A timely, well-executed story of a teen journalist’s determination to uncover the truth.

JUSTICE IN A BOTTLE

A 13-year-old aspiring journalist sets out to prove her elderly neighbor’s innocence of a long-ago crime in this middle-grade mystery.

Middle school student Nita Simmons lives with her mother in Crawford, Virginia. Her mom struggles to make ends meet, so Nita initially hesitates to ask for a $25 fee to join the Junior Journalist Club at school. Later, after an article that Nita writes for her school paper is discredited, the young girl doubts her journalistic abilities despite encouragement from a supportive teacher. Nita, who’s identified in the text as having brown skin, gets to know her elderly African American neighbor, Earl Melvin. She later discovers that he was sent to prison for 20 years for a rape of a white co-worker, but she’s certain that he didn’t commit such a crime. Nita’s mother admonishes her daughter to avoid the ex-convict, but the girl is driven to pursue the story and honor her journalistic pledge: “To seek the truth. Check. To fight injustice. Check.” In the process, she gets to know Melvin, who introduces her to civil rights history and the music of musicians she’s never heard before, such as Nina Simone. In his debut, Fanning makes Nita’s aspirations and commitment to journalism compelling and believable, and her family’s poverty is conveyed via subtle but telling details; for instance, Nita is the only journalism student in her class who must check out a laptop. The young girl watches one present-day protest on television, but the focus of the book is less on the present than on injustices of the past: “She’d read about the bombings in Birmingham and all the awful things that could happen to people because of the color of their skin.”

A timely, well-executed story of a teen journalist’s determination to uncover the truth.

Pub Date: March 3, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-73390-858-0

Page Count: 206

Publisher: Immortal Works LLC

Review Posted Online: Feb. 21, 2020

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The magic of reading is given a refreshingly real twist.

A GIRL, A RACCOON, AND THE MIDNIGHT MOON

This is the way Pearl’s world ends: not with a bang but with a scream.

Pearl Moran was born in the Lancaster Avenue branch library and considers it more her home than the apartment she shares with her mother, the circulation librarian. When the head of the library’s beloved statue of poet Edna St. Vincent Millay is found to be missing, Pearl’s scream brings the entire neighborhood running. Thus ensues an enchanting plunge into the underbelly of a failing library and a city brimful of secrets. With the help of friends old, uncertainly developing, and new, Pearl must spin story after compelling story in hopes of saving what she loves most. Indeed, that love—of libraries, of books, and most of all of stories—suffuses the entire narrative. Literary references are peppered throughout (clarified with somewhat superfluous footnotes) in addition to a variety of tangential sidebars (the identity of whose writer becomes delightfully clear later on). Pearl is an odd but genuine narrator, possessed of a complex and emotional inner voice warring with a stridently stubborn outer one. An array of endearing supporting characters, coupled with a plot both grounded in stressful reality and uplifted by urban fantasy, lend the story its charm. Both the neighborhood and the library staff are robustly diverse. Pearl herself is biracial; her “long-gone father” was black and her mother is white. Bagley’s spot illustrations both reinforce this and add gentle humor.

The magic of reading is given a refreshingly real twist.   (reading list) (Fantasy. 10-12)

Pub Date: Jan. 7, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-4521-6952-1

Page Count: 392

Publisher: Chronicle Books

Review Posted Online: Aug. 26, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

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Readers will need to strap on their helmets and prepare for a wild ride.

WILD RIVER

Disaster overtakes a group of sixth graders on a leadership-building white-water rafting trip.

Deep in the Montana wilderness, a dam breaks, and the resultant rush sweeps away both counselors, the rafts, and nearly all the supplies, leaving five disparate preteens stranded in the wilderness far from where they were expected to be. Narrator Daniel is a mild White kid who’s resourceful and good at keeping the peace but given to worrying over his mentally ill father. Deke, also White, is a determined bully, unwilling to work with and relentlessly taunting the others, especially Mia, a Latina, who is a natural leader with a plan. Tony, another White boy, is something of a friendly follower and, unfortunately, attaches himself to Deke while Imani, a reserved African American girl, initially keeps her distance. After the disaster, Deke steals the backpack with the remaining food and runs off with Tony, and the other three resolve to do whatever it takes to get it back, eventually having to confront the dangerous bully. The characters come from a variety of backgrounds but are fairly broadly drawn; still, their breathlessly perilous situation keeps the tale moving briskly forward, with one threatening situation after another believably confronting them. As he did with Wildfire (2019), Newbery Honoree Philbrick has crafted another action tale for young readers that’s impossible to put down.

Readers will need to strap on their helmets and prepare for a wild ride. (Fiction. 10-12)

Pub Date: March 2, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-338-64727-3

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: Nov. 27, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2020

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