Memorably unusual but haphazard; the series peaked with its opener, The Fires Beneath the Sea (2011).

THE BODIES OF THE ANCIENTS

From the Dissenters series , Vol. 3

Children, adults, and myriad creatures fight the final battle in a war over climate change.

The Cold One, an obscure being living under the ocean, has spent centuries both piggybacking on and masterminding global warming so he can colonize the Earth’s surface (The Shimmers in the Night, 2012). Fighting against him are fantastical creatures ancient and modern, a handful of white kids from Cape Cod, and a mother who’s a shape shifter (otter, bear, marine biologist) and “part of an ancient culture with its own secret knowledge.” This ancient knowledge is vast: genius youngest sibling Jax—a Charles Wallace Murry type—can control others, read minds, and enter the internet with his mind; sister Cara sees places from afar. None of this “old way technology” is explained, just used; genrewise, the book completely fuses science fiction with fantasy. Action moves between a Boston technological institute/refuge and the open Atlantic for battles. The Cold One takes control of a U.S. Navy submarine to discharge a nuclear missile, which brings narrative urgency and desperation; however, the question of climate change aside from what might be wrought by that imminent nuclear explosion fades, oddly, weakening the eco-fantasy thrust. Pacing is dense, rushed back stories feel inorganic, and characterizations are loose—but relationships are tender.

Memorably unusual but haphazard; the series peaked with its opener, The Fires Beneath the Sea (2011). (Fantasy. 9-13)

Pub Date: Jan. 10, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-61873-128-9

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Big Mouth House

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2016

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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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Charming, poignant, and thoughtfully woven.

CLUES TO THE UNIVERSE

An aspiring scientist and a budding artist become friends and help each other with dream projects.

Unfolding in mid-1980s Sacramento, California, this story stars 12-year-olds Rosalind and Benjamin as first-person narrators in alternating chapters. Ro’s father, a fellow space buff, was killed by a drunk driver; the rocket they were working on together lies unfinished in her closet. As for Benji, not only has his best friend, Amir, moved away, but the comic book holding the clue for locating his dad is also missing. Along with their profound personal losses, the protagonists share a fixation with the universe’s intriguing potential: Ro decides to complete the rocket and hopes to launch mementos of her father into outer space while Benji’s conviction that aliens and UFOs are real compels his imagination and creativity as an artist. An accident in science class triggers a chain of events forcing Benji and Ro, who is new to the school, to interact and unintentionally learn each other’s secrets. They resolve to find Benji’s dad—a famous comic-book artist—and partner to finish Ro’s rocket for the science fair. Together, they overcome technical, scheduling, and geographical challenges. Readers will be drawn in by amusing and fantastical elements in the comic book theme, high emotional stakes that arouse sympathy, and well-drawn character development as the protagonists navigate life lessons around grief, patience, self-advocacy, and standing up for others. Ro is biracial (Chinese/White); Benji is White.

Charming, poignant, and thoughtfully woven. (Fiction. 9-12)

Pub Date: Jan. 12, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-06-300888-5

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Quill Tree Books/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2020

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