A lexical story of emotional evolution.

WORSER

A standoffish human thesaurus learns lessons beyond his hallowed knowledge of words.

Following his widowed mother’s stroke, bookish seventh grader William “Worser” Orser is obligated to endure his artistic, emotional aunt as caretaker for them both. If life at home before was sensibly beige, now it’s obnoxiously purple. His one haven is the school library, where he avoids people and develops his Masterwork, an over-300-page lexicon (he is truly the child of professors). When the library hours are restricted by budget cuts, he relocates to a secondhand bookshop. Happily, his new refuge allows him to help his crush, Donya Khoury, who is desperate for a literary club meeting space. Joining the club by default, Worser feels needed and appreciated and avoids having to see his aunt, her dreadful cats, and (guiltily) his mother’s severely altered state. But nothing is forever. He must face change and learn that etymological accuracy isn’t directly proportionate to compassionate communication. Worser is abrupt and precise with his words, but this wonderfully layered story unfolds its many facets gently: finding refuge, garnering peer appreciation, questioning the way things were, and facing the toll of untreated trauma. Worser reads as White; Donya is presumably of Middle Eastern heritage, and the literary club seamlessly includes racial diversity and queer representation. The author has developed her main character so well it’s hard to believe it’s not biography—but it can certainly pass as the most entertaining New York Times crossword artillery you’ll ever read.

A lexical story of emotional evolution. (Fiction. 9-12)

Pub Date: March 15, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-8234-4956-9

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Margaret Ferguson/Holiday House

Review Posted Online: Dec. 24, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2022

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NIGHTBIRD

There’s a monster in Sidwell, Massachusetts, that can only be seen at night or, as Twig reveals, if passersby are near her house.

It’s her older brother, James, born with wings just like every male in the Fowler line for the last 200 years. They were cursed by the Witch of Sidwell, left brokenhearted by their forebear Lowell Fowler. Twig and James are tired of the secret and self-imposed isolation. Lonely Twig narrates, bringing the small town and its characters to life, intertwining events present and past, and describing the effects of the spell on her fractured family’s daily life. Longing for some normalcy and companionship, she befriends new-neighbor Julia while James falls in love with Julia’s sister, Agate—only to learn they are descendants of the Witch. James and Agate seem as star-crossed as their ancestors, especially when the townspeople attribute a spate of petty thefts and graffiti protesting the development of the woods to the monster and launch a hunt. The mix of romance and magic is irresistible and the tension, compelling. With the help of friends and through a series of self-realizations and discoveries, Twig grows more self-assured. She is certain she knows how to change the curse. In so doing, Twig not only changes James’ fate, but her own, for the first time feeling the fullness of family, friends and hope for the future.

Enchanting. (Magical realism. 9-12)

Pub Date: March 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-385-38958-7

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Wendy Lamb/Random

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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A deftly told story that dramatizes how Danes appointed themselves bodyguards—not only for their king, who was in the habit...

NUMBER THE STARS

The author of the Anastasia books as well as more serious fiction (Rabble Starkey, 1987) offers her first historical fiction—a story about the escape of the Jews from Denmark in 1943.

Five years younger than Lisa in Carol Matas' Lisa's War (1989), Annemarie Johansen has, at 10, known three years of Nazi occupation. Though ever cautious and fearful of the ubiquitous soldiers, she is largely unaware of the extent of the danger around her; the Resistance kept even its participants safer by telling them as little as possible, and Annemarie has never been told that her older sister Lise died in its service. When the Germans plan to round up the Jews, the Johansens take in Annemarie's friend, Ellen Rosen, and pretend she is their daughter; later, they travel to Uncle Hendrik's house on the coast, where the Rosens and other Jews are transported by fishing boat to Sweden. Apart from Lise's offstage death, there is little violence here; like Annemarie, the reader is protected from the full implications of events—but will be caught up in the suspense and menace of several encounters with soldiers and in Annemarie's courageous run as courier on the night of the escape. The book concludes with the Jews' return, after the war, to homes well kept for them by their neighbors.

A deftly told story that dramatizes how Danes appointed themselves bodyguards—not only for their king, who was in the habit of riding alone in Copenhagen, but for their Jews. (Historical fiction. 9-12)

Pub Date: April 1, 1989

ISBN: 0547577095

Page Count: 156

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Oct. 17, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 1989

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