An overstuffed horror story, but one that will both warm the heart and chill the spine.

READ REVIEW

SPINNER

Bowler’s (And the Children Shall Lead, 2014, etc.) YA novel pits brave, resourceful special needs teenagers against a whole shelf’s worth of supernatural scares.

Alex is an unusual student. Not only is he wheelchair-bound, but, like a lot of spina bifida sufferers, he’s a remedial reader. After he’s placed in a special class with his best friend, Roy, he faces mockery from other kids at Mark Twain High—particularly the cheerleaders and jocks, who call him a “crip” and “Roller Boy.” What they don’t know is that he possesses secret powers. Specifically, he’s a “spinner” who can mind-meld with others and take away their pain by absorbing it briefly into himself. Everything changes for Alex when, on his 15th birthday, he wakes from a dream in which he sees his teacher violently murdered. Arriving at school, he discovers that his dream was prophetic—and his teacher has been replaced by a sinister substitute. In the days that follow, he confronts knife-wielding attackers, eerie talismans, homicidal cats, a talking doll, malevolent men in suits, and a Faustian femme fatale. He also receives a long-lost message from his dead mother, warning him that “some say you will be the great peacemaker, and others the great destroyer.” There occasionally seem to be too many shadowy figures lurking around and too many cross-genre borrowings for the novel to establish a steady mood. However, Bowler effectively compensates for the overgrown garden of his imagination by communicating a thoughtful, sincere empathy for kids with disabilities. “We spend way too much time in this country focusing on what we perceive to be the weaknesses of others,” he writes in a prefatory note, and in this novel, he depicts his special needs kids not as victims but as real heroes. There are few worthier goals for a novelist, and his attempt here is largely successful.

An overstuffed horror story, but one that will both warm the heart and chill the spine.

Pub Date: Aug. 5, 2015

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 439

Publisher: YoungDudes Publishing

Review Posted Online: June 5, 2015

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Good fun with a monster of a cliffhanger.

THE LAST KIDS ON EARTH AND THE SKELETON ROAD

From the Last Kids on Earth series , Vol. 6

The monster-fighting gang from Wakefield departs on a post-apocalyptic road trip.

In this sixth installment of the heavily illustrated, Netflix-adapted series, quirky Jack Sullivan and his friends June, Quint, and Dirk finally leave their creature-ridden town in search of the ultimate baddie, Thrull, who previously deceived them. The quartet takes their tricked-out ride (an armored RV named Bad Mama) onto the open road (with Jack’s Zombie Squad in tow) to find the Outpost, where they believe a certain monster will be able to give them the location of the evil Tower where they believe Thrull now resides. Of course, the journey is littered with all kinds of nightmarish beasts and pitfalls (including an epic water park battle and slime-dripping baby monster), but the kids persist, armed with their endless gadgets and quick thinking. As the group races toward Thrull, the action culminates with an achingly tantalizing cliffhanger; expect audible groans and vociferous demands for the next installment. Fans of this series will revel in this fast-paced escapade with its recognizable black-and-white illustrations and trademark humor. Readers new to the series or those who are only familiar with the animated show may be a bit put off by this later volume that relies heavily on its own language of monsters and weapons. Jack, June, and Dirk are light-skinned; Quint is dark-skinned.

Good fun with a monster of a cliffhanger. (Graphic fiction. 8-13)

Pub Date: Sept. 15, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-984835-34-5

Page Count: 250

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: July 28, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2020

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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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