LEVEN THUMPS AND THE GATEWAY TO FOO

A fizzy blend of high and low fantasy with a distinctly American sensibility, this series kickoff pits a seemingly ordinary Oklahoma teen against a deranged dream master bent on conquering both Earth and the unfortunately named realm of Foo—the metaphysical stage upon which our day and night dreams all play. Having already corrupted much of Foo with his evil shadows and intentions, Sabine is bent both on finding the hidden gateway to Earth, and on killing Lev, who as sole descendant of the gate’s creator, is the only one who can destroy it. Lev has no idea of any of this, of course, until brought up to speed by a decidedly offbeat trio of Foovians led by an ancient, supernally wise spirit currently inhabiting a far-from-fresh toothpick. Displaying a knack for deliciously menacing monsters, equally delicious turns of phrase, and sly riffs on everything from pop music to Harry Potter, the author sends Lev and company on a long, strange trip, culminating in a literally explosive climax and the beginning of another journey. Good enough to survive a truly dreadful cover illustration, this recalls Michael Chabon’s Summerland (2002) for its mix of humor and terror, its splendidly unpredictable plot twists, and its intriguing vision of a reality that is wider than most of us suspect. (Fantasy. 11-13)

Pub Date: April 1, 2005

ISBN: 1-59038-369-9

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Shadow Mountain

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2005

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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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Rich and strange (and kitted out with an eye-catching cover), but stronger in the set pieces than the internal logic.

THE SCHOOL FOR GOOD AND EVIL

From the School for Good and Evil series , Vol. 1

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. 13, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2013

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