Readers will take heart to see this well-realized character learning self-esteem and life skills

READ REVIEW

SARA AND THE SEARCH FOR NORMAL

How can Sara even try to make friends when she knows in her heart that she’s really what her jeering classmates call her?

Sara, who was diagnosed at 6 with bipolar and anxiety disorders, mild schizophrenia, and depression, lives a mostly solitary life. Though she attends a public school, she’s not mainstreamed. The school believes Sara’s too intellectually gifted to be in a regular special education classroom, so she’s been learning solo. Wracked with self-loathing, she’s obsessed with being “normal.” When her therapist (also her psychiatrist) encourages Sara to join a therapy group for teens with mental illness, Sara makes her first friend ever. Erin has trichotillomania, an anxiety disorder in which she pulls out her own eyebrows and eyelashes, and (unlike nearly silent Sara) she’s gregarious and affectionate. Though Erin and Sara adore one another, they could hardly be more different. Sara is desperate for a cure while Erin insists she has no desire for normalcy. Sara constantly uses slurs to describe herself while Erin’s convinced that they’re special kids: Star Children. Nearly all the characters are white except for one other kid in the group. With multiple encouraging adult mentors who say mostly excellent things about mental health, the educational message is unsubtle, but it’s delivered in a thoroughly compelling vehicle with a tidy but gripping subplot. This prequel to OCDaniel (2016) works just as well as a stand-alone.

Readers will take heart to see this well-realized character learning self-esteem and life skills . (Fiction. 10-13)

Pub Date: May 5, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5344-2113-4

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Paula Wiseman/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2020

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The dice are rolling readers’ way in this third outing.

SUNNY ROLLS THE DICE

From the Sunny series , Vol. 3

Sunny, in seventh grade, finds her score on the Groovy Meter taking some wild swings as her friends’ interests move in different directions.

In a motif that haunts her throughout, Sunny succumbs to a teen magazine’s personality quiz and sees her tally seesaw radically. Her BF Deb has suddenly switched focus to boys, clothes, and bands such as the Bee Gees (this is 1977)—dismissing trick-or-treating and wearing galoshes on rainy days as “babyish.” Meanwhile, Sunny takes delight in joining nerdy neighbors Lev, Brian, and Arun in regular sessions of Dungeons and Dragons (as a fighter character, so cool). The storytelling is predominantly visual in this episodic outing, with just occasional snatches of dialogue and pithy labels to fill in details or mark the passage of time; frequent reaction shots deftly capture Sunny’s feelings of being pulled this way and that. Tellingly, in the Holms’ panels (colored by Pien), Sunny’s depicted as significantly smaller than Deb, visually underscoring her developmental awkwardness. Deb’s comment that “we’re too old to be playing games like that” leads Sunny to drop out of the D&D circle and even go to the school’s staggeringly dull spring dance. Sunny’s mostly white circle of peers expands and becomes more diverse as she continues to navigate her way through the dark chambers and misty passages of early adolescence. Lev is an Orthodox Jew, Arun is South Asian, and Regina, another female friend, has brown skin.

The dice are rolling readers’ way in this third outing. (Graphic historical fiction. 10-12)

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-338-23314-8

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Graphix/Scholastic

Review Posted Online: June 23, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2019

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However tried and true, the Harry Potter–esque elements and set pieces don’t keep this cumbersome coming-of-age tale afloat,...

EXILE

From the Keeper of the Lost Cities series , Vol. 2

Full-blown middle-volume-itis leaves this continuation of the tale of a teenage elf who has been genetically modified for so-far undisclosed purposes dead in the water.

As the page count burgeons, significant plot developments slow to a trickle. Thirteen-year-old Sophie manifests yet more magical powers while going head-to-head with hostile members of the Lost Cities Council and her own adoptive elvin father, Grady, over whether the clandestine Black Swan cabal, her apparent creators and (in the previous episode) kidnappers, are allies or enemies. Messenger tries to lighten the tone by dressing Sophie and her classmates at the Hogwarts-ian Foxfire Academy as mastodons for a silly opening ceremony and by having her care for an alicorn—a winged unicorn so magnificent that even its poop sparkles. It’s not enough; two sad memorial services, a trip to a dreary underground prison, a rash of adult characters succumbing to mental breakdowns and a frequently weepy protagonist who is increasingly shunned as “the girl who was taken” give the tale a soggy texture. Also, despite several cryptic clues and a late attack by hooded figures, neither the identity nor the agenda of the Black Swan comes closer to being revealed.

However tried and true, the Harry Potter–esque elements and set pieces don’t keep this cumbersome coming-of-age tale afloat, much less under way. (Fantasy 10-12)

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-4424-4596-3

Page Count: 576

Publisher: Simon Pulse/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: July 17, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2013

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