THE WILLOUGHBYS RETURN

From the Willoughbys series

The incompetent parents from The Willoughbys (2008) find themselves thawed by global warming.

Henry and Frances haven’t aged since the accident that buried them in snow and froze them for 30 years in the Swiss Alps. Their Rip van Winkle–ish return is archly comedic, with the pair, a medical miracle, realizing (at last!) how much they’ve lost and how baffled they are now. Meanwhile, their eldest son, Tim, is grown and in charge of his adoptive father’s candy empire, now threatened with destitution by a congressional ban on candy (opposed by an unnamed Bernie Sanders). He is father to 11-year-old Richie, who employs ad-speak whenever he talks about his newest toys, like a remote-controlled car (“The iconic Lamborghini bull adorns the hubcaps and hood”). But Richie envies Winston Poore, the very poor boy next door, who has a toy car carved for him by his itinerant encyclopedia-salesman father. Winston and his sister, Winifred, plan to earn money for essentials by offering their services as companions to lonely Richie while their mother dabbles, spectacularly unsuccessfully, in running a B&B. Lowry’s exaggerated characters and breezy, unlikely plot are highly entertaining. She offers humorous commentary both via footnotes advising readers of odd facts related to the narrative and via Henry and Frances’ reentry challenges. The threads of the story, with various tales of parents gone missing, fortunes lost or never found, and good luck in the end, are gathered most satisfactorily and warmheartedly.

Highly amusing. (Fiction. 8-12)

Pub Date: Sept. 29, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-358-42389-8

Page Count: 176

Publisher: HMH Books

Review Posted Online: June 16, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2020

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Readers can still rely on this series to bring laughs.

WRECKING BALL

From the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series , Vol. 14

The Heffley family’s house undergoes a disastrous attempt at home improvement.

When Great Aunt Reba dies, she leaves some money to the family. Greg’s mom calls a family meeting to determine what to do with their share, proposing home improvements and then overruling the family’s cartoonish wish lists and instead pushing for an addition to the kitchen. Before bringing in the construction crew, the Heffleys attempt to do minor maintenance and repairs themselves—during which Greg fails at the work in various slapstick scenes. Once the professionals are brought in, the problems keep getting worse: angry neighbors, terrifying problems in walls, and—most serious—civil permitting issues that put the kibosh on what work’s been done. Left with only enough inheritance to patch and repair the exterior of the house—and with the school’s dismal standardized test scores as a final straw—Greg’s mom steers the family toward moving, opening up house-hunting and house-selling storylines (and devastating loyal Rowley, who doesn’t want to lose his best friend). While Greg’s positive about the move, he’s not completely uncaring about Rowley’s action. (And of course, Greg himself is not as unaffected as he wishes.) The gags include effectively placed callbacks to seemingly incidental events (the “stress lizard” brought in on testing day is particularly funny) and a lampoon of after-school-special–style problem books. Just when it seems that the Heffleys really will move, a new sequence of chaotic trouble and property destruction heralds a return to the status quo. Whew.

Readers can still rely on this series to bring laughs. (Graphic/fiction hybrid. 8-12)

Pub Date: Nov. 5, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-4197-3903-3

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Amulet/Abrams

Review Posted Online: Nov. 19, 2019

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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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