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AHMED AZIZ’S EPIC YEAR

An emotionally perceptive book about grief, identity, and change.

Twelve-year-old Ahmed Aziz has never lived anywhere other than Hawaii, where everyone in his neighborhood knows everything about him.

When his Indian American Muslim family moves to his father’s hometown in Minnesota—one of three places in the world where his father can get the treatment he needs to recover from an inherited form of hepatitis C—Ahmed is anxious, heartbroken, and afraid. Things do not get off to a promising start. On Ahmed’s first day at his mostly White school, his neighbor Jack bullies him. Plus Ahmed is assigned to an accelerated section of language arts, a class taught by his father’s old friend Janet Gaardner—even though he hates to read. Ahmed’s homesickness only intensifies as he struggles to find a place among his peers and as his father’s illness worsens. However, he begins to find comfort in places he never expected, including in hearing memories of his uncle, who died at the age of 12 in the same hospital where Ahmed’s dad is now fighting for his life. Eventually Ahmed realizes that he is best loved and happiest when he is himself. This well-paced book tells a compassionate and authentic story about how families deal with intergenerational grief. The author seamlessly incorporates details of Ahmed’s heritage alongside his father’s Midwestern childhood, in the process accurately and unapologetically portraying Ahmed’s multifaceted identity.

An emotionally perceptive book about grief, identity, and change. (Fiction. 10-14)

Pub Date: June 22, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-06-302489-2

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Quill Tree Books/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: April 26, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2021

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THE SCHOOL FOR GOOD AND EVIL

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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NOWHERE BOY

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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