A straightforward but well-structured and absorbing supernatural tale of change and coping.



A bereaved boy discovers that he can see ghosts in this middle-grade novel.

Ever since 1900, when spiritualists “tore a hole” between the real world and the supernatural realm, poltergeists have come through the opening and plagued mortals. Like all children, 12-year-old Alex Lenard was tattooed at birth with a mark shielding him from “evil spirits.” His house in New Orleans is covered in pentacles and other signs of protection. Supernatural entities—and the arcane methods of keeping them at bay—are an everyday part of life. Alex is a star ghostball player at school. But on the way to the state championship, he is badly injured in a car accident. His mother is killed. Not only will the grief-stricken Alex never play again, the accident switches something inside of him. He develops psychic powers—a change thought to be impossible at his age. Alex doesn’t wish to see ghosts. His dad is staunchly anti-psychic, and going back to school will be hard enough for Alex without having his crazy aunt and his weird, paranormal-obsessed cousin Hannah move in next door. But what Alex wants doesn’t seem to matter. When he accompanies his aunt and cousin on one of their investigations, they uncover a spirit that needs putting to rest—and an evil entity hell-bent on stopping them. Backed by his Jamaican best friend, Jason Anderson, Alex must either accept his new situation or risk losing everyone he has left. McCauley writes in the first person, past tense and tells a simple story at an effective pace. The worldbuilding is a bit clumsy at first—the early chapters repeat some information—but once over its teething troubles, the book moves smoothly from premise to execution. The dialogue is well handled. The ubiquitous nature of the spirits is a pleasing facet that stands out. But of course the true focus is on Alex’s loss and how he deals with it. Alex is an average but likable protagonist, and Hannah and Jason are able supporting characters. Young readers should find themselves deeply engrossed.

A straightforward but well-structured and absorbing supernatural tale of change and coping. (glossary)

Pub Date: Jan. 14, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-951069-04-9

Page Count: 178

Publisher: Celtic Sea, LLC

Review Posted Online: April 30, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2020

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A satisfying, winning read.

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Nick Hall is a bright eighth-grader who would rather do anything other than pay attention in class.

Instead he daydreams about soccer, a girl he likes, and an upcoming soccer tournament. His linguistics-professor father carefully watches his educational progress, requiring extra reading and word study, much to Nick’s chagrin and protest. Fortunately, his best friend, Coby, shares his passion for soccer—and, sadly, the unwanted attention of twin bullies in their school. Nick senses something is going on with his parents, but their announcement that they are separating is an unexpected blow: “it’s like a bombshell / drops / right in the center / of your heart / and it splatters / all across your life.” The stress leads to counseling, and his life is further complicated by injury and emergency surgery. His soccer dream derailed, Nick turns to the books he has avoided and finds more than he expected. Alexander’s highly anticipated follow-up to Newbery-winning The Crossover is a reflective narrative, with little of the first book’s explosive energy. What the mostly free-verse novel does have is a likable protagonist, great wordplay, solid teen and adult secondary characters, and a clear picture of the challenges young people face when self-identity clashes with parental expectations. The soccer scenes are vivid and will make readers wish for more, but the depiction of Nick as he unlocks his inner reader is smooth and believable.

A satisfying, winning read. (Fiction. 10-12)

Pub Date: April 5, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-544-57098-6

Page Count: 320

Publisher: HMH Books

Review Posted Online: Jan. 9, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2016

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A beautifully rendered setting enfolds a disappointing plot.


In sixth grade, Izzy Mancini’s cozy, loving world falls apart.

She and her family have moved out of the cottage she grew up in. Her mother has spent the summer on Block Island instead of at home with Izzy. Her father has recently returned from military service in Afghanistan partially paralyzed and traumatized. The only people she can count on are Zelda and Piper, her best friends since kindergarten—that is, until the Haidary family moves into the upstairs apartment. At first, Izzy resents the new guests from Afghanistan even though she knows she should be grateful that Dr. Haidary saved her father’s life. But despite her initial resistance (which manifests at times as racism), as Izzy gets to know Sitara, the Haidarys’ daughter, she starts to question whether Zelda and Piper really are her friends for forever—and whether she has the courage to stand up for Sitara against the people she loves. Ferruolo weaves a rich setting, fully immersing readers in the largely white, coastal town of Seabury, Rhode Island. Disappointingly, the story resolves when Izzy convinces her classmates to accept Sitara by revealing the Haidarys’ past as American allies, a position that put them in so much danger that they had to leave home. The idea that Sitara should be embraced only because her family supported America, rather than simply because she is a human being, significantly undermines the purported message of tolerance for all.

A beautifully rendered setting enfolds a disappointing plot. (Fiction. 10-12)

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-374-30909-1

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Nov. 24, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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