A sharp, sympathetic insight into poverty, family, friendship, and forgiveness.


A boy with a rare spinal deformity makes a desperate bet to keep his home.

“[E]verything you subtract adds up,” 12-year-old Ked Eakins—aka “Freakins”—remarks, summarizing his life till seventh grade. After Ked was diagnosed with kyphosis, his mother left—taking her good job and health insurance with her—and his friendships dwindled like “a game of musical chairs.” Now, Ked lives on “the edge of the edge” of “failing mill town” Norton, Maine, with his dad, who’s had his factory shifts cut in half—and gambled two months’ rent away. Frantic, Ked himself gambles on restoring and selling a minibike in time to avoid eviction, but roadblocks abound. Northrop depicts the everyday realities of poverty in unvarnished detail: Ked digs through trash cans for redeemable bottles, maximizes half-hour public-library computer sessions, and buys his “good” clothes on sale at the outlet stores. But Ked’s pragmatism and determination keep bleakness at bay, and kindness comes from unexpected people. Like Ked's run-down hometown, his frank, introspective narration offers some beautiful moments; a carburetor, for instance, is “small and self-contained, like a heart.” The author’s portrayal of Ked’s dad’s gambling addiction and its toll on Ked is unflinching but not without hope. The ending is realistically satisfying, and readers will appreciate Ked’s realization that his back is “what [he looks] like,” but “[he’s] what [he does.]” Most characters appear white; Ked’s friend Nephi is a Somali immigrant.

A sharp, sympathetic insight into poverty, family, friendship, and forgiveness. (Fiction. 8-12)

Pub Date: July 30, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-545-49590-5

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: May 8, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2019

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With Ivan’s movie out this year from Disney, expect great interest—it will be richly rewarded.

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Tiny, sassy Bob the dog, friend of The One and Only Ivan (2012), returns to tell his tale.

Wisecracking Bob, who is a little bit Chihuahua among other things, now lives with his girl, Julia, and her parents. Happily, her father works at Wildworld Zoological Park and Sanctuary, the zoo where Bob’s two best friends, Ivan the gorilla and Ruby the elephant, live, so Bob gets to visit and catch up with them regularly. Due to an early betrayal, Bob doesn’t trust humans (most humans are good only for their thumbs); he fears he’s going soft living with Julia, and he’s certain he is a Bad Dog—as in “not a good representative of my species.” On a visit to the zoo with a storm threatening, Bob accidentally falls into the gorilla enclosure just as a tornado strikes. So that’s what it’s like to fly. In the storm’s aftermath, Bob proves to everyone (and finally himself) that there is a big heart in that tiny chest…and a brave one too. With this companion, Applegate picks up where her Newbery Medal winner left off, and fans will be overjoyed to ride along in the head of lovable, self-deprecating Bob on his storm-tossed adventure. His wry doggy observations and attitude are pitch perfect (augmented by the canine glossary and Castelao’s picture dictionary of dog postures found in the frontmatter). Gorilla Ivan described Julia as having straight, black hair in the previous title, and Castelao's illustrations in that volume showed her as pale-skinned. (Finished art not available for review.)

With Ivan’s movie out this year from Disney, expect great interest—it will be richly rewarded. (afterword) (Fiction. 8-12)

Pub Date: May 5, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-299131-7

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: March 25, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2020

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There’s a monster in Sidwell, Massachusetts, that can only be seen at night or, as Twig reveals, if passersby are near her house.

It’s her older brother, James, born with wings just like every male in the Fowler line for the last 200 years. They were cursed by the Witch of Sidwell, left brokenhearted by their forebear Lowell Fowler. Twig and James are tired of the secret and self-imposed isolation. Lonely Twig narrates, bringing the small town and its characters to life, intertwining events present and past, and describing the effects of the spell on her fractured family’s daily life. Longing for some normalcy and companionship, she befriends new-neighbor Julia while James falls in love with Julia’s sister, Agate—only to learn they are descendants of the Witch. James and Agate seem as star-crossed as their ancestors, especially when the townspeople attribute a spate of petty thefts and graffiti protesting the development of the woods to the monster and launch a hunt. The mix of romance and magic is irresistible and the tension, compelling. With the help of friends and through a series of self-realizations and discoveries, Twig grows more self-assured. She is certain she knows how to change the curse. In so doing, Twig not only changes James’ fate, but her own, for the first time feeling the fullness of family, friends and hope for the future.

Enchanting. (Magical realism. 9-12)

Pub Date: March 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-385-38958-7

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Wendy Lamb/Random

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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