BLUE EYES BETTER

Ten-year-old Tessa Drummond has to cope with the guilt she feels about the alcohol-related car accident that killed her 16-year-old brother Scott—she knew that he lied to their parents about what he was doing that night—and her mother’s subsequent withdrawal and depression. In this touching first-person problem novel for middle-grade readers, Wallace-Brodeur (Home by Five, 1992, etc.) writes knowingly about the inherent instability and disorganization of the family unit after a beloved child dies, leaving behind a hole that can neither be filled nor fixed by the surviving sibling. Tessa, the second child in her family, feels that she’s second not only in birth order, but in her mother’s heart as well. Her mother historically identified her blue-eyed son as being like her side of the family, saying that mother and son were “kindred spirits,” while characterizing Tessa as “all Drummond,” as in her husband’s family. As her mother becomes more and more emotionally distant, Tessa struggles to keep herself whole, resourcefully developing much-needed relationships with two grown women, a neighbor who becomes her adopted bubbe, or grandmother, and Ms. Dunn, her charismatic teacher and track coach. When Ms. Dunn unaccountably disappears from the school without saying goodbye, Tessa is heartbroken and furious, her feelings of desertion magnified because she’s unable to express these sentiments to her true betrayer, her mother. This kind of novel demands a hopeful conclusion, and Wallace-Brodeur delivers, using her skill and perception to turn a rather conventional pat ending into a moving moment. (Fiction. 10-12)

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-525-46836-6

Page Count: 128

Publisher: Dutton

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2001

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A solid debut: fluent, funny and eminently sequel-worthy.

ALMOST SUPER

Inventively tweaking a popular premise, Jensen pits two Incredibles-style families with superpowers against each other—until a new challenge rises to unite them.

The Johnsons invariably spit at the mere mention of their hated rivals, the Baileys. Likewise, all Baileys habitually shake their fists when referring to the Johnsons. Having long looked forward to getting a superpower so that he too can battle his clan’s nemeses, Rafter Bailey is devastated when, instead of being able to fly or something else cool, he acquires the “power” to strike a match on soft polyester. But when hated classmate Juanita Johnson turns up newly endowed with a similarly bogus power and, against all family tradition, they compare notes, it becomes clear that something fishy is going on. Both families regard themselves as the heroes and their rivals as the villains. Someone has been inciting them to fight each other. Worse yet, that someone has apparently developed a device that turns real superpowers into silly ones. Teaching themselves on the fly how to get past their prejudice and work together, Rafter, his little brother, Benny, and Juanita follow a well-laid-out chain of clues and deductions to the climactic discovery of a third, genuinely nefarious family, the Joneses, and a fiendishly clever scheme to dispose of all the Baileys and Johnsons at once. Can they carry the day?

A solid debut: fluent, funny and eminently sequel-worthy. (Adventure. 10-12)

Pub Date: Jan. 21, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-06-220961-0

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2013

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THE TIGER RISING

Themes of freedom and responsibility twine between the lines of this short but heavy novel from the author of Because of Winn-Dixie (2000). Three months after his mother's death, Rob and his father are living in a small-town Florida motel, each nursing sharp, private pain. On the same day Rob has two astonishing encounters: first, he stumbles upon a caged tiger in the woods behind the motel; then he meets Sistine, a new classmate responding to her parents' breakup with ready fists and a big chip on her shoulder. About to burst with his secret, Rob confides in Sistine, who instantly declares that the tiger must be freed. As Rob quickly develops a yen for Sistine's company that gives her plenty of emotional leverage, and the keys to the cage almost literally drop into his hands, credible plotting plainly takes a back seat to character delineation here. And both struggle for visibility beneath a wagonload of symbol and metaphor: the real tiger (and the inevitable recitation of Blake's poem); the cage; Rob's dream of Sistine riding away on the beast's back; a mysterious skin condition on Rob's legs that develops after his mother's death; a series of wooden figurines that he whittles; a larger-than-life African-American housekeeper at the motel who dispenses wisdom with nearly every utterance; and the climax itself, which is signaled from the start. It's all so freighted with layers of significance that, like Lois Lowry's Gathering Blue (2000), Anne Mazer's Oxboy (1995), or, further back, Julia Cunningham's Dorp Dead (1965), it becomes more an exercise in analysis than a living, breathing story. Still, the tiger, "burning bright" with magnificent, feral presence, does make an arresting central image. (Fiction. 10-12)

Pub Date: March 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-7636-0911-0

Page Count: 128

Publisher: Candlewick

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2001

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