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

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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LAST ORDERS

Britisher Swift's sixth novel (Ever After, 1992 etc.) and fourth to appear here is a slow-to-start but then captivating tale of English working-class families in the four decades following WW II. When Jack Dodds dies suddenly of cancer after years of running a butcher shop in London, he leaves a strange request—namely, that his ashes be scattered off Margate pier into the sea. And who could better be suited to fulfill this wish than his three oldest drinking buddies—insurance man Ray, vegetable seller Lenny, and undertaker Vic, all of whom, like Jack himself, fought also as soldiers or sailors in the long-ago world war. Swift's narrative start, with its potential for the melodramatic, is developed instead with an economy, heart, and eye that release (through the characters' own voices, one after another) the story's humanity and depth instead of its schmaltz. The jokes may be weak and self- conscious when the three old friends meet at their local pub in the company of the urn holding Jack's ashes; but once the group gets on the road, in an expensive car driven by Jack's adoptive son, Vince, the story starts gradually to move forward, cohere, and deepen. The reader learns in time why it is that no wife comes along, why three marriages out of three broke apart, and why Vince always hated his stepfather Jack and still does—or so he thinks. There will be stories of innocent youth, suffering wives, early loves, lost daughters, secret affairs, and old antagonisms—including a fistfight over the dead on an English hilltop, and a strewing of Jack's ashes into roiling seawaves that will draw up feelings perhaps unexpectedly strong. Without affectation, Swift listens closely to the lives that are his subject and creates a songbook of voices part lyric, part epic, part working-class social realism—with, in all, the ring to it of the honest, human, and true.

Pub Date: April 5, 1996

ISBN: 0-679-41224-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1996

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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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