Never stilted or clumsy, this debut novel reads like the work of a far more experienced writer.

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THE GRAVE ARTIST

Clare, a teenager reeling from her parents’ divorce, investigates her strange new artistic obsession in Johnson’s young-adult paranormal mystery.

Sixteen-year-old Clare’s life has been recently upended: After her parents’ divorce, she moved with her mom to a downscale school and neighborhood. Now she’s seeing a shrink after some binge drinking over the summer, and she can’t stop compulsively drawing skulls with wings. Her shrink believes it’s delayed grief over her father leaving the family, but Clare isn’t so sure—especially when she finds the exact same skull image on an old gravestone for a girl named Samantha. Eerie parallels exist between Clare and Samantha, who died at 16 under mysterious circumstances in 1798. Worse, Clare seems to be re-experiencing that death in vivid, frightening dreams and visions. Does Samantha want something, and what? With the help of art-class friend Neil, whose talent, gentle ways and dark coloring appeal to her, Clare investigates what really happened in 1798. At the same time, she works on repairing her fractured sense of self in the wake of the divorce, forging new understandings with her family and finding a real friend—and more—in Neil. Johnson presents a believable, multilayered heroine whose narration is lively and insightful. Clare can be sarcastic and dramatic like most teenagers, but she’s also thoughtful and observant. Reflecting on her drunken head injury last summer, Clare considers Samantha’s death: “A girl my age, on the cusp of the unknown. A girl who deserved more than to shatter on a bed of rocks, before her life stood a fighting chance of getting started.” Throughout the novel, Clare advances in empathetic understanding while remaining very much a teenager. Clare and Neil’s sweet, low-key romance is skillfully integrated into the investigation, and it even possesses interesting parallels to events in 1798. Even minor characters, like Vince, the burnout house painter, come alive. Characters speak in natural sounding dialogue, as when Vince, looking at some mysterious symbols, says: “That looks like a bad trip I had once in an Arby’s.” The action is brisk, with a surprising but believable twist near the end.

Never stilted or clumsy, this debut novel reads like the work of a far more experienced writer.

Pub Date: March 23, 2012

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: -

Publisher: Amazon Digital Services

Review Posted Online: April 19, 2012

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Readers can still rely on this series to bring laughs.

WRECKING BALL

From the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series , Vol. 14

The Heffley family’s house undergoes a disastrous attempt at home improvement.

When Great Aunt Reba dies, she leaves some money to the family. Greg’s mom calls a family meeting to determine what to do with their share, proposing home improvements and then overruling the family’s cartoonish wish lists and instead pushing for an addition to the kitchen. Before bringing in the construction crew, the Heffleys attempt to do minor maintenance and repairs themselves—during which Greg fails at the work in various slapstick scenes. Once the professionals are brought in, the problems keep getting worse: angry neighbors, terrifying problems in walls, and—most serious—civil permitting issues that put the kibosh on what work’s been done. Left with only enough inheritance to patch and repair the exterior of the house—and with the school’s dismal standardized test scores as a final straw—Greg’s mom steers the family toward moving, opening up house-hunting and house-selling storylines (and devastating loyal Rowley, who doesn’t want to lose his best friend). While Greg’s positive about the move, he’s not completely uncaring about Rowley’s action. (And of course, Greg himself is not as unaffected as he wishes.) The gags include effectively placed callbacks to seemingly incidental events (the “stress lizard” brought in on testing day is particularly funny) and a lampoon of after-school-special–style problem books. Just when it seems that the Heffleys really will move, a new sequence of chaotic trouble and property destruction heralds a return to the status quo. Whew.

Readers can still rely on this series to bring laughs. (Graphic/fiction hybrid. 8-12)

Pub Date: Nov. 5, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-4197-3903-3

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Amulet/Abrams

Review Posted Online: Nov. 19, 2019

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An unabashed love letter from mother.

I LOVE YOU, LITTLE POOKIE

From the Little Pookie series

A sweet celebration of the bond between a mother and her Pookie.

The eighth installment in this always charming series eschews the episodic drama and silliness of earlier outing such as Spooky Pookie (2015) in favor of a mom’s-eye-view celebration of her child and the time they spend together. There is, of course, nothing wrong with drama and silliness. But while the lack of conflict and plot in favor of unapologetic sentiment makes this book a quick read, that doesn’t make it any less endearing. The rhymed verse captures a mother’s wonder as she observes the many facets of her child’s personality: “Ah, Pookie. My little one. My funny one. My child. // Sometimes you are quiet. Sometimes you are wild.” On the simple joys of shared moments, she notes, “I love to go walking with you by my side. / I love when we sing when we go for a ride. // And I love just to watch as you think and you play. / The way that you are is a wonderful way.” Paired with author/illustrator Boynton’s irresistible renderings of a porcine mommy and her playful, snuggly little piglet, the result is impossible to fault. Whether quietly reading, running in a tiger suit, singing with mom in the car, ears flapping in the breeze, or enjoying the safety of mom’s embrace, Pookie’s appeal continues unabated.

An unabashed love letter from mother. (Board book. 1-4)

Pub Date: Dec. 4, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5344-3723-4

Page Count: 18

Publisher: Little Simon/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Dec. 5, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2019

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