A sports tale infused with moments of Christian prayer and frequent lessons in morality that never establishes itself as a...

SNAP DECISION

From the Game Face series , Vol. 1

Two teenage boys struggle to shine on their varsity football team even while their own friendship suffers after one of them is injured.

Archie F. Carr School is unusual in that it serves all students grades one through 12 in Lincoln, Fla. This means that the varsity football team is potentially open to even eighth-graders like Chase. He’s thrilled when he’s asked to start practicing with the varsity team and attend their games as a backup quarterback, but this realization of his dream doesn’t come without a price. His best friend, Tripp, suffers a head injury on the field, and when Chase tells the truth about the severity of the concussion, Tripp ends the friendship. Will their bond be strong enough to weather the rough patches? Whitaker’s (Uncommon Marriage, 2014, with Tony and Lauren Dungy, etc.) foray into middle-grade fiction never manages to break free of its flat tone. The characters, both children and adults, display a lack of energy, even on the football field. Their dialogue is stiff and monotonous. Emotional issues that deserve center stage—such as Chase’s fraught relationship with his dad and his sister’s recurring nightmare—are mostly ignored in favor of play-by-play accounts of football losses and wins.

A sports tale infused with moments of Christian prayer and frequent lessons in morality that never establishes itself as a realistic account of young teens, either on the field or off. (Fiction. 9-12)

Pub Date: July 1, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-310-73700-1

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Zonderkidz

Review Posted Online: June 1, 2014

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NIGHTBIRD

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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Poet Alexander deftly reveals the power of the format to pack an emotional punch.

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THE CROSSOVER

Basketball-playing twins find challenges to their relationship on and off the court as they cope with changes in their lives.

Josh Bell and his twin, Jordan, aka JB, are stars of their school basketball team. They are also successful students, since their educator mother will stand for nothing else. As the two middle schoolers move to a successful season, readers can see their differences despite the sibling connection. After all, Josh has dreadlocks and is quiet on court, and JB is bald and a trash talker. Their love of the sport comes from their father, who had also excelled in the game, though his championship was achieved overseas. Now, however, he does not have a job and seems to have health problems the parents do not fully divulge to the boys. The twins experience their first major rift when JB is attracted to a new girl in their school, and Josh finds himself without his brother. This novel in verse is rich in character and relationships. Most interesting is the family dynamic that informs so much of the narrative, which always reveals, never tells. While Josh relates the story, readers get a full picture of major and minor players. The basketball action provides energy and rhythm for a moving story.

Poet Alexander deftly reveals the power of the format to pack an emotional punch. (Verse fiction. 9-12)

Pub Date: March 18, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-544-10771-7

Page Count: 240

Publisher: HMH Books

Review Posted Online: Dec. 18, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2014

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