A crowd-pleasing reminder that kindness pays.


Previously a “blender,” Piper Milly finds a way to shine in a school full of would-be stars.

Piper’s father’s new job is choral director at Chumley Prep, a tony independent school where everyone’s an achiever. It comes with full tuition for Piper, who’s now able to attend the school where her deceased mother once shone. Feeling out of place and extremely untalented in this new, more competitive world, seventh grader Piper eventually finds friends and discovers that her empathy and willingness to help others make her stellar, too. She even finds it possible to do something nice for the classmate who has made fun of her and her father from their very first encounter. From a characterization standpoint, Piper’s enthusiasm for astronomy helps her stand out as a protagonist in this novel about finding one’s place in middle school, but her nemesis, Ainsley Braden-Hammerschmidt, is drawn as an all-too-familiar arrogant child of privilege. The puzzle here is more subtle than in some of co-author Chris Grabenstein’s previous Mr. Lemoncello books: There’s a new prize at Chumley Prep, the Excelsior Award; every student hopes to win it, but no one knows quite how. A subplot involving a teacher who hasn’t gotten over her resentment of Piper’s mother seems extraneous, but there’s plenty of believable dialogue and humor. The cast is default white; Piper’s friends have names representative of different cultures and are gratifyingly quirky.

A crowd-pleasing reminder that kindness pays. (Fiction. 10-13)

Pub Date: Nov. 5, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-5247-1766-7

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Aug. 12, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2019

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Wholesome shading to bland, but well-stocked with exotic creatures and locales, plus an agreeable cast headed by a child...


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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Energizing and compassionate.


An aspiring transgender Junior Olympian swimmer finds the strength and pride in his identity to race toward his dreams in this debut coming-of-age novel by groundbreaking trans athlete Bailar.

Starting over after his abusive and discriminatory swim coach excluded him from the team, Obie Chang, a biracial (White/Korean) transgender boy worries about catching up to the other boys and proving that he is “man enough.” Although his family supports him, one of his best friends at school and the pool has turned into his biggest bully, and the other is drifting away toward the mean, popular girls. As he dives from the blocks into the challenging waters of seventh grade and swims toward his goal of qualifying for the Junior Olympics, Obie discovers belonging in his community and in himself. Affirming adults—including his parents and grandparents, a new swim coach, and his favorite teacher—play significant supporting roles by offering encouragement without pressure, centering Obie’s feelings, and validating Obie’s right to set his own boundaries. Vulnerable first-person narration explores Obie’s internal conflict about standing up for himself and his desire to connect to his Korean heritage through his relationship with Halmoni, his paternal grandmother. A romance with Charlie, a cisgender biracial (Cuban/White) girl, is gentle and privacy-affirming. Short chapters and the steady pace of external tension balance moments of rumination, grounding them in the ongoing action of Obie’s experiences.

Energizing and compassionate. (author's note, resources, glossary) (Fiction. 10-13)

Pub Date: Sept. 7, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-37946-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: July 8, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2021

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