Agenda wends its way throughout, but this Yuletide yarn often rises into the sparkling snowdrifts of fantasy.

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FATHER CHRISTMAS AND ME

From the Boy Called Christmas series , Vol. 3

It turns out that living with Father Christmas isn’t all cloudberry pie and jolly elves.

After escaping from the workhouse in The Girl Who Saved Christmas (2017), Amelia has joined Father and Mother Christmas in Elfhelm, the land powered by hope. Trouble is, she doesn’t quite fit in. As a human, she’s too large for the elf furniture, and she is terrible at school. For example, she just can’t fathom that “in elf mathematics the best answer isn’t the right one, it’s the most interesting” one. In this trilogy closer, trouble really starts when Amelia accidentally crashes a favored sleigh. The traitorous Father Vodol leaps at the opportunity to sabotage Amelia and the entirety of Christmas by setting up a newspaper called the Daily Truth in order to spread lies. At Vodol’s side are the Easter Bunny and his army of soldier rabbits. The Easter Bunny holds a festering grudge, his slogan being, “It’s time to make Easter great again.” When most of the elf population believes the fake news, Father Christmas, Amelia, and Mother Christmas must make manifest that amazing things can happen in an instant. This adventure is accompanied by cozily wonky illustrations, but militarized rabbits and the obvious political mirroring seem counterintuitive to the very heart of holiday mythology. All the human and humanlike characters are white.

Agenda wends its way throughout, but this Yuletide yarn often rises into the sparkling snowdrifts of fantasy. (Fantasy. 7-12)

Pub Date: Oct. 16, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-78689-068-9

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Canongate

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2018

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Yet another novel about dreading middle school, this breezy beach read is well-done but offers little new.

11 BEFORE 12

Two BFFs tackle the anxiety-riddled transition to middle school by creating a list of 11 things to accomplish before their 12th birthdays in November.

Kaylan has what her Italian grandmother called “agita”—anxiety—and she has maximum-high levels at the prospect of sixth grade with its cliques and mean girls. Lots is changing in the white girl’s life: her dad has moved to Arizona and her mom is sad; her one-year-older brother, Ryan, once her friend, is now her tormentor; and she is beginning to get butterflies around boys. Kaylan and her best friend, Ari, white and Jewish, create a list, ranging from getting detention and makeovers to first kisses and sabotaging Ryan. When Ari connects with friends from Hebrew school and summer camp, the two BFFs fight. Kaylan’s not-quite-teen first-person voice perfectly captures the horrors of starting at a new school, from the prospect of eating alone in the cafeteria to the awkwardness of meeting a new neighbor boy, biracial (black/white) Jason. Jason supplies most of the book’s diversity; one of the indistinguishable lunch-table friends mentions being Korean but is undeveloped as a character. As is typical for the genre, Kaylan matures and learns to cope with unpredictability, even participating in the talent show as the fastest clementine peeler in school.

Yet another novel about dreading middle school, this breezy beach read is well-done but offers little new. (Fiction. 9-12)

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-06-241174-7

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Katherine Tegen/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 1, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2017

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Insurmountably derivative.

THE FEAR ZONE

A mysterious evil preys on the fears of a group of kids.

The notes mysteriously arrive on Halloween, instructing eighth graders April (fat and bullied, likely white); her best friend, Andres (gay and Latinx); their former friend–turned–class bully Caroline (white); and unpopular ninth grader Deshaun (black) to go to the cemetery at midnight. Deshaun’s popular best friend, Kyle (white and gay), tags along, and the group converges on a mysterious gravesite—it’s old but also has been recently vandalized, and the dirt looks freshly disturbed. They feel compelled to dig, until they unearth a tin and hope that’s the end of a prank. But it’s no prank, and they find themselves haunted by their individual greatest fears—and in between the personalized hauntings, the malicious entity assumes the form of April’s greatest fear, a clown, which menaces, waves at, and taunts the kids. While the target audience is—by age rating—too young to have had direct exposure to Stephen King’s novel IT (1986) and its past and present cinematic adaptations, many will be familiar enough with the premise to recognize the glaring similarities. The narration alternates among the five characters, with their voices for the most part sounding all too similar. The parts dealing with the evil entity are scary without being graphic; the most effective subplot deals with an abusive home life situation. The unsatisfying ending leaves too many questions unanswered.

Insurmountably derivative. (Horror. 8-12)

Pub Date: Sept. 3, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-338-57717-4

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: June 16, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2019

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