Still, this novel, with its solid message about finding courage through adversity, should resonate with teens who feel...

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SWAN BOY

Dance becomes him.

After his half-Turkish father’s death, Johnny Emin, a 13-year-old British boy, feels like an outsider in his own life. Uprooted from his family’s house to a small flat in London, Johnny endures constant bullying from the Populars at his new school, who nickname him Swan Boy, and becomes the caretaker for his 5-year-old brother, Mojo, while their white mother struggles to make ends meet. With no friends and no one with whom to share his grief, Johnny is totally isolated until a series of encounters with a majestic swan result in his sprouting actual feathers and discovering a new sense of agency. Through a series of misadventures, Johnny is unexpectedly cast as Prince Siegfried in the school’s dance production of Swan Lake and must decide whether he has the courage to embrace his uniqueness despite what others may think. Sheehan’s second novel, which is part grief narrative, part anti-bullying/self-empowerment story, and part fantasy, addresses so many themes that it gets mired in its own good intentions. While Johnny’s anger at his father’s death is nicely rendered, the fantasy elements might have been better left as metaphor, since Johnny’s literal transformation detracts from the notion that dance is really what liberates him.

Still, this novel, with its solid message about finding courage through adversity, should resonate with teens who feel isolated. (Magical realism. 11-16)

Pub Date: Oct. 11, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-78074-924-2

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Rock the Boat/Oneworld

Review Posted Online: July 20, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2016

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A sly, side-splitting hoot from start to finish.

THE MECHANICAL MIND OF JOHN COGGIN

The dreary prospect of spending a lifetime making caskets instead of wonderful inventions prompts a young orphan to snatch up his little sister and flee. Where? To the circus, of course.

Fortunately or otherwise, John and 6-year-old Page join up with Boz—sometime human cannonball for the seedy Wandering Wayfarers and a “vertically challenged” trickster with a fantastic gift for sowing chaos. Alas, the budding engineer barely has time to settle in to begin work on an experimental circus wagon powered by chicken poop and dubbed (with questionable forethought) the Autopsy. The hot pursuit of malign and indomitable Great-Aunt Beauregard, the Coggins’ only living relative, forces all three to leave the troupe for further flights and misadventures. Teele spins her adventure around a sturdy protagonist whose love for his little sister is matched only by his fierce desire for something better in life for them both and tucks in an outstanding supporting cast featuring several notably strong-minded, independent women (Page, whose glare “would kill spiders dead,” not least among them). Better yet, in Boz she has created a scene-stealing force of nature, a free spirit who’s never happier than when he’s stirring up mischief. A climactic clutch culminating in a magnificently destructive display of fireworks leaves the Coggin sibs well-positioned for bright futures. (Illustrations not seen.)

A sly, side-splitting hoot from start to finish. (Adventure. 11-13)

Pub Date: April 12, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-06-234510-3

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Walden Pond Press/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2016

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A killer thriller.

THREE HOURS IN PARIS

Black takes time out from chronicling the neighborhood-themed exploits of half-French detective Aimée Leduc to introduce a heroine as American as apple pie.

Kate Rees never expected to see Paris again, especially not under these circumstances. Born and bred in rural Oregon, she earned a scholarship to the Sorbonne, where she met Dafydd, a handsome Welshman who stole her heart. The start of World War II finds the couple stationed in the Orkney Islands, where Kate impresses Alfred Stepney of the War Department with the rifle skills she developed helping her dad and five brothers protect the family’s cattle. After unimaginable tragedy strikes, Stepney recruits Kate for a mission that will allow her to channel her newly ignited rage against the Germans who’ve just invaded France. She’s parachuted into the countryside, where her fluent French should help her blend in. Landing in a field, she hops a milk train to Paris, where she plans to shoot Adolf Hitler as he stands on the steps of Sacre-Coeur. Instead, she kills his admiral and has to flee through the streets of Paris, struggling to hook up with the rescuers who are supposed to extract her. Meanwhile, Gunter Hoffman, a career policeman in a wartime assignment with the Reichssicherheitsdienst security forces, is charged with finding the assassin who dared attempt to kill the Führer. It’s hard to see how it can end well for both the cop and the cowgirl. The heroine’s flight is too episodic to capitalize on Black’s skill at character development, but she’s great at raising readers’ blood pressure.

A killer thriller.

Pub Date: April 7, 2020

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 360

Publisher: Soho Crime

Review Posted Online: May 4, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2020

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A must-read graphic novel that is both heart-rending and beautifully hopeful.

WHITE BIRD

A WONDER STORY

A grandmother shares her story of survival as a Jew in France during World War II.

As part of a homework assignment, Julian (Auggie’s chief tormentor in Wonder, 2012) video chats with Grandmère, who finally relates her wartime story. Born Sara Blum to a comfortable French Jewish family, she is indulged by her parents, who remain in Vichy France after 1940. Then, in 1943, after the German occupation, soldiers come to Sara’s school to arrest her and the other Jewish students. Sara hides and is soon spirited away by “Tourteau,” a student that she and the others had teased because of his crablike, crutch-assisted walk after being stricken by polio. Nonetheless, Tourteau, whose real name is Julien, and his parents shelter Sara in their barn loft for the duration of the war, often at great peril but always with care and love. Palacio begins each part of her story with quotations: from Muriel Rukeyser’s poetry, Anne Frank, and George Santayana. Her digital drawings, inked by Czap, highlight facial close-ups that brilliantly depict emotions. The narrative thread, inspired by Palacio’s mother-in-law, is spellbinding. In the final pages, the titular bird, seen in previous illustrations, soars skyward and connects readers to today’s immigration tragedies. Extensive backmatter, including an afterword by Ruth Franklin, provides superb resources. Although the book is being marketed as middle-grade, the complexities of the Holocaust in Vichy France, the growing relationship between Sara and Julien, Julien’s fate, and the mutual mistrust among neighbors will be most readily appreciated by Wonder’s older graduates.

A must-read graphic novel that is both heart-rending and beautifully hopeful. (author’s note, glossary, suggested reading list, organizations and resources, bibliography, photographs) (Graphic historical fiction. 12-16)

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-64553-5

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: June 23, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2019

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