Readers will take heart to see this well-realized character learning self-esteem and life skills

SARA AND THE SEARCH FOR NORMAL

How can Sara even try to make friends when she knows in her heart that she’s really what her jeering classmates call her?

Sara, who was diagnosed at 6 with bipolar and anxiety disorders, mild schizophrenia, and depression, lives a mostly solitary life. Though she attends a public school, she’s not mainstreamed. The school believes Sara’s too intellectually gifted to be in a regular special education classroom, so she’s been learning solo. Wracked with self-loathing, she’s obsessed with being “normal.” When her therapist (also her psychiatrist) encourages Sara to join a therapy group for teens with mental illness, Sara makes her first friend ever. Erin has trichotillomania, an anxiety disorder in which she pulls out her own eyebrows and eyelashes, and (unlike nearly silent Sara) she’s gregarious and affectionate. Though Erin and Sara adore one another, they could hardly be more different. Sara is desperate for a cure while Erin insists she has no desire for normalcy. Sara constantly uses slurs to describe herself while Erin’s convinced that they’re special kids: Star Children. Nearly all the characters are white except for one other kid in the group. With multiple encouraging adult mentors who say mostly excellent things about mental health, the educational message is unsubtle, but it’s delivered in a thoroughly compelling vehicle with a tidy but gripping subplot. This prequel to OCDaniel (2016) works just as well as a stand-alone.

Readers will take heart to see this well-realized character learning self-esteem and life skills (. (Fiction. 10-13)

Pub Date: June 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5344-2113-4

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Paula Wiseman/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2020

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Rich and strange (and kitted out with an eye-catching cover), but stronger in the set pieces than the internal logic.

THE SCHOOL FOR GOOD AND EVIL

From the School for Good and Evil series , Vol. 1

Chainani works an elaborate sea change akin to Gregory Maguire’s Wicked (1995), though he leaves the waters muddied.

Every four years, two children, one regarded as particularly nice and the other particularly nasty, are snatched from the village of Gavaldon by the shadowy School Master to attend the divided titular school. Those who survive to graduate become major or minor characters in fairy tales. When it happens to sweet, Disney princess–like Sophie and  her friend Agatha, plain of features, sour of disposition and low of self-esteem, they are both horrified to discover that they’ve been dropped not where they expect but at Evil and at Good respectively. Gradually—too gradually, as the author strings out hundreds of pages of Hogwarts-style pranks, classroom mishaps and competitions both academic and romantic—it becomes clear that the placement wasn’t a mistake at all. Growing into their true natures amid revelations and marked physical changes, the two spark escalating rivalry between the wings of the school. This leads up to a vicious climactic fight that sees Good and Evil repeatedly switching sides. At this point, readers are likely to feel suddenly left behind, as, thanks to summary deus ex machina resolutions, everything turns out swell(ish).

Rich and strange (and kitted out with an eye-catching cover), but stronger in the set pieces than the internal logic. (Fantasy. 11-13)

Pub Date: May 14, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-06-210489-2

Page Count: 496

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Feb. 13, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2013

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Likely to sell in spades but a slipshod, slapdash outing from co-authors who usually have higher standards.

BEST NERDS FOREVER

Two young ghosts with unfinished business in this world join forces.

Eighth grade cyclist Finn McAllister decides to undertake a search for the supposedly crazed driver who forced him off the road and over a cliff to his death, but he spends far more of his time attending his own funeral, hovering near his grieving family and his four besties to overhear conversations, and floating through school—skipping the girls’ restroom because he still has somestandards—and positively hammering on the realization that wasting any of life’s opportunities can only lead to regret. He discovers that he can still taste ice cream, smell farts, skip stones in the local lake, and use a TV remote. He can also share thoughts with both the living and with Isabella Rojas, the ghost of a classmate who vanished several months previously but is still hanging around, although she is not sure why. Eventually, in a massively contrived climax that leaves both souls ready to move on, Finn comes up with a scheme to produce proof of Isabella’s death to bring closure to her mother and also absolves his hit-and-run driver of fault (for a reason readers will see coming). In this outing, the usually dynamic duo throws together an aimless ramble around a set of flimsy mysteries that fail to coalesce. Finn reads as White; Isabella is cued as Latinx. Final illustrations not seen.

Likely to sell in spades but a slipshod, slapdash outing from co-authors who usually have higher standards. (Paranormal fantasy. 10-13)

Pub Date: May 3, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-316-50024-1

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Jimmy Patterson/Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: July 8, 2021

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