UNDERCURRENTS

A great cover, a creepy gardener-cum-madman and a maddeningly clueless, nervous, blond young stepmother (shades of Joan Fontaine) combine a gothic story with a contemporary teen problem novel—but the resulting mystery is far too easily resolved. When her mother dies after a prolonged and devastating illness (chronicled in the first chapter), Nikki’s father marries the young illustrator of a book he is editing. Nikki’s resentment of her new stepmother quickly gives way to grudging protectiveness as Crystal shows herself incapable of self-assertion in the face of Nikki’s bull-headed father. Shortly after the wedding, Crystal inherits a house on the Northern California coast, and over Crystal’s objections, Nikki’s dad insists on moving his family to the beach for the summer. Here, Crystal’s unspoken fear of something dreadful in her past causes alarming nightmares, and Nikki’s impromptu job as secretarial assistant to the gruff owner of a neighboring beach house puts her in proximity to Bruce, the weird resident gardener. As the plot begins to thicken, lightning conveniently burns down the neighboring house—the very house, Crystal finally reveals, where Bruce brutally murdered her entire family when she was a small child. The gardener escapes the fire, however, leaving the reader to wonder about the chilling words Crystal speaks to Nikki in the novel’s last paragraph: “He’ll find you, Nikki,” she says. Though she’s ostensibly talking about Nikki’s budding summer romance with the neighbor’s son, cut short by the fire, the reader can only hope that no sequel is in the works. (Fiction. 11-14)

Pub Date: March 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-689-81671-5

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Atheneum

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2002

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A sly, side-splitting hoot from start to finish.

THE MECHANICAL MIND OF JOHN COGGIN

The dreary prospect of spending a lifetime making caskets instead of wonderful inventions prompts a young orphan to snatch up his little sister and flee. Where? To the circus, of course.

Fortunately or otherwise, John and 6-year-old Page join up with Boz—sometime human cannonball for the seedy Wandering Wayfarers and a “vertically challenged” trickster with a fantastic gift for sowing chaos. Alas, the budding engineer barely has time to settle in to begin work on an experimental circus wagon powered by chicken poop and dubbed (with questionable forethought) the Autopsy. The hot pursuit of malign and indomitable Great-Aunt Beauregard, the Coggins’ only living relative, forces all three to leave the troupe for further flights and misadventures. Teele spins her adventure around a sturdy protagonist whose love for his little sister is matched only by his fierce desire for something better in life for them both and tucks in an outstanding supporting cast featuring several notably strong-minded, independent women (Page, whose glare “would kill spiders dead,” not least among them). Better yet, in Boz she has created a scene-stealing force of nature, a free spirit who’s never happier than when he’s stirring up mischief. A climactic clutch culminating in a magnificently destructive display of fireworks leaves the Coggin sibs well-positioned for bright futures. (Illustrations not seen.)

A sly, side-splitting hoot from start to finish. (Adventure. 11-13)

Pub Date: April 12, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-06-234510-3

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Walden Pond Press/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2016

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RAMONA'S WORLD

Ramona returns (Ramona Forever, 1988, etc.), and she’s as feisty as ever, now nine-going-on-ten (or “zeroteen,” as she calls it). Her older sister Beezus is in high school, baby-sitting, getting her ears pierced, and going to her first dance, and now they have a younger baby sister, Roberta. Cleary picks up on all the details of fourth grade, from comparing hand calluses to the distribution of little plastic combs by the school photographer. This year Ramona is trying to improve her spelling, and Cleary is especially deft at limning the emotional nuances as Ramona fails and succeeds, goes from sad to happy, and from hurt to proud. The grand finale is Ramona’s birthday party in the park, complete with a cake frosted in whipped cream. Despite a brief mention of nose piercing, Cleary’s writing still reflects a secure middle-class family and untroubled school life, untouched by the classroom violence or the broken families of the 1990s. While her book doesn’t match what’s in the newspapers, it’s a timeless, serene alternative for children, especially those with less than happy realities. (Fiction. 8-12)

Pub Date: Aug. 25, 1999

ISBN: 0-688-16816-7

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1999

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