Immersive and witty, it illuminates as a historical piece yet falters when connecting the snapshots into a cohesive picture

UNSTOPPABLE OCTOBIA MAY

With elegant prose and a spunky narrator, Flake’s latest offers detailed snapshots of African-American life in 1953.

“Death does not look like people think it should. Sometimes it wears summer suits and fine hats, silk gloves, and handmade shoes. Like him.” The “him” Octobia May refers to is Mr. Davenport, a boarder in her aunt Shuma’s rooming house that she believes is a vampire. With the help of her best friend, Jonah, Octobia May stalks the man, telling everyone of her suspicions. It is a unique perspective, depicting a character of color during the 1950s who is more enraptured of horror-movie prototypes than anything else. But Octobia May’s passion begins to feel like compulsion, then obsession. When she insists that she sees what others cannot, she becomes an unreliable narrator—and one who sounds desperate. Then later, when the book shifts from vampires and talking to the dead to Octobia May’s desire to become a detective, the plot feels crowded and loses its emotional resonance. Flake’s incorporation of the social and political milestones of the era makes the story a veritable compendium. From Masons to McCarthy to Pall Malls, Camels and Lucky Strikes, the tale offers an intriguing insight into an important time in U.S. history. However, jarring transitions and a narrator who at times feels emotionally disconnected ultimately leave readers wanting.

Immersive and witty, it illuminates as a historical piece yet falters when connecting the snapshots into a cohesive picture (. (Historical fiction. 8-12)

Pub Date: Sept. 30, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-545-60960-9

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: July 29, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2014

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

This 2015 New Visions Award winner offers a complex narrative and inspires readers to check their privilege to address...

AHIMSA

Although Kelkar’s debut novel takes place in colonial India in the 1940s, when Indian citizens were fighting for independence from British rule, it is uncannily timely: 10-year old Anjali grapples with issues of social justice in many of the same ways young people are today.

When Anjali’s mother quits her job to become a freedom fighter, Anjali is reluctant to join the struggle, as it means she will have to eschew her decorated skirts and wear home-spun khadi (hand-woven cotton) instead, inviting the mockery of her school nemeses. But as her relationship with her mother evolves, her experience of and commitment to activism change as well. When her mother is imprisoned and commences a hunger strike, Anjali continues her work and begins to unlearn her prejudices. According to an author’s note, Kelkar was inspired by the biography of her great-grandmother Anasuyabai Kale, and the tale is enriched by the author’s proximity to the subject matter and access to primary sources. Kelkar also complicates Western impressions of Mohandas K. “Mahatma” Gandhi—Anjali realizes that Gandhi is flawed—and introduces readers to Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, a figure rarely mentioned in texts for young people in the United States but who is best known for campaigning against social discrimination of Dalits, or members of India’s lower castes.

This 2015 New Visions Award winner offers a complex narrative and inspires readers to check their privilege to address ongoing injustices. (Historical fiction. 8-12)

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-62014-356-8

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Tu Books

Review Posted Online: Aug. 7, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2017

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

Funny delivery, but some jokes really miss the mark.

NARWHAL I'M AROUND

From the Incredibly Dead Pets of Rex Dexter series , Vol. 2

An animal ghost seeks closure after enduring aquatic atrocities.

In this sequel to The Incredibly Dead Pets of Rex Dexter (2020), sixth grader Rex is determined to once again use his ability to communicate with dead animals for the greater good. A ghost narwhal’s visit gives Rex his next opportunity in the form of the clue “bad water.” Rex enlists Darvish—his Pakistani American human best friend—and Drumstick—his “faithful (dead) chicken”—to help crack the case. But the mystery is only one of Rex’s many roadblocks. For starters, Sami Mulpepper hugged him at a dance, and now she’s his “accidental girlfriend.” Even worse, Darvish develops one of what Rex calls “Game Preoccupation Disorders” over role-playing game Monsters & Mayhem that may well threaten the pair’s friendship. Will Rex become “a Sherlock without a Watson,” or can the two make amends in time to solve the mystery? This second outing effectively carries the “ghost-mist” torch from its predecessor without feeling too much like a formulaic carbon copy. Spouting terms like plausible deniability and in flagrante delicto, Rex makes for a hilariously bombastic (if unlikable) first-person narrator. The over-the-top style is contagious, and black-and-white illustrations throughout add cartoony punchlines to various scenes. Unfortunately, scenes in which humor comes at the expense of those with less status are downright cringeworthy, as when Rex, who reads as White, riffs on the impossibility of his ever pronouncing Darvish’s surname or he plays dumb by staring into space and drooling.

Funny delivery, but some jokes really miss the mark. (Paranormal mystery. 8-12)

Pub Date: May 4, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-7595-5523-5

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: March 16, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2021

Did you like this book?

more