A chatty girl with an unusual knack for fixing broken things interprets a school assignment with flair in Levy’s debut, series-launching chapter book. Gabby’s mother is convinced that her daughter has the gift of gab, but the young girl knows that her true talent is her “Inspector Eyes”: “I can see things other kids can’t see….They might look at the same thing I’m looking at, and they might see the same thing I see on the outside, but they don’t see how to fix it like I do.” Her talent allows her to fix not only objects, but social situations, which is a clever way for Levy to apply her protagonist’s unique skill. Gabby’s biggest problem is her neighbor, Ajay, the son of her mom’s “BFF.” After Ajay breaks his brand-new water gun and Gabby uses her Inspector Eyes to fix it, he won’t leave her alone. Gabby’s mother tries to convince her that Ajay simply likes her, but she’s sure that’s not the reason. Ajay waits for her to walk to the school bus, tries to get her attention while she’s talking to her best friend, and passes her notes in class. When the note-passing gets both her and Ajay in trouble, she uses her Inspector Eyes to defend Ajay, even though he got her into hot water in the first place. The book is framed as a writing assignment; each chapter offers a different problem for which Gabby suggests a solution—even when she doesn’t really have a good one. Several problems never get solved, but they may come up again in future installments. Gabby is a likable narrator, and the high-quality illustrations, one per chapter, are kid-friendly and amusing, featuring a diverse cast of schoolchildren. The seemingly unfinished ending may frustrate some youngsters, but newly independent readers will be comfortable with the vocabulary, which feels genuine to Gabby’s voice. A clever, if cliff-hanging, chapter book that offers a strong female narrator with a unique gift for fixing problems.
Tragedy turns into triumph in Carlson’s debut novel about a young woman who regains her self-confidence after multiple losses and years of dejection.
Before readers meet 28-year-old Jamie Shire, she has already hit rock bottom. Jobless, she drinks away her days on her best friend’s couch as she wallows in loneliness. Among Jamie’s troubles: Her mother died when she was a child, the only man she ever loved wouldn’t reciprocate, her unborn daughter died, and she continuously feels rejected by her father and brother. After a chance encounter with a wealthy woman at a coffee shop, Jamie accepts a live-in job researching philanthropic causes at Fallow Springs Estate. Reaching out to the house staff and eventually working with Darfur refugees afford Jamie some valuable context for her own pain; she’s able to gain confidence as she learns to stop fearing rejection and start pursuing her dreams. Throughout the novel, the author skillfully creates mood. In the beginning, when Jamie borders on depression, her emotional touchiness and oversensitivity will create an uneasy feeling in readers. But as Jamie slowly regains confidence, readers will also feel increasingly optimistic. Alongside the main character’s emotional struggle is the struggle faced by Darfur refugees, although this plotline doesn’t advance too far; yet details from Jamie’s trip to the refugee camp in Chad—the types of beer served at the aid workers’ bar or a depiction of a young refugee sitting blank-faced and tied to a pole because he might run away—effectively transport readers to faraway places. Jamie’s story will interest readers, but, with a weak ending, the story leaves many unanswered questions. Who is Jamie’s wealthy employer? Does Jamie’s work in Chad help anyone but herself? And what of the conflict Jamie feels between herself and the refugees, between the haves and the have-nots?
With so many minor questions left unanswered, Carlson’s captivating novel proves to be more about the journey than the destination.
Pirates, magic and a secret society collide in this fantasy middle-grade novel.
This fast-paced novel follows best friends Cameron and Miguel, who are looking for adventure while cruising through their Arizona town on a tandem bicycle. They find it when an enchanted pirate ship flies overhead and lands in a convenience store’s parking lot. The ship sets up as a shop, which uses an intoxicating mist to trick customers into buying overpriced sea-themed merchandise, while simultaneously making them defenseless against pickpocket pirates. Cameron has bigger problems when Blackbeard, the ship’s intimidating captain, decides that the tween has stolen a powerful ring that would allow him to shape-shift into any person he imagines. Raising the stakes, the pirates kidnap Miguel and force him to perform grunt work with no chance of release. Cameron enlists the help of his best gal pal, Marcella, to free Miguel, but their mission takes a surprising turn when they discover a secret society protecting an underground gold mine. Author Loge keeps the action coming as the trio encounter a nasty doppelganger, a sinister talking parrot and a gang of violent pirates. The breezy writing ensures that the story doesn’t get stale. With so many quick twists and turns, young readers could get lost along the way, but Loge clearly explains all the unexpected changes to keep his audience on track. In addition to a sprinkling of black-and-white illustrations, Cameron’s easy friendship with Miguel and Marcella keeps things light and youthful when the tale could have been bogged down with one too many odd, mystical events. The heart of the book—a young boy as the chosen one who must defeat an evil enemy—has been a common YA plotline in recent years, but Loge’s energetic style makes the theme seem fresh.
A fun adventure for anyone who’d love to see a few spunky kids trick some bad-news pirates.