Charlie Fig and the Lip

An often compelling story that immerses its readers in a very different time.

Teenage friends in 1950s Brooklyn dodge cops and mobsters in this YA thriller.

In June 1959, Aaron Lipstein—known as “the Lip”—is the class valedictorian of the elite Bronx High School of Science in New York City, and he plans to enter Columbia University in the fall. His friend Charlie Figatelli is a petty thief who spends his time on the streets of Brooklyn. Aaron has a strained relationship with his dad, a taxi driver who earned a Silver Star in World War II. Charlie’s father, meanwhile, runs a bakery that’s actually a front for gambling and moneylending. Things get complicated when Charlie persuades Aaron to help him steal hubcaps; Charlie steals a car, leaving Aaron literally holding the bag, or bags, filled with stolen goods, until the local bully, Vito, expropriates them. The car is eventually found, and the cops interview Aaron, who says that Vito stole it. Then Mr. Figatelli’s truck is found in Jamaica Bay full of bullet holes, and everyone thinks he’s dead. Charlie insists on searching the marshes of the bay for his dad’s body, so that his father can have a real funeral, and not just a simple memorial service. Further complications arise when a mobster follows them, in order to make sure that Mr. Figatelli is really dead. The marshes prove to be another world, complete with a derelict amusement park, a deranged World War II veteran, and an isolated village of Dutch-speaking fishermen. Debut author Charnow has written an engaging period tale about fathers and sons. Written from Aaron’s point of view, it captures much of the stress and anxiety of being a teenager, along with Aaron’s up-and-down feelings about what his father has made of his life, and what he will make of his own. There are minor issues, however: The author’s admitted “liberties” with historical events are ill-advised; Aaron’s inner monologues sometimes seem overly formal for a self-conscious teen; and some of the violence near the end of the book (“Blood spewed from Stellini’s mouth, spraying out like paint flicked from a brush”) seems excessive.

An often compelling story that immerses its readers in a very different time.

Pub Date: Nov. 21, 2014

ISBN: 978-0692326626

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Unsolicited Press

Review Posted Online: Jan. 2, 2015

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JUPITER STORM

In more ways than one, a tale about young creatures testing their wings; a moving, entertaining winner.

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A fifth-grade New Orleans girl discovers a mysterious chrysalis containing an unexpected creature in this middle-grade novel.

Jacquelyn Marie Johnson, called Jackie, is a 10-year-old African-American girl, the second oldest and the only girl of six siblings. She’s responsible, smart, and enjoys being in charge; she likes “paper dolls and long division and imagining things she had never seen.” Normally, Jackie has no trouble obeying her strict but loving parents. But when her potted snapdragon acquires a peculiar egg or maybe a chrysalis (she dubs it a chrysalegg), Jackie’s strong desire to protect it runs up against her mother’s rule against plants in the house. Jackie doesn’t exactly mean to lie, but she tells her mother she needs to keep the snapdragon in her room for a science project and gets permission. Jackie draws the chrysalegg daily, waiting for something to happen as it gets larger. When the amazing creature inside breaks free, Jackie is more determined than ever to protect it, but this leads her further into secrets and lies. The results when her parents find out are painful, and resolving the problem will take courage, honesty, and trust. Dumas (Jaden Toussaint, the Greatest: Episode 5, 2017, etc.) presents a very likable character in Jackie. At 10, she’s young enough to enjoy playing with paper dolls but has a maturity that even older kids can lack. She’s resourceful, as when she wants to measure a red spot on the chrysalegg; lacking calipers, she fashions one from her hairpin. Jackie’s inward struggle about what to obey—her dearest wishes or the parents she loves—is one many readers will understand. The book complicates this question by making Jackie’s parents, especially her mother, strict (as one might expect to keep order in a large family) but undeniably loving and protective as well—it’s not just a question of outwitting clueless adults. Jackie’s feelings about the creature (tender and responsible but also more than a little obsessive) are similarly shaded rather than black-and-white. The ending suggests that an intriguing sequel is to come.

In more ways than one, a tale about young creatures testing their wings; a moving, entertaining winner.

Pub Date: Nov. 11, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-943169-32-0

Page Count: 212

Publisher: Plum Street Press

Review Posted Online: Feb. 22, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2018

BROTHERS IN ARMS

BLUFORD HIGH SERIES #9

A YA novel that treats its subject and its readers with respect while delivering an engaging story.

In the ninth book in the Bluford young-adult series, a young Latino man walks away from violence—but at great personal cost.

In a large Southern California city, 16-year-old Martin Luna hangs out on the fringes of gang life. He’s disaffected, fatherless and increasingly drawn into the orbit of the older, rougher Frankie. When a stray bullet kills Martin’s adored 8-year-old brother, Huero, Martin seems to be heading into a life of crime. But Martin’s mother, determined not to lose another son, moves him to another neighborhood—the fictional town of Bluford, where he attends the racially diverse Bluford High. At his new school, the still-grieving Martin quickly makes enemies and gets into trouble. But he also makes friends with a kind English teacher and catches the eye of Vicky, a smart, pretty and outgoing Bluford student. Martin’s first-person narration supplies much of the book’s power. His dialogue is plain, but realistic and believable, and the authors wisely avoid the temptation to lard his speech with dated and potentially embarrassing slang. The author draws a vivid and affecting picture of Martin’s pain and confusion, bringing a tight-lipped teenager to life. In fact, Martin’s character is so well drawn that when he realizes the truth about his friend Frankie, readers won’t feel as if they are watching an after-school special, but as though they are observing the natural progression of Martin’s personal growth. This short novel appears to be aimed at urban teens who don’t often see their neighborhoods portrayed in young-adult fiction, but its sophisticated characters and affecting story will likely have much wider appeal.

A YA novel that treats its subject and its readers with respect while delivering an engaging story.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 2004

ISBN: 978-1591940173

Page Count: 152

Publisher: Townsend Press

Review Posted Online: Jan. 26, 2013

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