A satisfying story of family, friendship and small-town cooperation in a 21st-century world.

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THE ABSOLUTE VALUE OF MIKE

Sent to stay with octogenarian relatives for the summer, 14-year-old Mike ends up coordinating a community drive to raise $40,000 for the adoption of a Romanian orphan. He’ll never be his dad's kind of engineer, but he learns he’s great at human engineering.

Mike’s math learning disability is matched by his widower father's lack of social competence; the Giant Genius can’t even reliably remember his son’s name. Like many of the folks the boy comes to know in Do Over, Penn.—his great-uncle Poppy silent in his chair, the multiply pierced-and-tattooed Gladys from the bank and “a homeless guy” who calls himself Past—Mike feels like a failure. But in spite of his own lack of confidence, he provides the kick start they need to cope with their losses and contribute to the campaign. Using the Internet (especially YouTube), Mike makes use of town talents and his own webpage design skills and entrepreneurial imagination. Math-definition chapter headings (Compatible Numbers, Zero Property, Tessellations) turn out to apply well to human actions in this well-paced, first-person narrative. Erskine described Asperger’s syndrome from the inside in Mockingbird (2010). Here, it’s a likely cause for the rift between father and son touchingly mended at the novel's cinematic conclusion.

A satisfying story of family, friendship and small-town cooperation in a 21st-century world. (Fiction. 10-14)

Pub Date: June 9, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-399-25505-2

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Philomel

Review Posted Online: April 18, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2011

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Readers who don’t need endings tied up with tight little bows will find much to think about here.

INFINITE SKY

Tragedy emerges from the commonplace miseries of everyday life in this evocative mood piece.

Thirteen-year-old Iris lives with her dad and older brother, Sam, in rural England. Until recently, Iris and Sam had a mum as well, but she’s taken off to Tunisia on a mission to find herself. Now Sam’s associating with ruffians, Dad’s taken to drinking, and Iris is avoiding her best friend, unable to bear the smug pity. When a few caravans of Irish “travelers” squat illegally in Dad’s paddock, Iris sees the possibility of something fresh and untainted in her life. But Dad and Sam loathe the travelers, calling them “Gypsies,” “parasites” and worse. Iris strikes up a friendship—and maybe more?—with 14-year-old Trick, but her father becomes increasingly erratic as he sees his control over his family slipping away. Her Dad repeatedly threatens eviction, and Iris must decide whom to believe in the face of petty crime. A senseless act of violence leads to heavily foreshadowed tragedy. This brief, gloomy debut concludes tidily though with an unclear trajectory: After a summer’s adventure, everyone’s right where they started yet nothing’s the same, mirroring the intransigence of hate.

Readers who don’t need endings tied up with tight little bows will find much to think about here. (Fiction. 10-13)

Pub Date: May 27, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4814-0658-1

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Atheneum

Review Posted Online: March 12, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2014

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An entertaining tale of baseball, family and loyalty.

GAME SEVEN

Sixteen-year-old Julio Ramirez Jr. dreams of being a junior Nacional and playing for Cuba against the best young players around the world.

Baseball is “practically a religion” in Cuba, and Julio’s father was like a Cuban god, an all-star pitcher for the Cuban National Team. Now, having defected, he’s a star for the Miami Marlins. But instead of pride, Julio feels resentment toward his father for abandoning his family to a life of poverty while he, the great El Fuego, lives the high life in Miami with his multimillion-dollar contract. Moreover, Julio’s baseball dreams may not come true: How can he be trusted to leave the country when his father defected; won’t he do the same? So Julio defects too, and in a tense and slightly comic scene, he drives to Florida in a green ’59 Buick that’s been converted into a boat. Julio’s reconciliation with his father is handled deftly in its poignant awkwardness, and baseball action is appropriately exciting, though the notion that Julio is allowed to hang out with his father during Game 7 of the World Series is seriously implausible. Volponi wisely shies away from a tidy, inspirational ending but does leave room for hope for reconciliation.

An entertaining tale of baseball, family and loyalty. (Fiction. 10-14)

Pub Date: March 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-670-78518-6

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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