Love of family is the greatest magic even when faced with the power of Death.



Thirteen-year-old twins Felix and Lee live in the same house, but they are kept separate by the Agreement between the shades Death and Memory.

In the west side of Poplar House, where Lee lives with his mother and Memory, there is laughter and fresh baked pie. In the east side, where Felix lives with his father and Death, there is nothing but sadness and cold. Lee is tasked with storing memories in jars tied with colored ribbons. Felix must brew tonics for the sick and dying and collect the life candles that have been snuffed out by Death. A failed attempt at breaking the Agreement has left the boys hopeless. However, when a mysterious death sends Gretchen, a willful neighbor girl, to their door demanding answers of Death, they decide to work with her hoping she may have the key to their release. While Lee’s days are filled with the usual middle school angst, a first crush, and a dangerous bully, Felix’s story is darker. Death is abusive and menacing. He demands perfection and is swift to dole out harsh punishment. Alternating chapters follow each of the twins and Gretchen. The suspenseful plot is unspooled slowly, but the magical elements, evocative, intelligent writing, and ever ratcheting suspense keep it interesting. Human characters seem to be default white.

Love of family is the greatest magic even when faced with the power of Death. (Fantasy. 10-14)

Pub Date: Aug. 28, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-4521-4986-8

Page Count: 440

Publisher: Chronicle Books

Review Posted Online: May 28, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2018

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A sly, side-splitting hoot from start to finish.


The dreary prospect of spending a lifetime making caskets instead of wonderful inventions prompts a young orphan to snatch up his little sister and flee. Where? To the circus, of course.

Fortunately or otherwise, John and 6-year-old Page join up with Boz—sometime human cannonball for the seedy Wandering Wayfarers and a “vertically challenged” trickster with a fantastic gift for sowing chaos. Alas, the budding engineer barely has time to settle in to begin work on an experimental circus wagon powered by chicken poop and dubbed (with questionable forethought) the Autopsy. The hot pursuit of malign and indomitable Great-Aunt Beauregard, the Coggins’ only living relative, forces all three to leave the troupe for further flights and misadventures. Teele spins her adventure around a sturdy protagonist whose love for his little sister is matched only by his fierce desire for something better in life for them both and tucks in an outstanding supporting cast featuring several notably strong-minded, independent women (Page, whose glare “would kill spiders dead,” not least among them). Better yet, in Boz she has created a scene-stealing force of nature, a free spirit who’s never happier than when he’s stirring up mischief. A climactic clutch culminating in a magnificently destructive display of fireworks leaves the Coggin sibs well-positioned for bright futures. (Illustrations not seen.)

A sly, side-splitting hoot from start to finish. (Adventure. 11-13)

Pub Date: April 12, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-06-234510-3

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Walden Pond Press/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2016

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Riveting, inspiring, and sometimes hilarious.


If you made a recording to be heard by the aliens who found the iPod, what would you record?

For 11-year-old Alex Petroski, it's easy. He records everything. He records the story of how he travels to New Mexico to a rocket festival with his dog, Carl Sagan, and his rocket. He records finding out that a man with the same name and birthday as his dead father has an address in Las Vegas. He records eating at Johnny Rockets for the first time with his new friends, who are giving him a ride to find his dead father (who might not be dead!), and losing Carl Sagan in the wilds of Las Vegas, and discovering he has a half sister. He even records his own awful accident. Cheng delivers a sweet, soulful debut novel with a brilliant, refreshing structure. His characters manage to come alive through the “transcript” of Alex’s iPod recording, an odd medium that sounds like it would be confusing but really works. Taking inspiration from the Voyager Golden Record released to space in 1977, Alex, who explains he has “light brown skin,” records all the important moments of a journey that takes him from a family of two to a family of plenty.

Riveting, inspiring, and sometimes hilarious. (Fiction. 10-14)

Pub Date: Feb. 28, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-399-18637-0

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Dial Books

Review Posted Online: Oct. 19, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2016

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