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Dark family secrets, hints of magic, and a very tidy resolution after pleasing thrills.

A girl’s return to a town she left at age 3 is haunted by the past, superstitious locals, and mermaids.

Eleven-year-old Meranda hasn’t been back to Cape Breton since she was tiny, but when her uncle dies, her overprotective parents have to bring her along for the funeral. Meranda’s prepared to love the little fishing town where she was born—one that is obsessed with mermaids, from the mermaid gift shop to a famous mermaid clock to its many mermaid legends. But Cape Breton’s an odd place, with locals who hush up whenever Meranda enters a room and old folks furious at her family for no sensible reason. Moreover, Meranda, who has cerebral palsy and walks with crutches, is beyond frustrated with her mother’s constant paranoia, especially about the water. What the heck is going on in this town? The adults act like mermaids are real, and they call her Mer-girl and miracle baby. Meranda thinks the mystery should be thrilling, but the locals are frighteningly irrational. Characters appear to be White, although Meranda has noticeably darker skin, hair, and eyes than her parents. A disability-as-magic thread is mercifully a feint but is resolved far too late for Meranda—who reads from the start as probably-magic—to develop within the story as a nonsupernatural, naturally disabled, and naturally cool human being.

Dark family secrets, hints of magic, and a very tidy resolution after pleasing thrills. (Fiction. 9-12)

Pub Date: Sept. 15, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-77147-434-4

Page Count: 232

Publisher: Owlkids Books

Review Posted Online: July 7, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2021

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Charming, poignant, and thoughtfully woven.

An aspiring scientist and a budding artist become friends and help each other with dream projects.

Unfolding in mid-1980s Sacramento, California, this story stars 12-year-olds Rosalind and Benjamin as first-person narrators in alternating chapters. Ro’s father, a fellow space buff, was killed by a drunk driver; the rocket they were working on together lies unfinished in her closet. As for Benji, not only has his best friend, Amir, moved away, but the comic book holding the clue for locating his dad is also missing. Along with their profound personal losses, the protagonists share a fixation with the universe’s intriguing potential: Ro decides to complete the rocket and hopes to launch mementos of her father into outer space while Benji’s conviction that aliens and UFOs are real compels his imagination and creativity as an artist. An accident in science class triggers a chain of events forcing Benji and Ro, who is new to the school, to interact and unintentionally learn each other’s secrets. They resolve to find Benji’s dad—a famous comic-book artist—and partner to finish Ro’s rocket for the science fair. Together, they overcome technical, scheduling, and geographical challenges. Readers will be drawn in by amusing and fantastical elements in the comic book theme, high emotional stakes that arouse sympathy, and well-drawn character development as the protagonists navigate life lessons around grief, patience, self-advocacy, and standing up for others. Ro is biracial (Chinese/White); Benji is White.

Charming, poignant, and thoughtfully woven. (Fiction. 9-12)

Pub Date: Jan. 12, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-06-300888-5

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Quill Tree Books/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Oct. 26, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2020

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A pitch-perfect middle-grade novel that insightfully explores timely topics with authenticity and warmth.

A nuanced novel about a neurodiverse preteen’s political and social awakening by a Pura Belpré Honor–winning author.

Sixth grader Emilia Rosa Torres sometimes has a hard time keeping up with schoolwork and concentrating on one thing at a time, but her software-developer mother and superinvolved abuelita help her keep on task. Days before her father’s return to their Atlanta suburb from his most recent deployment, her mother goes on a business trip, leaving the middle schooler to juggle his mood swings, her friend troubles, and her looming assignments all on her own. When a social studies project opens her eyes to injustices past and present, Emilia begins to find her voice and use it to make an impact on her community. Writing with sensitivity and respectful complexity, Cartaya tackles weighty issues, such as immigration, PTSD, and microaggressions, through the lens of a budding tinkerer and activist who has ADHD. The members of this Cuban American family don’t all practice the same religion, with Emilia’s Catholic grandmother faithfully attending Mass multiple times a week and the protagonist’s mother celebrating her culture’s Yoruba roots with Santería. Conversations on race and gender crop up through the narrative as Emilia’s grandmother likes to emphasize her family’s European heritage—Emilia can pass as white, with her fair complexion, light eyes and auburn hair. All of these larger issues are effortlessly woven in with skill and humor, as is the Spanish her family easily mixes with English.

A pitch-perfect middle-grade novel that insightfully explores timely topics with authenticity and warmth. (author’s note) (Fiction. 9-12)

Pub Date: Aug. 6, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-451-47972-3

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Kokila

Review Posted Online: April 27, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2019

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