Robby Hummer (Nekomah Creek, 1991, etc.) is now a year older and has a better teacher; and his small Oregon community is no longer questioning his parents' domestic arrangements (happy-go- lucky Dad is in charge of the rambunctious three-year-old twins, while artist Mom works outside the home). This holiday season the 'ifth-grader's concerns involve a school play, a relic of the `40s chosen as safe from any religious complaints. Its quality, however, is dreadful; and when best friend Jesse bows out, Robbie finds himself cast as Head Elf, despite his reluctance to perform in public. Meanwhile, in the National Forest where Alfie, a reclusive Vietnam vet, can sometimes be heard bemoaning his troubles, the family cuts their allotted Christmas tree and little Freddie loses his beloved toy, Buddy Wabbit. Money's tight after Mom loses a contract, the IRS decides to audit, and Robby dreads the holiday arrival of cousins he remembers as non simpatico. As might be expected, all this works out pleasantly (Mom and Dad overpaid the IRS), with plenty of comic turns and some that are gratifyingly unexpected. And if Robby's musings about his classmates' differing beliefs and his own are obviously crafted to cover the ground from fundamentalist to atheist, they are also believably those of a thoughtful 10-year-old from an undogmatic, churchgoing family. Wholesome, easily read fare, funny and wonderfully true to life. Once again, the Hummers are winners. (Illustrations, not seen) (Fiction. 8-12)

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1994

ISBN: 0-385-32047-7

Page Count: 147

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 1994

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Yet another novel about dreading middle school, this breezy beach read is well-done but offers little new.

11 BEFORE 12

Two BFFs tackle the anxiety-riddled transition to middle school by creating a list of 11 things to accomplish before their 12th birthdays in November.

Kaylan has what her Italian grandmother called “agita”—anxiety—and she has maximum-high levels at the prospect of sixth grade with its cliques and mean girls. Lots is changing in the white girl’s life: her dad has moved to Arizona and her mom is sad; her one-year-older brother, Ryan, once her friend, is now her tormentor; and she is beginning to get butterflies around boys. Kaylan and her best friend, Ari, white and Jewish, create a list, ranging from getting detention and makeovers to first kisses and sabotaging Ryan. When Ari connects with friends from Hebrew school and summer camp, the two BFFs fight. Kaylan’s not-quite-teen first-person voice perfectly captures the horrors of starting at a new school, from the prospect of eating alone in the cafeteria to the awkwardness of meeting a new neighbor boy, biracial (black/white) Jason. Jason supplies most of the book’s diversity; one of the indistinguishable lunch-table friends mentions being Korean but is undeveloped as a character. As is typical for the genre, Kaylan matures and learns to cope with unpredictability, even participating in the talent show as the fastest clementine peeler in school.

Yet another novel about dreading middle school, this breezy beach read is well-done but offers little new. (Fiction. 9-12)

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-06-241174-7

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Katherine Tegen/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 1, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2017

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Insurmountably derivative.


A mysterious evil preys on the fears of a group of kids.

The notes mysteriously arrive on Halloween, instructing eighth graders April (fat and bullied, likely white); her best friend, Andres (gay and Latinx); their former friend–turned–class bully Caroline (white); and unpopular ninth grader Deshaun (black) to go to the cemetery at midnight. Deshaun’s popular best friend, Kyle (white and gay), tags along, and the group converges on a mysterious gravesite—it’s old but also has been recently vandalized, and the dirt looks freshly disturbed. They feel compelled to dig, until they unearth a tin and hope that’s the end of a prank. But it’s no prank, and they find themselves haunted by their individual greatest fears—and in between the personalized hauntings, the malicious entity assumes the form of April’s greatest fear, a clown, which menaces, waves at, and taunts the kids. While the target audience is—by age rating—too young to have had direct exposure to Stephen King’s novel IT (1986) and its past and present cinematic adaptations, many will be familiar enough with the premise to recognize the glaring similarities. The narration alternates among the five characters, with their voices for the most part sounding all too similar. The parts dealing with the evil entity are scary without being graphic; the most effective subplot deals with an abusive home life situation. The unsatisfying ending leaves too many questions unanswered.

Insurmountably derivative. (Horror. 8-12)

Pub Date: Sept. 3, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-338-57717-4

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: June 16, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2019

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