As Tara learns in this skillful exploration, an important source of her special strengths—questioning spirit, empathy and...

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MY BASMATI BAT MITZVAH

The latest spunky heroine of South Asian–Jewish heritage to grace middle-grade fiction, Tara Feinstein, 12, charms readers from the get-go in this strong, funny debut.

Cheerful, sociable and a New Yorker through and through, Tara’s blessed with two best friends: Ben-o, a gentile, and Rebecca, who's Jewish. Both girls attend Hebrew School. As boys prepare for their bar mitzvahs and girls for bat mitzvahs, Tara struggles with doubts (does she believe in God?) and fears devaluing her beloved Indian heritage. When Sheila Rosenberg tells Tara she’s not a real Jew because her mother (an Indian-American convert to Judaism) wasn’t born a Jew, Tara hits back—literally. Tara looks forward to working with Ben-o in Robotics Club for seventh grade. Instead, she’s stuck with ADD-challenged Ryan Berger, whose interest is Tara, not robotics, and her comfortable relationship with Ben-o is threatened now that he seems to want to take it to the level of romance. Her simmering feud with Sheila complicates life further. Authors often mention but then shrink from exploring in depth their characters’ mixed religious heritage; it’s a sensitive subject that demands close scrutiny. Freedman bucks that trend, avoiding didacticism by portraying broader issues through Tara’s personality and unique circumstances.

As Tara learns in this skillful exploration, an important source of her special strengths—questioning spirit, empathy and strong ethical compass—is her mixed heritage. (Hindi-Yiddish glossary) (Fiction. 10-14)

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-4197-0806-0

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Amulet/Abrams

Review Posted Online: July 31, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2013

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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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An engrossing, humorous, and vitally important graphic novel that should be required reading in every middle school in...

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NEW KID

From the New Kid series , Vol. 1

Jordan Banks takes readers down the rabbit hole and into his mostly white prep school in this heartbreakingly accurate middle-grade tale of race, class, microaggressions, and the quest for self-identity.

He may be the new kid, but as an African-American boy from Washington Heights, that stigma entails so much more than getting lost on the way to homeroom. Riverdale Academy Day School, located at the opposite end of Manhattan, is a world away, and Jordan finds himself a stranger in a foreign land, where pink clothing is called salmon, white administrators mistake a veteran African-American teacher for the football coach, and white classmates ape African-American Vernacular English to make themselves sound cool. Jordan’s a gifted artist, and his drawings blend with the narrative to give readers a full sense of his two worlds and his methods of coping with existing in between. Craft skillfully employs the graphic-novel format to its full advantage, giving his readers a delightful and authentic cast of characters who, along with New York itself, pop off the page with vibrancy and nuance. Shrinking Jordan to ant-sized proportions upon his entering the school cafeteria, for instance, transforms the lunchroom into a grotesque Wonderland in which his lack of social standing becomes visually arresting and viscerally uncomfortable.

An engrossing, humorous, and vitally important graphic novel that should be required reading in every middle school in America. (Graphic fiction. 10-14)

Pub Date: Feb. 5, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-06-269120-0

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Oct. 15, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2018

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