Readers will admire the unabashedly quirky Charlie as she embarks upon her journey of self-understanding and transformation...

CONFESSIONS OF A SO-CALLED MIDDLE CHILD

Eager to escape her troubled history, 12-year-old Charlie is ready to start over.

Charlie’s decision to lace the school lunch with laxatives in an attempt to frame another student resulted in her expulsion from school and mandatory counseling. Relocation to another school district and a new school year offer Charlie an opportunity to begin again. But Charlie’s recent commitment to reform is challenged when her doctor assigns her the job of seeking out the student most in need of a friend at her new school. Soon, Charlie is caught between her determination to help Marta, a student cruelly picked on by her classmates, and her longing to be accepted. A fierce gymnastics rivalry and Marta’s resistance to Charlie’s overtures of friendship further complicate Charlie’s endeavors. However, Charlie’s attitude changes from exasperation to concern when she uncovers Marta’s tragic secret. Lennon’s tale addresses manifold topics, including the pressures and social issues of middle school, friendship quandaries and bullying. Charlie’s eclectic mix of interests—she’s a computer prodigy with a talent for hacking and an aspiring fashion trendsetter who harbors a keen interest in Harry Houdini—contribute to her distinctive narrative voice. Lennon skillfully delves beyond Charlie’s sass and troubled façade to reveal her insecurities and vulnerability.

Readers will admire the unabashedly quirky Charlie as she embarks upon her journey of self-understanding and transformation with verve. (Fiction. 12 & up)

Pub Date: Aug. 27, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-06-212690-0

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 22, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2013

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A painful story smartly told, Benjamin’s first solo novel has appeal well beyond a middle school audience.

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THE THING ABOUT JELLYFISH

In middle school, where “Worst Thing” can mean anything from a pimple to public humiliation, Suzy “Zu” Swanson really has a reason to be in crisis: her former best friend has died unexpectedly, and the seventh-grader is literally silenced by grief and confusion.

A chance encounter with a jellyfish display on a school trip gives her focus—for Zu, the venomous Irukandji jellyfish, while rare, provides a possible explanation for the “how” of Franny’s death. And Zu is desperate for answers and relief from her haunting grief and guilt. In seven parts neatly organized around the scientific method as presented by Mrs. Turton, a middle school teacher who really gets the fragility of her students, Zu examines and analyzes past and present. A painful story of friendship made and lost emerges: the inseparable early years, Franny’s pulling away, Zu’s increasing social isolation, and a final attempt by Zu to honor a childhood pact. The author gently paints Zu as a bit of an oddball; not knowing what hair product to use leaves her feeling “like a separate species altogether,” and knowing too many species of jellyfish earns her the nickname Medusa. Surrounded by the cruelty of adolescence, Zu is awkward, smart, methodical, and driven by sadness. She eventually follows her research far beyond the middle school norm, because “ ‘Sometimes things just happen’ is not an explanation. It is not remotely scientific.”

A painful story smartly told, Benjamin’s first solo novel has appeal well beyond a middle school audience. (Fiction. 12 & up)

Pub Date: Sept. 22, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-316-38086-7

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2015

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Sensitive subject matter that could have benefited from a subtler, more sober touch.

RESISTANCE

A Jewish girl joins up with Polish resistance groups to fight for her people against the evils of the Holocaust.

Chaya Lindner is forcibly separated from her family when they are consigned to the Jewish ghetto in Krakow. The 16-year-old is taken in by the leaders of Akiva, a fledgling Jewish resistance group that offers her the opportunity to become a courier, using her fair coloring to pass for Polish and sneak into ghettos to smuggle in supplies and information. Chaya’s missions quickly become more dangerous, taking her on a perilous journey from a disastrous mission in Krakow to the ghastly ghetto of Lodz and eventually to Warsaw to aid the Jews there in their gathering uprising inside the walls of the ghetto. Through it all, she is partnered with a secretive young girl whom she is reluctant to trust. The trajectory of the narrative skews toward the sensational, highlighting moments of resistance via cinematic action sequences but not pausing to linger on the emotional toll of the Holocaust’s atrocities. Younger readers without sufficient historical knowledge may not appreciate the gravity of the events depicted. The principal characters lack depth, and their actions and the situations they find themselves in often require too much suspension of disbelief to pass for realism.

Sensitive subject matter that could have benefited from a subtler, more sober touch. (afterword) (Historical fiction. 12-16)

Pub Date: Aug. 28, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-338-14847-3

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: May 28, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2018

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