A straightforward, touching account that nevertheless doesn’t go very deep.

JUNIOR'S DREAM / EL SUEÑO DE JUNIOR

Together in their 1951 Chrysler station wagon, the Hernández family makes their annual seven-hour journey from Piedras Negras, Mexico, to West Texas to harvest cotton.

Papá, Mamá, Lala, Esmeralda, Juan Daniel, Oscar, and Junior are a loving, prayerful, and playful traditional Mexican family. Almost 14, narrator Junior is the eldest and, like his siblings, has picked cotton since he was 8—the age each Hernández child joins the workforce. What initially reads like a story about a farm-working family’s experience turns out to be, as the title suggests, more about Junior’s hopes for himself as a growing young man. Will he ever fall in love like his parents or be a hardworking man like his father? A romantic, oftentimes nostalgic tone accompanies Junior’s true-to-age concerns—born of Alvarado’s own experiences—with the exhausting work of picking cotton and the racism that comes with it creating more of an atmospheric backdrop than a central theme. When a near-death experience pulls Junior’s narration even further inward, the story loses grounding and momentum. Readers seeking a more descriptive and emotionally nuanced take on a young person’s experience during a harvest would appreciate Cynthia Kadohata’s The Thing About Luck (2013). Baeza Ventura’s Spanish translation follows the original English version, which adds a richness to the story for Spanish-language readers.

A straightforward, touching account that nevertheless doesn’t go very deep. (Historical fiction. 9-14)

Pub Date: May 31, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-55885-900-5

Page Count: 140

Publisher: Piñata Books/Arte Público

Review Posted Online: March 29, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2020

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NIGHTBIRD

There’s a monster in Sidwell, Massachusetts, that can only be seen at night or, as Twig reveals, if passersby are near her house.

It’s her older brother, James, born with wings just like every male in the Fowler line for the last 200 years. They were cursed by the Witch of Sidwell, left brokenhearted by their forebear Lowell Fowler. Twig and James are tired of the secret and self-imposed isolation. Lonely Twig narrates, bringing the small town and its characters to life, intertwining events present and past, and describing the effects of the spell on her fractured family’s daily life. Longing for some normalcy and companionship, she befriends new-neighbor Julia while James falls in love with Julia’s sister, Agate—only to learn they are descendants of the Witch. James and Agate seem as star-crossed as their ancestors, especially when the townspeople attribute a spate of petty thefts and graffiti protesting the development of the woods to the monster and launch a hunt. The mix of romance and magic is irresistible and the tension, compelling. With the help of friends and through a series of self-realizations and discoveries, Twig grows more self-assured. She is certain she knows how to change the curse. In so doing, Twig not only changes James’ fate, but her own, for the first time feeling the fullness of family, friends and hope for the future.

Enchanting. (Magical realism. 9-12)

Pub Date: March 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-385-38958-7

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Wendy Lamb/Random

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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Some readers may feel that the resolution comes a mite too easily, but most will enjoy the journey and be pleased when...

ASHES TO ASHEVILLE

Two sisters make an unauthorized expedition to their former hometown and in the process bring together the two parts of their divided family.

Dooley packs plenty of emotion into this eventful road trip, which takes place over the course of less than 24 hours. Twelve-year-old Ophelia, nicknamed Fella, and her 16-year-old sister, Zoey Grace, aka Zany, are the daughters of a lesbian couple, Shannon and Lacy, who could not legally marry. The two white girls squabble and share memories as they travel from West Virginia to Asheville, North Carolina, where Zany is determined to scatter Mama Lacy’s ashes in accordance with her wishes. The year is 2004, before the Supreme Court decision on gay marriage, and the girls have been separated by hostile, antediluvian custodial laws. Fella’s present-tense narration paints pictures not just of the difficulties they face on the trip (a snowstorm, car trouble, and an unlikely thief among them), but also of their lives before Mama Lacy’s illness and of the ways that things have changed since then. Breathless and engaging, Fella’s distinctive voice is convincingly childlike. The conversations she has with her sister, as well as her insights about their relationship, likewise ring true. While the girls face serious issues, amusing details and the caring adults in their lives keep the tone relatively light.

Some readers may feel that the resolution comes a mite too easily, but most will enjoy the journey and be pleased when Fella’s family figures out how to come together in a new way . (Historical fiction. 10-14)

Pub Date: April 4, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-399-16504-7

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: Feb. 1, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2017

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