn on Maddie; she cuts her visit short and flies home, newly appreciative of her own staid but reliable parents, and meditating on the raw deal both Beanie and Buddy have gotten from theirs. Readers will have trouble accepting both Maddie’s friendship, characterized more by dissension than commonalities, with Beanie, and her attraction to the so obviously dysfunctional McBean family in general, but the point that fair surface can hide foul heart is strongly, unflinchingly driven home. (Fiction. 10-13)

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-689-82579-X

Page Count: 160

Publisher: Atheneum

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 1999

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