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THE ASSASSINATION OF BRANGWAIN SPURGE

Monty Python teams up with Maxwell Smart for a wrestling match with Tolkien—splendid.

Awards & Accolades

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT


  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2018


  • National Book Award Finalist

Spy thrills meet fantasy rivalries as an elitist elf and a bookish goblin strike up a cross-cultural kerfuffle in Anderson and Yelchin’s collaborative meditation on prejudice.

Scholar Brangwain Spurge of the Realm of Elfland is sent to deliver a historically significant gift to the ruler of the neighboring goblins—and to make some covert observations. Little does he know that his spy mission, related in multipage wordless sequences of black-and-white illustrations, is in fact an assassination. Meanwhile, in an interleaved third-person prose narrative, Werfel, a goblin archivist, is thrilled to meet and host the elf historian, sure that they will find fertile common ground to begin easing the 1,000-year-old tension between their two kingdoms. Dismayed, however, by Spurge’s lack of appreciation and downright snobbishness, Werfel is horrified to find his guest has betrayed his hospitality and caught the attention of the goblin secret police as their two kingdoms head, once again, toward conflict. Occasional letters from Elfland’s spymaster assist the two primary narratives. The book makes no secret about its own position even as it cheerfully asks readers to think critically about ideologies and their agendas and the manufactured barriers of misinformation and misunderstanding. Together, Anderson and Yelchin craft something that feels impossible, a successfully unorthodox epistolary, pictorial, and prose narrative that interrogates the cultural ramifications of unchallenged viewpoints and the government violence they abet even as it recounts the comedic blunderings of a spy mission gone wrong.

Monty Python teams up with Maxwell Smart for a wrestling match with Tolkien—splendid. (Fantasy. 10-16)

Pub Date: Sept. 25, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-7636-9822-5

Page Count: 544

Publisher: Candlewick

Review Posted Online: June 17, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2018

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THE FIELD GUIDE TO THE NORTH AMERICAN TEENAGER

Despite some missteps, this will appeal to readers who enjoy a fresh and realistic teen voice.

A teenage, not-so-lonely loner endures the wilds of high school in Austin, Texas.

Norris Kaplan, the protagonist of Philippe’s debut novel, is a hypersweaty, uber-snarky black, Haitian, French-Canadian pushing to survive life in his new school. His professor mom’s new tenure-track job transplants Norris mid–school year, and his biting wit and sarcasm are exposed through his cataloging of his new world in a field guide–style burn book. He’s greeted in his new life by an assortment of acquaintances, Liam, who is white and struggling with depression; Maddie, a self-sacrificing white cheerleader with a heart of gold; and Aarti, his Indian-American love interest who offers connection. Norris’ ego, fueled by his insecurities, often gets in the way of meaningful character development. The scenes showcasing his emotional growth are too brief and, despite foreshadowing, the climax falls flat because he still gets incredible personal access to people he’s hurt. A scene where Norris is confronted by his mother for getting drunk and belligerent with a white cop is diluted by his refusal or inability to grasp the severity of the situation and the resultant minor consequences. The humor is spot-on, as is the representation of the black diaspora; the opportunity for broader conversations about other topics is there, however, the uneven buildup of detailed, meaningful exchanges and the glibness of Norris’ voice detract.

Despite some missteps, this will appeal to readers who enjoy a fresh and realistic teen voice. (Fiction. 13-16)

Pub Date: Jan. 8, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-06-282411-0

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Oct. 14, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2018

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NEVER FALL DOWN

Though it lacks references or suggestions for further reading, Arn's agonizing story is compelling enough that many readers...

A harrowing tale of survival in the Killing Fields.

The childhood of Arn Chorn-Pond has been captured for young readers before, in Michelle Lord and Shino Arihara's picture book, A Song for Cambodia (2008). McCormick, known for issue-oriented realism, offers a fictionalized retelling of Chorn-Pond's youth for older readers. McCormick's version begins when the Khmer Rouge marches into 11-year-old Arn's Cambodian neighborhood and forces everyone into the country. Arn doesn't understand what the Khmer Rouge stands for; he only knows that over the next several years he and the other children shrink away on a handful of rice a day, while the corpses of adults pile ever higher in the mango grove. Arn does what he must to survive—and, wherever possible, to protect a small pocket of children and adults around him. Arn's chilling history pulls no punches, trusting its readers to cope with the reality of children forced to participate in murder, torture, sexual exploitation and genocide. This gut-wrenching tale is marred only by the author's choice to use broken English for both dialogue and description. Chorn-Pond, in real life, has spoken eloquently (and fluently) on the influence he's gained by learning English; this prose diminishes both his struggle and his story.

Though it lacks references or suggestions for further reading, Arn's agonizing story is compelling enough that many readers will seek out the history themselves. (preface, author's note) (Historical fiction. 12-15)

Pub Date: May 8, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-06-173093-1

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: March 20, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2012

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