An inventive, funny, and multilayered adventure.

THE ASCENDER

A middle school boy must solve the puzzle of why reality keeps getting rewritten in this novel.

The wave, as 12-year-old Billy Magnusson terms it, periodically hits him with a dizzying force, causing quaking that rattles “his bones” and a “jarring buzz in his ears.” Afterward, he finds that the world has changed in ways that only Billy remembers. Also dislocating are his family’s frequent moves; Billy’s father, a visionary inventor, works for the military. At his new school, Billy joins the Ascension Club, which is organized around a fascinating role-playing game. To Billy’s surprise, the club’s quirky members also remember changes after the wave, which they call the Mandela Effect since—it turns out—thousands of people remember a different outcome to the African statesman’s story. The surprises keep coming, as the wave brings Billy a brand new 8-year-old brother who’s being studied by a sinister government doctor. Further, it seems that a secret agency has been meddling with the Mandela Effect and, in the process, has erased a genius scientist from history. Now, with the help of his father, a game designer, a quantum computer, and a teleporter, Billy must set things right. Pacelli skillfully sets these remarkable events alongside the sometimes-melodramatic emotions and rivalries of middle school. While the science is complex and challenging, the story doesn’t forget its characters. These are well portrayed; for example, the Ascension Club members don’t fit into standard slots like nerd or jock, and adults aren’t clueless, as is often stereotypical in middle school novels. It’s somewhat problematic, though, that Billy’s avid interest in a pretty classmate often seems too advanced for a boy of 12: “She’d ruin his life if he let her.” That aside, the tale offers a fast-paced plot that’s absolutely bursting with ideas and will keep amazing readers.

An inventive, funny, and multilayered adventure.

Pub Date: March 10, 2020

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 227

Publisher: Gypsy Shadow Publishing

Review Posted Online: April 27, 2020

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Is this the end? Well, no…the series will stagger on through at least one more scheduled sequel.

CAPTAIN UNDERPANTS AND THE TERRIFYING RETURN OF TIPPY TINKLETROUSERS

From the Captain Underpants series , Vol. 9

Sure signs that the creative wells are running dry at last, the Captain’s ninth, overstuffed outing both recycles a villain (see Book 4) and offers trendy anti-bullying wish fulfillment.

Not that there aren’t pranks and envelope-pushing quips aplenty. To start, in an alternate ending to the previous episode, Principal Krupp ends up in prison (“…a lot like being a student at Jerome Horwitz Elementary School, except that the prison had better funding”). There, he witnesses fellow inmate Tippy Tinkletrousers (aka Professor Poopypants) escape in a giant Robo-Suit (later reduced to time-traveling trousers). The villain sets off after George and Harold, who are in juvie (“not much different from our old school…except that they have library books here.”). Cut to five years previous, in a prequel to the whole series. George and Harold link up in kindergarten to reduce a quartet of vicious bullies to giggling insanity with a relentless series of pranks involving shaving cream, spiders, effeminate spoof text messages and friendship bracelets. Pilkey tucks both topical jokes and bathroom humor into the cartoon art, and ups the narrative’s lexical ante with terms like “pharmaceuticals” and “theatrical flair.” Unfortunately, the bullies’ sad fates force Krupp to resign, so he’s not around to save the Earth from being destroyed later on by Talking Toilets and other invaders…

Is this the end? Well, no…the series will stagger on through at least one more scheduled sequel. (Fantasy. 10-12)

Pub Date: Aug. 28, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-545-17534-0

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: June 20, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2012

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TIME VILLAINS

From the Time Villains series , Vol. 1

Historical guests come to dinner and chaos ensues in this uproarious debut.

Twelve-year-old Javier Santiago’s not doing so well at Finistere, his slightly cool, slightly weird semi-castle of a school in suburban Maryland. He’s at risk of failing sixth grade and falling behind his brainiac, history-obsessed best friend, Wiki. Then comes the annual all-school project: invite three guests, living or dead, to dinner, then write an essay. For a budding chef like Javi, that’s a piece of cake. Trouble arises when Javi uses his family’s magical antique dining room table to accidentally pull his guests into the present day, including the infamous Blackbeard, who escapes before he can be sent back in time. Blackbeard wants to use the table to summon his fearsome crew and enact his plans to take over the modern world. Worse yet, the dreadful pirate is hilariously popping up all over Finistere, working as the school groundskeeper to ensure the success of his sinister plans. With the help of Brady, Javi’s tough-as-nails younger sister, the boys work to take down Blackbeard while uncovering the school’s mysterious secrets. Featuring a diverse cast led by the Puerto Rican siblings and Haitian American Wiki, grand doses of humor, and an irreverent take on some of history’s well-known figures, Piñeiro's book scores with this tale of friendship, magic, and adventure. A breakneck pace and Javi’s colorful narration hold things together as the thrilling zaniness piles up.

Magnificent. (list of characters) (Fantasy. 8-12)

Pub Date: July 6, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-72823-049-8

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Sourcebooks Young Readers

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2021

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Poignant, respectful, and historically accurate while pulsating with emotional turmoil, adventure, and suspense.

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REFUGEE

In the midst of political turmoil, how do you escape the only country that you’ve ever known and navigate a new life? Parallel stories of three different middle school–aged refugees—Josef from Nazi Germany in 1938, Isabel from 1994 Cuba, and Mahmoud from 2015 Aleppo—eventually intertwine for maximum impact.

Three countries, three time periods, three brave protagonists. Yet these three refugee odysseys have so much in common. Each traverses a landscape ruled by a dictator and must balance freedom, family, and responsibility. Each initially leaves by boat, struggles between visibility and invisibility, copes with repeated obstacles and heart-wrenching loss, and gains resilience in the process. Each third-person narrative offers an accessible look at migration under duress, in which the behavior of familiar adults changes unpredictably, strangers exploit the vulnerabilities of transients, and circumstances seem driven by random luck. Mahmoud eventually concludes that visibility is best: “See us….Hear us. Help us.” With this book, Gratz accomplishes a feat that is nothing short of brilliant, offering a skillfully wrought narrative laced with global and intergenerational reverberations that signal hope for the future. Excellent for older middle grade and above in classrooms, book groups, and/or communities looking to increase empathy for new and existing arrivals from afar.

Poignant, respectful, and historically accurate while pulsating with emotional turmoil, adventure, and suspense. (maps, author’s note) (Historical fiction. 10-14)

Pub Date: July 25, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-545-88083-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: May 10, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2017

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