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From the Gravel Road series

More likely to confuse than to provoke thought.

In a near-future United States, unisex gender presentation becomes mandated by law.

In short free-verse lines with occasional rhyme, a narrator of unspecified gender explains that Pennsylvania has just become the final U.S. state to pass this legislation, and “in 30 days / this will be our law: / No Gender Specified.” Under the new law, everyone must shave their heads, wear body-shaping suits, take voice-altering medication and avoid asking names of other people. When the narrator, who takes the name Spark (unisex names are, apparently, acceptable), meets Whistler at a campground, the teens are instantly drawn to each other. Descriptions of the pair’s desire for each other are moving, but basic plot questions remain confusingly unanswered: If the law is not yet in effect, why can’t Whistler know Spark’s gender? How does the government plan to enforce its ban on love and sex for young people? In light of young people’s increasing awareness of transgender experiences, the idea put forth here that knowing the shape of someone’s physical body reveals the person’s true gender feels both dated and simplistic. And with no discussion of how sexual orientation works in a unisex world, the book feels oddly out of step with readers’ current reality, in which social and legal acceptance of same-sex marriage is becoming the norm.

More likely to confuse than to provoke thought. (Dystopian romance/verse. 12-16)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-62250-891-4

Page Count: 148

Publisher: Saddleback Educational Publishing

Review Posted Online: July 15, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2014

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Entertaining and eye-opening.

Brief, breezy profiles of women who committed crimes, from Delilah to Catherine the Great to gangster moll Virginia Hill, with comic-strip commentary from the authors.

With a conversational style, the mother-daughter team of Yolen and Stemple recap the crimes and misdeeds of 26 women and a few girls in this jaunty collective biography. After each two-to-four–page biographical sketch and accompanying illustration of the woman, a one-page comic strip shows the authors arguing about the woman’s guilt. The comic-strip Stemple typically comes down on the side of “guilty” or, in the case of Cleopatra marrying her brother, “icky.” Yolen tends toward moral relativism, suggesting the women acted according to the norms of their times or that they were driven to crime by circumstances such as poverty or lack of women’s rights. Thus, strip-teasing Salome, who may have been only 10, was manipulated by her mother into asking for John the Baptist’s head on a platter. Outlaw Belle Starr was “a good Southern girl raised during difficult times.” While the comic strips grow repetitive, the narrative portraits, arranged chronologically, offer intriguing facts—and in some cases, speculation—about an array of colorful figures, many of whom won’t be known to readers.

Entertaining and eye-opening. (bibliography, index) (Collective biography. 12-15)

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-58089-185-1

Page Count: 172

Publisher: Charlesbridge

Review Posted Online: Dec. 25, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2013

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As gay Chippewa 16-year-old Zack puts it, “They tried really hard to kill us all off, and we’re still here!”—a welcome and...

In distilled interviews, 45 young Native Americans express hope, resilience, optimism—and, rarely, anger—amid frank accounts of families plagued by drug, alcohol and sexual abuse, as well as murder, suicide, extreme poverty, and widespread discrimination, both public and private.

The interviewees range in age from 9 to 18 and in locale from the Everglades to Nunavut, Martha’s Vineyard to Haida Gwaii. Despite this, likely due to editorial shaping, Ellis’ interviewees sound about the same in vocabulary and “voice.” Together, they tell a wrenching tale. Many are foster children; several suffer from or have siblings with spectrum disorders and other disabilities; nearly all describe tragic personal or family histories. Moreover, the narratives are shot through with evidence of vicious racial prejudice—not just in the distant past: “My mother works with residential school survivors,” tellingly notes Cohen, a Haida teen. Even the youngest, however, display firm tribal identities and knowledge of their collective history and heritage. Also, along with describing typical activities and concerns of modern day-to-day living, these young people embrace their distinctive cultural practices and almost without exception, express a buoyant attitude.

As gay Chippewa 16-year-old Zack puts it, “They tried really hard to kill us all off, and we’re still here!”—a welcome and necessary reminder to all. (introductory notes, photos, annotated lists of organizations) (Nonfiction. 12-16)

Pub Date: Sept. 10, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-55498-120-5

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Groundwood

Review Posted Online: Aug. 2, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2013

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