Despite a few flaws, this tale offers some worthy anti-bullying pointers.

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OUT LOUD

JUNE'S VENTURE

A bullied girl discovers a monster and her own courage in this debut illustrated children’s book.

When blue-skinned kids team up at the beach for a school sand castle competition, June gets left out. Though sad, she decides to work on her own. Bill, a strutting bully, insults June’s castle and stomps it flat. Others, including adults, just tell June to ignore him and toughen up. “Nobody likes you,” Bill tells June, and she believes him. She flees the competition, but Jonas, a kind classmate, follows to let her know he’s on her side. After some cloud watching, they hear a bird’s distress call and follow it to a garbage heap with a sign reading “TRASH-MONSTER. BEWARE!” A seagull is being held captive by the monster, Skull, but the children tell the bird: “Bullying is unacceptable!” Inspired and emboldened, the seagull stands up to Skull, who backs down when faced with the three acting together. Skull apologizes, saying he was treated like garbage and doesn’t know any other way. He is advised to let go of the past and start doing good deeds. He agrees and the four, bolstered by new self-worth, have an adventure in a ship created by Skull. Returning to the sand castle competition with her new friends, June stands up to Bill with confidence in herself, and he backs down. In her book, Agudelo adds to the growing children’s literature on bullying. The useful advice here covers basics like developing self-esteem, being a good bystander (like Jonas), forming a united front against bullies, and firmly standing up for yourself. Many experts also recommend getting adult intervention. But (perhaps realistically) the adults here seem inclined to let Bill be Bill. It’s less realistic that Skull turns on a dime to become a good friend. The story is told in rhyme, but the rhythm can be rocky (“Nearby, her peers teamed up in groups of two or more, / for a school art competition / to sculpt a unique sand castle on the shore”). In addition, there are some infelicities, such as rhyming “sight” and “site” and “he said with despise.” The watercolor images by debut illustrator Restrepo have a lot of expression, style, and verve, and do much to expand the storytelling.

Despite a few flaws, this tale offers some worthy anti-bullying pointers.

Pub Date: June 20, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-9983011-2-9

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Time Tunnel Media

Review Posted Online: July 12, 2019

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Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

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THE VANISHING HALF

Inseparable identical twin sisters ditch home together, and then one decides to vanish.

The talented Bennett fuels her fiction with secrets—first in her lauded debut, The Mothers (2016), and now in the assured and magnetic story of the Vignes sisters, light-skinned women parked on opposite sides of the color line. Desiree, the “fidgety twin,” and Stella, “a smart, careful girl,” make their break from stultifying rural Mallard, Louisiana, becoming 16-year-old runaways in 1954 New Orleans. The novel opens 14 years later as Desiree, fleeing a violent marriage in D.C., returns home with a different relative: her 8-year-old daughter, Jude. The gossips are agog: “In Mallard, nobody married dark....Marrying a dark man and dragging his blueblack child all over town was one step too far.” Desiree's decision seals Jude’s misery in this “colorstruck” place and propels a new generation of flight: Jude escapes on a track scholarship to UCLA. Tending bar as a side job in Beverly Hills, she catches a glimpse of her mother’s doppelgänger. Stella, ensconced in White society, is shedding her fur coat. Jude, so Black that strangers routinely stare, is unrecognizable to her aunt. All this is expertly paced, unfurling before the book is half finished; a reader can guess what is coming. Bennett is deeply engaged in the unknowability of other people and the scourge of colorism. The scene in which Stella adopts her White persona is a tour de force of doubling and confusion. It calls up Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, the book's 50-year-old antecedent. Bennett's novel plays with its characters' nagging feelings of being incomplete—for the twins without each other; for Jude’s boyfriend, Reese, who is trans and seeks surgery; for their friend Barry, who performs in drag as Bianca. Bennett keeps all these plot threads thrumming and her social commentary crisp. In the second half, Jude spars with her cousin Kennedy, Stella's daughter, a spoiled actress.

Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

Pub Date: June 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-53629-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020

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A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

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THE GIVER OF STARS

Women become horseback librarians in 1930s Kentucky and face challenges from the landscape, the weather, and the men around them.

Alice thought marrying attractive American Bennett Van Cleve would be her ticket out of her stifling life in England. But when she and Bennett settle in Baileyville, Kentucky, she realizes that her life consists of nothing more than staying in their giant house all day and getting yelled at by his unpleasant father, who owns a coal mine. She’s just about to resign herself to a life of boredom when an opportunity presents itself in the form of a traveling horseback library—an initiative from Eleanor Roosevelt meant to counteract the devastating effects of the Depression by focusing on literacy and learning. Much to the dismay of her husband and father-in-law, Alice signs up and soon learns the ropes from the library’s leader, Margery. Margery doesn’t care what anyone thinks of her, rejects marriage, and would rather be on horseback than in a kitchen. And even though all this makes Margery a town pariah, Alice quickly grows to like her. Along with several other women (including one black woman, Sophia, whose employment causes controversy in a town that doesn’t believe black and white people should be allowed to use the same library), Margery and Alice supply magazines, Bible stories, and copies of books like Little Women to the largely poor residents who live in remote areas. Alice spends long days in terrible weather on horseback, but she finally feels happy in her new life in Kentucky, even as her marriage to Bennett is failing. But her powerful father-in-law doesn’t care for Alice’s job or Margery’s lifestyle, and he’ll stop at nothing to shut their library down. Basing her novel on the true story of the Pack Horse Library Project established by the Works Progress Administration in the 1930s, Moyes (Still Me, 2018, etc.) brings an often forgotten slice of history to life. She writes about Kentucky with lush descriptions of the landscape and tender respect for the townspeople, most of whom are poor, uneducated, and grateful for the chance to learn. Although Alice and Margery both have their own romances, the true power of the story is in the bonds between the women of the library. They may have different backgrounds, but their commitment to helping the people of Baileyville brings them together.

A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

Pub Date: Oct. 8, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-399-56248-8

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2019

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