Winning views of a family pulling together, of young people stumbling into adolescence, and of an entertaining if...

SLIDER

Winning a competitive eating contest is David’s only hope of avoiding being grounded for life after he does something stupid with his mother’s credit card.

Already an avid eater and a fan of the “sport,” David Miller, 14, figures that he’s really going to have to up his game after accidently spending $2,000 in an online auction for what is billed as the very hot-dog half that cost pro eater Jooky Garafalo last year’s Nathan’s Famous contest. Fortunately, local pizzeria Pigorino’s is sponsoring a competition at the Iowa State Fair with a $5,000 first prize. Unfortunately, David will have to beat out not only a roster of gifted amateurs to make and win the finals, but also a pair of professionals—notably the renowned but unscrupulous El Gurgitator. As much gourmet as gourmand, David not only vividly chronicles awe-inspiring gustatory feats as he gears up and passes through qualifiers, but describes food with unseemly intensity: “Disks of pepperoni shimmer and glisten on a sea of molten mozzarella.” Even better, though, is the easy, natural way he interacts with Mal, a younger brother whose neurological disability (the term “autistic” is banned from family discourse) transforms but does not conceal a rich internal life. Other subplots, such as a developing relationship between David’s longtime friends Hayden (who is evidently white) and Korean-American Cyn, further enrich a tale in which his own tests and his loving, white family’s determined quest to discover what they dub “Mal’s Rules” both result in thrilling, hard-won triumphs.

Winning views of a family pulling together, of young people stumbling into adolescence, and of an entertaining if controversial pursuit, “reverse-eating events” and all. (Fiction. 12-14)

Pub Date: Sept. 12, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-7636-9070-0

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Candlewick

Review Posted Online: Aug. 21, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2017

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

MOMENTOUS EVENTS IN THE LIFE OF A CACTUS

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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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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Chilling, difficult, and definitely not for readers without a solid understanding of the Holocaust despite the relatively...

THE BOY AT THE TOP OF THE MOUNTAIN

A young boy grows up in Adolf Hitler’s mountain home in Austria.

Seven-year-old Pierrot Fischer and his frail French mother live in Paris. His German father, a bitter ex-soldier, returned to Germany and died there. Pierrot’s best friend is Anshel Bronstein, a deaf Jewish boy. After his mother dies, he lives in an orphanage, until his aunt Beatrix sends for him to join her at the Berghof mountain retreat in Austria, where she is housekeeper for Adolf Hitler and Eva Braun. It is here that he becomes ever more enthralled with Hitler and grows up, proudly wearing the uniform of the Hitler Youth, treating others with great disdain, basking in his self-importance, and then committing a terrible act of betrayal against his aunt. He witnesses vicious acts against Jews, and he hears firsthand of plans for extermination camps. Yet at war’s end he maintains that he was only a child and didn’t really understand. An epilogue has him returning to Paris, where he finds Anshel and begins a kind of catharsis. Boyne includes real Nazi leaders and historical details in his relentless depiction of Pierrot’s inevitable corruption and self-delusion. As with The Boy in the Striped Pajamas (2006), readers both need to know what Pierrot disingenuously doesn’t and are expected to accept his extreme naiveté, his total lack of awareness and comprehension in spite of what is right in front of him.

Chilling, difficult, and definitely not for readers without a solid understanding of the Holocaust despite the relatively simple reading level. (Historical fiction. 12-14)

Pub Date: June 7, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-62779-030-7

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: March 30, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2016

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