An interesting but ultimately unsatisfying experiment from a writer worth watching.

THE ABSENCE OF SPARROWS

When a bizarre plague strikes the world, the stakes for one boy could not be more personal in this debut coming-of-age novel from a Canadian author.

It starts the summer Ben is 11; sudden dark clouds appear, and millions of random adults turn to obsidian glass. As panic and chaos spread, passionate birder Ben worries mostly for his own family, about the town bullies, and over the inexplicably missing local sparrows. But after a compelling, mysterious Voice on the radio enlists the world into a radical response, Ben must decide where his loyalties belong. His first-person narration authentically conveys the painful confusion of a sensitive child coping with adult tragedies. Removing access to computers and cellphones turns his small rural home into an oddly old-fashioned Everytown, albeit one with little scope for women—Ben’s mentally fragile mother is the only notable female character. A Stranger Things–like tone effectively conveys the creeping dread of a hapless microcosm trapped within a supernatural end of days. Unfortunately, despite the intimate family drama and devastating losses, there is a frustrating lack of resolution: What really caused the “glassification”? Who was the Voice? What did the birds have to do with it? Along with the more compassionate but much less innocent Ben, readers learn only that “life simply went on.” Characters are default white.

An interesting but ultimately unsatisfying experiment from a writer worth watching. (Horror. 8-12)

Pub Date: May 7, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-316-45092-8

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Feb. 13, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2019

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A road trip to remember.

CLEAN GETAWAY

Using the Negro Travelers’ Green Book and her hidden past as a road map, a grandma takes her grandson on a cross country journey.

When G’ma pulls up to William “Scoob” Lamar’s house in a brand-new Winnebago and invites him on an adventure, Scoob leaves a note for his dad and jumps in. Despite not knowing where they are going, or why G’ma has traded in her Mini Cooper and house for the RV, Scoob is a willing wingman because he wants to save spring break and escape his strict single dad for a few days. Readers will appreciate the bond between Scoob and G’ma; Stone balances fun with emotion for a compelling read. After they cross from Georgia to Alabama and G’ma keeps avoiding Dad’s calls, Scoob begins to get suspicious. When G’ma lets him see the contents of her once off-limits treasure box, which includes a 1963 edition of the Travelers’ Green Book, Scoob understands this trip means much more than even he imagined. The complex role race plays in their family and on this trip—Scoob is mixed-race and presents black, and G’ma is white—is explored in a meaningful way that provides details about a period in time as well as present-day realities. Rich in history, Stone’s middle-grade debut entertains and informs young readers. The subdued ending may frustrate, but the journey, punctuated by Anyabwile’s grayscale cartoons, is well worth it.

A road trip to remember. (Fiction. 8-12)

Pub Date: Jan. 7, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-9297-3

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Sept. 15, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2019

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With Ivan’s movie out this year from Disney, expect great interest—it will be richly rewarded.

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THE ONE AND ONLY BOB

Tiny, sassy Bob the dog, friend of The One and Only Ivan (2012), returns to tell his tale.

Wisecracking Bob, who is a little bit Chihuahua among other things, now lives with his girl, Julia, and her parents. Happily, her father works at Wildworld Zoological Park and Sanctuary, the zoo where Bob’s two best friends, Ivan the gorilla and Ruby the elephant, live, so Bob gets to visit and catch up with them regularly. Due to an early betrayal, Bob doesn’t trust humans (most humans are good only for their thumbs); he fears he’s going soft living with Julia, and he’s certain he is a Bad Dog—as in “not a good representative of my species.” On a visit to the zoo with a storm threatening, Bob accidentally falls into the gorilla enclosure just as a tornado strikes. So that’s what it’s like to fly. In the storm’s aftermath, Bob proves to everyone (and finally himself) that there is a big heart in that tiny chest…and a brave one too. With this companion, Applegate picks up where her Newbery Medal winner left off, and fans will be overjoyed to ride along in the head of lovable, self-deprecating Bob on his storm-tossed adventure. His wry doggy observations and attitude are pitch perfect (augmented by the canine glossary and Castelao’s picture dictionary of dog postures found in the frontmatter). Gorilla Ivan described Julia as having straight, black hair in the previous title, and Castelao's illustrations in that volume showed her as pale-skinned. (Finished art not available for review.)

With Ivan’s movie out this year from Disney, expect great interest—it will be richly rewarded. (afterword) (Fiction. 8-12)

Pub Date: May 5, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-299131-7

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: March 25, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2020

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