A winningly authentic, realistic and heartwarming family drama.

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THE PAPER COWBOY

A family crisis pushes a 12-year-old wannabe cowboy living outside Chicago in 1953 to resort to bullying and damaging pranks.

Since his baby sister’s birth, Tommy’s normally moody mother’s been like a “sky full of dark clouds.” When his older sister’s seriously burned, Tommy’s left to cope with her daily newspaper route, his increasingly abusive mother, his overwhelmed father and his younger sisters. Tommy reacts by bullying classmates, especially a shy, overweight new boy at school named Sam. When he’s caught stealing from Sam’s father’s store, Tommy retaliates by planting a copy of a communist newspaper found during a community paper drive in the store. After the owner’s accused of being a communist and the store’s boycotted, Tommy realizes he’s acting like an outlaw instead of a cowboy, and he tries to find the real communist in the neighborhood, leading to surprising discoveries and the help his family desperately needs. Speaking in the first person, Tommy reveals himself as a good-hearted, responsible kid who’s temporarily lost his moral compass. Effective use of cowboy imagery allows Tommy to step up like his hero, Gary Cooper in High Noon, and do the right thing. Period detail and historical references effectively capture the anti-communist paranoia of the McCarthy era.

A winningly authentic, realistic and heartwarming family drama. (author’s note, photos) (Historical fiction. 10-13)

Pub Date: Sept. 4, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-399-16328-9

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: July 29, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2014

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The dice are rolling readers’ way in this third outing.

SUNNY ROLLS THE DICE

From the Sunny series , Vol. 3

Sunny, in seventh grade, finds her score on the Groovy Meter taking some wild swings as her friends’ interests move in different directions.

In a motif that haunts her throughout, Sunny succumbs to a teen magazine’s personality quiz and sees her tally seesaw radically. Her BF Deb has suddenly switched focus to boys, clothes, and bands such as the Bee Gees (this is 1977)—dismissing trick-or-treating and wearing galoshes on rainy days as “babyish.” Meanwhile, Sunny takes delight in joining nerdy neighbors Lev, Brian, and Arun in regular sessions of Dungeons and Dragons (as a fighter character, so cool). The storytelling is predominantly visual in this episodic outing, with just occasional snatches of dialogue and pithy labels to fill in details or mark the passage of time; frequent reaction shots deftly capture Sunny’s feelings of being pulled this way and that. Tellingly, in the Holms’ panels (colored by Pien), Sunny’s depicted as significantly smaller than Deb, visually underscoring her developmental awkwardness. Deb’s comment that “we’re too old to be playing games like that” leads Sunny to drop out of the D&D circle and even go to the school’s staggeringly dull spring dance. Sunny’s mostly white circle of peers expands and becomes more diverse as she continues to navigate her way through the dark chambers and misty passages of early adolescence. Lev is an Orthodox Jew, Arun is South Asian, and Regina, another female friend, has brown skin.

The dice are rolling readers’ way in this third outing. (Graphic historical fiction. 10-12)

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-338-23314-8

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Graphix/Scholastic

Review Posted Online: June 23, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2019

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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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