TALK SANTA TO ME

Will delight readers looking for a romance with humor and heart.

Christmas is coming, but all is not merry and bright for Frankincense Wood.

Francie’s best friend, Alice Kim, is going to a different school, and it’s getting harder to connect. The 15-year-old is also dealing with cruel ongoing teasing from some boys following her first kiss two years earlier. Francie works at the Hollydale Holiday Shop, the family store filled with memories of her beloved late grandfather. Her overbearing Aunt Carole is implementing efficient, regimented processes in hopes of turning around the store’s financial situation. When Francie offhandedly refers to herself as Santa’s Intern while promoting the shop on a local cable-access show, they are inundated with letters requesting things from Santa. Meanwhile, Francie is hoping for a second chance at kissing, this time with cute transfer student Hector Ramirez. When a heartfelt letter inspires Francie to raise money to buy books for kids using local food pantries, she, Hector, and their classmate Ellie Baptiste work on a short film for a school project that also serves as a book drive fundraiser. A bonus: lots of time together with her new crush. The romantic plotline is strong but does not overshadow the treatment of friendship, grief, money worries, and more. Readers will relate to Francie’s feelings of mortification about the boys’ shaming of her. Francie and her family are coded White; Alice has Korean ancestry, Hector reads as Latinx, and Ellie is cued as Black.

Will delight readers looking for a romance with humor and heart. (Romance. 12-16)

Pub Date: Sept. 27, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-5344-7883-1

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Atheneum

Review Posted Online: June 7, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2022

NEVER FALL DOWN

Though it lacks references or suggestions for further reading, Arn's agonizing story is compelling enough that many readers...

A harrowing tale of survival in the Killing Fields.

The childhood of Arn Chorn-Pond has been captured for young readers before, in Michelle Lord and Shino Arihara's picture book, A Song for Cambodia (2008). McCormick, known for issue-oriented realism, offers a fictionalized retelling of Chorn-Pond's youth for older readers. McCormick's version begins when the Khmer Rouge marches into 11-year-old Arn's Cambodian neighborhood and forces everyone into the country. Arn doesn't understand what the Khmer Rouge stands for; he only knows that over the next several years he and the other children shrink away on a handful of rice a day, while the corpses of adults pile ever higher in the mango grove. Arn does what he must to survive—and, wherever possible, to protect a small pocket of children and adults around him. Arn's chilling history pulls no punches, trusting its readers to cope with the reality of children forced to participate in murder, torture, sexual exploitation and genocide. This gut-wrenching tale is marred only by the author's choice to use broken English for both dialogue and description. Chorn-Pond, in real life, has spoken eloquently (and fluently) on the influence he's gained by learning English; this prose diminishes both his struggle and his story.

Though it lacks references or suggestions for further reading, Arn's agonizing story is compelling enough that many readers will seek out the history themselves. (preface, author's note) (Historical fiction. 12-15)

Pub Date: May 8, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-06-173093-1

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: March 20, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2012

ONCE A QUEEN

Evocations of Narnia are not enough to salvage this fantasy, which struggles with thin character development.

A portal fantasy survivor story from an established devotional writer.

Fourteen-year-old Eva’s maternal grandmother lives on a grand estate in England; Eva and her academic parents live in New Haven, Connecticut. When she and Mum finally visit Carrick Hall, Eva is alternately resentful at what she’s missed and overjoyed to connect with sometimes aloof Grandmother. Alongside questions of Eva’s family history, the summer is permeated by a greater mystery surrounding the work of fictional children’s fantasy writer A.H.W. Clifton, who wrote a Narnialike series that Eva adores. As it happens, Grandmother was one of several children who entered and ruled Ternival, the world of Clifton’s books; the others perished in 1952, and Grandmother hasn’t recovered. The Narnia influences are strong—Eva’s grandmother is the Susan figure who’s repudiated both magic and God—and the ensuing trauma has created rifts that echo through her relationships with her daughter and granddaughter. An early narrative implication that Eva will visit Ternival to set things right barely materializes in this series opener; meanwhile, the religious parable overwhelms the magic elements as the story winds on. The serviceable plot is weakened by shallow characterization. Little backstory appears other than that which immediately concerns the plot, and Eva tends to respond emotionally as the story requires—resentful when her seething silence is required, immediately trusting toward characters readers need to trust. Major characters are cued white.

Evocations of Narnia are not enough to salvage this fantasy, which struggles with thin character development. (author’s note, map, author Q&A) (Religious fantasy. 12-14)

Pub Date: Jan. 30, 2024

ISBN: 9780593194454

Page Count: 384

Publisher: WaterBrook

Review Posted Online: Oct. 21, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2023

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