THE AMBASSADOR OF NOWHERE TEXAS

This sequel to Holt’s National Book Award winner, When Zachary Beaver Came to Town (1999), revisits Antler, Texas, 30 years later; this time our guide is Toby’s daughter, Rylee.

Rylee, 12, is a passionate booster of her tiny hometown. Unlike her mercurial best friend, Twig, she’s blessed with a happy family. Rylee’s stunned by the 9/11 terrorist attacks, then heartsick over their faltering friendship. Joe, a new classmate from Brooklyn, provides welcome distraction. He ridicules Antler but warms to self-appointed tour guide Rylee, who piques his interest in Zachary Beaver. Learning how the attacks affected Joe’s family makes 9/11 personal to locals. Stalwart Rylee, navigating tween angst, is engaging, but comprehensive updates on characters from the first novel slow the narrative. Little has changed for the White residents. Antler’s success story is Juan Garcia, the impoverished teen from the Mexican side of town, now a world-famous golfer, his childhood home a tourist attraction. Juan’s affluent extended family includes the brilliant Garcia twins, Rylee’s classmates. A new character, Vietnamese immigrant Mr. Pham, cooks for and lives at the bowling alley’s cafe. He suddenly buys the town’s mansion, planning to open an upscale restaurant. White residents’ struggles, missteps, and achievements are affectionately chronicled; the Garcias and Mr. Pham get no humanizing backstories, and they seem to serve to validate Antler’s post-racial bona fides.

Sticks to the shallows. (Fiction. 10-14)

Pub Date: Jan. 12, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-250-23410-0

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Christy Ottaviano/Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: Oct. 13, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2020

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A solid debut: fluent, funny and eminently sequel-worthy.

ALMOST SUPER

Inventively tweaking a popular premise, Jensen pits two Incredibles-style families with superpowers against each other—until a new challenge rises to unite them.

The Johnsons invariably spit at the mere mention of their hated rivals, the Baileys. Likewise, all Baileys habitually shake their fists when referring to the Johnsons. Having long looked forward to getting a superpower so that he too can battle his clan’s nemeses, Rafter Bailey is devastated when, instead of being able to fly or something else cool, he acquires the “power” to strike a match on soft polyester. But when hated classmate Juanita Johnson turns up newly endowed with a similarly bogus power and, against all family tradition, they compare notes, it becomes clear that something fishy is going on. Both families regard themselves as the heroes and their rivals as the villains. Someone has been inciting them to fight each other. Worse yet, that someone has apparently developed a device that turns real superpowers into silly ones. Teaching themselves on the fly how to get past their prejudice and work together, Rafter, his little brother, Benny, and Juanita follow a well-laid-out chain of clues and deductions to the climactic discovery of a third, genuinely nefarious family, the Joneses, and a fiendishly clever scheme to dispose of all the Baileys and Johnsons at once. Can they carry the day?

A solid debut: fluent, funny and eminently sequel-worthy. (Adventure. 10-12)

Pub Date: Jan. 21, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-06-220961-0

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2013

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Serious themes lightened by comedic touches; the strong emotional attachments will linger with readers.

ALWAYS, CLEMENTINE

Letters from a super-intelligent mouse to the beloved chimpanzee she leaves behind when she escapes a research lab.

Poignant, loving, and threaded through with the joy of discovery, the letters that Clementine mentally composes to her gentle simian friend tell a tale that takes suspenseful turns while affirming tolerance and self-expression. Thanks to tweaked DNA, she’s thinking about prime numbers the day she is born, helps other mice navigate mazes, and figures out how to escape her cage at night and sign with the lab’s sad, affectionate chimp, Rosie. When a guilt-ridden research assistant spirits her and another mouse subject out of the lab, leaving them in a nearby mailbox, she begins a series of reports to Rosie about the wonders of the outside world. Eleven-year-old Gus and his grandfather welcome the fugitives rather than turn them in for the large reward offered by the lab when the mousenapping is discovered. They create a storm of public protest against animal experimentation by televising a chess match in which Clementine beats five experienced human players simultaneously. Along with offering an optimistic, aspirational view of human nature as she winds the story to a joyous conclusion, Sorosiak tucks in a subplot around nonverbal Hamlet, the other mouse escapee, who constructs a model of Notre Dame out of wood chips, as food for further thought about different intelligences. The human cast seems to be mostly White.

Serious themes lightened by comedic touches; the strong emotional attachments will linger with readers. (Fiction. 8-12)

Pub Date: Sept. 6, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-5362-2884-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Walker US/Candlewick

Review Posted Online: June 22, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2022

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Rich and strange (and kitted out with an eye-catching cover), but stronger in the set pieces than the internal logic.

THE SCHOOL FOR GOOD AND EVIL

From the School for Good and Evil series , Vol. 1

Chainani works an elaborate sea change akin to Gregory Maguire’s Wicked (1995), though he leaves the waters muddied.

Every four years, two children, one regarded as particularly nice and the other particularly nasty, are snatched from the village of Gavaldon by the shadowy School Master to attend the divided titular school. Those who survive to graduate become major or minor characters in fairy tales. When it happens to sweet, Disney princess–like Sophie and  her friend Agatha, plain of features, sour of disposition and low of self-esteem, they are both horrified to discover that they’ve been dropped not where they expect but at Evil and at Good respectively. Gradually—too gradually, as the author strings out hundreds of pages of Hogwarts-style pranks, classroom mishaps and competitions both academic and romantic—it becomes clear that the placement wasn’t a mistake at all. Growing into their true natures amid revelations and marked physical changes, the two spark escalating rivalry between the wings of the school. This leads up to a vicious climactic fight that sees Good and Evil repeatedly switching sides. At this point, readers are likely to feel suddenly left behind, as, thanks to summary deus ex machina resolutions, everything turns out swell(ish).

Rich and strange (and kitted out with an eye-catching cover), but stronger in the set pieces than the internal logic. (Fantasy. 11-13)

Pub Date: May 14, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-06-210489-2

Page Count: 496

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Feb. 13, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2013

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