TADPOLE

“Them loud-mouthed Collins girls,” Kentucky, Virginia, Georgia, and narrator Carolina, receive a responsibility makeover in this sweetly slight coming-of-age story set in rural Kentucky in 1955. The agent of change is their cousin Tadpole, a dreamy and musical orphan who has fled his cruel uncle for the loving welcome, if not safety, of his aunt and cousins. The four girls have lived alone with their mother ever since their father left them years ago; their mother, a well-meaning but weak-willed woman, has let them run wild and selfish. Under Tadpole’s influence, the girls learn to help out around the house and to support their mother; additionally, Carolina, the youngest and most-overlooked of the four, discovers a talent for music. Everything happens almost by surprise in this agreeably slow story: Tad goes back and forth between the Collinses and his uncle, finally running away for good; the family goes to a picnic; a widower begins sparking the girls’ mother; Carolina and Tad sing in a talent contest; but White (Memories of Summer, 2001, etc.) creates such vivid and pleasing characters that the reader is happy to bide a while despite an overt lack of action. The progress of the girls from happy-go-lucky and irresponsible to a more focused concentration on the good of the family is fairly obvious and programmatic, but once again is accomplished with such amiability that it’s easy to swallow. Their mother’s corresponding journey from pushover to woman with a spine is touchingly presented through Carolina’s eyes, with a little help from Tadpole. Written in a vivid drawl, this optimistic confection is all Southern sweetness. (Fiction. 10-12)

Pub Date: March 11, 2003

ISBN: 0-374-31002-5

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2003

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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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