WEIRD STUFF

A lad discovers that the path to greater self-esteem is paved with Words in this angst-ridden, occasionally funny import. Brian might bill himself a “soccer superstar, boy genius and red hot babe magnet,” but in truth, he’s a shy underachiever—until he borrows a certain pink and purple pen from a classmate whose Mom is a renowned romance writer. Suddenly, without conscious effort, he’s dashing off dewy tales of auburn-haired beauties with thin cotton blouses, or for a bio quiz, a melodramatic tearjerker featuring a frog named Miranda who sacrifices herself to rescue her heartthrob Giles from dissection. Interspersed with handwritten sheets, crudely sketched pre-adolescent wish-fulfillment drawings and small flip-page sequences of frogs hatching and coming to gruesome ends, Brian’s bemused account builds to the triumphant discovery that, even without that particular pen, he wields the Writer’s power to shape his narrative as he pleases. Tulloch shoehorns in so many subplots, extraneous characters and earnest passages of creative writing advice that the tale seems overstuffed, but aspiring young writers, at least, will appreciate Brian’s epiphany. (Fiction. 11-13)

Pub Date: May 1, 2006

ISBN: 0-8027-8058-X

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Walker

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2006

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JOEY PIGZA SWALLOWED THE KEY

From the Joey Pigza series , Vol. 1

If Rotten Ralph were a boy instead of a cat, he might be Joey, the hyperactive hero of Gantos's new book, except that Joey is never bad on purpose. In the first-person narration, it quickly becomes clear that he can't help himself; he's so wound up that he not only practically bounces off walls, he literally swallows his house key (which he wears on a string around his neck and which he pull back up, complete with souvenirs of the food he just ate). Gantos's straightforward view of what it's like to be Joey is so honest it hurts. Joey has been abandoned by his alcoholic father and, for a time, by his mother (who also drinks); his grandmother, just as hyperactive as he is, abuses Joey while he's in her care. One mishap after another leads Joey first from his regular classroom to special education classes and then to a special education school. With medication, counseling, and positive reinforcement, Joey calms down. Despite a lighthearted title and jacket painting, the story is simultaneously comic and horrific; Gantos takes readers right inside a human whirlwind where the ride is bumpy and often frightening, especially for Joey. But a river of compassion for the characters runs through the pages, not only for Joey but for his overextended mom and his usually patient, always worried (if only for their safety) teachers. Mature readers will find this harsh tale softened by unusual empathy and leavened by genuinely funny events. (Fiction. 11-13)

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-374-33664-4

Page Count: 154

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1998

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A patchy tale flickering repeatedly from light to dark and back.

TWAIN'S TREASURE

From the Phantom Files series

Alex’s ability to talk with ghosts puts him in famous company when he and his mom move to Hannibal, Missouri.

Alex, 13, is driven by bitter determination to keep his lifelong ability secret, since it’s already led to a diagnosis of schizophrenia that drove his parents apart and cost his mother a decent job, but it’s not easy. For one thing, his new friend, Bones, is a positively obsessed amateur ghost hunter, and for another, ghosts just won’t leave him alone no matter how rudely he treats them. Notable among the latter is Mark Twain himself, as acerbic and wily as he was in life, who is on the verge of involuntarily degenerating into a raging poltergeist unless Alex can find the unspecified, titular treasure. Alex’s search takes him through Clemens’ writings and tragic private life as well as many of the town’s related attractions on the way to a fiery climax in the public library. Meanwhile, Alex has an apotheosis of his own, deciding that lying to conceal his ability and his unhappy past isn’t worth the sacrifice of a valued friendship. Conveniently for the plot’s needs, Clemens and other ghosts can interact with the physical world at will. Wolfe parlays Alex’s ingrained inability to ignore ectoplasmic accosters into some amusing cross-conversations that help lighten his protagonist’s hard inner tests. The cast, living and otherwise, presents as white.

A patchy tale flickering repeatedly from light to dark and back. (Fantasy. 11-13)

Pub Date: June 1, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-940924-29-8

Page Count: 250

Publisher: Dreaming Robot

Review Posted Online: May 28, 2018

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