Connor’s gift for creating complex characters extends to the supporting characters and makes this a compelling read.

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THE TRUTH AS TOLD BY MASON BUTTLE

Under a cloud of suspicion after the death of his best friend, a boy with a “trifecta of troubles” continues as best he can.

Lt. Baird is sure seventh-grader Mason Buttle knows more about the death of Benny Kilmartin than the story he’s told over and over. Now he’s writing it, with the help of speech-recognition software in the school social worker’s office (a process that is reproduced with unlikely accuracy). In a moving first-person narrative, Connor reveals a remarkably distinct and memorable character. Loyal and good-natured, Mason is large for his age, highly dyslexic, abnormally sweaty, and the regular target of bullying neighbor boys. He feels his emotions as colors—green for stress, shades of pink for happiness. There hasn’t been much pink in Mason’s life in the 16 months since Benny’s accidental death, but now there’s a new friend, tiny Calvin Chumsky, and the bullying neighbor’s dog, Moonie, who prefers Mason. Using Mason’s conversations with the detective and his voice-to-text storytelling, the author weaves the back story into a narrative of redemption chronicling his growing friendships. The climactic revelation reveals the gaps in everyone’s understanding of the event and propels his struggling, white, apple-farming family—grandmother, unemployed uncle, and the stray, shopping-addicted young woman his uncle brought home—to make some needed changes.

Connor’s gift for creating complex characters extends to the supporting characters and makes this a compelling read. (Fiction. 9-14)

Pub Date: Jan. 23, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-06-249143-5

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Katherine Tegen/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Oct. 1, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2017

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Good Guys and Bad get just deserts in the end, and Stanley gets plenty of opportunities to display pluck and valor in this...

HOLES

Sentenced to a brutal juvenile detention camp for a crime he didn't commit, a wimpy teenager turns four generations of bad family luck around in this sunburnt tale of courage, obsession, and buried treasure from Sachar (Wayside School Gets a Little Stranger, 1995, etc.).

Driven mad by the murder of her black beau, a schoolteacher turns on the once-friendly, verdant town of Green Lake, Texas, becomes feared bandit Kissin' Kate Barlow, and dies, laughing, without revealing where she buried her stash. A century of rainless years later, lake and town are memories—but, with the involuntary help of gangs of juvenile offenders, the last descendant of the last residents is still digging. Enter Stanley Yelnats IV, great-grandson of one of Kissin' Kate's victims and the latest to fall to the family curse of being in the wrong place at the wrong time; under the direction of The Warden, a woman with rattlesnake venom polish on her long nails, Stanley and each of his fellow inmates dig a hole a day in the rock-hard lake bed. Weeks of punishing labor later, Stanley digs up a clue, but is canny enough to conceal the information of which hole it came from. Through flashbacks, Sachar weaves a complex net of hidden relationships and well-timed revelations as he puts his slightly larger-than-life characters under a sun so punishing that readers will be reaching for water bottles.

Good Guys and Bad get just deserts in the end, and Stanley gets plenty of opportunities to display pluck and valor in this rugged, engrossing adventure. (Fiction. 9-13)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 978-0-374-33265-5

Page Count: 233

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2000

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Falters in its oversimplified portrayal of a complicated region and people.

GROUND ZERO

Parallel storylines take readers through the lives of two young people on Sept. 11 in 2001 and 2019.

In the contemporary timeline, Reshmina is an Afghan girl living in foothills near the Pakistan border that are a battleground between the Taliban and U.S. armed forces. She is keen to improve her English while her twin brother, Pasoon, is inspired by the Taliban and wants to avenge their older sister, killed by an American bomb on her wedding day. Reshmina helps a wounded American soldier, making her village a Taliban target. In 2001, Brandon Chavez is spending the day with his father, who works at the World Trade Center’s Windows on the World restaurant. Brandon is heading to the underground mall when a plane piloted by al-Qaida hits the tower, and his father is among those killed. The two storylines develop in parallel through alternating chapters. Gratz’s deeply moving writing paints vivid images of the loss and fear of those who lived through the trauma of 9/11. However, this nuance doesn’t extend to the Afghan characters; Reshmina and Pasoon feel one-dimensional. Descriptions of the Taliban’s Afghan victims and Reshmina's gentle father notwithstanding, references to all young men eventually joining the Taliban and Pasoon's zeal for their cause counteract this messaging. Explanations for the U.S. military invasion of Afghanistan in the author’s note and in characters’ conversations too simplistically present the U.S. presence.

Falters in its oversimplified portrayal of a complicated region and people. (author’s note) (Fiction. 9-12)

Pub Date: Feb. 2, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-338-24575-2

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: Dec. 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2021

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