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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KEVIN AND HIS DAD

There is something profoundly elemental going on in Smalls’s book: the capturing of a moment of unmediated joy. It’s not melodramatic, but just a Saturday in which an African-American father and son immerse themselves in each other’s company when the woman of the house is away. Putting first things first, they tidy up the house, with an unheralded sense of purpose motivating their actions: “Then we clean, clean, clean the windows,/wipe, wipe, wash them right./My dad shines in the windows’ light.” When their work is done, they head for the park for some batting practice, then to the movies where the boy gets to choose between films. After a snack, they work their way homeward, racing each other, doing a dance step or two, then “Dad takes my hand and slows down./I understand, and we slow down./It’s a long, long walk./We have a quiet talk and smile.” Smalls treats the material without pretense, leaving it guileless and thus accessible to readers. Hays’s artwork is wistful and idyllic, just as this day is for one small boy. (Picture book. 5-8)

Pub Date: April 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-316-79899-1

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 1999

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Rich, complex, and confidently voiced.

THE LINE TENDER

Lucy finds solace in her late mother’s passion for shark biology during a summer that brings a new grief.

First-person narrator Lucy and neighbor Fred are compiling a field guide to animals they find near their Rockport, Massachusetts, home. Lucy is the artist, Fred the scientist, and their lifelong friendship is only just hinting that it could become something more. Lucy’s mother, who died of a brain aneurysm when Lucy was 7, five years earlier in 1991, was a recognized shark biologist; her father is a police diver. When a great white is snagged by a local fisherman—a family friend—video footage of an interview with Lucy’s mother surfaces on the news, and Lucy longs to know more. But then another loved one dies, drowned in a quarry accident, and it is Lucy’s father who recovers the body—in their small community it seems everyone is grappling with the pain. Lucy’s persistence in learning about the anatomy of sharks in order to draw them is a kind of homage to those she’s lost. Most of the characters are white; a marine scientist woman of color and protégée of Lucy’s mother plays a key role. Allen offers, through Lucy’s voice, a look at the intersection of art, science, friendship, and love in a way that is impressively nuanced and realistic while offering the reassurance of connection.

Rich, complex, and confidently voiced. (Historical fiction. 11-14)

Pub Date: April 16, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-7352-3160-3

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Dutton

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2019

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