Both a whimsy-soaked journey of self-discovery and a successful exploration of the tough reality of recovering from trauma.

THE WATER BEARS

Healing comes from unexpected places in this new middle-grade read.

It’s hard to stand out in an offbeat island community known for monster sightings and an eccentric artists colony, but a year after he was mauled by a bear, Newton “Newt” Gomez feels like an outsider on his island home. As friends and family try to support him in the best ways they know how, Newt just wants to escape the island and the nightmares he endures every night. Plans to transfer to middle school on the mainland, where nobody knows the story behind his scarred leg and limp, are met with disapproval, but Newt feels certain that leaving the island will give him a much-needed fresh start. His plans are complicated, however, when he befriends a mysterious newcomer and becomes embroiled in an intriguing mystery involving a taco truck and beach flotsam that might grant wishes. Further complexity is added to Newt’s story by the fact that his is the only Mexican American family living in his island town, a fact that adds to his feelings of difference and fuels his desire to leave. Other characters are assumed White. Rich character building, tender relationships, and a vibrant setting tingling with magical possibility combine for a satisfying tale.

Both a whimsy-soaked journey of self-discovery and a successful exploration of the tough reality of recovering from trauma. (Fiction. 9-13)

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-5220-5

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Wendy Lamb/Random

Review Posted Online: Jan. 12, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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Poet Alexander deftly reveals the power of the format to pack an emotional punch.

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THE CROSSOVER

Basketball-playing twins find challenges to their relationship on and off the court as they cope with changes in their lives.

Josh Bell and his twin, Jordan, aka JB, are stars of their school basketball team. They are also successful students, since their educator mother will stand for nothing else. As the two middle schoolers move to a successful season, readers can see their differences despite the sibling connection. After all, Josh has dreadlocks and is quiet on court, and JB is bald and a trash talker. Their love of the sport comes from their father, who had also excelled in the game, though his championship was achieved overseas. Now, however, he does not have a job and seems to have health problems the parents do not fully divulge to the boys. The twins experience their first major rift when JB is attracted to a new girl in their school, and Josh finds himself without his brother. This novel in verse is rich in character and relationships. Most interesting is the family dynamic that informs so much of the narrative, which always reveals, never tells. While Josh relates the story, readers get a full picture of major and minor players. The basketball action provides energy and rhythm for a moving story.

Poet Alexander deftly reveals the power of the format to pack an emotional punch. (Verse fiction. 9-12)

Pub Date: March 18, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-544-10771-7

Page Count: 240

Publisher: HMH Books

Review Posted Online: Dec. 18, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2014

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NIGHTBIRD

There’s a monster in Sidwell, Massachusetts, that can only be seen at night or, as Twig reveals, if passersby are near her house.

It’s her older brother, James, born with wings just like every male in the Fowler line for the last 200 years. They were cursed by the Witch of Sidwell, left brokenhearted by their forebear Lowell Fowler. Twig and James are tired of the secret and self-imposed isolation. Lonely Twig narrates, bringing the small town and its characters to life, intertwining events present and past, and describing the effects of the spell on her fractured family’s daily life. Longing for some normalcy and companionship, she befriends new-neighbor Julia while James falls in love with Julia’s sister, Agate—only to learn they are descendants of the Witch. James and Agate seem as star-crossed as their ancestors, especially when the townspeople attribute a spate of petty thefts and graffiti protesting the development of the woods to the monster and launch a hunt. The mix of romance and magic is irresistible and the tension, compelling. With the help of friends and through a series of self-realizations and discoveries, Twig grows more self-assured. She is certain she knows how to change the curse. In so doing, Twig not only changes James’ fate, but her own, for the first time feeling the fullness of family, friends and hope for the future.

Enchanting. (Magical realism. 9-12)

Pub Date: March 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-385-38958-7

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Wendy Lamb/Random

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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