Entertaining and suspenseful storytelling with relatable elementary school characters.

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FINN & BOTTS

CURSE OF THE CORNFIELD GHOST

In this chapter book for young readers, a boy and his friends brave a possibly haunted cornfield on Halloween night.

Is the spooky field at the end of young Finn Fasser’s street haunted by the ghost of its former owner, old man Grim, who mysteriously disappeared more than 100 years ago? Finn is sure that it is, and there’s no way he’s going to go into the maze of stalks to find out, especially on Halloween—no matter how much his best friend, Botts, teases him about it. During his school’s Halloween carnival, Finn and his friends are fed up with school bully Bellow, whose mean tricks include dunking students’ heads in the apple-bobbing tub and putting “Pinch Me” signs on their backs. Finn’s desire to teach Bellow a lesson gives him “an idea that turned and twisted his stomach.” It involves dressing up as a demonic, ghostly Grim (while perched on Botts’ shoulders) and overcoming his own fears in order to give Bellow a scare in the cornfield. Another wrinkle: An unknown, black-caped candy thief is stealing kids’ treat bags for the second Halloween in a row, and the field may play a part in revealing the thief’s identity. Of course, the real Grim won’t show up—or will he? In this well-crafted work of juvenile fiction, debut author Knight wraps a lively narrative around believable kids in the realistic setting of a neighborhood, home, and school, pacing the story with humor, a touch of authentic suspense, and a message about standing up for others. Interestingly, while there’s no hint of it in the text, Knight’s characters are depicted in Meyers’ (The Baltimore Bandit, 2019, etc.) black-white-and-gray–toned illustrations as pigs—although, other than their snouts and ears, they’re human in appearance. The enjoyable, full-page illustrations (approximately one per chapter) skillfully complement the story with plenty of fun, atmospheric detail.

Entertaining and suspenseful storytelling with relatable elementary school characters.

Pub Date: N/A

ISBN: 978-1-73360-920-3

Page Count: 108

Publisher: Dreamwell Press

Review Posted Online: July 25, 2019

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Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

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THE VANISHING HALF

Inseparable identical twin sisters ditch home together, and then one decides to vanish.

The talented Bennett fuels her fiction with secrets—first in her lauded debut, The Mothers (2016), and now in the assured and magnetic story of the Vignes sisters, light-skinned women parked on opposite sides of the color line. Desiree, the “fidgety twin,” and Stella, “a smart, careful girl,” make their break from stultifying rural Mallard, Louisiana, becoming 16-year-old runaways in 1954 New Orleans. The novel opens 14 years later as Desiree, fleeing a violent marriage in D.C., returns home with a different relative: her 8-year-old daughter, Jude. The gossips are agog: “In Mallard, nobody married dark....Marrying a dark man and dragging his blueblack child all over town was one step too far.” Desiree's decision seals Jude’s misery in this “colorstruck” place and propels a new generation of flight: Jude escapes on a track scholarship to UCLA. Tending bar as a side job in Beverly Hills, she catches a glimpse of her mother’s doppelgänger. Stella, ensconced in White society, is shedding her fur coat. Jude, so Black that strangers routinely stare, is unrecognizable to her aunt. All this is expertly paced, unfurling before the book is half finished; a reader can guess what is coming. Bennett is deeply engaged in the unknowability of other people and the scourge of colorism. The scene in which Stella adopts her White persona is a tour de force of doubling and confusion. It calls up Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, the book's 50-year-old antecedent. Bennett's novel plays with its characters' nagging feelings of being incomplete—for the twins without each other; for Jude’s boyfriend, Reese, who is trans and seeks surgery; for their friend Barry, who performs in drag as Bianca. Bennett keeps all these plot threads thrumming and her social commentary crisp. In the second half, Jude spars with her cousin Kennedy, Stella's daughter, a spoiled actress.

Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

Pub Date: June 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-53629-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020

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A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

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THE GIVER OF STARS

Women become horseback librarians in 1930s Kentucky and face challenges from the landscape, the weather, and the men around them.

Alice thought marrying attractive American Bennett Van Cleve would be her ticket out of her stifling life in England. But when she and Bennett settle in Baileyville, Kentucky, she realizes that her life consists of nothing more than staying in their giant house all day and getting yelled at by his unpleasant father, who owns a coal mine. She’s just about to resign herself to a life of boredom when an opportunity presents itself in the form of a traveling horseback library—an initiative from Eleanor Roosevelt meant to counteract the devastating effects of the Depression by focusing on literacy and learning. Much to the dismay of her husband and father-in-law, Alice signs up and soon learns the ropes from the library’s leader, Margery. Margery doesn’t care what anyone thinks of her, rejects marriage, and would rather be on horseback than in a kitchen. And even though all this makes Margery a town pariah, Alice quickly grows to like her. Along with several other women (including one black woman, Sophia, whose employment causes controversy in a town that doesn’t believe black and white people should be allowed to use the same library), Margery and Alice supply magazines, Bible stories, and copies of books like Little Women to the largely poor residents who live in remote areas. Alice spends long days in terrible weather on horseback, but she finally feels happy in her new life in Kentucky, even as her marriage to Bennett is failing. But her powerful father-in-law doesn’t care for Alice’s job or Margery’s lifestyle, and he’ll stop at nothing to shut their library down. Basing her novel on the true story of the Pack Horse Library Project established by the Works Progress Administration in the 1930s, Moyes (Still Me, 2018, etc.) brings an often forgotten slice of history to life. She writes about Kentucky with lush descriptions of the landscape and tender respect for the townspeople, most of whom are poor, uneducated, and grateful for the chance to learn. Although Alice and Margery both have their own romances, the true power of the story is in the bonds between the women of the library. They may have different backgrounds, but their commitment to helping the people of Baileyville brings them together.

A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

Pub Date: Oct. 8, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-399-56248-8

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2019

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