An underwater adventure bogged down by uneven pacing.

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THE SECRET DEEP

Aster wakes on a deserted beach, alone and confused, just days after she and her sister, Poppy, move to New Zealand to live with their mysterious aunt.

Aster, 13, and Poppy, 11, are officially orphans. Their dad died in a car accident when Poppy was a baby, and their mom recently lost her battle with cancer. Having no other relatives, the girls travel to New Zealand to live with their aunt, Iona, whom they haven’t seen in years because she works all over the world as a hotshot research oncologist. Iona moves them to Wildhaven, a remote ecovillage where she is doing fieldwork. Wildhaven is a research site filled with international students, secrets, and doctors at odds with one another. Following a catastrophic boat trip, Aster wakes up alone on a beach, bewildered. She works to uncover the mysteries of Wildhaven and Aunt Iona and to find Poppy. The cast is a range of races and skin colors—including Aster and Poppy, who are white, Korean, and black—but an absence of cultural markers suppresses a feeling of robust diversity. Character development is weak, so while readers will root for Aster to find Poppy, they won’t have a sense of who she really is. However, the depiction of her anxiety and panic attacks both feels authentic and is well written. While the twists are interesting, the information reveal is slow in coming, so they pack less punch than they might.

An underwater adventure bogged down by uneven pacing. (Thriller. 10-13)

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-338-56739-7

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Chicken House/Scholastic

Review Posted Online: Nov. 10, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2019

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Gripping and pretty dark—but, in the end, food, family, friendship, and straight facts win out over guile, greed, and terror.

THE ICKABOG

Rowling buffs up a tale she told her own children about a small, idyllic kingdom nearly destroyed by corrupt officials.

In the peaceful land of Cornucopia, the Ickabog has always been regarded as a legendary menace until two devious nobles play so successfully on the fears of naïve King Fred the Fearless that the once-prosperous land is devastated by ruinous taxes supposedly spent on defense while protesters are suppressed and the populace is terrorized by nighttime rampages. Pastry chef Bertha Beamish organizes a breakout from the local dungeon just as her son, Bert, and his friend Daisy Dovetail arrive…with the last Ickabog, who turns out to be real after all. Along with full plates of just deserts for both heroes and villains, the story then dishes up a metaphorical lagniappe in which the monster reveals the origins of the human race. The author frames her story as a set of ruminations on how evil can grow and people can come to believe unfounded lies. She embeds these themes in an engrossing, tightly written adventure centered on a stomach-wrenching reign of terror. The story features color illustrations by U.S. and Canadian children selected through an online contest. Most characters are cued as White in the text; a few illustrations include diverse representation.

Gripping and pretty dark—but, in the end, food, family, friendship, and straight facts win out over guile, greed, and terror. (Fantasy. 10-13)

Pub Date: Nov. 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-338-73287-0

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: Nov. 17, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: yesterday

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A sly, side-splitting hoot from start to finish.

THE MECHANICAL MIND OF JOHN COGGIN

The dreary prospect of spending a lifetime making caskets instead of wonderful inventions prompts a young orphan to snatch up his little sister and flee. Where? To the circus, of course.

Fortunately or otherwise, John and 6-year-old Page join up with Boz—sometime human cannonball for the seedy Wandering Wayfarers and a “vertically challenged” trickster with a fantastic gift for sowing chaos. Alas, the budding engineer barely has time to settle in to begin work on an experimental circus wagon powered by chicken poop and dubbed (with questionable forethought) the Autopsy. The hot pursuit of malign and indomitable Great-Aunt Beauregard, the Coggins’ only living relative, forces all three to leave the troupe for further flights and misadventures. Teele spins her adventure around a sturdy protagonist whose love for his little sister is matched only by his fierce desire for something better in life for them both and tucks in an outstanding supporting cast featuring several notably strong-minded, independent women (Page, whose glare “would kill spiders dead,” not least among them). Better yet, in Boz she has created a scene-stealing force of nature, a free spirit who’s never happier than when he’s stirring up mischief. A climactic clutch culminating in a magnificently destructive display of fireworks leaves the Coggin sibs well-positioned for bright futures. (Illustrations not seen.)

A sly, side-splitting hoot from start to finish. (Adventure. 11-13)

Pub Date: April 12, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-06-234510-3

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Walden Pond Press/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2016

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