A lackluster hodgepodge of anachronisms that respects neither its subject nor its readers.

THE OUTSTANDING LIFE OF AN AWKWARD THEATER KID

GOD, I'LL DO ANYTHING—JUST DON'T LET ME FAIL

A self-proclaimed jock from the Rust Belt learns to express himself both on stage and in life in hopes of winning the girl.

Flex is a football player in Empty Factory, Indiana, who auditions for his first theater production in hopes of impressing a girl from youth group. To his chagrin, the school is staging Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale, and he soon finds himself avoiding practice to protect his pride as he stumbles over lines and navigates culture shock. Though the characters appear to be in middle school, the language feels as though it’s intended for a much younger audience, with the glaring exception of oft-quoted passages from Shakespeare. These make for challenging reading even as the characters dismiss them as something no one understands anyway. Biblical references and lessons seem wedged into the plot with little rhyme or reason. Accompanying illustrations and pop-culture references seem plucked from a different time. Meanwhile, most of the characters—the first-person narrator not excepted—are shallow and stereotypical caricatures who give readers little reason to continue engagement, and the dismissive, even scornful attitude displayed toward mental illness is distasteful. A lack of cohesion across story elements leads to an overwhelming feeling of disorientation. All the primary characters and most of the supporting cast are white.

A lackluster hodgepodge of anachronisms that respects neither its subject nor its readers. (Fiction. 8-12)

Pub Date: May 5, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-7369-7886-6

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Harvest House

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020

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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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Classic action-packed, monster-fighting fun

THE LAST KIDS ON EARTH

From the Last Kids on Earth series , Vol. 1

It’s been 42 days since the Monster Apocalypse began, and 13-year-old Jack Sullivan, a self-proclaimed “zombie-fighting, monster-slaying tornado of cool” is on a quest to find and rescue his not-so-secret crush, June Del Toro, whether she needs it, wants it, or not.

Jack cobbles together an unlikely but endearing crew, including his scientist best friend, Quint Baker; Dirk Savage, Parker Middle School’s biggest bully; and a pet monster named Rover, to help him save the damsel in distress and complete the “ULTIMATE Feat of Apocalyptic Success.” Middle-grade readers, particularly boys, will find Jack’s pitch-perfect mix of humor, bravado, and self-professed geekiness impossible to resist. His sidekicks are equally entertaining, and it doesn’t hurt that there are also plenty of oozing, drooling, sharp-toothed monsters and zombies and a host of gizmos and gadgets to hook readers and keep them cheering with every turn of the page. Holgate’s illustrations play an integral role in the novel’s success. They not only bring Brallier’s characters to life, but also add depth and detail to the story, making plain just exactly how big Rover is and giving the lie to Jack’s “killer driving.” The marriage of text and illustration serves as a perfect example of what an illustrated novel can and should be.

Classic action-packed, monster-fighting fun (. (Graphic/horror hybrid. 8-12)

Pub Date: Oct. 13, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-670-01661-7

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: July 22, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2015

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