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

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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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Telgemeier’s bold colors, superior visual storytelling, and unusual subject matter will keep readers emotionally engaged and...

GHOSTS

Catrina narrates the story of her mixed-race (Latino/white) family’s move from Southern California to Bahía de la Luna on the Northern California coast.

Dad has a new job, but it’s little sister Maya’s lungs that motivate the move: she has had cystic fibrosis since birth—a degenerative breathing condition. Despite her health, Maya loves adventure, even if her lungs suffer for it and even when Cat must follow to keep her safe. When Carlos, a tall, brown, and handsome teen Ghost Tour guide introduces the sisters to the Bahía ghosts—most of whom were Spanish-speaking Mexicans when alive—they fascinate Maya and she them, but the terrified Cat wants only to get herself and Maya back to safety. When the ghost adventure leads to Maya’s hospitalization, Cat blames both herself and Carlos, which makes seeing him at school difficult. As Cat awakens to the meaning of Halloween and Day of the Dead in this strange new home, she comes to understand the importance of the ghosts both to herself and to Maya. Telgemeier neatly balances enough issues that a lesser artist would split them into separate stories and delivers as much delight textually as visually. The backmatter includes snippets from Telgemeier’s sketchbook and a photo of her in Día makeup.

Telgemeier’s bold colors, superior visual storytelling, and unusual subject matter will keep readers emotionally engaged and unable to put down this compelling tale. (Graphic fiction. 8-12)

Pub Date: Sept. 13, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-545-54061-2

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: July 2, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2016

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