Sensational tween characters propel this lighthearted but sentimental tale.

READ REVIEW

SWALLOWED BY A SECRET

In Nyman’s middle-grade debut novel, a 12-year-old boy who hears the voice of his late father tries to unravel the mystery of his dad’s death.

After losing his father, Ronald “Rocky” Casson Jr. and his mother leave Whitman, Massachusetts, for Milton. His new town is in the same state and relatively close, but Rocky still has to leave his friends. Having moved during a school year, he suffers new-kid woes, like becoming an easy target for Max the bully. But he quickly finds a friend in Olive, who tutors him in geography. Rocky’s primary worry involves his dad; after overhearing one of this mother’s conversations, he believes she lied to him about how his father died when she claimed his dad’s heart merely stopped. She also doesn’t want Rocky visiting Whitman, even to sign up for the summer soccer clinic there, and hasn’t given him a satisfying explanation for why he has to avoid the town. His father’s voice, however, which suddenly and regularly pops up in his head, tells him that answers lie in Whitman. Rocky ultimately confides in Olive, who concocts clever plans, including a way to sneak a peek at his file in the school counselor’s office. But after Rocky finally decides to return to his hometown, he braves a two-hour bike ride that will prove arduous and, Olive fears, dangerous as well. Nyman’s engaging tale features two immensely likable characters in Rocky and Olive. Though headstrong, savvy Olive is the standout, Rocky is a relatable protagonist, as his occasional peevishness is understandable. With Rocky’s goal established early, the story moves at a steady clip. Even a subplot (involving a camping trip with his uncle that leads to an emergency) neither feels extraneous nor decelerates the pace. In his charming first-person narrative, Rocky effortlessly drops quotable passages: “Monday mornings wouldn’t be such a drag if school started on Tuesdays.” Meanwhile, the father’s voice, though he insists he’s no ghost, is largely open to interpretation. And though most readers will decipher what Rocky’s mom is hiding from him, the ending is dramatically satisfying.

Sensational tween characters propel this lighthearted but sentimental tale.

Pub Date: Jan. 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-73438-661-5

Page Count: 198

Publisher: Immortal Works LLC

Review Posted Online: March 9, 2020

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Readers can still rely on this series to bring laughs.

WRECKING BALL

From the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series , Vol. 14

The Heffley family’s house undergoes a disastrous attempt at home improvement.

When Great Aunt Reba dies, she leaves some money to the family. Greg’s mom calls a family meeting to determine what to do with their share, proposing home improvements and then overruling the family’s cartoonish wish lists and instead pushing for an addition to the kitchen. Before bringing in the construction crew, the Heffleys attempt to do minor maintenance and repairs themselves—during which Greg fails at the work in various slapstick scenes. Once the professionals are brought in, the problems keep getting worse: angry neighbors, terrifying problems in walls, and—most serious—civil permitting issues that put the kibosh on what work’s been done. Left with only enough inheritance to patch and repair the exterior of the house—and with the school’s dismal standardized test scores as a final straw—Greg’s mom steers the family toward moving, opening up house-hunting and house-selling storylines (and devastating loyal Rowley, who doesn’t want to lose his best friend). While Greg’s positive about the move, he’s not completely uncaring about Rowley’s action. (And of course, Greg himself is not as unaffected as he wishes.) The gags include effectively placed callbacks to seemingly incidental events (the “stress lizard” brought in on testing day is particularly funny) and a lampoon of after-school-special–style problem books. Just when it seems that the Heffleys really will move, a new sequence of chaotic trouble and property destruction heralds a return to the status quo. Whew.

Readers can still rely on this series to bring laughs. (Graphic/fiction hybrid. 8-12)

Pub Date: Nov. 5, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-4197-3903-3

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Amulet/Abrams

Review Posted Online: Nov. 19, 2019

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Written in workhorse prose, it’s an amiable enough read.

ALI CROSS

The prolific king of the beach read is back with an intergenerational mystery for the 9-to-12-year-old set.

Ali Cross, the son of Patterson’s most famous creation, African American homicide detective Alex Cross, is “starting to think the worst might have happened” to his mixed-race friend Gabriel “Gabe” Qualls, who disappeared on Dec. 21 and hasn’t been heard from as of Christmas Eve, when the book opens. Ali offers an impromptu prayer for Gabe at the pre-holiday service at his all-black church as well as an impromptu press conference outside of it as journalists and paparazzi confront Alex about his alleged coma-inducing assault of a murder suspect’s father. Then someone robs the Crosses’ home that night along with four other homes; the Crosses’ Christmas gifts are stolen. Ali, obsessed with finding Gabe and feeling that these events will distract his dad and the police from searching for him, starts his own investigation—complete with looking at some contraband footage of Gabe’s unusually loaded backpack obtained by Ali’s stepmother, also a cop—and questioning his school and gaming pals, a diverse group. Writing in Ali’s voice with occasional cutaways to third-person chapters that follow Alex, Patterson sprinkles the narrative with pop-culture references even as he takes readers through the detective process.

Written in workhorse prose, it’s an amiable enough read. (Mystery. 9-12)

Pub Date: Nov. 25, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-316-53041-5

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Jimmy Patterson/Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: July 24, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2019

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