THE UNDERDOGS

The novel is absorbing and enjoyable, but readers’ feelings about this oddball mystery/life-transformation hybrid will...

Best friends try to figure out who murdered a pretty 16-year-old girl at a tennis club.

Evie, 12, and her best friend, narrator Chelsea, spend their summer hanging out together at the Boston-area tennis club where Evie’s father works as a tennis pro and Chelsea’s mother manages the desk. Both are wounded souls with distressing back stories. Evie, who’s fat and bullied, is living with her indifferent dad because her mother deserted her; Chelsea was horrifically abused before being adopted. Because both protagonists are club fixtures and largely invisible to the campers and elite tennis players, they manage to secretly shadow the detective responsible for solving the murder and the various suspects as well. A strong subplot concerns Evie’s transformation from a fat, angry outcast to a thinner tennis whiz. About halfway through the novel, readers should begin to notice various discrepancies—things that don’t quite scan or make complete sense. This feeling continues to increase until the end, when a doozy of a revelation changes the way readers perceive everything that came before. The twist is not 100-percent fair, and there will be a few pages of puzzlement before readers get the aha, but it certainly clears up the incongruities. Chelsea describes the people around her, mostly white, but she avoids touching on her own appearance, leaving readers to draw their own conclusions.

The novel is absorbing and enjoyable, but readers’ feelings about this oddball mystery/life-transformation hybrid will depend on whether they’re delighted or annoyed by the surprise ending. (Mystery. 10-14)

Pub Date: May 31, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-374-30161-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Feb. 16, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2016

BAMBOO PEOPLE

Well-educated American boys from privileged families have abundant options for college and career. For Chiko, their Burmese counterpart, there are no good choices. There is never enough to eat, and his family lives in constant fear of the military regime that has imprisoned Chiko’s physician father. Soon Chiko is commandeered by the army, trained to hunt down members of the Karenni ethnic minority. Tai, another “recruit,” uses his streetwise survival skills to help them both survive. Meanwhile, Tu Reh, a Karenni youth whose village was torched by the Burmese Army, has been chosen for his first military mission in his people’s resistance movement. How the boys meet and what comes of it is the crux of this multi-voiced novel. While Perkins doesn’t sugarcoat her subject—coming of age in a brutal, fascistic society—this is a gentle story with a lot of heart, suitable for younger readers than the subject matter might suggest. It answers the question, “What is it like to be a child soldier?” clearly, but with hope. (author’s note, historical note) (Fiction. 11-14)

Pub Date: July 1, 2010

ISBN: 978-1-58089-328-2

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Charlesbridge

Review Posted Online: May 31, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2010

DEAD END IN NORVELT

Characteristically provocative gothic comedy, with sublime undertones. (Autobiographical fiction. 11-13)

An exhilarating summer marked by death, gore and fire sparks deep thoughts in a small-town lad not uncoincidentally named “Jack Gantos.”

The gore is all Jack’s, which to his continuing embarrassment “would spray out of my nose holes like dragon flames” whenever anything exciting or upsetting happens. And that would be on every other page, seemingly, as even though Jack’s feuding parents unite to ground him for the summer after several mishaps, he does get out. He mixes with the undertaker’s daughter, a band of Hell’s Angels out to exact fiery revenge for a member flattened in town by a truck and, especially, with arthritic neighbor Miss Volker, for whom he furnishes the “hired hands” that transcribe what becomes a series of impassioned obituaries for the local paper as elderly town residents suddenly begin passing on in rapid succession. Eventually the unusual body count draws the—justified, as it turns out—attention of the police. Ultimately, the obits and the many Landmark Books that Jack reads (this is 1962) in his hours of confinement all combine in his head to broaden his perspective about both history in general and the slow decline his own town is experiencing.

Characteristically provocative gothic comedy, with sublime undertones. (Autobiographical fiction. 11-13)

Pub Date: Sept. 13, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-374-37993-3

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: April 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2011

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