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A magnificent medley of cogent themes and memorable moments.

In an effort to get grown-ups to listen to them, middle schoolers do something extraordinary.

So does Larsen, in her debut—by introducing characters so distinct and alive that each sparkles and yet becomes much more as they together tackle the challenging task of asserting their right to a say in their own educations. Drawn together by their common devotion to twice-weekly Jazz Lab, five eighth grade musicians are dismayed when grizzled, legendary adviser Mr. Lewis is replaced by random subs as rumors of budget cuts swirl. Popular efforts to drum up signatures for a petition lead to disturbing revelations that cuts have been quietly paring away elective activities for years. But finding a bundle of signed petitions chucked in the garbage unread and seeing students’ concerns waved off by the school board really motivate the quintet. Enter professional problem student Quentin “Quagmire” Tiarello, bringing his gift for alienating powers that be, a wonderful ongoing duel with a certain English teacher who (to his discomfiture) really sees him, and a surprising level of technical savvy with light and sound boards—all of which prove invaluable in setting up an inspired, foot-stomping, showstopping, thoroughly unauthorized musical climax. Does it create magically sweeping changes? Maybe not…but more people join the youths in listening to one another, and that’s a worthy result. Mr. Lewis’ reappearance adds a final sweet, poignant note. Main characters read White; names cue ethnic diversity in the supporting cast.

A magnificent medley of cogent themes and memorable moments. (Fiction. 10-14)

Pub Date: Oct. 11, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-358-64549-8

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Clarion/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: July 26, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2022

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From the School for Good and Evil series , Vol. 1

Rich and strange (and kitted out with an eye-catching cover), but stronger in the set pieces than the internal logic.

Chainani works an elaborate sea change akin to Gregory Maguire’s Wicked (1995), though he leaves the waters muddied.

Every four years, two children, one regarded as particularly nice and the other particularly nasty, are snatched from the village of Gavaldon by the shadowy School Master to attend the divided titular school. Those who survive to graduate become major or minor characters in fairy tales. When it happens to sweet, Disney princess–like Sophie and  her friend Agatha, plain of features, sour of disposition and low of self-esteem, they are both horrified to discover that they’ve been dropped not where they expect but at Evil and at Good respectively. Gradually—too gradually, as the author strings out hundreds of pages of Hogwarts-style pranks, classroom mishaps and competitions both academic and romantic—it becomes clear that the placement wasn’t a mistake at all. Growing into their true natures amid revelations and marked physical changes, the two spark escalating rivalry between the wings of the school. This leads up to a vicious climactic fight that sees Good and Evil repeatedly switching sides. At this point, readers are likely to feel suddenly left behind, as, thanks to summary deus ex machina resolutions, everything turns out swell(ish).

Rich and strange (and kitted out with an eye-catching cover), but stronger in the set pieces than the internal logic. (Fantasy. 11-13)

Pub Date: May 14, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-06-210489-2

Page Count: 496

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Feb. 12, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2013

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A captivating book situated in present-day discourse around the refugee crisis, featuring two boys who stand by their high...

Two parallel stories, one of a Syrian boy from Aleppo fleeing war, and another of a white American boy, son of a NATO contractor, dealing with the challenges of growing up, intersect at a house in Brussels.

Ahmed lost his father while crossing the Mediterranean. Alone and broke in Europe, he takes things into his own hands to get to safety but ends up having to hide in the basement of a residential house. After months of hiding, he is discovered by Max, a boy of similar age and parallel high integrity and courage, who is experiencing his own set of troubles learning a new language, moving to a new country, and being teased at school. In an unexpected turn of events, the two boys and their new friends Farah, a Muslim Belgian girl, and Oscar, a white Belgian boy, successfully scheme for Ahmed to go to school while he remains in hiding the rest of the time. What is at stake for Ahmed is immense, and so is the risk to everyone involved. Marsh invites art and history to motivate her protagonists, drawing parallels to gentiles who protected Jews fleeing Nazi terror and citing present-day political news. This well-crafted and suspenseful novel touches on the topics of refugees and immigrant integration, terrorism, Islam, Islamophobia, and the Syrian war with sensitivity and grace.

A captivating book situated in present-day discourse around the refugee crisis, featuring two boys who stand by their high values in the face of grave risk and succeed in drawing goodwill from others. (Historical fiction. 10-14)

Pub Date: Aug. 7, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-250-30757-6

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Roaring Brook Press

Review Posted Online: June 10, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2018

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