Thrills galore for gamers willing to go along for the ride.

ESCAPE

A new virtual-reality theme park goes haywire on a crowd of young ­­victims, er, visitors in Alexander’s latest screamfest.

Having scored one of just 100 coveted preview tickets to a cutting-edge, kids-only venue dubbed ESCAPE, budding amusement park fan and designer Cody Baxter is looking forward to a life-changing experience. What he gets is more of a life-threatening one, as games and rides with names like Triassic Terror and Haunted Hillside not only pit him against a monster and then zombies—or sometimes a monster and zombies—as well as ruthless competing players, but seem tailored to play on individual personal terrors. And, in some never explained way, the VR quickly turns into real battles that inflict real wounds even as the real settings shift with sudden, dizzying unpredictability. Teaming up with loyal new friends Jayson Torn and Inga Andersdottir, the former described as being Japanese and White and the latter as Norwegian, Cody (who seems to default to White) struggles for survival, learning ultimately that ESCAPE was created by an evil genius with an ulterior motive who is convinced that he can teach children a salutary lesson. The plot’s no more logical in its twists and contrivances than the premise, but the author’s knack for spinning out nightmarish situations is definitely on display here as the tale careens toward a properly lurid outcome.

Thrills galore for gamers willing to go along for the ride. (Light horror. 9-12)

Pub Date: June 7, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-338-26047-2

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: March 16, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2022

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Is this the end? Well, no…the series will stagger on through at least one more scheduled sequel.

CAPTAIN UNDERPANTS AND THE TERRIFYING RETURN OF TIPPY TINKLETROUSERS

From the Captain Underpants series , Vol. 9

Sure signs that the creative wells are running dry at last, the Captain’s ninth, overstuffed outing both recycles a villain (see Book 4) and offers trendy anti-bullying wish fulfillment.

Not that there aren’t pranks and envelope-pushing quips aplenty. To start, in an alternate ending to the previous episode, Principal Krupp ends up in prison (“…a lot like being a student at Jerome Horwitz Elementary School, except that the prison had better funding”). There, he witnesses fellow inmate Tippy Tinkletrousers (aka Professor Poopypants) escape in a giant Robo-Suit (later reduced to time-traveling trousers). The villain sets off after George and Harold, who are in juvie (“not much different from our old school…except that they have library books here.”). Cut to five years previous, in a prequel to the whole series. George and Harold link up in kindergarten to reduce a quartet of vicious bullies to giggling insanity with a relentless series of pranks involving shaving cream, spiders, effeminate spoof text messages and friendship bracelets. Pilkey tucks both topical jokes and bathroom humor into the cartoon art, and ups the narrative’s lexical ante with terms like “pharmaceuticals” and “theatrical flair.” Unfortunately, the bullies’ sad fates force Krupp to resign, so he’s not around to save the Earth from being destroyed later on by Talking Toilets and other invaders…

Is this the end? Well, no…the series will stagger on through at least one more scheduled sequel. (Fantasy. 10-12)

Pub Date: Aug. 28, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-545-17534-0

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: June 20, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2012

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Charming, poignant, and thoughtfully woven.

CLUES TO THE UNIVERSE

An aspiring scientist and a budding artist become friends and help each other with dream projects.

Unfolding in mid-1980s Sacramento, California, this story stars 12-year-olds Rosalind and Benjamin as first-person narrators in alternating chapters. Ro’s father, a fellow space buff, was killed by a drunk driver; the rocket they were working on together lies unfinished in her closet. As for Benji, not only has his best friend, Amir, moved away, but the comic book holding the clue for locating his dad is also missing. Along with their profound personal losses, the protagonists share a fixation with the universe’s intriguing potential: Ro decides to complete the rocket and hopes to launch mementos of her father into outer space while Benji’s conviction that aliens and UFOs are real compels his imagination and creativity as an artist. An accident in science class triggers a chain of events forcing Benji and Ro, who is new to the school, to interact and unintentionally learn each other’s secrets. They resolve to find Benji’s dad—a famous comic-book artist—and partner to finish Ro’s rocket for the science fair. Together, they overcome technical, scheduling, and geographical challenges. Readers will be drawn in by amusing and fantastical elements in the comic book theme, high emotional stakes that arouse sympathy, and well-drawn character development as the protagonists navigate life lessons around grief, patience, self-advocacy, and standing up for others. Ro is biracial (Chinese/White); Benji is White.

Charming, poignant, and thoughtfully woven. (Fiction. 9-12)

Pub Date: Jan. 12, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-06-300888-5

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Quill Tree Books/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2020

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