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Those who have never known the tense pressure of shooting a free throw in front of a home crowd may at least have felt the knot in their stomach when facing an expectant audience while giving a speech. Or the sorrows of losing a pet or of watching an older relative deteriorate and shrink into oblivion. In her first effort for an older audience, Russo (Come Back, Hannah, 2001, etc.) demonstrates that she is capable of conveying these complex emotions like the most experienced of writers. Jim wants life to be simple: he just wants to make the traveling basketball team, play, and win. Nana, who survived the Holocaust, wants him to open himself to the wondrous complexity of life, as found in opera, family, and writing. Guided by the other members of his family who are drawn by Russo with charming, funny, and realistic quirks, Jim begrudgingly comes to appreciate the times spent with Nana, albeit, perhaps, too late. Along the way, Jim is confronted at every turn with decisions to make—important decisions for a 12-year-old boy. Russo is believably, completely, in his head, as Jim uses the psychic strength he gains through sports to transcend to the broader life he must experience. Facing life, Jim and the others in his circle are drawn together in the small moments that make up the everyday triumph of humanity. One would need Jim’s courage to overcome the cover illustration, neither evocative nor inviting, but if a middle reader joins Russo on this journey, he might just find that life is like basketball: there’s more than one way to run the offense. (Fiction. 10-14)

Pub Date: March 1, 2002

ISBN: 0-06-623803-X

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Greenwillow Books

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2002

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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 21, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2012

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A sly, side-splitting hoot from start to finish.

The dreary prospect of spending a lifetime making caskets instead of wonderful inventions prompts a young orphan to snatch up his little sister and flee. Where? To the circus, of course.

Fortunately or otherwise, John and 6-year-old Page join up with Boz—sometime human cannonball for the seedy Wandering Wayfarers and a “vertically challenged” trickster with a fantastic gift for sowing chaos. Alas, the budding engineer barely has time to settle in to begin work on an experimental circus wagon powered by chicken poop and dubbed (with questionable forethought) the Autopsy. The hot pursuit of malign and indomitable Great-Aunt Beauregard, the Coggins’ only living relative, forces all three to leave the troupe for further flights and misadventures. Teele spins her adventure around a sturdy protagonist whose love for his little sister is matched only by his fierce desire for something better in life for them both and tucks in an outstanding supporting cast featuring several notably strong-minded, independent women (Page, whose glare “would kill spiders dead,” not least among them). Better yet, in Boz she has created a scene-stealing force of nature, a free spirit who’s never happier than when he’s stirring up mischief. A climactic clutch culminating in a magnificently destructive display of fireworks leaves the Coggin sibs well-positioned for bright futures. (Illustrations not seen.)

A sly, side-splitting hoot from start to finish. (Adventure. 11-13)

Pub Date: April 12, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-06-234510-3

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Walden Pond Press/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Dec. 21, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2016

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