THE STEPS

An oh-so-New-York 12-year-old struggles to sort out her relationship within what might be called the ultimate blended family (the front cover has a helpful diagram of all the relationships). Annabel has the sort of relationship with her parents where she calls them by their first names. Even after they split, all was pretty much okay until Jack moved to Australia to marry Penny, become Angus and Lucy’s stepdad—an eventuality that has Annabel seeing red—and father Beatrice. Annabel doesn’t really want to go to Australia over the Christmas break, but she does, hoping somehow to steal her father back. What she discovers, however, is that he’s happier than he ever was and is utterly disinclined to move home, however much he misses her. When Lucy and Annabel, at first enemies but later, convincingly, good friends, sneak off on a trans-Australia train trip, they set into motion a family crisis that brings all members of Annabel’s family to Sydney (including her new stepfather- and stepbrother-to-be; it’s been a busy vacation for her mother, too) in a sort of giant group hug that, however unlikely in the real world, is nevertheless a nicely satisfying way to end the story. It is a relatively predictable tale of raw feelings, jealousy, new friendships, and reconciliation, but it is enlivened both by Annabel’s sassy voice and by the acuity of her observations: “I had . . . never met them, and I knew that in those two years they would have developed a secret family language only they could understand.” If there’s rather a lot of parent-to-child explaining about love and relationships, readers can still only hope that their own families can sort themselves out as well as Annabel’s. (Fiction. 11-14)

Pub Date: March 1, 2003

ISBN: 0-689-84549-9

Page Count: 144

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2003

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KEVIN AND HIS DAD

There is something profoundly elemental going on in Smalls’s book: the capturing of a moment of unmediated joy. It’s not melodramatic, but just a Saturday in which an African-American father and son immerse themselves in each other’s company when the woman of the house is away. Putting first things first, they tidy up the house, with an unheralded sense of purpose motivating their actions: “Then we clean, clean, clean the windows,/wipe, wipe, wash them right./My dad shines in the windows’ light.” When their work is done, they head for the park for some batting practice, then to the movies where the boy gets to choose between films. After a snack, they work their way homeward, racing each other, doing a dance step or two, then “Dad takes my hand and slows down./I understand, and we slow down./It’s a long, long walk./We have a quiet talk and smile.” Smalls treats the material without pretense, leaving it guileless and thus accessible to readers. Hays’s artwork is wistful and idyllic, just as this day is for one small boy. (Picture book. 5-8)

Pub Date: April 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-316-79899-1

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 1999

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Rich, complex, and confidently voiced.

THE LINE TENDER

Lucy finds solace in her late mother’s passion for shark biology during a summer that brings a new grief.

First-person narrator Lucy and neighbor Fred are compiling a field guide to animals they find near their Rockport, Massachusetts, home. Lucy is the artist, Fred the scientist, and their lifelong friendship is only just hinting that it could become something more. Lucy’s mother, who died of a brain aneurysm when Lucy was 7, five years earlier in 1991, was a recognized shark biologist; her father is a police diver. When a great white is snagged by a local fisherman—a family friend—video footage of an interview with Lucy’s mother surfaces on the news, and Lucy longs to know more. But then another loved one dies, drowned in a quarry accident, and it is Lucy’s father who recovers the body—in their small community it seems everyone is grappling with the pain. Lucy’s persistence in learning about the anatomy of sharks in order to draw them is a kind of homage to those she’s lost. Most of the characters are white; a marine scientist woman of color and protégée of Lucy’s mother plays a key role. Allen offers, through Lucy’s voice, a look at the intersection of art, science, friendship, and love in a way that is impressively nuanced and realistic while offering the reassurance of connection.

Rich, complex, and confidently voiced. (Historical fiction. 11-14)

Pub Date: April 16, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-7352-3160-3

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Dutton

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2019

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