THRESHOLDS

Maya, a budding artist, is still grieving her best friend’s death when her family moves to Oregon. From her new bedroom, she sketches the odd but intriguing residents of the Janus Apartments next door. One night a puzzling, fairylike creature strays into her room. Soon Maya discovers that two of the new neighbors, fellow seventh graders Benjamin and Gwenda, know something about it. Although they’re classroom pariahs, Maya befriends them and another school misfit, Travis, and the three come to her aid after she unwittingly agrees to incubate an extraterrestrial embryo. As Maya is drawn into a complicated conflict between mysterious powers, the embryo hatches. While her artistic gifts are useful, Maya’s specialness appears accidental, not preordained, making her a refreshing departure from “Chosen One” heroes. This series opener by a seasoned author takes off slowly, with clichéd plot setup and flat characterization, but adroit, multistranded storytelling saves the day. Once the alien happenings commence, the novel quickly gains altitude, achieving orbit somewhere between fantasy and science fiction, well positioned to explore the opportunities each presents. (Fantasy. 10-14)

Pub Date: Aug. 5, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-670-06319-2

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: June 28, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2010

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Gripping and pretty dark—but, in the end, food, family, friendship, and straight facts win out over guile, greed, and terror.

THE ICKABOG

Rowling buffs up a tale she told her own children about a small, idyllic kingdom nearly destroyed by corrupt officials.

In the peaceful land of Cornucopia, the Ickabog has always been regarded as a legendary menace until two devious nobles play so successfully on the fears of naïve King Fred the Fearless that the once-prosperous land is devastated by ruinous taxes supposedly spent on defense while protesters are suppressed and the populace is terrorized by nighttime rampages. Pastry chef Bertha Beamish organizes a breakout from the local dungeon just as her son, Bert, and his friend Daisy Dovetail arrive…with the last Ickabog, who turns out to be real after all. Along with full plates of just deserts for both heroes and villains, the story then dishes up a metaphorical lagniappe in which the monster reveals the origins of the human race. The author frames her story as a set of ruminations on how evil can grow and people can come to believe unfounded lies. She embeds these themes in an engrossing, tightly written adventure centered on a stomach-wrenching reign of terror. The story features color illustrations by U.S. and Canadian children selected through an online contest. Most characters are cued as White in the text; a few illustrations include diverse representation.

Gripping and pretty dark—but, in the end, food, family, friendship, and straight facts win out over guile, greed, and terror. (Fantasy. 10-13)

Pub Date: Nov. 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-338-73287-0

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: Nov. 17, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2020

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Well paced and witty.

CITY OF THE PLAGUE GOD

Thirteen-year-old Iraqi American Sikander Aziz must stop the ancient Mesopotamian plague god Nergal from raining destruction and pestilence on New York City.

After the death of his older brother, Mo, who died during a trip to Iraq, Sik has been working in his refugee parents’ New York deli nonstop, trying to stymie his grief. But when Nergal and his minions trash the deli while seeking a stolen treasure, they start a plague that infects Sik’s parents and threatens all of New York. Teaming up with the goddess Ishtar; her sword-wielding adoptive daughter, Belet; and Mo’s frequently typecast aspiring actor best friend, Daoud, they must find a way to stop Nergal and cure New York’s residents in an epic adventure worthy of Gilgamesh. Chadda brings attention to the less well-recognized mythology of ancient Mesopotamia with engaging humor and wit. Dialogue between characters, most of whom are Iraqi and Iraqi American, allows exploration of heavier topics of Islamophobia, anti-Arabism, and terrorist and Orientalist tropes to be inserted with ease. The Aziz family and Daoud are Muslims; Chadda navigates the difficult line of reconciling the depiction of characters interacting with multiple gods with the fundamental Muslim belief in one God both in the text and the backmatter. Daoud and Mo are alluded to being gay and having been in love.

Well paced and witty. (author's note, glossary) (Fantasy. 10-14)

Pub Date: Jan. 12, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-368-05150-7

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Rick Riordan Presents/Disney

Review Posted Online: Oct. 12, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2020

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