A well-meaning novel that aims high but misses.

KIKI AND JACQUES

Soccer becomes a cultural bridge for a Franco-American boy and a newly arrived Somali family in a Maine mill town.

Jacques Gagnon and his father have lived with Jacques’ grandmother since his mother died, his father sinking into alcohol-fueled depression while Grandmère Jeannette supports the family. Middle schooler Jacques hopes to be captain of the soccer team, but taciturn newcomer Mohamed might challenge him. Mohamed may be unfriendly, but his little sister, Kiki, has got a sparkling smile, and soon she and Jacques enjoy a tentative friendship. Ross tackles a lot here. In addition to Jacques’ family and school situations, he must cope with neighborhood petty crook Duane, who seeks to enlist Jacques. Jacques is as earnest as the story he stars in, manfully acknowledging Mohamed’s superior skills and holding out the hand of friendship to Kiki even as he tries to resist Duane. A violent confrontation forces Jacques to make a hard choice, but that it will be the right one is never really in doubt. The story is too slim to handle both its characters and its issues. Jacques’ many classmates and teammates are hard to distinguish. Ross deserves praise for looking at the many everyday difficulties children must face, but she doesn’t give herself time to develop them with nuance. Disappointingly, the vigor and distinctiveness of Jacques’ Franco-American culture is flattened, coming across as generically French.

A well-meaning novel that aims high but misses. (Fiction. 8-12)

Pub Date: Oct. 15, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8234-3427-5

Page Count: 144

Publisher: Holiday House

Review Posted Online: July 27, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2015

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Readers can still rely on this series to bring laughs.

WRECKING BALL

From the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series , Vol. 14

The Heffley family’s house undergoes a disastrous attempt at home improvement.

When Great Aunt Reba dies, she leaves some money to the family. Greg’s mom calls a family meeting to determine what to do with their share, proposing home improvements and then overruling the family’s cartoonish wish lists and instead pushing for an addition to the kitchen. Before bringing in the construction crew, the Heffleys attempt to do minor maintenance and repairs themselves—during which Greg fails at the work in various slapstick scenes. Once the professionals are brought in, the problems keep getting worse: angry neighbors, terrifying problems in walls, and—most serious—civil permitting issues that put the kibosh on what work’s been done. Left with only enough inheritance to patch and repair the exterior of the house—and with the school’s dismal standardized test scores as a final straw—Greg’s mom steers the family toward moving, opening up house-hunting and house-selling storylines (and devastating loyal Rowley, who doesn’t want to lose his best friend). While Greg’s positive about the move, he’s not completely uncaring about Rowley’s action. (And of course, Greg himself is not as unaffected as he wishes.) The gags include effectively placed callbacks to seemingly incidental events (the “stress lizard” brought in on testing day is particularly funny) and a lampoon of after-school-special–style problem books. Just when it seems that the Heffleys really will move, a new sequence of chaotic trouble and property destruction heralds a return to the status quo. Whew.

Readers can still rely on this series to bring laughs. (Graphic/fiction hybrid. 8-12)

Pub Date: Nov. 5, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-4197-3903-3

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Amulet/Abrams

Review Posted Online: Nov. 19, 2019

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For every dreaming girl (and boy) with a pencil in hand (or keyboard) and a story to share. (Memoir/poetry. 8-12)

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BROWN GIRL DREAMING

A multiaward–winning author recalls her childhood and the joy of becoming a writer.

Writing in free verse, Woodson starts with her 1963 birth in Ohio during the civil rights movement, when America is “a country caught / / between Black and White.” But while evoking names such as Malcolm, Martin, James, Rosa and Ruby, her story is also one of family: her father’s people in Ohio and her mother’s people in South Carolina. Moving south to live with her maternal grandmother, she is in a world of sweet peas and collards, getting her hair straightened and avoiding segregated stores with her grandmother. As the writer inside slowly grows, she listens to family stories and fills her days and evenings as a Jehovah’s Witness, activities that continue after a move to Brooklyn to reunite with her mother. The gift of a composition notebook, the experience of reading John Steptoe’s Stevie and Langston Hughes’ poetry, and seeing letters turn into words and words into thoughts all reinforce her conviction that “[W]ords are my brilliance.” Woodson cherishes her memories and shares them with a graceful lyricism; her lovingly wrought vignettes of country and city streets will linger long after the page is turned.

For every dreaming girl (and boy) with a pencil in hand (or keyboard) and a story to share. (Memoir/poetry. 8-12)

Pub Date: Aug. 28, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-399-25251-8

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Nancy Paulsen Books

Review Posted Online: June 25, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2014

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