Formulaic and forgettable.


From the Samantha Sanderson series , Vol. 1

An intrepid middle school reporter gambles her career on cracking a bombing case.

Samantha Sanderson, her best friend and Sam’s cop father go out to the movies at a theater that’s emptier than usual due to controversy over its being rented out by churches for a private screening of a religious movie, scheduled for the next day. There, they discover a bomb that’s set to go off during the religious movie. Since Sam was on scene—and since her dad is the lead detective on the case—Sam earns the bomb-story assignment for the school paper’s new blog, under a condition: constant, fresh articles. Her ambition leads her to write a series of witch-hunt pieces, each strongly insinuating the guilt of a suspect du jour: an outspoken atheist, the theater owner and a spokeswoman for an atheist group who has a history of mental illness. Self-righteous Sam ignores the effects her articles have on her suspects and her father’s investigation; aside from occasional, fleeting moments of remorse, she faces very few consequences for her actions and sees too little character growth. Eventually, her endless snooping pays off, and she helps crack the case, which is all too obvious—compared to the scanty evidence implicating the red herrings, the in-broad-daylight clues pointing toward the real culprit make the police look positively incompetent. Publishing simultaneously is Samantha Sanderson on the Scene.

Formulaic and forgettable. (discussion questions) (Mystery. 9-12)

Pub Date: May 6, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-310-74245-6

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Zonderkidz

Review Posted Online: March 31, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2014

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A beautifully rendered setting enfolds a disappointing plot.


In sixth grade, Izzy Mancini’s cozy, loving world falls apart.

She and her family have moved out of the cottage she grew up in. Her mother has spent the summer on Block Island instead of at home with Izzy. Her father has recently returned from military service in Afghanistan partially paralyzed and traumatized. The only people she can count on are Zelda and Piper, her best friends since kindergarten—that is, until the Haidary family moves into the upstairs apartment. At first, Izzy resents the new guests from Afghanistan even though she knows she should be grateful that Dr. Haidary saved her father’s life. But despite her initial resistance (which manifests at times as racism), as Izzy gets to know Sitara, the Haidarys’ daughter, she starts to question whether Zelda and Piper really are her friends for forever—and whether she has the courage to stand up for Sitara against the people she loves. Ferruolo weaves a rich setting, fully immersing readers in the largely white, coastal town of Seabury, Rhode Island. Disappointingly, the story resolves when Izzy convinces her classmates to accept Sitara by revealing the Haidarys’ past as American allies, a position that put them in so much danger that they had to leave home. The idea that Sitara should be embraced only because her family supported America, rather than simply because she is a human being, significantly undermines the purported message of tolerance for all.

A beautifully rendered setting enfolds a disappointing plot. (Fiction. 10-12)

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-374-30909-1

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Nov. 24, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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This delightful series opener is an exciting blend of Russian and Jewish traditions


A Jewish girl meets dragons in a fantastical version of Kievan Rus’, where magic has been illegal for 10 years.

Anya’s the only Jewish child in Zmeyreka. In the mostly Christian 10th-century village, Anya’s family stands out: Her father’s father remains pagan, while her mother’s people are refugee Khazars and Mountain Jews. But unbeknownst to Anya, her village is not like the rest of Kievan Rus’. Magical creatures are nearly extinct everywhere else but common in Zmeyreka. The tsar’s sent a “fool family”—users of fool magic, authorized to use magic despite the ban—to capture the last dragon in the land. The youngest fool is Anya’s age (he’s named Ivan, just like his seven older brothers), and the two become fast friends. But can Anya really bring herself to help Ivan kill a dragon that hasn’t harmed anyone? Zmeyreka’s magical creatures are both helpful and frightening; there are dragons, leshiye, vodyaniye, and even a Jewish domovoi with a little kippah. Ivan, unlike his pale father and brothers, is dark-skinned like his mother, a princess from “far to the east.” Though historical accuracy isn’t perfect (Anya anticipates her bat mitzvah, for instance, and reads Hebrew), it is a fantasy, and anachronisms don’t detract from the adventures of truly likable characters in this original setting.

This delightful series opener is an exciting blend of Russian and Jewish traditions . (Fantasy. 10-12)

Pub Date: Sept. 24, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-358-00607-7

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Versify/HMH

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2019

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