ANY SMALL GOODNESS

Sweet as Mexican dulces, here’s an episodic story about life in the Los Angeles barrio. Picture-book veteran Johnston (Uncle Rain Cloud, not reviewed, etc.) presents her first novel for children, and what a treat it is. Arturo’s close-knit family, who arrived from Mexico only three years ago, stands together against the ugliness of the world. “In L.A. there’s bad. Druggies. Gangs. Thieves, lifting stuff from houses like army ants.” But as Arturo’s father says, “In life there is bueno and there is malo. If you do not find enough of the good, you must yourself create it.” Vivid, poetic language liberally spiced with Spanish introduces a cast of supporting characters who all in their own ways work to create good, including Leo Love, who returns the family’s beloved cat when she gets lost; “Coach Tree,” an unidentified retired NBA player who becomes assistant coach to Arturo’s basketball team; and Ms. Cloud, the librarian who puts just the right books into the children’s hands. When a drive-by shooting threatens all that these people have done, Arturo takes it upon himself to create more good. His personal growth is marked in the opening and closing moments: at the first, he takes back his name from a teacher who tries to “gringo-ize” it; at the last, he works to take the barrio back from the chaos within it. Arturo’s narration is by turns wise, witty, and heart-breakingly innocent. Good spirit pervades this narrative, just like the aroma of Abuelita’s chiles rellenos. ¡Maravilloso! (glossary, not seen) (Fiction. 9-13)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-439-18936-5

Page Count: 128

Publisher: Blue Sky/Scholastic

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2001

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A pitch-perfect middle-grade novel that insightfully explores timely topics with authenticity and warmth.

EACH TINY SPARK

A nuanced novel about a neurodiverse preteen’s political and social awakening by a Pura Belpré Honor–winning author.

Sixth grader Emilia Rosa Torres sometimes has a hard time keeping up with schoolwork and concentrating on one thing at a time, but her software-developer mother and superinvolved abuelita help her keep on task. Days before her father’s return to their Atlanta suburb from his most recent deployment, her mother goes on a business trip, leaving the middle schooler to juggle his mood swings, her friend troubles, and her looming assignments all on her own. When a social studies project opens her eyes to injustices past and present, Emilia begins to find her voice and use it to make an impact on her community. Writing with sensitivity and respectful complexity, Cartaya tackles weighty issues, such as immigration, PTSD, and microaggressions, through the lens of a budding tinkerer and activist who has ADHD. The members of this Cuban American family don’t all practice the same religion, with Emilia’s Catholic grandmother faithfully attending Mass multiple times a week and the protagonist’s mother celebrating her culture’s Yoruba roots with Santería. Conversations on race and gender crop up through the narrative as Emilia’s grandmother likes to emphasize her family’s European heritage—Emilia can pass as white, with her fair complexion, light eyes and auburn hair. All of these larger issues are effortlessly woven in with skill and humor, as is the Spanish her family easily mixes with English.

A pitch-perfect middle-grade novel that insightfully explores timely topics with authenticity and warmth. (author’s note) (Fiction. 9-12)

Pub Date: Aug. 6, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-451-47972-3

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Kokila

Review Posted Online: April 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2019

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An introduction to teen social and emotional issues that takes care not to delve too deeply into the darker side of things.

THE PERFECT SCORE

From the Perfect Score series , Vol. 1

Middle school students contend with standardized tests.

Flawed and gifted in equal amounts, Natalie, Randi, Trevor, Mark, Gavin, and Scott, whether they know it or not, are all looking for solutions. Multiple points of view within the conceit of an investigation of a standardized-test cheating scheme focus on each student’s personal, social, and familial issues, tackled in different ways with support from their teachers and friends. However, many of the fixes are formulaic or temporary—for example, though they’ve made friendships or improved in reading, there are no plans in place for the kids with behavioral or learning disorders—and readers will have to think outside of the book and past the happy ending to realize that the problems haven’t been fully solved. While the negative impact of standardized tests on students is addressed provocatively, the sometimes-facile treatment of other problems—an abusive brother, parental judgement and criticism, relative poverty, ethical conundrums, friendlessness, dyslexia, impulse control—lends the book a superficial air. (Race is not an issue explored, as the book seems to subscribe to the white default.) Still, readers will be drawn in by the lively voices and eventful lives of these likable and engaging students and may gain some insight and empathy into the plights of others.

An introduction to teen social and emotional issues that takes care not to delve too deeply into the darker side of things. (Fiction. 9-12)

Pub Date: Oct. 3, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-101-93825-6

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: July 15, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2017

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