More thought provoking than melodramatic or disturbing, this low-key outing should engage readers despite the pat happy...

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TOO MUCH TROUBLE

Plotted (though not written) in Dickensian style, this debut thrusts two illegal immigrants out into the streets and conveys them to London where they fall in with a gang of child shoplifters.

Four years after being sent for safety to England from violence-torn central Africa, 12-year-old Emmanuel and his little brother, Prince, live hand to mouth in the basement of their absentee uncle’s indoor marijuana farm in an unnamed town. When Prince gets into a fight in school and their furious uncle boots them out, the brothers flee to London, where they are rescued and recruited by “Mr. Green,” a glib, genial Fagin who shelters a dozen runaways in exchange for the wallets, cellphones and like loot they lift from crowded train stations and other locales. While Prince turns out to be a natural, Emmanuel guiltily hangs back and dreams of having a “proper home” one day. Ultimately that dream comes true for him and for Prince too, after a tragic gun accident. Though neither the urban setting nor the hardships and violence of street life are conveyed with particular sharpness in Emmanuel’s simply phrased narrative, his distress comes through clearly, as does the joy of settling in with a foster parent and being reunited with his brother.

More thought provoking than melodramatic or disturbing, this low-key outing should engage readers despite the pat happy ending. (Fiction. 10-12)

Pub Date: June 1, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-84780-234-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Frances Lincoln

Review Posted Online: April 18, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2012

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Emily’s motives turn out to be little more than a pretext, but the author delivers another clever, suspenseful drama in the...

DEADLY PINK

Vande Velde again traps teenagers inside an authentically depicted arcade game—but here she works twists into the premise that are both amusing and crank up the danger.

As in User Unfriendly (1991) and Heir Apparent (2002), the game, called “The Land of Golden Butterflies,” is manufactured by the shadowy Rasmussem Corp. and is fully immersive, fed directly into the brain through electrodes. Into this game 14-year-old Grace Pizzelli’s big sister Emily has gone; moreover, she has refused to come out and altered the code so she can’t be forcibly ejected. As sessions that run longer than a few hours cause brain damage and death, the corporation desperately turns to Grace to follow Emily in and persuade her to leave. Reluctantly agreeing, Grace discovers to her disgust that, rather than offering the usual heroic-fantasy or science-fiction setting, this digital world has been colored in pinks and lavenders. It is stocked with (supposedly) benign magical creatures and hunky male servitors—in general, it seems designed to cater to 10-year-old would-be princesses. The idyll has gone sour, though, because thanks to Emily’s fiddling, not only have the wish-granting sprites turned nasty, but the game’s governing Artificial Intelligence has changed the Rules—disabling the “Quit” function and forcing both Grace and her already-failing sister to embark on a seemingly hopeless quest with their real lives at stake.

Emily’s motives turn out to be little more than a pretext, but the author delivers another clever, suspenseful drama in the digital domain. (Science fiction. 10-12)

Pub Date: July 10, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-547-73850-5

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Harcourt

Review Posted Online: April 12, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2012

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A story about losing yourself in the quest to belong that gets lost in its own telling.

SPURT

Fourteen-year-old Jack Sprigley is different from the rest of his eighth-grade class in one very embarrassing way: he hasn’t hit puberty.

Convinced that being “stranded on Pubeless Island” will cost him his friends, Jack, who is white, concocts a plan to literally fake it until he makes it. This includes saying and doing whatever it takes to persuade his classmates of his manliness, including seizing an opportunity to regain his popularity by appearing on a television show and presenting a new and improved Jack to the world. It’s a tangled web, and in the end, Jack doesn’t even recognize himself. Real-life puberty is awkward enough, but it’s nothing in comparison to Jack’s cringeworthy attempts to convince everyone at school that he belongs. This novel is not for the squeamish. From telling friends that he spent two weeks of school break masturbating incessantly to actually considering wearing a “merkin” made with someone else’s pubic hair, readers will need to have a high tolerance for embarrassing situations. The discomfort overshadows other elements, such as his father’s death, which might have more to do with Jack’s desire to be seen than just a lack of pubic hair. While this vicarious trip through puberty may be so extremely awkward readers’ own journeys can’t help but feel easy by comparison, it’s pretty one-note.

A story about losing yourself in the quest to belong that gets lost in its own telling. (Fiction. 10-12)

Pub Date: Feb. 7, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-4814-7972-1

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Nov. 23, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2016

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