Fun and surprisingly informative.

ZEUS, DOG OF CHAOS

Zeus, a service dog trained to aid a diabetic, is assigned to middle schooler Madden.

Zeus is initially nonplussed by his assignment; it must be a dangerous job for the valedictorian of his prison-trained canine class. But after he meets Madden and his controlling military mother, he begins to rethink his position. Madden benefits from the latest diabetes-treatment technology, but sometimes the pressure of trying to fit in overrides his best intentions. Wanting to appear like just a regular kid was one of the reasons he chose to take up tuba in the band, even though it’s a physically taxing instrument. Because of the way it makes Madden stand out, Zeus becomes convinced that music, as much as he savors it, must be the enemy. He needs to protect his boy from it, leading to lots of humorous if well-meaning attacks on all things band-related, his motivation never registering with the humans in his life. This just adds to Madden’s embarrassment of having a German shepherd accompany him around his school. Narrator Zeus, ever insightful in a canine way, does a hilarious job of deciphering English, assembling interesting interpretations of new words. Madden’s fumbling attempts at a relationship with Ashvi, an attractive flute player,  add spice to this engaging tale. Zeus does not seem to understand racial difference, but Madden and his mom seem to be white; Ashvi’s name suggests that she is South Asian.

Fun and surprisingly informative. (Fiction. 9-12)

Pub Date: June 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-288593-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Katherine Tegen/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: March 29, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2020

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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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This pitch-perfect contemporary novel gently explores the past’s repercussions on the present

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AS BRAVE AS YOU

Eleven-year-old Brooklynite Genie has “worry issues,” so when he and his older brother, Ernie, are sent to Virginia to spend a month with their estranged grandparents while their parents “try to figure it all out,” he goes into overdrive.

First, he discovers that Grandpop is blind. Next, there’s no Internet, so the questions he keeps track of in his notebook (over 400 so far) will have to go un-Googled. Then, he breaks the model truck that’s one of the only things Grandma still has of his deceased uncle. And he and Ernie will have to do chores, like picking peas and scooping dog poop. What’s behind the “nunya bidness door”? And is that a gun sticking out from Grandpop’s waistband? Reynolds’ middle-grade debut meanders like the best kind of summer vacation but never loses sense of its throughline. The richly voiced third-person narrative, tightly focused through Genie’s point of view, introduces both brothers and readers to this rural African-American community and allows them to relax and explore even as it delves into the many mysteries that so bedevil Genie, ranging from "Grits? What exactly are they?" to, heartbreakingly, “Why am I so stupid?” Reynolds gives his readers uncommonly well-developed, complex characters, especially the completely believable Genie and Grandpop, whose stubborn self-sufficiency belies his vulnerability and whose flawed love both Genie and readers will cherish.

This pitch-perfect contemporary novel gently explores the past’s repercussions on the present . (Fiction. 9-12)

Pub Date: May 3, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-4814-1590-3

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Caitlyn Dlouhy/Atheneum

Review Posted Online: March 30, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2016

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