Although broken parents are common fodder these days, this debut story is a standout.

FAMILY GAME NIGHT AND OTHER CATASTROPHES

“It’s like trying to save the Titanic by bailing water with a teaspoon.” That’s how Annabelle regards her life ever since her mother’s hoarding took over the house and her father left.

The stuff is piled everywhere in the white family’s house: old milk bottles, stacked by long-ago expiration dates; egg cartons; ceiling-high piles of newspapers sorted by weather forecasts; and broken toys in huge mounds in Annabelle’s 10-year-old sister Leslie’s room. Her older brother’s room is stacked with exercise equipment and paint cans. Only Annabelle’s room is clean, but she keeps it that way by exercising a calming, obsessive ritual of prowling the exterior walls searching for potential maternal stashes. Annabelle’s managed to keep word from spreading, but finally Leslie waves the white flag by notifying their distant, controlling grandmother, who immediately intervenes by moving in and launching a running battle with Annabelle’s mom. Twelve-year-old Annabelle’s smart, perceptive voice is fresh and realistic, alternating between plucky determination to keep her broken family running and a vulnerable undercurrent of believable despair. Her evolving relationship with a classmate provides a tender counterpoint to her heartbreaking home situation. Well-drawn and sympathetic characters (even, eventually, Annabelle’s parents) drive this immersive tale that concludes with a satisfying but plausible hint of hope.

Although broken parents are common fodder these days, this debut story is a standout. (Fiction. 9-14)

Pub Date: Feb. 28, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-545-93198-4

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: Oct. 19, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2016

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Good Guys and Bad get just deserts in the end, and Stanley gets plenty of opportunities to display pluck and valor in this...

HOLES

Sentenced to a brutal juvenile detention camp for a crime he didn't commit, a wimpy teenager turns four generations of bad family luck around in this sunburnt tale of courage, obsession, and buried treasure from Sachar (Wayside School Gets a Little Stranger, 1995, etc.).

Driven mad by the murder of her black beau, a schoolteacher turns on the once-friendly, verdant town of Green Lake, Texas, becomes feared bandit Kissin' Kate Barlow, and dies, laughing, without revealing where she buried her stash. A century of rainless years later, lake and town are memories—but, with the involuntary help of gangs of juvenile offenders, the last descendant of the last residents is still digging. Enter Stanley Yelnats IV, great-grandson of one of Kissin' Kate's victims and the latest to fall to the family curse of being in the wrong place at the wrong time; under the direction of The Warden, a woman with rattlesnake venom polish on her long nails, Stanley and each of his fellow inmates dig a hole a day in the rock-hard lake bed. Weeks of punishing labor later, Stanley digs up a clue, but is canny enough to conceal the information of which hole it came from. Through flashbacks, Sachar weaves a complex net of hidden relationships and well-timed revelations as he puts his slightly larger-than-life characters under a sun so punishing that readers will be reaching for water bottles.

Good Guys and Bad get just deserts in the end, and Stanley gets plenty of opportunities to display pluck and valor in this rugged, engrossing adventure. (Fiction. 9-13)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 978-0-374-33265-5

Page Count: 233

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2000

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An engrossing, humorous, and vitally important graphic novel that should be required reading in every middle school in...

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NEW KID

From the New Kid series , Vol. 1

Jordan Banks takes readers down the rabbit hole and into his mostly white prep school in this heartbreakingly accurate middle-grade tale of race, class, microaggressions, and the quest for self-identity.

He may be the new kid, but as an African-American boy from Washington Heights, that stigma entails so much more than getting lost on the way to homeroom. Riverdale Academy Day School, located at the opposite end of Manhattan, is a world away, and Jordan finds himself a stranger in a foreign land, where pink clothing is called salmon, white administrators mistake a veteran African-American teacher for the football coach, and white classmates ape African-American Vernacular English to make themselves sound cool. Jordan’s a gifted artist, and his drawings blend with the narrative to give readers a full sense of his two worlds and his methods of coping with existing in between. Craft skillfully employs the graphic-novel format to its full advantage, giving his readers a delightful and authentic cast of characters who, along with New York itself, pop off the page with vibrancy and nuance. Shrinking Jordan to ant-sized proportions upon his entering the school cafeteria, for instance, transforms the lunchroom into a grotesque Wonderland in which his lack of social standing becomes visually arresting and viscerally uncomfortable.

An engrossing, humorous, and vitally important graphic novel that should be required reading in every middle school in America. (Graphic fiction. 10-14)

Pub Date: Feb. 5, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-06-269120-0

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Oct. 15, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2018

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