An entertaining tale of angst, good dogs, and satisfying achievement.

STORM DOG

Ariel, smart but a bit plain, is her mother’s constant disappointment.

She can’t begin to reach the bar set by her gorgeous, blonde older sister, Gloria. Their mother has big Hollywood plans for Gloria, and Ariel is, sadly, just in the way. So when she discovers a lost and frantic German shepherd she calls Duke and meets Staff Sgt. Josephina Martínez, a former K-9 handler who’s retired to a lonely cabin in the Blue Ridge Mountains to recover from her PTSD, they become more than just solace to the frustrated eighth grader. Ariel finally has a supportive adult in her life, and she has a mission: to help Duke overcome his fears. Since Gloria has been selected to be one of the princesses of the huge annual parade, Ariel decides to train Duke to dance among the marchers, at first hoping to upstage Gloria but later because she’s determined to have pride in her own and Duke’s abilities. Then she acquires six other dogs from the local animal shelter—not quite stolen, but nearly so. All of this combines to create a triumphant parade performance but also a major public confrontation with her nasty mother and sister. Ariel’s narration initially feels more authorial than young teen, but later in the tale she hits a more believable stride. With the exception of Ariel, characters seem rather predictable. Ariel and her family are white; Sgt. Josie is Puerto Rican.

An entertaining tale of angst, good dogs, and satisfying achievement. (author’s note) (Fiction. 10-14)

Pub Date: Aug. 18, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-243000-7

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Katherine Tegen/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 3, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2020

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Poignant, respectful, and historically accurate while pulsating with emotional turmoil, adventure, and suspense.

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REFUGEE

In the midst of political turmoil, how do you escape the only country that you’ve ever known and navigate a new life? Parallel stories of three different middle school–aged refugees—Josef from Nazi Germany in 1938, Isabel from 1994 Cuba, and Mahmoud from 2015 Aleppo—eventually intertwine for maximum impact.

Three countries, three time periods, three brave protagonists. Yet these three refugee odysseys have so much in common. Each traverses a landscape ruled by a dictator and must balance freedom, family, and responsibility. Each initially leaves by boat, struggles between visibility and invisibility, copes with repeated obstacles and heart-wrenching loss, and gains resilience in the process. Each third-person narrative offers an accessible look at migration under duress, in which the behavior of familiar adults changes unpredictably, strangers exploit the vulnerabilities of transients, and circumstances seem driven by random luck. Mahmoud eventually concludes that visibility is best: “See us….Hear us. Help us.” With this book, Gratz accomplishes a feat that is nothing short of brilliant, offering a skillfully wrought narrative laced with global and intergenerational reverberations that signal hope for the future. Excellent for older middle grade and above in classrooms, book groups, and/or communities looking to increase empathy for new and existing arrivals from afar.

Poignant, respectful, and historically accurate while pulsating with emotional turmoil, adventure, and suspense. (maps, author’s note) (Historical fiction. 10-14)

Pub Date: July 25, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-545-88083-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: May 10, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2017

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TIME VILLAINS

From the Time Villains series , Vol. 1

Historical guests come to dinner and chaos ensues in this uproarious debut.

Twelve-year-old Javier Santiago’s not doing so well at Finistere, his slightly cool, slightly weird semi-castle of a school in suburban Maryland. He’s at risk of failing sixth grade and falling behind his brainiac, history-obsessed best friend, Wiki. Then comes the annual all-school project: invite three guests, living or dead, to dinner, then write an essay. For a budding chef like Javi, that’s a piece of cake. Trouble arises when Javi uses his family’s magical antique dining room table to accidentally pull his guests into the present day, including the infamous Blackbeard, who escapes before he can be sent back in time. Blackbeard wants to use the table to summon his fearsome crew and enact his plans to take over the modern world. Worse yet, the dreadful pirate is hilariously popping up all over Finistere, working as the school groundskeeper to ensure the success of his sinister plans. With the help of Brady, Javi’s tough-as-nails younger sister, the boys work to take down Blackbeard while uncovering the school’s mysterious secrets. Featuring a diverse cast led by the Puerto Rican siblings and Haitian American Wiki, grand doses of humor, and an irreverent take on some of history’s well-known figures, Piñeiro's book scores with this tale of friendship, magic, and adventure. A breakneck pace and Javi’s colorful narration hold things together as the thrilling zaniness piles up.

Magnificent. (list of characters) (Fantasy. 8-12)

Pub Date: July 6, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-72823-049-8

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Sourcebooks Young Readers

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2021

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An endearing protagonist runs the first, fast leg of Reynolds' promising relay.

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GHOST

From the Track series , Vol. 1

Castle “Ghost” Cranshaw feels like he’s been running ever since his dad pulled that gun on him and his mom—and used it.

His dad’s been in jail three years now, but Ghost still feels the trauma, which is probably at the root of the many “altercations” he gets into at middle school. When he inserts himself into a practice for a local elite track team, the Defenders, he’s fast enough that the hard-as-nails coach decides to put him on the team. Ghost is surprised to find himself caring enough about being on the team that he curbs his behavior to avoid “altercations.” But Ma doesn’t have money to spare on things like fancy running shoes, so Ghost shoplifts a pair that make his feet feel impossibly light—and his conscience correspondingly heavy. Ghost’s narration is candid and colloquial, reminiscent of such original voices as Bud Caldwell and Joey Pigza; his level of self-understanding is both believably childlike and disarming in its perception. He is self-focused enough that secondary characters initially feel one-dimensional, Coach in particular, but as he gets to know them better, so do readers, in a way that unfolds naturally and pleasingly. His three fellow “newbies” on the Defenders await their turns to star in subsequent series outings. Characters are black by default; those few white people in Ghost’s world are described as such.

An endearing protagonist runs the first, fast leg of Reynolds' promising relay. (Fiction. 10-14)

Pub Date: Aug. 30, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-4814-5015-7

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Caitlyn Dlouhy/Atheneum

Review Posted Online: July 20, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2016

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