Aside from some overly didactic dialogue, kids will relate to Sam and her journal, and the characters and themes offer much...

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SAM'S TOP SECRET JOURNAL

BOOK 1 - WE SPY

Plotlines abound, including kidnapping and catching crooks, in Adelman’s work of fiction for chapter-book and middle-grade readers.

Sam, 13, attends middle school in Seattle. She’s on the basketball team, participates in school plays and volunteers at the local community center. She has Down syndrome, which she doesn’t seem concerned about. That she’s an uber-active young teen with developmental differences isn’t hard to swallow; the suburban shuffle from one organized activity to another will ring true for most kids. Unfortunately, some of the dialogue and descriptions won’t, such as when, after a loss, Sam’s basketball coach blandly asserts, “These kids make a great team and they’ll win other games.” Fortunately, the adults are relegated to supporting roles in Sam’s life. Via her diary entries and conversations, readers learn that Sam looks forward to a visit from her Uncle Alex, who is serving in Iraq.  Although she’s counting the days until he arrives, she has plenty to do in the meantime. While volunteering at the community center, she grows fond of Michael, a soldier who returned from combat in Iraq after suffering a traumatic brain injury. Sam also encounters some rough characters at the community center. Although she recognizes they’re similar to the bullies at her school, she also realizes they’re more dangerous. When she and her 9-year-old brother, John, notice that the shady guys showed up about the same time the center’s cash donations disappeared, they hatch a plan to catch the thief, using John’s toy spy gear. Then Michael is kidnapped. Sam finds it hard to leave such worries to the police and other authorities. While the ending wraps up a little too neatly, this ambitious book for children hits the mark more often than not. There’s a lot to like about a mystery/adventure for preteens that takes on bullying, disabilities and a girl’s growing need for independence, and Adelman manages to weave each of those topics into a compelling story for young readers.

Aside from some overly didactic dialogue, kids will relate to Sam and her journal, and the characters and themes offer much to consider.

Pub Date: May 24, 2012

ISBN: 978-1468126624

Page Count: 152

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Aug. 2, 2012

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Good Guys and Bad get just deserts in the end, and Stanley gets plenty of opportunities to display pluck and valor in this...

HOLES

Sentenced to a brutal juvenile detention camp for a crime he didn't commit, a wimpy teenager turns four generations of bad family luck around in this sunburnt tale of courage, obsession, and buried treasure from Sachar (Wayside School Gets a Little Stranger, 1995, etc.).

Driven mad by the murder of her black beau, a schoolteacher turns on the once-friendly, verdant town of Green Lake, Texas, becomes feared bandit Kissin' Kate Barlow, and dies, laughing, without revealing where she buried her stash. A century of rainless years later, lake and town are memories—but, with the involuntary help of gangs of juvenile offenders, the last descendant of the last residents is still digging. Enter Stanley Yelnats IV, great-grandson of one of Kissin' Kate's victims and the latest to fall to the family curse of being in the wrong place at the wrong time; under the direction of The Warden, a woman with rattlesnake venom polish on her long nails, Stanley and each of his fellow inmates dig a hole a day in the rock-hard lake bed. Weeks of punishing labor later, Stanley digs up a clue, but is canny enough to conceal the information of which hole it came from. Through flashbacks, Sachar weaves a complex net of hidden relationships and well-timed revelations as he puts his slightly larger-than-life characters under a sun so punishing that readers will be reaching for water bottles.

Good Guys and Bad get just deserts in the end, and Stanley gets plenty of opportunities to display pluck and valor in this rugged, engrossing adventure. (Fiction. 9-13)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 978-0-374-33265-5

Page Count: 233

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2000

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One of those rare thrillers whose answers are even more scarifying than its mysteries.

AFTER ALL I'VE DONE

A middle-aged woman sidelined by a horrific accident finds even sharper pains waiting on the other side of her recuperation in this expert nightmare by Hardy, familiar to many readers as Megan Hart, author of All the Secrets We Keep (2017), etc.

Five months ago, while she was on her way to the hospital with an ailing gallbladder, Diana Sparrow’s car hit a deer on a rural Pennsylvania road. When she awoke, she was minus her gallbladder, two working collarbones (and therefore two functioning arms), and her memory. During a recovery that would’ve been impossible without the constant ministrations of Harriett Richmond, the mother-in-law who’s the real reason Diana married her husband, Jonathan, Diana’s discovered that Jonathan has been cheating on her with her childhood friend Valerie Delagatti. Divorce is out of the question: Diana’s grown used to the pampered lifestyle the prenup she’d signed would snatch away from her. Every day is filled with torments. She slips and falls in a pool of wine on her kitchen floor she’s sure she didn’t spill herself. At the emergency room, her credit card and debit card are declined. She feels that she hates oppressively solicitous Harriett but has no idea why. Her sessions with her psychiatrist fail to heal her rage at her adoptive mother, an addict who abandoned her then returned only to disappear again and die an ugly death. Even worse, her attempts to recover her lost memory lead to an excruciatingly paced series of revelations. Val says Diana asked her to seduce Jonathan. Diana realizes that Cole, a fellow student in her watercolor class, isn’t the stranger she’d thought he was. Where can this maze of deceptions possibly end?

One of those rare thrillers whose answers are even more scarifying than its mysteries.

Pub Date: Nov. 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-64385-470-0

Page Count: 310

Publisher: Crooked Lane

Review Posted Online: Aug. 19, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2020

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Questioneers fans will not be disappointed; new fans will find this outing a timely introduction to the series.

SOFIA VALDEZ AND THE VANISHING VOTE

From the Questioneers series

The Questioneers are back for a new early chapter book, this one featuring Sofia Valdez, of Sofia Valdez, Future Prez (2019) fame.

Sofia and her friends from Miss Greer’s second grade class are back for another adventure. This time around, an election to select the new class pet offers lots of what Miss Greer likes to call Learning Experiences. Young civic activist Sofia is put in charge of managing the election, which pits candidates backed by two of her best friends against one another. Meanwhile, her cousin Marisella grapples with a pet problem of her own. Between friends and family, the election pulls Sofia in all directions, and she realizes that overseeing a fair election that runs smoothly proves to be a real challenge. Fortunately, she has sage advice from Abuelo and help from the local library to guide her. The short chapters and ample illustrations make for an accessible and entertaining early chapter book, full of fun and, yes, learning experiences. Extensive backmatter includes information on the importance of a free press, the true historical events behind Abuelo’s stories, and more information on how the voting process in the United States works. Sofia and her family have brown skin and are of Mexican heritage; her friends are diverse; and Miss Greer presents White. Marisella uses a wheelchair.

Questioneers fans will not be disappointed; new fans will find this outing a timely introduction to the series. (Fiction. 6-9)

Pub Date: Oct. 6, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-4197-4350-4

Page Count: 160

Publisher: Amulet/Abrams

Review Posted Online: Aug. 18, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2020

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