A typical Patterson plot significantly elevated by its title character.

JACKY HA-HA

A precocious seventh-grader tries to turn over a new leaf and end her term as the class clown.

It’s New Jersey, 1990, and Jacky Hart is the middle child in a family with six other girls. Attention is hard to come by, but Jacky has earned her fair share by being the endlessly funny member of her large, white family. Unfortunately, Jacky’s teachers do not appreciate this goofball attitude. Jacky joins the school play to channel her talents creatively and discovers a passion for performing, but not all is well. Jacky's mother is overseas as a citizen soldier in the run-up to the first Gulf War, and her lifeguard father is spending way too much time with an attractive female fellow lifeguard. A lot of other things happen too, but this is typical for Patterson. His novels are made or broken not by their plots but by their lead characters, and Jacky is the best yet. Fun, smart, emotionally engaging, Jacky is a character that young readers will love spending time with. Sure, the novel could lose about 100 pages and still tell the same story, but Jacky and her sisters are so endearing readers won't feel the effects of the chubby second and third acts until long after finishing the book, and few will really care. Pop-culture references from the ’90s and the 2010s (for comparison) abound.

A typical Patterson plot significantly elevated by its title character. (Historical fiction. 10-12)

Pub Date: March 21, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-316-26249-1

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Feb. 2, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2016

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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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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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