THE WATCHER

A teenager and her little sister discover that they are pieces in a game played across worlds in this suspenseful tale from the Canadian author of The Dark Garden (1997). Though set apart by her exotic white hair and skin, plus an oddly shaped birthmark, Emma has always been the sensible, dependable worrier of the family. She has plenty to worry about, too. As her mother struggles to bring the family bee farm back to profitability, and her sister Summer, subject to ever more frequent spells of weakness, seems to be fading away before her eyes, the old stone circle that her father, an environmental artist, is rebuilding seems to be attracting both odd incidents and mysterious strangers to the area. Suddenly, Emma is shuttling between her world and another, where two moons hang in the sky and overheard conspirators discuss a Game, and a Child, in chilling terms. Emma slowly pieces the puzzle together, identifying the Game’s powerful Players, figuring out the Rules, and discovering her role—and Summer’s too. As it turns out, they are both “Pithwitchen,” changelings sent to replace dead human newborns, and Summer is heir to a throne in that other place. From ominous beginning to tense climax, this page-turner, reminiscent in ways both of William Sleator’s Interstellar Pig (1984) and Eloise Jarvis McGraw’s Moorchild (1996), will keep readers guessing—and as the Game ends in a draw, they’ll be set up for sequels, too. (Fiction. 11-13)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2000

ISBN: 1-55074-829-7

Page Count: 264

Publisher: Kids Can

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2000

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JOEY PIGZA SWALLOWED THE KEY

From the Joey Pigza series , Vol. 1

If Rotten Ralph were a boy instead of a cat, he might be Joey, the hyperactive hero of Gantos's new book, except that Joey is never bad on purpose. In the first-person narration, it quickly becomes clear that he can't help himself; he's so wound up that he not only practically bounces off walls, he literally swallows his house key (which he wears on a string around his neck and which he pull back up, complete with souvenirs of the food he just ate). Gantos's straightforward view of what it's like to be Joey is so honest it hurts. Joey has been abandoned by his alcoholic father and, for a time, by his mother (who also drinks); his grandmother, just as hyperactive as he is, abuses Joey while he's in her care. One mishap after another leads Joey first from his regular classroom to special education classes and then to a special education school. With medication, counseling, and positive reinforcement, Joey calms down. Despite a lighthearted title and jacket painting, the story is simultaneously comic and horrific; Gantos takes readers right inside a human whirlwind where the ride is bumpy and often frightening, especially for Joey. But a river of compassion for the characters runs through the pages, not only for Joey but for his overextended mom and his usually patient, always worried (if only for their safety) teachers. Mature readers will find this harsh tale softened by unusual empathy and leavened by genuinely funny events. (Fiction. 11-13)

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-374-33664-4

Page Count: 154

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1998

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GETTING NEAR TO BABY

Couloumbis’s debut carries a family through early stages of grief with grace, sensitivity, and a healthy dose of laughter. In the wake of Baby’s sudden death, the three Deans remaining put up no resistance when Aunt Patty swoops in to take away 12-year-old Willa Jo and suddenly, stubbornly mute JoAnn, called “Little Sister,” in the misguided belief that their mother needs time alone. Well-meaning but far too accustomed to getting her way, Aunt Patty buys the children unwanted new clothes, enrolls them in a Bible day camp for one disastrous day, and even tries to line up friends for them. While politely tolerating her hovering, the two inseparable sisters find their own path, hooking up with a fearless, wonderfully plainspoken teenaged neighbor and her dirt-loving brothers, then, acting on an obscure but ultimately healing impulse, climbing out onto the roof to get a bit closer to Heaven, and Baby. Willa Jo tells the tale in a nonlinear, back-and-forth fashion that not only prepares readers emotionally for her heartrending account of Baby’s death, but also artfully illuminates each character’s depths and foibles; the loving relationship between Patty and her wiser husband Hob is just as complex and clearly drawn as that of Willa Jo and Little Sister. Lightening the tone by poking gentle fun at Patty and some of her small-town neighbors, the author creates a cast founded on likable, real-seeming people who grow and change in response to tragedy. (Fiction. 11-13)

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-399-23389-X

Page Count: 211

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1999

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