A nearly pitch-perfect middle school exploration of race and friendship.

NOT YOUR ALL-AMERICAN GIRL

Music, friendship, and the definition of “American” are humorously and realistically explored in this companion to Rosenberg and Shang’s This Is Just a Test (2017).

Sixth grader Lauren and her best friend, Tara, audition for the school musical. A natural-born singer, Lauren has a stunning audition, but the director casts Lauren in the ensemble and blue-eyed, freckle-faced, milky-skinned Tara as the “all-American” lead, implying that Jewish, biracial (Chinese/white) Lauren and her straight, black hair, brown eyes, and tan skin are the opposite. Lauren tries to be supportive of her best friend, but her jealousy and discontent grow as she struggles to process overt and subtle racism at school, in the community, and in media. Lauren’s mostly white friends don’t understand why she’s upset, and even Tara makes off-handedly racist comments. Luckily, Lauren has just discovered a lifeline: the country music of Patsy Cline (even as a case of mistaken spelling leads her to believe “Patsy Klein” is a Jewish country singer). Whether familiar with or new to the Horowitz family, readers will be drawn into Lauren’s first-person narration, filled with witty observations and droll character development. Set in Virginia in 1984, the book weaves accessible and engaging historical markers into the plot. Illustrations of buttons with funny sayings, Lauren’s trademark, punctuate the text, adding a humorous counterpoint. An unnecessary subplot about a theatrical ghost feels tacked on but is easily overlooked. With so many references to singers, musical groups, and songs, readers may wish for a playlist!

A nearly pitch-perfect middle school exploration of race and friendship. (Fiction. 10-13)

Pub Date: July 7, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-338-03776-0

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: May 3, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2020

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The novel’s dryness is mitigated in part by its exploration of immigrant identity, xenophobia, and hate crimes.

COUNT ME IN

Seventh graders Karina Chopra and Chris Daniels live in Houston, Texas, and although they are next-door neighbors, they have different interests and their paths rarely cross.

In fact, Karina, whose family is Indian, doesn’t want to be friends with Chris, whose family is white, because the boys he hangs out with are mean to her. Things change when Karina’s immigrant paternal grandfather, Papa, moves in with Karina’s family. Papa begins tutoring Chris in math, and, as a result, Chris and Karina begin spending time with each other. Karina even comes to realize that Chris is not at all like the rest of his friends and that she should give him a second chance. One day, when Karina, Papa, and Chris are walking home from school, something terrible happens: They are assaulted by a stranger who calls Papa a Muslim terrorist, and he is badly injured. The children find themselves wanting to speak out for Papa and for other first-generation Americans like him. Narrated by Karina and Chris in alternate chapters, Bajaj’s novel gives readers varied and valuable perspectives of what it means to be first- and third-generation Indian Americans in an increasingly diverse nation. Unfortunately, however, Bajaj’s characters are quite bland, and the present-tense narrative voices of the preteen protagonists lack both distinction and authenticity.

The novel’s dryness is mitigated in part by its exploration of immigrant identity, xenophobia, and hate crimes. (Fiction. 10-13)

Pub Date: Aug. 27, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-51724-5

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Nancy Paulsen Books

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2019

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An uplifting sequel told with heart and humor.

MERCI SUÁREZ CAN'T DANCE

Merci returns for another year of challenges and triumphs at home and at Seaward Pines Academy.

Life is a little different for Merci Suárez in seventh grade. Her older brother, Roli, is off at college; her grandfather Lolo’s Alzheimer’s is more pronounced; and she has to regularly babysit her Tía Inés’ spirited young twins. Merci is also assigned to manage the school store with math whiz Wilson Bellevue, a quiet classmate who she realizes is not obnoxious like other boys. When Merci and Wilson are expected to sell tickets to the Valentine’s Day Heart Ball, she must interact with a slightly-less-mean Edna Santos, who’s running the dance and unexpectedly getting closer to Hannah, one of Merci’s best friends. Medina continues to tenderly explore issues such as multigenerational immigrant family dynamics, managing the responsibilities of home and school, and learning how to navigate changing friendships and first crushes. Merci’s maturity and growth are as engaging and compelling as they were in the author’s Newbery Medal winner, Merci Suárez Changes Gears (2018). The cast is broadly diverse; Merci and her family are Cuban American, Edna is Dominican, and Creole and Cajun Wilson has a physical disability.

An uplifting sequel told with heart and humor. (Fiction. 9-13)

Pub Date: April 6, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-7636-9050-2

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Candlewick

Review Posted Online: Jan. 12, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2021

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Wholesome shading to bland, but well-stocked with exotic creatures and locales, plus an agreeable cast headed by a child...

KEEPER OF THE LOST CITIES

A San Diego preteen learns that she’s an elf, with a place in magic school if she moves to the elves’ hidden realm.

Having felt like an outsider since a knock on the head at age 5 left her able to read minds, Sophie is thrilled when hunky teen stranger Fitz convinces her that she’s not human at all and transports her to the land of Lumenaria, where the ageless elves live. Taken in by a loving couple who run a sanctuary for extinct and mythical animals, Sophie quickly gathers friends and rivals at Foxfire, a distinctly Hogwarts-style school. She also uncovers both clues to her mysterious origins and hints that a rash of strangely hard-to-quench wildfires back on Earth are signs of some dark scheme at work. Though Messenger introduces several characters with inner conflicts and ambiguous agendas, Sophie herself is more simply drawn as a smart, radiant newcomer who unwillingly becomes the center of attention while developing what turn out to be uncommonly powerful magical abilities—reminiscent of the younger Harry Potter, though lacking that streak of mischievousness that rescues Harry from seeming a little too perfect. The author puts her through a kidnapping and several close brushes with death before leaving her poised, amid hints of a higher destiny and still-anonymous enemies, for sequels.

Wholesome shading to bland, but well-stocked with exotic creatures and locales, plus an agreeable cast headed by a child who, while overly fond of screaming, rises to every challenge. (Fantasy. 10-12)

Pub Date: Oct. 2, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-4424-4593-2

Page Count: 496

Publisher: Aladdin

Review Posted Online: July 18, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2012

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