A grand narrative that examines the power of music to inspire beauty in a world overrun with fear and intolerance, it’s...

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ECHO

A multilayered novel set in turbulent times explores music’s healing power.

Sweeping across years and place, Ryan’s full-bodied story is actually five stories that take readers from an enchanted forest to Germany, Pennsylvania, Southern California, and finally New York City. Linking the stories is an ethereal-sounding harmonica first introduced in the fairy-tale beginning of the book and marked with a mysterious M. In Nazi Germany, 12-year-old Friedrich finds the harmonica in an abandoned building; playing it fills him with the courage to attempt to free his father from Dachau. Next, the harmonica reaches two brothers in an orphanage in Depression-era Pennsylvania, from which they are adopted by a mysterious wealthy woman who doesn’t seem to want them. Just after the United States enters World War II, the harmonica then makes its way to Southern California in a box of used instruments for poor children; as fifth-grader Ivy Lopez learns to play, she discovers she has exceptional musical ability. Ryan weaves these stories together, first, with the theme of music—symbolized by the harmonica—and its ability to empower the disadvantaged and discriminated-against, and then, at the novel’s conclusion, as readers learn the intertwined fate of each story’s protagonist.

A grand narrative that examines the power of music to inspire beauty in a world overrun with fear and intolerance, it’s worth every moment of readers’ time. (Historical fiction. 9-14)

Pub Date: Feb. 24, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-439-87402-1

Page Count: 592

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: Dec. 6, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2014

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Good Guys and Bad get just deserts in the end, and Stanley gets plenty of opportunities to display pluck and valor in this...

HOLES

Sentenced to a brutal juvenile detention camp for a crime he didn't commit, a wimpy teenager turns four generations of bad family luck around in this sunburnt tale of courage, obsession, and buried treasure from Sachar (Wayside School Gets a Little Stranger, 1995, etc.).

Driven mad by the murder of her black beau, a schoolteacher turns on the once-friendly, verdant town of Green Lake, Texas, becomes feared bandit Kissin' Kate Barlow, and dies, laughing, without revealing where she buried her stash. A century of rainless years later, lake and town are memories—but, with the involuntary help of gangs of juvenile offenders, the last descendant of the last residents is still digging. Enter Stanley Yelnats IV, great-grandson of one of Kissin' Kate's victims and the latest to fall to the family curse of being in the wrong place at the wrong time; under the direction of The Warden, a woman with rattlesnake venom polish on her long nails, Stanley and each of his fellow inmates dig a hole a day in the rock-hard lake bed. Weeks of punishing labor later, Stanley digs up a clue, but is canny enough to conceal the information of which hole it came from. Through flashbacks, Sachar weaves a complex net of hidden relationships and well-timed revelations as he puts his slightly larger-than-life characters under a sun so punishing that readers will be reaching for water bottles.

Good Guys and Bad get just deserts in the end, and Stanley gets plenty of opportunities to display pluck and valor in this rugged, engrossing adventure. (Fiction. 9-13)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 978-0-374-33265-5

Page Count: 233

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2000

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An uplifting sequel told with heart and humor.

MERCI SUÁREZ CAN'T DANCE

Merci returns for another year of challenges and triumphs at home and at Seaward Pines Academy.

Life is a little different for Merci Suárez in seventh grade. Her older brother, Roli, is off at college; her grandfather Lolo’s Alzheimer’s is more pronounced; and she has to regularly babysit her Tía Inés’ spirited young twins. Merci is also assigned to manage the school store with math whiz Wilson Bellevue, a quiet classmate who she realizes is not obnoxious like other boys. When Merci and Wilson are expected to sell tickets to the Valentine’s Day Heart Ball, she must interact with a slightly-less-mean Edna Santos, who’s running the dance and unexpectedly getting closer to Hannah, one of Merci’s best friends. Medina continues to tenderly explore issues such as multigenerational immigrant family dynamics, managing the responsibilities of home and school, and learning how to navigate changing friendships and first crushes. Merci’s maturity and growth are as engaging and compelling as they were in the author’s Newbery Medal winner, Merci Suárez Changes Gears (2018). The cast is broadly diverse; Merci and her family are Cuban American, Edna is Dominican, and Creole and Cajun Wilson has a physical disability.

An uplifting sequel told with heart and humor. (Fiction. 9-13)

Pub Date: April 6, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-7636-9050-2

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Candlewick

Review Posted Online: Jan. 12, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2021

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Poignant, respectful, and historically accurate while pulsating with emotional turmoil, adventure, and suspense.

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REFUGEE

In the midst of political turmoil, how do you escape the only country that you’ve ever known and navigate a new life? Parallel stories of three different middle school–aged refugees—Josef from Nazi Germany in 1938, Isabel from 1994 Cuba, and Mahmoud from 2015 Aleppo—eventually intertwine for maximum impact.

Three countries, three time periods, three brave protagonists. Yet these three refugee odysseys have so much in common. Each traverses a landscape ruled by a dictator and must balance freedom, family, and responsibility. Each initially leaves by boat, struggles between visibility and invisibility, copes with repeated obstacles and heart-wrenching loss, and gains resilience in the process. Each third-person narrative offers an accessible look at migration under duress, in which the behavior of familiar adults changes unpredictably, strangers exploit the vulnerabilities of transients, and circumstances seem driven by random luck. Mahmoud eventually concludes that visibility is best: “See us….Hear us. Help us.” With this book, Gratz accomplishes a feat that is nothing short of brilliant, offering a skillfully wrought narrative laced with global and intergenerational reverberations that signal hope for the future. Excellent for older middle grade and above in classrooms, book groups, and/or communities looking to increase empathy for new and existing arrivals from afar.

Poignant, respectful, and historically accurate while pulsating with emotional turmoil, adventure, and suspense. (maps, author’s note) (Historical fiction. 10-14)

Pub Date: July 25, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-545-88083-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: May 10, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2017

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