It’s a fine friendship story but not a great one.

THE BONAVENTURE ADVENTURES

A boy attends circus school to learn enough to save his family’s circus.

Twelve-year-old Sebastian Kostantinov, only son of ringmaster Dragan Kostantinov, seemingly has no circus talent at all—he can’t juggle, ride unicycles, do acrobatics, or swing on a trapeze. He can’t even manage to be a clown. He cares for the circus animals while they tour Eastern Europe until business falls off and the animals must be sold. Animals are old-school; newer circuses don’t have them. Despite his lack of talent, Seb worms his way into an exclusive Montreal circus school in hopes that he can learn enough to put the family back in the black. He makes friends with two other misfits, Frankie, an Italian parkour specialist, and Banjo, a rustic slackliner. But the circus school itself is in financial straits and seems likely to close—so Seb and his friends plot to save it. Delaney writes smoothly, but her plot has some gaping holes. If the prestigious school carries a waitlist, why not admit more pupils who can pay full tuition? Instead they admit Seb on full scholarship with the odd hope that his presumably wealthy father will become a big donor. The boarding school scenes tread very familiar ground, and the circus acts never quite come alive. The principal cast appears to be white, and the school is not a notably diverse one.

It’s a fine friendship story but not a great one. (Fiction. 8-12)

Pub Date: May 2, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-14-319850-5

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Puffin/Penguin Random House Canada

Review Posted Online: March 6, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2017

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Falters in its oversimplified portrayal of a complicated region and people.

GROUND ZERO

Parallel storylines take readers through the lives of two young people on Sept. 11 in 2001 and 2019.

In the contemporary timeline, Reshmina is an Afghan girl living in foothills near the Pakistan border that are a battleground between the Taliban and U.S. armed forces. She is keen to improve her English while her twin brother, Pasoon, is inspired by the Taliban and wants to avenge their older sister, killed by an American bomb on her wedding day. Reshmina helps a wounded American soldier, making her village a Taliban target. In 2001, Brandon Chavez is spending the day with his father, who works at the World Trade Center’s Windows on the World restaurant. Brandon is heading to the underground mall when a plane piloted by al-Qaida hits the tower, and his father is among those killed. The two storylines develop in parallel through alternating chapters. Gratz’s deeply moving writing paints vivid images of the loss and fear of those who lived through the trauma of 9/11. However, this nuance doesn’t extend to the Afghan characters; Reshmina and Pasoon feel one-dimensional. Descriptions of the Taliban’s Afghan victims and Reshmina's gentle father notwithstanding, references to all young men eventually joining the Taliban and Pasoon's zeal for their cause counteract this messaging. Explanations for the U.S. military invasion of Afghanistan in the author’s note and in characters’ conversations too simplistically present the U.S. presence.

Falters in its oversimplified portrayal of a complicated region and people. (author’s note) (Fiction. 9-12)

Pub Date: Feb. 2, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-338-24575-2

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: Dec. 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2021

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With Ivan’s movie out this year from Disney, expect great interest—it will be richly rewarded.

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THE ONE AND ONLY BOB

Tiny, sassy Bob the dog, friend of The One and Only Ivan (2012), returns to tell his tale.

Wisecracking Bob, who is a little bit Chihuahua among other things, now lives with his girl, Julia, and her parents. Happily, her father works at Wildworld Zoological Park and Sanctuary, the zoo where Bob’s two best friends, Ivan the gorilla and Ruby the elephant, live, so Bob gets to visit and catch up with them regularly. Due to an early betrayal, Bob doesn’t trust humans (most humans are good only for their thumbs); he fears he’s going soft living with Julia, and he’s certain he is a Bad Dog—as in “not a good representative of my species.” On a visit to the zoo with a storm threatening, Bob accidentally falls into the gorilla enclosure just as a tornado strikes. So that’s what it’s like to fly. In the storm’s aftermath, Bob proves to everyone (and finally himself) that there is a big heart in that tiny chest…and a brave one too. With this companion, Applegate picks up where her Newbery Medal winner left off, and fans will be overjoyed to ride along in the head of lovable, self-deprecating Bob on his storm-tossed adventure. His wry doggy observations and attitude are pitch perfect (augmented by the canine glossary and Castelao’s picture dictionary of dog postures found in the frontmatter). Gorilla Ivan described Julia as having straight, black hair in the previous title, and Castelao's illustrations in that volume showed her as pale-skinned. (Finished art not available for review.)

With Ivan’s movie out this year from Disney, expect great interest—it will be richly rewarded. (afterword) (Fiction. 8-12)

Pub Date: May 5, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-299131-7

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: March 25, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2020

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