A satisfying arc, from sadness to dawning hope and strength.

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TURTLE BOY

A glum boy wants to stay in his bedroom with his turtles.

Twelve-year-old Will stole his turtles from nature, including one he knows perfectly well is endangered, but he needs them to help him feel calm while he’s hiding. Outside of his bedroom, schoolmates tease him for a mild facial disfigurement—calling him Turtle Boy not because of his pets but because of his chin, which is slowly receding—while Mom and Rabbi Harris pressure him to prepare for his bar mitzvah. A bar mitzvah community-service assignment forces him to befriend dying teen RJ, which gives Will flashbacks to when Dad died when Will was 4 and flash-forward fears to Will’s upcoming facial surgery (for medical reasons, not cosmetic). With a light touch and occasional humor (can a Jewish turtle eat ham? What if he’s Reform?), Wolkenstein successfully weaves together Will’s gloom and avoidance, grief (portrayed, appropriately, as distinct from depression), emotional progress, and Jewish practice. Will’s friendship with RJ and taking on of RJ’s bucket list—including a roller coaster, a middle school dance, a loud concert, and a pet (can an endangered turtle live in a hospital?)—as proxy grants Will a new centeredness and kick-ass drummer skills; it’s too bad that the life-lessons-from-dying-friend plot is such a cliché. Will and most characters seem white by default, with some diversity among secondary characters.

A satisfying arc, from sadness to dawning hope and strength. (Fiction. 10-14)

Pub Date: May 5, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-593-12157-3

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 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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Brava! (Graphic fiction. 10-14)

DRAMA

From award winner Telgemeier (Smile, 2010), a pitch-perfect graphic novel portrayal of a middle school musical, adroitly capturing the drama both on and offstage.

Seventh-grader Callie Marin is over-the-moon to be on stage crew again this year for Eucalyptus Middle School’s production of Moon over Mississippi. Callie's just getting over popular baseball jock and eighth-grader Greg, who crushed her when he left Callie to return to his girlfriend, Bonnie, the stuck-up star of the play. Callie's healing heart is quickly captured by Justin and Jesse Mendocino, the two very cute twins who are working on the play with her. Equally determined to make the best sets possible with a shoestring budget and to get one of the Mendocino boys to notice her, the immensely likable Callie will find this to be an extremely drama-filled experience indeed. The palpably engaging and whip-smart characterization ensures that the charisma and camaraderie run high among those working on the production. When Greg snubs Callie in the halls and misses her reference to Guys and Dolls, one of her friends assuredly tells her, "Don't worry, Cal. We’re the cool kids….He's the dork." With the clear, stylish art, the strongly appealing characters and just the right pinch of drama, this book will undoubtedly make readers stand up and cheer.

Brava! (Graphic fiction. 10-14)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-545-32698-8

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Graphix/Scholastic

Review Posted Online: July 22, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2012

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