An almost-orphan and a rescue dog share lots of heart in a winsome coming-of-age story.

A HOME FOR GODDESSES AND DOGS

After her mother succumbs to heart disease, 13-year-old Lydia goes to live with her mother’s older sister, Aunt Brat, and her wife, Eileen, in their small Connecticut town.

Almost immediately the loving couple adopts a large rescue dog that becomes mostly Lydia’s responsibility. The unfortunate animal isn’t even housebroken, and Lydia’s most decidedly not a dog person, so caring for Guffer is challenging. So is trying to be cordial—but not too friendly—with her 12 eighth grade classmates. Previously home-schooled, Lydia’s not quite ready for the friend thing. Secrets, like who could have been responsible for maiming two baby goats or why Brat is secretly caring for them at a neighbor’s farm, complicate life. Background plotlines (an angry neighbor who hates Guffer, Lydia’s absent father, and the cause of Guffer’s anxieties) all gradually evolve. Similarly, Lydia slowly learns to cope with her grief, sometimes aided by spending time with “the goddesses”—artistic collages of strong women that she and her mother crafted. Gentle, fully fleshed characters (most seemingly white) are lovingly drawn in this long tale of healing, but the pacing is sometimes frustratingly slow. Although she’s clearly intelligent, Lydia’s first-person narrative often seems more like the voice of an adult than a young teen. In spite of these minor flaws, her poignant tale is engaging and uplifting.

An almost-orphan and a rescue dog share lots of heart in a winsome coming-of-age story. (Fiction.10-13)

Pub Date: Feb. 25, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-279678-3

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Katherine Tegen/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Oct. 9, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2019

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Dolphin lovers will appreciate this look at our complicated relationship with these marine mammals.

HOW TO SPEAK DOLPHIN

Is dolphin-assisted therapy so beneficial to patients that it’s worth keeping a wild dolphin captive?

Twelve-year-old Lily has lived with her emotionally distant oncologist stepfather and a succession of nannies since her mother died in a car accident two years ago. Nannies leave because of the difficulty of caring for Adam, Lily’s severely autistic 4-year-old half brother. The newest, Suzanne, seems promising, but Lily is tired of feeling like a planet orbiting the sun Adam. When she meets blind Zoe, who will attend the same private middle school as Lily in the fall, Lily’s happy to have a friend. However, Zoe’s take on the plight of the captive dolphin, Nori, used in Adam’s therapy opens Lily’s eyes. She knows she must use her influence over her stepfather, who is consulting on Nori’s treatment for cancer (caused by an oil spill), to free the animal. Lily’s got several fine lines to walk, as she works to hold onto her new friend, convince her stepfather of the rightness of releasing Nori, and do what’s best for Adam. In her newest exploration of animal-human relationships, Rorby’s lonely, mature heroine faces tough but realistic situations. Siblings of children on the spectrum will identify with Lily. If the tale flirts with sentimentality and some of the characters are strident in their views, the whole never feels maudlin or didactic.

Dolphin lovers will appreciate this look at our complicated relationship with these marine mammals. (Fiction. 10-13)

Pub Date: May 26, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-545-67605-2

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: Feb. 16, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2015

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An uplifting sequel told with heart and humor.

MERCI SUÁREZ CAN'T DANCE

Merci returns for another year of challenges and triumphs at home and at Seaward Pines Academy.

Life is a little different for Merci Suárez in seventh grade. Her older brother, Roli, is off at college; her grandfather Lolo’s Alzheimer’s is more pronounced; and she has to regularly babysit her Tía Inés’ spirited young twins. Merci is also assigned to manage the school store with math whiz Wilson Bellevue, a quiet classmate who she realizes is not obnoxious like other boys. When Merci and Wilson are expected to sell tickets to the Valentine’s Day Heart Ball, she must interact with a slightly-less-mean Edna Santos, who’s running the dance and unexpectedly getting closer to Hannah, one of Merci’s best friends. Medina continues to tenderly explore issues such as multigenerational immigrant family dynamics, managing the responsibilities of home and school, and learning how to navigate changing friendships and first crushes. Merci’s maturity and growth are as engaging and compelling as they were in the author’s Newbery Medal winner, Merci Suárez Changes Gears (2018). The cast is broadly diverse; Merci and her family are Cuban American, Edna is Dominican, and Creole and Cajun Wilson has a physical disability.

An uplifting sequel told with heart and humor. (Fiction. 9-13)

Pub Date: April 6, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-7636-9050-2

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Candlewick

Review Posted Online: Jan. 12, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2021

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The novel’s dryness is mitigated in part by its exploration of immigrant identity, xenophobia, and hate crimes.

COUNT ME IN

Seventh graders Karina Chopra and Chris Daniels live in Houston, Texas, and although they are next-door neighbors, they have different interests and their paths rarely cross.

In fact, Karina, whose family is Indian, doesn’t want to be friends with Chris, whose family is white, because the boys he hangs out with are mean to her. Things change when Karina’s immigrant paternal grandfather, Papa, moves in with Karina’s family. Papa begins tutoring Chris in math, and, as a result, Chris and Karina begin spending time with each other. Karina even comes to realize that Chris is not at all like the rest of his friends and that she should give him a second chance. One day, when Karina, Papa, and Chris are walking home from school, something terrible happens: They are assaulted by a stranger who calls Papa a Muslim terrorist, and he is badly injured. The children find themselves wanting to speak out for Papa and for other first-generation Americans like him. Narrated by Karina and Chris in alternate chapters, Bajaj’s novel gives readers varied and valuable perspectives of what it means to be first- and third-generation Indian Americans in an increasingly diverse nation. Unfortunately, however, Bajaj’s characters are quite bland, and the present-tense narrative voices of the preteen protagonists lack both distinction and authenticity.

The novel’s dryness is mitigated in part by its exploration of immigrant identity, xenophobia, and hate crimes. (Fiction. 10-13)

Pub Date: Aug. 27, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-51724-5

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Nancy Paulsen Books

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2019

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