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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Rich and strange (and kitted out with an eye-catching cover), but stronger in the set pieces than the internal logic.

THE SCHOOL FOR GOOD AND EVIL

From the School for Good and Evil series , Vol. 1

Chainani works an elaborate sea change akin to Gregory Maguire’s Wicked (1995), though he leaves the waters muddied.

Every four years, two children, one regarded as particularly nice and the other particularly nasty, are snatched from the village of Gavaldon by the shadowy School Master to attend the divided titular school. Those who survive to graduate become major or minor characters in fairy tales. When it happens to sweet, Disney princess–like Sophie and  her friend Agatha, plain of features, sour of disposition and low of self-esteem, they are both horrified to discover that they’ve been dropped not where they expect but at Evil and at Good respectively. Gradually—too gradually, as the author strings out hundreds of pages of Hogwarts-style pranks, classroom mishaps and competitions both academic and romantic—it becomes clear that the placement wasn’t a mistake at all. Growing into their true natures amid revelations and marked physical changes, the two spark escalating rivalry between the wings of the school. This leads up to a vicious climactic fight that sees Good and Evil repeatedly switching sides. At this point, readers are likely to feel suddenly left behind, as, thanks to summary deus ex machina resolutions, everything turns out swell(ish).

Rich and strange (and kitted out with an eye-catching cover), but stronger in the set pieces than the internal logic. (Fantasy. 11-13)

Pub Date: May 14, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-06-210489-2

Page Count: 496

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Feb. 13, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2013

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Problem-solving through perseverance and friendship is the real win in this deeply smart and inspiring story.

SWIM TEAM

Leaving Brooklyn behind, Black math-whiz and puzzle lover Bree starts a new life in Florida, where she’ll be tossed into the deep end in more ways than one. Keeping her head above water may be the trickiest puzzle yet.

While her dad is busy working and training in IT, Bree struggles at first to settle into Enith Brigitha Middle School, largely due to the school’s preoccupation with swimming—from the accomplishments of its namesake, a Black Olympian from Curaçao, to its near victory at the state swimming championships. But Bree can’t swim. To illustrate her anxiety around this fact, the graphic novel’s bright colors give way to gray thought bubbles with thick, darkened outlines expressing Bree’s deepest fears and doubts. This poignant visual crowds some panels just as anxious feelings can crowd the thoughts of otherwise star students like Bree. Ultimately, learning to swim turns out to be easy enough with the help of a kind older neighbor—a Black woman with a competitive swimming past of her own as well as a rich and bittersweet understanding of Black Americans’ relationship with swimming—who explains to Bree how racist obstacles of the past can become collective anxiety in the present. To her surprise, Bree, with her newfound water skills, eventually finds herself on the school’s swim team, navigating competition, her anxiety, and new, meaningful relationships.

Problem-solving through perseverance and friendship is the real win in this deeply smart and inspiring story. (Graphic fiction. 10-13)

Pub Date: May 17, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-06-305677-0

Page Count: 256

Publisher: HarperAlley

Review Posted Online: March 2, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2022

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