Fully developed characters and a brisk plot take readers along on a dangerous journey

ALONE IN THE WOODS

The complexity of middle school friendships is explored against the backdrop of a gripping wilderness survival story.

Alejandra and Jocelyn—or Alex and Joss—have been best friends since kindergarten, forming the inseparable Team Alexelyn and spending glorious summer vacations together at Joss’ family cabin in the Northwoods of Wisconsin. The cabin trips are steeped in tradition, from doughnuts at Paul Bunyan’s Cook Shanty to the first lake jump of the summer. As the summer before eighth grade winds down, however, this year’s cabin trip feels different. There’s a new distance between Alex and Joss that neither girl wants to acknowledge, and Joss can’t figure out why her best friend feels like a complete stranger. A river tubing trip seems like a good time to reconnect, but when a series of mishaps leave Alex and Joss wandering lost in the woods, the girls are faced with challenges that will test their strength and ability to survive. Told from the alternating first-person points of view of each girl, the story examines the complicated evolution of childhood friendships and the limits of human endurance. Alex and her family are Latinx; all other characters are assumed White.

Fully developed characters and a brisk plot take readers along on a dangerous journey (Thriller. 9-13)

Pub Date: Oct. 6, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-4926-7337-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Sourcebooks

Review Posted Online: Aug. 4, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2020

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Did you like this book?

The series keeps cruising along…though iffy casting may be an early sign that it’s losing steam.

SPY SCHOOL AT SEA

From the Spy School series , Vol. 9

In a new caper, the Spy School team thwarts a fiendish scheme on the high seas.

A fresh chance to catch up to world-class gourmand and perennial foe Murray Hill plants dogged CIA junior agent Ben Ripley and associates—including markedly more competent classmate Erica Hale and her equally able mom, Catherine—aboard the Emperor of the Seas, the world’s largest cruise ship, for a fresh round of ridiculously destructive chases, startling twists, and repeated attempts on the hapless young spy’s life that are somehow always averted in the nick of time. Along with adding a grandfatherly, eco-conscious Costa Rican drug lord to the supporting cast, Gibbs flirts with stereotypes by trotting in, among the few characters who don’t at least present as White, a Chinese teen given to muddling her English idioms, her bling-loving mother, and a chipper shipboard event manager of Australian Indigenous descent. Still, the revved-up plot will leave readers as breathless as Ben is in the wake of a final, unexpected turn in his relationship with Erica. Finally, finally nabbing the slobby supervillain (at least for now) as well as saving the lives of hundreds of oblivious, hard-partying onboard tourists must count for something.

The series keeps cruising along…though iffy casting may be an early sign that it’s losing steam. (Thriller. 10-13)

Pub Date: Aug. 31, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-5344-7943-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: June 16, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2021

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet
more