Strained and derivative, without sufficient depth to compensate.

THE SCREAMING STATUE

From the Curiosity House series , Vol. 2

Sam, Thomas, Max, and Pippa are in danger of losing the only home they’ve ever known, in Depression-era New York City.

Their strange, unusual skills are valued at Dumfrey’s Dime Museum of Freaks, Oddities, and Wonders, but the museum is struggling to survive. Several displays have been destroyed, and there is dissention that leads many of the inhabitants to jump ship amid mysterious accidents. When a beloved friend and supporter is murdered, the children are determined to find answers. They employed their skills in series opener The Shrunken Head (2015), but the stakes are even higher now. There are more murders, museum mayhem, skulduggery, kidnappings, and danger at every turn. All the while the four young heroes are concerned that their evil archenemy, Rattigan, is behind it all. A large cast of mostly one-dimensional, mostly white characters moves in and out of the tale, providing clues and hints as well as many red herrings in what turns out to be a distracting subplot. Oliver and Chester keep a somewhat tighter rein this time, allowing some insight into the children’s emotions and growing pains and providing one new character, newsboy Chubby, with a bit of substance. When all seems to be resolved, a very unlikely twist allows for yet another series entry.

Strained and derivative, without sufficient depth to compensate. (Historical fiction. 9-12)

Pub Date: May 3, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-06-227084-9

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: March 2, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2016

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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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A pitch-perfect middle-grade novel that insightfully explores timely topics with authenticity and warmth.

EACH TINY SPARK

A nuanced novel about a neurodiverse preteen’s political and social awakening by a Pura Belpré Honor–winning author.

Sixth grader Emilia Rosa Torres sometimes has a hard time keeping up with schoolwork and concentrating on one thing at a time, but her software-developer mother and superinvolved abuelita help her keep on task. Days before her father’s return to their Atlanta suburb from his most recent deployment, her mother goes on a business trip, leaving the middle schooler to juggle his mood swings, her friend troubles, and her looming assignments all on her own. When a social studies project opens her eyes to injustices past and present, Emilia begins to find her voice and use it to make an impact on her community. Writing with sensitivity and respectful complexity, Cartaya tackles weighty issues, such as immigration, PTSD, and microaggressions, through the lens of a budding tinkerer and activist who has ADHD. The members of this Cuban American family don’t all practice the same religion, with Emilia’s Catholic grandmother faithfully attending Mass multiple times a week and the protagonist’s mother celebrating her culture’s Yoruba roots with Santería. Conversations on race and gender crop up through the narrative as Emilia’s grandmother likes to emphasize her family’s European heritage—Emilia can pass as white, with her fair complexion, light eyes and auburn hair. All of these larger issues are effortlessly woven in with skill and humor, as is the Spanish her family easily mixes with English.

A pitch-perfect middle-grade novel that insightfully explores timely topics with authenticity and warmth. (author’s note) (Fiction. 9-12)

Pub Date: Aug. 6, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-451-47972-3

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Kokila

Review Posted Online: April 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2019

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