A compelling read about the meaning of family, identity, and culture, set in pre–Hurricane Maria Puerto Rico.

MARCUS VEGA DOESN'T SPEAK SPANISH

In searching for his absentee father, a biracial boy gets closer to his Puerto Rican roots.

Though Marcus Vega was born in Puerto Rico, the 14-year-old hasn’t been back since he was 2. Marcus lives outside of Philadelphia with his mom, a white woman, and his little brother, Charlie, who has Down syndrome. Marcus towers over the other kids, and he uses his size to his advantage, walking kids to and from school and stashing their phones in his locker (out of the principal’s reach) for cash. After a school bully calls Charlie “the one word that sends [him] into a blind rage,” Marcus punches him in the mouth and is suspended. Marcus’ mom decides that the three of them should go on a trip to regroup, which is how they find themselves in Puerto Rico looking for the dad Marcus hasn’t seen in 10 years, a search that takes them and readers all over the island. Immigrant and first-generation readers will relate to Marcus’ feelings of not belonging in Puerto Rico. Marcus’ eagerness to reconnect with the father who abandoned him is believably naïve and allows him to overlook his relatives’ criticisms of his dad, but both they and Cartaya allow him the space to come to his own conclusions. Marcus' Puerto Rican relatives are lively and loving; their English conversations with Marcus include non-italicized Spanish words and phrases that provide cultural texture.

A compelling read about the meaning of family, identity, and culture, set in pre–Hurricane Maria Puerto Rico. (Historical fiction. 10-14)

Pub Date: Aug. 21, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-101-99726-0

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2018

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Some readers may feel that the resolution comes a mite too easily, but most will enjoy the journey and be pleased when...

ASHES TO ASHEVILLE

Two sisters make an unauthorized expedition to their former hometown and in the process bring together the two parts of their divided family.

Dooley packs plenty of emotion into this eventful road trip, which takes place over the course of less than 24 hours. Twelve-year-old Ophelia, nicknamed Fella, and her 16-year-old sister, Zoey Grace, aka Zany, are the daughters of a lesbian couple, Shannon and Lacy, who could not legally marry. The two white girls squabble and share memories as they travel from West Virginia to Asheville, North Carolina, where Zany is determined to scatter Mama Lacy’s ashes in accordance with her wishes. The year is 2004, before the Supreme Court decision on gay marriage, and the girls have been separated by hostile, antediluvian custodial laws. Fella’s present-tense narration paints pictures not just of the difficulties they face on the trip (a snowstorm, car trouble, and an unlikely thief among them), but also of their lives before Mama Lacy’s illness and of the ways that things have changed since then. Breathless and engaging, Fella’s distinctive voice is convincingly childlike. The conversations she has with her sister, as well as her insights about their relationship, likewise ring true. While the girls face serious issues, amusing details and the caring adults in their lives keep the tone relatively light.

Some readers may feel that the resolution comes a mite too easily, but most will enjoy the journey and be pleased when Fella’s family figures out how to come together in a new way . (Historical fiction. 10-14)

Pub Date: April 4, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-399-16504-7

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: Feb. 1, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2017

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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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