A compelling yarn that unravels when it comes to considerate cultural representation.


In this spirited ghost story, 13-year-old Trace is haunted by more than the memories of the car accident that killed his parents.

Theodore Raymond “Trace” Carter, an African-American boy from Baltimore, is still adjusting to life in Brooklyn with his new guardian, his eccentric aunt, when he goes to the New York Public Library and finds himself face to face with the weeping ghost of a little black boy. Though he is a little intrigued, he’s more frightened, and Trace tries to block their encounters from his mind until the research for his history-class project thrusts him into a past tragedy at the NYPL to which he is unwittingly bound. In her first novel, picture-book veteran Cummings carefully weaves in subtle clues to help readers through the beautifully paced chapters, leading them to an ending that delights and comforts. Unfortunately, the road to the end is made extremely challenging by Trace’s persistent misogyny and his unnecessary speculation about the perceived sexuality of two of his aunt’s women friends; a troubling scene in which Trace is allowed to get drunk and miss school lands with no interrogation. These incidents simultaneously developmentally age the book above its recommended audience of 8- to 12-year-olds and present a barrier to deep engagement with the overall narrative arc. His classmates’ unquestioned conflations of varied ethnic and racial experiences are further dissonant.

A compelling yarn that unravels when it comes to considerate cultural representation. (Paranormal mystery. 12-14)

Pub Date: April 2, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-06-269884-1

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Jan. 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2019

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Those preparing to “slay the sucktastic beast known as high school” will particularly appreciate this spirited read.


From the Life of a Cactus series

In the sequel to Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus (2017), Aven Green confronts her biggest challenge yet: surviving high school without arms.

Fourteen-year-old Aven has just settled into life at Stagecoach Pass with her adoptive parents when everything changes again. She’s entering high school, which means that 2,300 new kids will stare at her missing arms—and her feet, which do almost everything hands can (except, alas, air quotes). Aven resolves to be “blasé” and field her classmates’ pranks with aplomb, but a humiliating betrayal shakes her self-confidence. Even her friendships feel unsteady. Her friend Connor’s moved away and made a new friend who, like him, has Tourette’s syndrome: a girl. And is Lando, her friend Zion’s popular older brother, being sweet to Aven out of pity—or something more? Bowling keenly depicts the universal awkwardness of adolescence and the particular self-consciousness of navigating a disability. Aven’s “armless-girl problems” realistically grow thornier in this outing, touching on such tough topics as death and aging, but warm, quirky secondary characters lend support. A few preachy epiphanies notwithstanding, Aven’s honest, witty voice shines—whether out-of-reach vending-machine snacks are “taunting” her or she’s nursing heartaches. A subplot exploring Aven’s curiosity about her biological father resolves with a touching twist. Most characters, including Aven, appear white; Zion and Lando are black.

Those preparing to “slay the sucktastic beast known as high school” will particularly appreciate this spirited read. (Fiction. 12-14)

Pub Date: Sept. 17, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-4549-3329-8

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Sterling

Review Posted Online: June 10, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2019

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A quirky, sweet adventure for middle school boys.


Feeling abandoned by his two closest companions, 13-year-old Tyson just wants things to go back to normal—even if that means field dressing his own elk and fighting off a man-eating grizzly bear.

When Tyson’s best friend, Bright, decides he would rather hang out with the cool kids, Tyson reasons that he still has his grandfather for companionship. But when his grandfather Gene moves into a nursing home and Tyson’s parents cancel their big hunting trip, it is almost more than Tyson can handle. With social pressures to fit in mounting and grades rapidly sinking, things are becoming desperate. Suddenly, the hunting trip is as much about saving himself as it is about taking down a six-point bull elk. Tyson is quirky, awkward and lovable; a perfect middle school boy. He is also, at times, laugh-out-loud funny, but his best qualities are his fierce love for his family and his unwavering desire to be true to himself. It is this inner strength that carries the story through some eyebrow-raising moments. While honesty is emphasized, the lies surrounding the secret hunting trip are brushed aside as necessary for the greater good. Occasionally salty vocabulary and adolescent innuendo are developmentally spot-on.

A quirky, sweet adventure for middle school boys. (Fiction. 12-14)

Pub Date: April 1, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-7636-6521-0

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Candlewick

Review Posted Online: Feb. 5, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2014

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