A wrenching piece with a wisp of hope for the protagonists if not for the rest of their world.

PARCHED

With severe drought, child enslavement, and multiple shootings of people and dogs, this slim volume isn’t for the faint of heart, though it repays those who soldier on.

In an unspecified African “place of dust and death,” in a story somewhere between realism and fable, Nandi the dog narrates an opening scene in which Sarel sees her parents gunned down. The gunmen, failing to find a water source, set the house afire and depart, leaving Sarel orphaned on her desert homestead. An underground grotto with a well sustains Sarel and her pack of dogs—fully family to her—while they recover from smoke inhalation and bullet wounds. In a nearby city, Musa sits in chains, taken outdoors only when gunmen (those who shot Sarel’s parents) need a dowser—Musa hears a buzz in his skull when water’s nearby. One generation ago, there were faucets and lawn sprinklers; now, gangs kill for a water bottle. When Musa escapes and Sarel’s well runs dry, the tale’s fablelike nature makes their meeting inevitable, even in the desert. The narration uses primarily Sarel’s and Musa’s perspectives, describing nature sparely and vividly. Thirst and heat are palpable as kids and dogs fight fatal dehydration. Occasionally, Nandi narrates, in broken English more distracting than doglike.

A wrenching piece with a wisp of hope for the protagonists if not for the rest of their world. (Fiction. 12-14)

Pub Date: June 4, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-547-97651-8

Page Count: 160

Publisher: Harcourt

Review Posted Online: April 15, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2013

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A well-knit debut generously stocked with chills, thrills, and chancy exploits.

MONSTROUS DEVICES

A young British teenager’s ordinary world takes a sudden spin to the dark side with the arrival of an antique toy robot that turns out to conceal a terrible, and terrifying, power.

Hardly has Alex unpacked the robot sent by his grandfather than he cuts himself on a sharp edge so that a little blood seeps into its workings. Cue the weirdness, starting with a homework assignment he doesn’t remember finishing and a bully who inexplicably beats a sudden retreat. It quickly escalates into a headlong flight with his grandad and a running fight with a squad of varied but uniformly scary automatons fueled themselves by blood. What’s up? Alex’s robot, it turns out, was crafted to hide a tablet inscribed with the secret name of God that Rabbi Loew used to animate his legendary golem…and nefarious parties are out to revive the clay monster for—well, nothing good. Confused, terror-stricken, and inarticulate throughout, Alex comes off as a pale character next to his creepy adversaries and, in particular, his dapper, glib, secretive, martially adroit, scene-stealing grandfather. Still, as events move along apace, he proves surprisingly resourceful. Love tucks in plenty of icky bits, along with cinematic set pieces and hairbreadth escapes, and he strews enough tantalizing hints about his protagonist’s murky past to excite interest in sequels. The human cast presents white.

A well-knit debut generously stocked with chills, thrills, and chancy exploits. (Horror/suspense/fantasy. 12-14)

Pub Date: Oct. 16, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-451-47858-0

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Sept. 2, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2018

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A mixed bag for epilepsy representation; satisfying as a friendship tale.

TALKING TO ALASKA

Two very different kids who need the same dog realize they both sometimes feel like they’re walking around on Mars.

Parker and Sven, two White 13-year-olds, are both nervous starting a new year at their school in the Netherlands. Parker’s recovering from a traumatic experience, and Sven hasn’t adapted to his epilepsy diagnosis. The first day of school begins badly for both of them: Sven, trying to impress people, gives Parker a mean nickname, then closes the day with a very public seizure. He frequently experiences generalized tonic-clonic seizures and can no longer bike or swim, and he has a service dog, Alaska, whom he resents. But only four months ago, Alaska was Parker’s pet. In alternating perspectives, Parker and Sven confront trauma, grief, and how they feel like aliens at school. The premise that Parker’s former house pet is now Sven’s skilled seizure dog after only one month of training bends credulity to the breaking point in a novel packed with little informational lessons about epilepsy and service animals. The book was translated from the original Dutch into British English, and although the text has been largely Americanized, it frequently uses the word fit for seizure—considered ableist and pejorative phrasing in the U.S. (though not in the U.K.). On the other hand, it’s wonderful to see a helmet normalized for a disabled protagonist who’s prone to falls.

A mixed bag for epilepsy representation; satisfying as a friendship tale. (Fiction. 12-14)

Pub Date: March 2, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-78607-880-3

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Rock the Boat/Oneworld

Review Posted Online: Dec. 25, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2021

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