GENIUS GAMES

An angst-ridden sixth-grader struggles with family feelings as his gifted little sister acquires an invisible, but possibly not imaginary, companion in this overwrought debut. Reading Hamlet and speaking fluent Spanish at five years old, Annie is a mystery to her fellow kindergartners, teachers, and brother Jack. She’s on her way to becoming even more of an outsider with the announcement that Sarah Slade, an invisible traveler from the 25th century, is her new best friend. Reckoning for some reason that no one has yet noticed Annie playing with, and chatting gaily to, thin air, Jack takes her to and from school under close escort; meanwhile, however, personal items belonging to those who have teased or angered her begin to disappear. Sarah’s work, Annie guiltily insists. Continually cycling between envy, anger, and guilt, Jack makes an ill-tempered, insensitive narrator who expresses his resentment at every turn while, confusingly, claiming that he has always concealed it, even from himself. The waters muddy further when the children’s father, who left years ago, gets back in touch; in a genuinely perfunctory resolution to that subplot, Jack allays Annie’s anxiety about what he’ll think of her by explaining that he’s no longer a significant member of the family. Readers are not likely to warm to these characters, nor, given the story’s patchy internal logic, come to understand them—and as Dhami coyly leaves the question of whether Sarah is real or not up in the air, even that minor satisfaction is denied. (Fiction. 10-12)

Pub Date: July 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-7868-2528-6

Page Count: 160

Publisher: Hyperion

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2001

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NIM'S ISLAND

A child finds that being alone in a tiny tropical paradise has its ups and downs in this appealingly offbeat tale from the Australian author of Peeling the Onion (1999). Though her mother is long dead and her scientist father Jack has just sailed off on a quick expedition to gather plankton, Nim is anything but lonely on her small island home. Not only does she have constant companions in Selkie, a sea lion, and a marine iguana named Fred, but Chica, a green turtle, has just arrived for an annual egg-laying—and, through the solar-powered laptop, she has even made a new e-mail friend in famed adventure novelist Alex Rover. Then a string of mishaps darkens Nim’s sunny skies: her father loses rudder and dish antenna in a storm; a tourist ship that was involved in her mother’s death appears off the island’s reefs; and, running down a volcanic slope, Nim takes a nasty spill that leaves her feverish, with an infected knee. Though she lives halfway around the world and is in reality a decidedly unadventurous urbanite, Alex, short for “Alexandra,” sets off to the rescue, arriving in the midst of another storm that requires Nim and companions to rescue her. Once Jack brings his battered boat limping home, the stage is set for sunny days again. Plenty of comic, freely-sketched line drawings help to keep the tone light, and Nim, with her unusual associates and just-right mix of self-reliance and vulnerability, makes a character young readers won’t soon tire of. (Fiction. 10-12)

Pub Date: March 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-375-81123-0

Page Count: 144

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2000

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THE RIGHT-UNDER CLUB

Summertime finds a strange combination of five middle-schoolers high up in a leafy tree house in their newly formed support group, the “R.U. Club,” where the secret is what “R.U.” means and what they do in the club. They could not be more unlike one another and yet each deeply understands what it is like to live in a new family because of death or divorce: They feel like leftovers, “even though we are right under their noses.” Each one takes a turn to describe her concern or worry. Anonymously, in written suggestions and then in group brainstorming sessions, they discuss solutions. Then as the girls put their trust in collective wisdom and thoughtfully apply effort and action through careful heartfelt adherence to club rules, camaraderie develops. Mounting interest in the characters and their adjustments to family life builds to a too-sweet conclusion, which could be redressed in a sequel, yet five genuine multifaceted characters together with their families make a large cast of characters. which Deriso handles adeptly. An interesting group that begs for a sequel. (Fiction. 10-12)

Pub Date: July 10, 2007

ISBN: 978-0-385-73334-2

Page Count: 160

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2007

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