An artful, amusingly quirky tour of middle school angst.

PITY PARTY

“Dear weird toes / crooked nose, / stressed out, left out / freaked out / … / This party’s for you.”

Welcome to Bridger Middle School, home of the titular Pity Party. This grab bag of vignettes condenses a world of early adolescent anxieties and excitements into a single volume progressing at whirlwind pace. With the exception of the arc story entitled “The Voice,” each vignette introduces a new protagonist and problem. Here the mundane collides with the fantastical, real-world pathologies and privations made light of through magical realism and a healthy dose of Gen-Z hyperbole. An ill-treated loner wishes everyone who’s ever been unkind to her might feel what it is to be ugly—to disastrous effect; a thrift-store mood ring that never lies pushes a closeted gay boy to be true to himself. OCD spirals in the subway and harmful self-talk exist comfortably alongside a human chair, literal death by embarrassment (farting in class, oh, the humanity!), and social media followers dogging one’s every step. Not all segments resonate; the sickeningly saccharine Happy Head and Happy Friends ad spots and a too-blasé letter from the Department of Insecurity come off as a bit too self-aware while the simple, unapologetic absurdity of the ”choose your own catastrophe” misadventures invariably draw laughter but don’t quite fit with the rest of the story—though perhaps that’s the point. Swaab's illustrations offer suitably ironic visuals.

An artful, amusingly quirky tour of middle school angst. (Fiction. 11-13)

Pub Date: Jan. 19, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-316-41736-5

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 18, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2020

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Narrow squeaks aplenty combine with bursts of lyrical prose for a satisfying adventure

THE GOOD THIEVES

A Prohibition-era child enlists a gifted pickpocket and a pair of budding circus performers in a clever ruse to save her ancestral home from being stolen by developers.

Rundell sets her iron-jawed protagonist on a seemingly impossible quest: to break into the ramshackle Hudson River castle from which her grieving grandfather has been abruptly evicted by unscrupulous con man Victor Sorrotore and recover a fabulously valuable hidden emerald. Laying out an elaborate scheme in a notebook that itself turns out to be an integral part of the ensuing caper, Vita, only slowed by a bout with polio years before, enlists a team of helpers. Silk, a light-fingered orphan, aspiring aerialist Samuel Kawadza, and Arkady, a Russian lad with a remarkable affinity for and with animals, all join her in a series of expeditions, mostly nocturnal, through and under Manhattan. The city never comes to life the way the human characters do (Vita, for instance, “had six kinds of smile, and five of them were real”) but often does have a tangible presence, and notwithstanding Vita’s encounter with a (rather anachronistically styled) “Latina” librarian, period attitudes toward race and class are convincingly drawn. Vita, Silk, and Arkady all present white; Samuel, a Shona immigrant from Southern Rhodesia, is the only primary character of color. Santoso’s vignettes of, mostly, animals and small items add occasional visual grace notes.

Narrow squeaks aplenty combine with bursts of lyrical prose for a satisfying adventure . (Historical fiction. 11-13)

Pub Date: Aug. 27, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-4814-1948-2

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2019

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Rich and strange (and kitted out with an eye-catching cover), but stronger in the set pieces than the internal logic.

THE SCHOOL FOR GOOD AND EVIL

From the School for Good and Evil series , Vol. 1

Chainani works an elaborate sea change akin to Gregory Maguire’s Wicked (1995), though he leaves the waters muddied.

Every four years, two children, one regarded as particularly nice and the other particularly nasty, are snatched from the village of Gavaldon by the shadowy School Master to attend the divided titular school. Those who survive to graduate become major or minor characters in fairy tales. When it happens to sweet, Disney princess–like Sophie and  her friend Agatha, plain of features, sour of disposition and low of self-esteem, they are both horrified to discover that they’ve been dropped not where they expect but at Evil and at Good respectively. Gradually—too gradually, as the author strings out hundreds of pages of Hogwarts-style pranks, classroom mishaps and competitions both academic and romantic—it becomes clear that the placement wasn’t a mistake at all. Growing into their true natures amid revelations and marked physical changes, the two spark escalating rivalry between the wings of the school. This leads up to a vicious climactic fight that sees Good and Evil repeatedly switching sides. At this point, readers are likely to feel suddenly left behind, as, thanks to summary deus ex machina resolutions, everything turns out swell(ish).

Rich and strange (and kitted out with an eye-catching cover), but stronger in the set pieces than the internal logic. (Fantasy. 11-13)

Pub Date: May 14, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-06-210489-2

Page Count: 496

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Feb. 13, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2013

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