42 MILES

Living separate lives to please her divorced parents, a young girl struggles to define herself. JoEllen’s mother lives in a city apartment while her father lives 42 miles away in a farmhouse. JoEllen (named for both parents) admits “my days . . . are as different as my names.” She spends schooldays with Mom, who calls her “Ellen,” and weekends with Dad, who calls her “Joey.” JoEllen and Mom love takeout. JoEllen and Dad invent their own recipes. In the city, JoEllen plays the sax, watches old movies, wears vintage clothing and works at a secondhand shop with her best friends. At the farm, she trail rides with her cousin, listens to bluegrass, wears work boots and slops out the stable. Split “like an apple’s pale heart / on either side of the blade,” JoEllen decides her two lives need to meet—just in time for her 13th birthday. Embellished with Clayton’s scrapbook-like black-and-white illustrations, the free-verse text traces the hopes and fears of a thoughtful teen who optimistically merges the best of her two lives into an even better “new me.” (Fiction/poetry. 9-12)

Pub Date: April 21, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-618-61867-5

Page Count: 80

Publisher: Clarion Books

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2008

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Poet Alexander deftly reveals the power of the format to pack an emotional punch.

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THE CROSSOVER

Basketball-playing twins find challenges to their relationship on and off the court as they cope with changes in their lives.

Josh Bell and his twin, Jordan, aka JB, are stars of their school basketball team. They are also successful students, since their educator mother will stand for nothing else. As the two middle schoolers move to a successful season, readers can see their differences despite the sibling connection. After all, Josh has dreadlocks and is quiet on court, and JB is bald and a trash talker. Their love of the sport comes from their father, who had also excelled in the game, though his championship was achieved overseas. Now, however, he does not have a job and seems to have health problems the parents do not fully divulge to the boys. The twins experience their first major rift when JB is attracted to a new girl in their school, and Josh finds himself without his brother. This novel in verse is rich in character and relationships. Most interesting is the family dynamic that informs so much of the narrative, which always reveals, never tells. While Josh relates the story, readers get a full picture of major and minor players. The basketball action provides energy and rhythm for a moving story.

Poet Alexander deftly reveals the power of the format to pack an emotional punch. (Verse fiction. 9-12)

Pub Date: March 18, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-544-10771-7

Page Count: 240

Publisher: HMH Books

Review Posted Online: Dec. 18, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2014

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A powerfully candid and soulful account of an immigrant experience.

IN THE BEAUTIFUL COUNTRY

A Taiwanese family tries their luck in America.

In this verse novel, it’s 1980, and nearly 11-year-old Ai Shi and her mother prepare to leave Taipei to join her father in California, where he is pursuing a business opportunity with a friend. The extended family send them off, telling Ai Shi she’s so lucky to go to the “beautiful country”—the literal translation of the Chinese name for the U.S. Once they are reunited with Ba, he reveals that they have instead poured their savings into a restaurant in the remote Los Angeles County town of Duarte. Ma and Ba need to learn to cook American food, but at least, despite a betrayal by Ba’s friend, they have their own business. However, the American dream loses its shine as language barriers, isolation, financial stress, and racism take their toll. Ai Shi internalizes her parents’ disappointment in their new country by staying silent about bullying at school and her own unmet needs. Her letters home to her favorite cousin, Mei, maintain that all is well. After a year of enduring unrelenting challenges, including vandalism by local teens, the family reaches its breaking point. Hope belatedly arrives in the form of community allies and a change of luck. Kuo deftly touches on complex issues, such as the human cost of the history between China and Taiwan as well as the socio-economic prejudices and identity issues within Asian American communities.

A powerfully candid and soulful account of an immigrant experience. (Verse historical fiction. 9-12)

Pub Date: June 28, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-06-311898-0

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Quill Tree Books/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: March 29, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2022

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