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

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THE UNDERDOGS

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. 17, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2016

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AKATA WITCH

Who can't love a story about a Nigerian-American 12-year-old with albinism who discovers latent magical abilities and saves the world? Sunny lives in Nigeria after spending the first nine years of her life in New York. She can't play soccer with the boys because, as she says, "being albino made the sun my enemy," and she has only enemies at school. When a boy in her class, Orlu, rescues her from a beating, Sunny is drawn in to a magical world she's never known existed. Sunny, it seems, is a Leopard person, one of the magical folk who live in a world mostly populated by ignorant Lambs. Now she spends the day in mundane Lamb school and sneaks out at night to learn magic with her cadre of Leopard friends: a handsome American bad boy, an arrogant girl who is Orlu’s childhood friend and Orlu himself. Though Sunny's initiative is thin—she is pushed into most of her choices by her friends and by Leopard adults—the worldbuilding for Leopard society is stellar, packed with details that will enthrall readers bored with the same old magical worlds. Meanwhile, those looking for a touch of the familiar will find it in Sunny's biggest victories, which are entirely non-magical (the detailed dynamism of Sunny's soccer match is more thrilling than her magical world saving). Ebulliently original. (Fantasy. 11-13)

Pub Date: April 14, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-670-01196-4

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: March 28, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2011

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If hoping to grab a heartfelt connection, readers may feel sidelined, but plot turns will certainly keep them entranced.

THE ALWAYS WAR

For the past 75 years, Tessa’s nation has been at war—a war that has no end in sight.

Tessa lives in a community of weary people, visibly crushed by endless years of combat. They are numb; war is commonplace. But when a local boy receives an award for bravery—the nation’s highest—it lifts the city. Everyone, especially Tessa, desperately needs a hero. But Gideon shocks the town by refusing the honor. He declares himself a coward and runs away. He has killed more than 1,000 people; there is no honor in that. But that’s what war is, isn’t it? Killing the enemy is necessary. Gideon infuriates Tessa, but she is inexplicably curious as well. She follows him and ends up on a plane, with Gideon steering it straight toward the enemy line. He hopes to apologize, to atone for his mistakes, but what he and Tessa (along with a stowaway orphan named Dek) find when they open the plane’s door changes the plan dramatically. This dystopian drama examines the human aspect of war, and also how technology may redefine war in the future. In line with that tension, it is difficult to pinpoint which character grows the most in the narrative—Tessa or the computer.

If hoping to grab a heartfelt connection, readers may feel sidelined, but plot turns will certainly keep them entranced. (Dystopia. 10-14)

Pub Date: Nov. 15, 2011

ISBN: 978-1-4169-9526-5

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Sept. 21, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2011

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