Both an excellent read and an excellent puzzle.

THE JIGSAW JUNGLE

Levine sends her readers on a quest for buried treasure and buried truths.

In 2015, Claudia Dalton’s life is suddenly turned upside down. On the last day of school, Claudia’s father, Jeff, sends a short email to his family saying that he will be home late—and then does not return. A few days later, Claudia’s mother, Jennifer, attends a conference in Switzerland, and Claudia stays with her recently widowed and still grieving paternal grandfather, Walter. While with Walter, Claudia frequently emails her father and finally receives an unlikely answer: a puzzle piece with a cryptic message telling her to find a time capsule buried in Jeff’s youth. With the help of her new friend, budding filmmaker Luis, Claudia begins a quest to find the time capsule and the secret that has suddenly separated her family. Using emails, text messages, telephone transcripts, Luis’ video footage, and other artifacts, Levine has created a masterwork of mystery that slowly unravels as Claudia learns more about her father’s life. Astute readers may guess what life-changing secret drove Jeff away from his family, but even if they do, they’ll keep reading to find out how this saga ultimately ends. The biggest trick is Levine’s ability to keep the characters both likable and realistic—this holds especially true for Jeff’s disappearing act and Jennifer’s slow-burn emotional journey.

Both an excellent read and an excellent puzzle. (Mystery. 9-12)

Pub Date: June 19, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-399-17452-0

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: April 16, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2018

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Poet Alexander deftly reveals the power of the format to pack an emotional punch.

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THE CROSSOVER

Basketball-playing twins find challenges to their relationship on and off the court as they cope with changes in their lives.

Josh Bell and his twin, Jordan, aka JB, are stars of their school basketball team. They are also successful students, since their educator mother will stand for nothing else. As the two middle schoolers move to a successful season, readers can see their differences despite the sibling connection. After all, Josh has dreadlocks and is quiet on court, and JB is bald and a trash talker. Their love of the sport comes from their father, who had also excelled in the game, though his championship was achieved overseas. Now, however, he does not have a job and seems to have health problems the parents do not fully divulge to the boys. The twins experience their first major rift when JB is attracted to a new girl in their school, and Josh finds himself without his brother. This novel in verse is rich in character and relationships. Most interesting is the family dynamic that informs so much of the narrative, which always reveals, never tells. While Josh relates the story, readers get a full picture of major and minor players. The basketball action provides energy and rhythm for a moving story.

Poet Alexander deftly reveals the power of the format to pack an emotional punch. (Verse fiction. 9-12)

Pub Date: March 18, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-544-10771-7

Page Count: 240

Publisher: HMH Books

Review Posted Online: Dec. 18, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2014

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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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