Young readers may not be willing to sing in this hallelujah chorus.



Sometimes sugarcoating the truth can leave a bitter taste. Such is the lesson in this middle-grade tale.

Tia, a gifted young singer, lives alone with her mother. They have meager means, but thanks to working two jobs, Tia's mom manages. All Tia wants is to someday use her passion for singing to make a difference. However, after a neighborhood tragedy, Tia struggles to find her voice through the maelstrom of discordant notes hurled by folks who somehow know more about her incarcerated father than she does. When Tia learns that her well-meaning mother has intentionally misled her about why her father was imprisoned, Tia feels alienated from her close-knit New Orleans neighborhood and her best friend, Keisha. It's a noble effort on Going's part, and she does a commendable job of bringing readers into Tia's hardscrabble neighborhood. Still, this story feels sadly one-note; it’s a tale that moves inexorably toward a predictable conclusion—one that feels less and less likely by story's end. Tia and Keisha’s friendship is a sweet one, but the story stumbles in an attempt to draw huge parallels between the girls' relationship and Tia's relationship with her own parents. The major conflict of the story—Tia’s coping with the real reason her father is in prison—feels like a stretch.

Young readers may not be willing to sing in this hallelujah chorus. (Fiction. 10-13)

Pub Date: Sept. 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8037-3474-6

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Kathy Dawson/Penguin

Review Posted Online: May 18, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2015

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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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The novel’s dryness is mitigated in part by its exploration of immigrant identity, xenophobia, and hate crimes.


Seventh graders Karina Chopra and Chris Daniels live in Houston, Texas, and although they are next-door neighbors, they have different interests and their paths rarely cross.

In fact, Karina, whose family is Indian, doesn’t want to be friends with Chris, whose family is white, because the boys he hangs out with are mean to her. Things change when Karina’s immigrant paternal grandfather, Papa, moves in with Karina’s family. Papa begins tutoring Chris in math, and, as a result, Chris and Karina begin spending time with each other. Karina even comes to realize that Chris is not at all like the rest of his friends and that she should give him a second chance. One day, when Karina, Papa, and Chris are walking home from school, something terrible happens: They are assaulted by a stranger who calls Papa a Muslim terrorist, and he is badly injured. The children find themselves wanting to speak out for Papa and for other first-generation Americans like him. Narrated by Karina and Chris in alternate chapters, Bajaj’s novel gives readers varied and valuable perspectives of what it means to be first- and third-generation Indian Americans in an increasingly diverse nation. Unfortunately, however, Bajaj’s characters are quite bland, and the present-tense narrative voices of the preteen protagonists lack both distinction and authenticity.

The novel’s dryness is mitigated in part by its exploration of immigrant identity, xenophobia, and hate crimes. (Fiction. 10-13)

Pub Date: Aug. 27, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-51724-5

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Nancy Paulsen Books

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2019

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