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A wonderfully inventive, rich, and engaging tale.

Awards & Accolades

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
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A girl combats criminals with the help of a phantom and a mechanical giant in this first novel in a YA historical-fantasy series.

It’s 1899, and child-stealing gangsters roam the mean streets of Manhattan’s Lower East Side. Nevertheless, 13-year-old Abigail Reid usually navigates the city alone since her busy father works three jobs and her mother is deceased. While returning home late one night, Abigail is attacked by the members of the Longshadows gang. Things look dire for the girl, but two unusual figures come to her rescue and defeat her assailants: Little Wade and Watchtower. The first is a “young, slightly blue” boy—who is, in fact, a ghost—and the second is a gigantic, “whirring, clicking, clanking, hissing, knocking, popping, grinding” intelligent mechanism. According to their business card, they’ve been “Protecting New York City’s Children since 1831,” free of charge. As their new client, Abigail receives protection and guidance for safe travel. But the duo has a larger plan to manipulate the gangs into fighting each other, using Abigail as bait (with her permission). The girl bravely helps to spring the trap and joins several resulting fights—not just to defeat the gangs but also the mastermind (or masterminds) behind them. In his debut, March tells a fantastically multifarious fantasy story that includes elements of crime and adventure, steampunk, and the supernatural, and a coming-of-age quest. To some, the violence may, like Poe’s stories, be considered “too sinister and chilling for youth”—although Abigail praises those tales as “magnificent and incredibly imaginative,” which certainly applies to this novel, as well. On balance, its story is deeply concerned with kindness and community. Explanations can be prolix, and the multipart conclusion extends beyond what feels like the natural climax. However, in such a splendidly entertaining book, these are mere quibbles.

A wonderfully inventive, rich, and engaging tale.

Pub Date: Oct. 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-73514-331-6

Page Count: 382

Publisher: Self

Review Posted Online: Nov. 12, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2021

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From the Peculiar Children series , Vol. 1

A trilogy opener both rich and strange, if heavy at the front end.

Riggs spins a gothic tale of strangely gifted children and the monsters that pursue them from a set of eerie, old trick photographs.

The brutal murder of his grandfather and a glimpse of a man with a mouth full of tentacles prompts months of nightmares and psychotherapy for 15-year-old Jacob, followed by a visit to a remote Welsh island where, his grandfather had always claimed, there lived children who could fly, lift boulders and display like weird abilities. The stories turn out to be true—but Jacob discovers that he has unwittingly exposed the sheltered “peculiar spirits” (of which he turns out to be one) and their werefalcon protector to a murderous hollowgast and its shape-changing servant wight. The interspersed photographs—gathered at flea markets and from collectors—nearly all seem to have been created in the late 19th or early 20th centuries and generally feature stone-faced figures, mostly children, in inscrutable costumes and situations. They are seen floating in the air, posing with a disreputable-looking Santa, covered in bees, dressed in rags and kneeling on a bomb, among other surreal images. Though Jacob’s overdeveloped back story gives the tale a slow start, the pictures add an eldritch element from the early going, and along with creepy bad guys, the author tucks in suspenseful chases and splashes of gore as he goes. He also whirls a major storm, flying bullets and a time loop into a wild climax that leaves Jacob poised for the sequel.

A trilogy opener both rich and strange, if heavy at the front end. (Horror/fantasy. 12-14)

Pub Date: June 7, 2011

ISBN: 978-1-59474-476-1

Page Count: 234

Publisher: Quirk Books

Review Posted Online: March 30, 2014

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Stands out neither as a folk-tale retelling, a coming-of-age story, nor a Holocaust novel.

A Holocaust tale with a thin “Hansel and Gretel” veneer from the author of The Devil’s Arithmetic (1988).

Chaim and Gittel, 14-year-old twins, live with their parents in the Lodz ghetto, forced from their comfortable country home by the Nazis. The siblings are close, sharing a sign-based twin language; Chaim stutters and communicates primarily with his sister. Though slowly starving, they make the best of things with their beloved parents, although it’s more difficult once they must share their tiny flat with an unpleasant interfaith couple and their Mischling (half-Jewish) children. When the family hears of their impending “wedding invitation”—the ghetto idiom for a forthcoming order for transport—they plan a dangerous escape. Their journey is difficult, and one by one, the adults vanish. Ultimately the children end up in a fictional child labor camp, making ammunition for the German war effort. Their story effectively evokes the dehumanizing nature of unremitting silence. Nevertheless, the dense, distancing narrative (told in a third-person contemporaneous narration focused through Chaim with interspersed snippets from Gittel’s several-decades-later perspective) has several consistency problems, mostly regarding the relative religiosity of this nominally secular family. One theme seems to be frustration with those who didn’t fight back against overwhelming odds, which makes for a confusing judgment on the suffering child protagonists.

Stands out neither as a folk-tale retelling, a coming-of-age story, nor a Holocaust novel. (author’s note) (Historical fiction. 12-14)

Pub Date: March 6, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-399-25778-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Philomel

Review Posted Online: Dec. 20, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2018

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