A well-crafted, emotionally resonant tale for younger readers.

MARIO'S NOTEBOOK

In this middle-grade novel, Atkinson tells the story of a young Salvadoran refugee acclimating to life in the United States.

War has come to the streets of San Salvador, El Salvador’s capital city, but Mario Zamora and his little brother, Nico, just want to act like normal kids. When a soldier in the street takes their soccer ball and slices it open with a knife, Mario is confused: “Why do they have to bother us like that?” he asks his father, a writer, later that day. “We’re only kids. We have nothing to do with the war. Why does there even have to be a war?” When soldiers burst in and arrest Mario’s dad in the middle of the night, the boys and their mother are forced to flee the country. Their plan is to head north through Guatemala and Mexico and into the United States. They soon learn that their father has been murdered by soldiers, his body left in a pile with those of other executed dissidents. As the family attempts to build a new life for themselves in Texas, Mario is haunted by what has happened, filled with a mix of anger and fear. His father left him a notebook with a letter, offering his advice on how to move forward. Mario isn’t interested in writing, but he does have a passion for drawing. In her debut work, Atkinson writes in a smooth, conversational prose that perfectly enlivens Mario’s first-person narration, capturing both his anxieties and excitements. With its quick pace and unflinching willingness to portray the horrors of the Salvadoran political situation, the novella makes for a compelling, if occasionally heavy, read. Along the way, the author successfully tracks the complex evolution of Mario’s inner landscape, including his attempts to deal with the trauma of his father’s loss, his responsibility toward his mother and brother, and his instincts as both a witness and a budding artist: as Mario’s new American identity shapes itself, he uses pictures to try to tell his own story.

A well-crafted, emotionally resonant tale for younger readers.

Pub Date: N/A

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 97

Publisher: Dog Ear Publisher

Review Posted Online: May 10, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2017

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Readers can still rely on this series to bring laughs.

WRECKING BALL

From the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series , Vol. 14

The Heffley family’s house undergoes a disastrous attempt at home improvement.

When Great Aunt Reba dies, she leaves some money to the family. Greg’s mom calls a family meeting to determine what to do with their share, proposing home improvements and then overruling the family’s cartoonish wish lists and instead pushing for an addition to the kitchen. Before bringing in the construction crew, the Heffleys attempt to do minor maintenance and repairs themselves—during which Greg fails at the work in various slapstick scenes. Once the professionals are brought in, the problems keep getting worse: angry neighbors, terrifying problems in walls, and—most serious—civil permitting issues that put the kibosh on what work’s been done. Left with only enough inheritance to patch and repair the exterior of the house—and with the school’s dismal standardized test scores as a final straw—Greg’s mom steers the family toward moving, opening up house-hunting and house-selling storylines (and devastating loyal Rowley, who doesn’t want to lose his best friend). While Greg’s positive about the move, he’s not completely uncaring about Rowley’s action. (And of course, Greg himself is not as unaffected as he wishes.) The gags include effectively placed callbacks to seemingly incidental events (the “stress lizard” brought in on testing day is particularly funny) and a lampoon of after-school-special–style problem books. Just when it seems that the Heffleys really will move, a new sequence of chaotic trouble and property destruction heralds a return to the status quo. Whew.

Readers can still rely on this series to bring laughs. (Graphic/fiction hybrid. 8-12)

Pub Date: Nov. 5, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-4197-3903-3

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Amulet/Abrams

Review Posted Online: Nov. 19, 2019

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A witty addition to the long-running series.

THE DEEP END

From the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series , Vol. 15

The Wimpy Kid hits the road.

The Heffley clan has been stuck living together in Gramma’s basement for two months, waiting for the family home to be repaired, and the constant togetherness has been getting on everybody’s nerves. Luckily Greg’s Uncle Gary has a camper waiting for someone to use it, and so the Heffleys set off on the open road looking for an adventurous vacation, hoping the changing scenery will bring a spark back to the family unit. The winding road leads the Heffleys to a sprawling RV park, a setting teeming with possibilities for Greg to get up to his usual shenanigans. Greg’s snarky asides and misadventures continue to entertain. At this point the Wimpy Kid books run like a well-oiled machine, paced perfectly with witty lines, smart gags, and charming cartoons. Kinney knows just where to put a joke, the precise moment to give a character shading, and exactly how to get the narrative rolling, spinning out the oddest plot developments. The appreciation Kinney has for these characters seeps through the novels, endearing the Heffleys to readers even through this title, the 15th installment in a franchise boasting spinoffs, movies, and merchandise. There may come a time when Greg and his family overstay their welcome, but thankfully that day still seems far off.

A witty addition to the long-running series. (Humor. 7-12)

Pub Date: Oct. 27, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-4197-4868-4

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Amulet/Abrams

Review Posted Online: Nov. 24, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2020

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