Strong characters grapple with a multitude of issues (a few too many) in this celebration of friendship and the rewards of...

THE PERFECT SECRET

From the Perfect Score series , Vol. 2

Are there secrets that shouldn’t be revealed?

In this sequel to The Perfect Score (2017), Randi, Natalie, Gavin, Trevor, and Scott are assigned community service for cheating on a standardized test. It’s not really a punishment, as these good-natured students enjoy working in the senior center where they’ve established relationships, and besides, they want to reconcile two of their teachers, a mother and daughter, before it’s too late. As before, narration alternates among the five, and while their characters are well-developed, the various issues are examined lightly. In this case, many are related to secrecy, from budding romance to absentee fathers, familial estrangement, parental marital problems, financial struggle, Alzheimer’s, brain injury, adult illiteracy, immigration, and racism. The last three revolve around Gavin, whose Mexican-immigrant mother is undocumented and who becomes the target of the racist football coach. Aside from biracial Gavin and his mother, the book adheres to the white default. Though handled with kindness and compassion, the sheer abundance of topics results in oversimplification, and every story has a pat ending, which, cumulatively, seems unlikely. Still, the characters shine, the plots are engaging, and the issues are addressed in interesting ways that will provide readers with many perspectives and much to consider.

Strong characters grapple with a multitude of issues (a few too many) in this celebration of friendship and the rewards of volunteer work. (Fiction. 9-12)

Pub Date: Oct. 9, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6459-3

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: July 16, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2018

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An inspiring sports story all the way to the buzzer.

WE ARE FAMILY

Basketball is life in Lorain, Ohio.

A group of seventh graders have different reasons for joining Hoop Group, an elite youth basketball program. Jayden, who lives in a tiny, cramped house with his mother and grandmother, desperately needs the money playing for the NBA would bring. Chris’ uncle made it out of Lorain and into the NBA, but he doesn’t share his uncle’s skills and can’t quite live up to his father’s expectations. Tamika’s dad was Hoop Group’s coach before Parkinson’s disease put the team’s future in jeopardy; she has a lot to prove and dreams of being the next Pat Summitt. Dex and his hardworking single mom are struggling with poverty, but he just loves the game––especially the Cleveland Cavs. And Anthony, frankly, doesn’t have much of a choice; it was either join this character-building group or face expulsion from school. A makeshift team of preteens with a lot on their plates, they discover as much about themselves (and one another) off the court as they do on it. The authors present a convincing argument about the value of basketball beyond points on the board and big contracts. The characters’ dreams are relatable along with the book’s universally valuable emphasis on hard work and perseverance. But the specifics about what it takes to make it in basketball and the fast-paced on-court action provide something special for young fans of the game. Main characters read as Black.

An inspiring sports story all the way to the buzzer. (Fiction. 9-12)

Pub Date: Aug. 31, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-06-297109-8

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: July 8, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2021

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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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