A quirky, meticulously plotted adventure.

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MY BEST FRIEND RUNS VENUS

In Forest’s (The Poisoned City, 2016) futuristic middle-grade novel, children with robotic avatars work to stop a power-hungry hacker.

In the 22nd century, humanity has colonized several planets and moons of the solar system. People sleep in pods on Earth while remotely controlling robotic bodies that can look like anyone or anything. The calculations-obsessed Kade Walker, who’s “12.9 years old,” is the official social companion of Princess Tamika Bell of Venus, and they both have their own avatars. The 14-year-old princess’s family has a tarnished reputation because her mother, Azra, is considered a traitor throughout the colonies. Ten years ago, Azra “handed over a high-level clearance code” to the power-hungry Dolores Fremont, who tried to take over human civilization. Kade wants to rehabilitate Tamika’s image, so he hacks into the colonies’ teleportation system; he and Tamika secretly visit Neptune’s moon Triton, where they meet Prince Brend and his royal companion, Naida Snow. Brend throws a party that becomes dangerous when a dragon misbehaves. Then Kade and Tamika learn that Brend, who’s asleep on Earth, isn’t actually controlling his own bot. It turns out that Dolores is free from her stasis imprisonment and making another play for the colonies. In this sci-fi romp, Forest offers a classic dynamic—precocious youngsters outsmarting wicked adults—and intriguing worldbuilding details. Her planet-hopping avatars, as in video games, needn’t be strictly human, so she gives Kade’s claws, wings, and horns, like a gargoyle, while Naida’s is reminiscent of a mermaid. Even stranger, the author establishes that the kids don't have a notion of what death is; Kade “wondered what happened if someone got a very large cut and spilled blood faster than their body could re-make it. Would the person just deflate like a balloon?” It’s an aspect of the kids’ utopian society that Forest doesn’t fully explore. Later, Dolores reveals a dark truth about nonhuman avatars that may fly over the heads of younger audiences, who will enjoy the story’s more saccharine elements; by the end, Kade is no longer Tamika’s “social companion,” but her true friend. Debut artist Rose provides excellent, manga-style black-and-white illustrations.

A quirky, meticulously plotted adventure.

Pub Date: June 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-73372-740-2

Page Count: 162

Publisher: Forest Avenue

Review Posted Online: Aug. 3, 2019

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Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

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THE VANISHING HALF

Inseparable identical twin sisters ditch home together, and then one decides to vanish.

The talented Bennett fuels her fiction with secrets—first in her lauded debut, The Mothers (2016), and now in the assured and magnetic story of the Vignes sisters, light-skinned women parked on opposite sides of the color line. Desiree, the “fidgety twin,” and Stella, “a smart, careful girl,” make their break from stultifying rural Mallard, Louisiana, becoming 16-year-old runaways in 1954 New Orleans. The novel opens 14 years later as Desiree, fleeing a violent marriage in D.C., returns home with a different relative: her 8-year-old daughter, Jude. The gossips are agog: “In Mallard, nobody married dark....Marrying a dark man and dragging his blueblack child all over town was one step too far.” Desiree's decision seals Jude’s misery in this “colorstruck” place and propels a new generation of flight: Jude escapes on a track scholarship to UCLA. Tending bar as a side job in Beverly Hills, she catches a glimpse of her mother’s doppelgänger. Stella, ensconced in White society, is shedding her fur coat. Jude, so Black that strangers routinely stare, is unrecognizable to her aunt. All this is expertly paced, unfurling before the book is half finished; a reader can guess what is coming. Bennett is deeply engaged in the unknowability of other people and the scourge of colorism. The scene in which Stella adopts her White persona is a tour de force of doubling and confusion. It calls up Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, the book's 50-year-old antecedent. Bennett's novel plays with its characters' nagging feelings of being incomplete—for the twins without each other; for Jude’s boyfriend, Reese, who is trans and seeks surgery; for their friend Barry, who performs in drag as Bianca. Bennett keeps all these plot threads thrumming and her social commentary crisp. In the second half, Jude spars with her cousin Kennedy, Stella's daughter, a spoiled actress.

Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

Pub Date: June 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-53629-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020

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A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

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THE GIVER OF STARS

Women become horseback librarians in 1930s Kentucky and face challenges from the landscape, the weather, and the men around them.

Alice thought marrying attractive American Bennett Van Cleve would be her ticket out of her stifling life in England. But when she and Bennett settle in Baileyville, Kentucky, she realizes that her life consists of nothing more than staying in their giant house all day and getting yelled at by his unpleasant father, who owns a coal mine. She’s just about to resign herself to a life of boredom when an opportunity presents itself in the form of a traveling horseback library—an initiative from Eleanor Roosevelt meant to counteract the devastating effects of the Depression by focusing on literacy and learning. Much to the dismay of her husband and father-in-law, Alice signs up and soon learns the ropes from the library’s leader, Margery. Margery doesn’t care what anyone thinks of her, rejects marriage, and would rather be on horseback than in a kitchen. And even though all this makes Margery a town pariah, Alice quickly grows to like her. Along with several other women (including one black woman, Sophia, whose employment causes controversy in a town that doesn’t believe black and white people should be allowed to use the same library), Margery and Alice supply magazines, Bible stories, and copies of books like Little Women to the largely poor residents who live in remote areas. Alice spends long days in terrible weather on horseback, but she finally feels happy in her new life in Kentucky, even as her marriage to Bennett is failing. But her powerful father-in-law doesn’t care for Alice’s job or Margery’s lifestyle, and he’ll stop at nothing to shut their library down. Basing her novel on the true story of the Pack Horse Library Project established by the Works Progress Administration in the 1930s, Moyes (Still Me, 2018, etc.) brings an often forgotten slice of history to life. She writes about Kentucky with lush descriptions of the landscape and tender respect for the townspeople, most of whom are poor, uneducated, and grateful for the chance to learn. Although Alice and Margery both have their own romances, the true power of the story is in the bonds between the women of the library. They may have different backgrounds, but their commitment to helping the people of Baileyville brings them together.

A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

Pub Date: Oct. 8, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-399-56248-8

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2019

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