Like salted caramel, a perfect balance of flavors, this deftly drawn story is a heartfelt treat.

PIE IN THE SKY

Two brothers navigate a new country, a new language, and grief through cake.

In this graphic/prose hybrid novel, 12-year-old Jingwen, his little brother, Yanghao, and their mother immigrate to Australia. The family is Chinese, though their home country is never specified. The boys start at the Northbridge Primary School not knowing any English, which has Jingwen feeling they have just arrived on Mars. Quickly he realizes it is he and Yanghao who must appear to be the Martians to everyone else, comically literalized with pictures of a four-eyed, antennae’d Jingwen. While Yanghao quickly picks up English, Jingwen resists, struggling in lessons and to make friends. Piece by piece readers learn it was Jingwen’s father’s dream to open a cake shop called Pie in the Sky in Australia before he suddenly passed away. After finding the family’s cookbook, the boys decide to secretly bake all the Pie in the Sky cakes. Jingwen especially takes it to heart, pouring his grief and frustrations into every frosted layer, believing that it “will fix everything.” Herself an immigrant to Australia from Singapore, Lai unfolds the story like a memory, giving brief flashbacks interspersed throughout the daily musings and nuanced relationships among family members. Jingwen’s emotional journey is grounded in honest reality; it ebbs and flows naturally with strategic spots of humor to lighten the overall tone.

Like salted caramel, a perfect balance of flavors, this deftly drawn story is a heartfelt treat. (Graphic/fiction hybrid. 10-13)

Pub Date: May 14, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-250-31409-3

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: March 17, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2019

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Rich and strange (and kitted out with an eye-catching cover), but stronger in the set pieces than the internal logic.

THE SCHOOL FOR GOOD AND EVIL

From the School for Good and Evil series , Vol. 1

Chainani works an elaborate sea change akin to Gregory Maguire’s Wicked (1995), though he leaves the waters muddied.

Every four years, two children, one regarded as particularly nice and the other particularly nasty, are snatched from the village of Gavaldon by the shadowy School Master to attend the divided titular school. Those who survive to graduate become major or minor characters in fairy tales. When it happens to sweet, Disney princess–like Sophie and  her friend Agatha, plain of features, sour of disposition and low of self-esteem, they are both horrified to discover that they’ve been dropped not where they expect but at Evil and at Good respectively. Gradually—too gradually, as the author strings out hundreds of pages of Hogwarts-style pranks, classroom mishaps and competitions both academic and romantic—it becomes clear that the placement wasn’t a mistake at all. Growing into their true natures amid revelations and marked physical changes, the two spark escalating rivalry between the wings of the school. This leads up to a vicious climactic fight that sees Good and Evil repeatedly switching sides. At this point, readers are likely to feel suddenly left behind, as, thanks to summary deus ex machina resolutions, everything turns out swell(ish).

Rich and strange (and kitted out with an eye-catching cover), but stronger in the set pieces than the internal logic. (Fantasy. 11-13)

Pub Date: May 14, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-06-210489-2

Page Count: 496

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Feb. 13, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2013

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Problem-solving through perseverance and friendship is the real win in this deeply smart and inspiring story.

SWIM TEAM

Leaving Brooklyn behind, Black math-whiz and puzzle lover Bree starts a new life in Florida, where she’ll be tossed into the deep end in more ways than one. Keeping her head above water may be the trickiest puzzle yet.

While her dad is busy working and training in IT, Bree struggles at first to settle into Enith Brigitha Middle School, largely due to the school’s preoccupation with swimming—from the accomplishments of its namesake, a Black Olympian from Curaçao, to its near victory at the state swimming championships. But Bree can’t swim. To illustrate her anxiety around this fact, the graphic novel’s bright colors give way to gray thought bubbles with thick, darkened outlines expressing Bree’s deepest fears and doubts. This poignant visual crowds some panels just as anxious feelings can crowd the thoughts of otherwise star students like Bree. Ultimately, learning to swim turns out to be easy enough with the help of a kind older neighbor—a Black woman with a competitive swimming past of her own as well as a rich and bittersweet understanding of Black Americans’ relationship with swimming—who explains to Bree how racist obstacles of the past can become collective anxiety in the present. To her surprise, Bree, with her newfound water skills, eventually finds herself on the school’s swim team, navigating competition, her anxiety, and new, meaningful relationships.

Problem-solving through perseverance and friendship is the real win in this deeply smart and inspiring story. (Graphic fiction. 10-13)

Pub Date: May 17, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-06-305677-0

Page Count: 256

Publisher: HarperAlley

Review Posted Online: March 2, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2022

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