With a strong, never-preachy anti-bullying message, this one scores a touchdown.

BRAVE LIKE THAT

A sixth grader who’s struggling to find a path forward that doesn’t disappoint his adoptive father befriends a bullied boy who’s delightfully comfortable in his own skin.

His father was a talented football player, so Cyrus believes that if he doesn’t succeed on the gridiron, he won’t live up to his expectations. But last year was the first year of full tackle, and Cyrus hates it. He finds far greater satisfaction helping out alongside some friendly girls at the local animal shelter, where a stray dog that he befriended has been taken. To volunteer there he must lie his way out of practices and deceive his father, too. Meanwhile, he conceals another serious problem: Even though he reads fluently, he comprehends almost nothing. When his two football-star friends begin to unmercifully pick on puny, smart, and unconventional Eduardo, Cyrus is faced with a daunting challenge. He’s convinced he’s not brave, but can he find the courage to stand up to his friends and protect the boy he finds understands him much better than they do? Cyrus is movingly supported by his grandmother, who can no longer speak after a stroke but whose love shines through. Cyrus’ plight believably expands to seem almost insurmountable, but help comes from surprising directions in this moving, character-driven tale. Cyrus and his family seem to be white; Eduardo is Latinx.

With a strong, never-preachy anti-bullying message, this one scores a touchdown. (Fiction. 9-13)

Pub Date: June 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-287811-3

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Feb. 26, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2020

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NIGHTBIRD

There’s a monster in Sidwell, Massachusetts, that can only be seen at night or, as Twig reveals, if passersby are near her house.

It’s her older brother, James, born with wings just like every male in the Fowler line for the last 200 years. They were cursed by the Witch of Sidwell, left brokenhearted by their forebear Lowell Fowler. Twig and James are tired of the secret and self-imposed isolation. Lonely Twig narrates, bringing the small town and its characters to life, intertwining events present and past, and describing the effects of the spell on her fractured family’s daily life. Longing for some normalcy and companionship, she befriends new-neighbor Julia while James falls in love with Julia’s sister, Agate—only to learn they are descendants of the Witch. James and Agate seem as star-crossed as their ancestors, especially when the townspeople attribute a spate of petty thefts and graffiti protesting the development of the woods to the monster and launch a hunt. The mix of romance and magic is irresistible and the tension, compelling. With the help of friends and through a series of self-realizations and discoveries, Twig grows more self-assured. She is certain she knows how to change the curse. In so doing, Twig not only changes James’ fate, but her own, for the first time feeling the fullness of family, friends and hope for the future.

Enchanting. (Magical realism. 9-12)

Pub Date: March 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-385-38958-7

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Wendy Lamb/Random

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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Rich and strange (and kitted out with an eye-catching cover), but stronger in the set pieces than the internal logic.

THE SCHOOL FOR GOOD AND EVIL

From the School for Good and Evil series , Vol. 1

Chainani works an elaborate sea change akin to Gregory Maguire’s Wicked (1995), though he leaves the waters muddied.

Every four years, two children, one regarded as particularly nice and the other particularly nasty, are snatched from the village of Gavaldon by the shadowy School Master to attend the divided titular school. Those who survive to graduate become major or minor characters in fairy tales. When it happens to sweet, Disney princess–like Sophie and  her friend Agatha, plain of features, sour of disposition and low of self-esteem, they are both horrified to discover that they’ve been dropped not where they expect but at Evil and at Good respectively. Gradually—too gradually, as the author strings out hundreds of pages of Hogwarts-style pranks, classroom mishaps and competitions both academic and romantic—it becomes clear that the placement wasn’t a mistake at all. Growing into their true natures amid revelations and marked physical changes, the two spark escalating rivalry between the wings of the school. This leads up to a vicious climactic fight that sees Good and Evil repeatedly switching sides. At this point, readers are likely to feel suddenly left behind, as, thanks to summary deus ex machina resolutions, everything turns out swell(ish).

Rich and strange (and kitted out with an eye-catching cover), but stronger in the set pieces than the internal logic. (Fantasy. 11-13)

Pub Date: May 14, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-06-210489-2

Page Count: 496

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Feb. 13, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2013

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