The emotional roller coaster of a contemporary white family in crisis, tempered by a touch of magic and a resilient, likable...

SKELETON TREE

When white, zombie-obsessed, 12-year-old Stanly discovers a human skeleton growing up from his backyard—beginning as a single fingertip—he sees opportunity.

Photographing and writing about this, he reasons, may lead to winning the Young Discoverer’s Prize, which will bring Dad back from 1,500 miles away, and then his little sister, Miren, might stop getting sicker. This ambitious debut story of magical thinking keeps a mostly light tone despite the worsening gravity of Miren’s health throughout. It is peppered with whimsical asides and anatomical jokes in addition to homespun tales from Ms. Francine, part-time cook and child care helper from Kyrgyzstan. Stanly tries to keep his (literally) growing secret confined to his OCD–diagnosed best friend, Jaxon (who has a “cloud of black hair” but is otherwise racially unidentified). Miren quickly finds out, but although she can’t keep a secret, overworked, underpaid, and worried Mom is literally unable to see the skeleton, dubbed Princy by Miren. Conversely, the wise, folkloric Ms. Francine reacts, from the first phalangeal breakthrough, “like she was remembering something sad and happy all at once.” The close-third-person narrative doggedly expresses Stanly’s struggles with conflicting thoughts and emotions—but also keeps action rolling. Stanly copes well with problems ranging from the mundane (ineffectual cameras) to the extraordinary (photographing an evasive skeleton) to the heart-wrenching (a gravely ill sister; burdened parents).

The emotional roller coaster of a contemporary white family in crisis, tempered by a touch of magic and a resilient, likable protagonist. (Fiction. 9-12)

Pub Date: Sept. 26, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-338-04270-2

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: June 14, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2017

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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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This pitch-perfect contemporary novel gently explores the past’s repercussions on the present

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AS BRAVE AS YOU

Eleven-year-old Brooklynite Genie has “worry issues,” so when he and his older brother, Ernie, are sent to Virginia to spend a month with their estranged grandparents while their parents “try to figure it all out,” he goes into overdrive.

First, he discovers that Grandpop is blind. Next, there’s no Internet, so the questions he keeps track of in his notebook (over 400 so far) will have to go un-Googled. Then, he breaks the model truck that’s one of the only things Grandma still has of his deceased uncle. And he and Ernie will have to do chores, like picking peas and scooping dog poop. What’s behind the “nunya bidness door”? And is that a gun sticking out from Grandpop’s waistband? Reynolds’ middle-grade debut meanders like the best kind of summer vacation but never loses sense of its throughline. The richly voiced third-person narrative, tightly focused through Genie’s point of view, introduces both brothers and readers to this rural African-American community and allows them to relax and explore even as it delves into the many mysteries that so bedevil Genie, ranging from "Grits? What exactly are they?" to, heartbreakingly, “Why am I so stupid?” Reynolds gives his readers uncommonly well-developed, complex characters, especially the completely believable Genie and Grandpop, whose stubborn self-sufficiency belies his vulnerability and whose flawed love both Genie and readers will cherish.

This pitch-perfect contemporary novel gently explores the past’s repercussions on the present . (Fiction. 9-12)

Pub Date: May 3, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-4814-1590-3

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Caitlyn Dlouhy/Atheneum

Review Posted Online: March 30, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2016

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