Refusing to soft-pedal hard issues, the novel speaks with an astringent honesty, at once heartbreaking and hopeful.

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FIGHTING WORDS

Her beloved older sister has always kept Della safe; now that both are secure in foster care, why is Suki pushing her away?

Della, 10, barely remembers their mom. For five years after the meth-cooking incident that got her incarcerated in a Kansas penitentiary, the girls lived with her predatory boyfriend, Clifton. (He’s now in jail awaiting trial thanks to Suki’s quick thinking.) With their plainspoken foster mother, Francine, providing needed stability, Suki, 16, lands a part-time job, and Della makes friends. Far behind academically, Della’s advanced in reading predatory behavior. Her friends have been taught to ignore boys’ physical bullying, so they’re shocked when Della fights back at school. (She’s punished but undeterred.) Suki appears to thrive until she learns her “permanency plan” to achieve independence at 18 and gain custody of Della is unworkable. As Suki unravels, Francine’s urgent requests to arrange counseling for the girls go unheeded, with near-catastrophic results. The focus throughout, rightly, is on the aftermath of abuse, the content accessible to middle-grade readers but not graphically conveyed. Believable and immensely appealing, Suki, Francine, and especially Della (all are White, though Della is a bit “browner” than Suki) light up what might have been an unremittingly bleak story: Charting a path to wholeness is hard enough; the human roadblocks they encounter make it nearly insurmountable. Readers will root for these sisters along every step of their daunting journey.

Refusing to soft-pedal hard issues, the novel speaks with an astringent honesty, at once heartbreaking and hopeful. (author’s note) (Fiction. 9-13)

Pub Date: Aug. 11, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-1568-2

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Dial Books

Review Posted Online: May 3, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2020

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Good Guys and Bad get just deserts in the end, and Stanley gets plenty of opportunities to display pluck and valor in this...

HOLES

Sentenced to a brutal juvenile detention camp for a crime he didn't commit, a wimpy teenager turns four generations of bad family luck around in this sunburnt tale of courage, obsession, and buried treasure from Sachar (Wayside School Gets a Little Stranger, 1995, etc.).

Driven mad by the murder of her black beau, a schoolteacher turns on the once-friendly, verdant town of Green Lake, Texas, becomes feared bandit Kissin' Kate Barlow, and dies, laughing, without revealing where she buried her stash. A century of rainless years later, lake and town are memories—but, with the involuntary help of gangs of juvenile offenders, the last descendant of the last residents is still digging. Enter Stanley Yelnats IV, great-grandson of one of Kissin' Kate's victims and the latest to fall to the family curse of being in the wrong place at the wrong time; under the direction of The Warden, a woman with rattlesnake venom polish on her long nails, Stanley and each of his fellow inmates dig a hole a day in the rock-hard lake bed. Weeks of punishing labor later, Stanley digs up a clue, but is canny enough to conceal the information of which hole it came from. Through flashbacks, Sachar weaves a complex net of hidden relationships and well-timed revelations as he puts his slightly larger-than-life characters under a sun so punishing that readers will be reaching for water bottles.

Good Guys and Bad get just deserts in the end, and Stanley gets plenty of opportunities to display pluck and valor in this rugged, engrossing adventure. (Fiction. 9-13)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 978-0-374-33265-5

Page Count: 233

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2000

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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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