Underscores the importance of personal stories.

THE MANY MEANINGS OF MEILAN

Twelve-year-old Meilan is a gifted storyteller, but she’s unprepared for the chain of unfortunate events unleashed by a bedtime story she invents.

After her cousin asks how the Golden Phoenix, their Taiwanese American family’s bakery, got its name, Meilan spins an imaginative tale. Before long, there are squabbles over money, the business is sold, and Meilan, her parents, and her recently widowed grandfather are leaving Boston. Moving to mostly White Redbud, Ohio, exposes Meilan to microaggressions that begin when the school principal dubs her “Melanie” after mentioning Disney’s Mulan in reference to her name. Meilan’s alienation and dislocation compel her to reframe her familial narrative using various interpretations of her original name, inspiring the overlay of a Chinese fairy-tale world in which a fox demon, a snake sprite, and a household ghost co-exist with a phoenix, a tree spirit, superstitions, and adages spelled out in tone-marked Hanyu Pinyin. Meanwhile, Meilan’s red Doc Martens and newfound friends, with whom she weathers a tornado, evoke a quintessential American tale associated with homecoming. The dizzying array of imagery and references reflect this work’s ambitious scope and its not entirely successful attempt to weave together multiple conceits amid explicit efforts to tackle racism as the protagonist makes a new home and finds her chosen family. Unfortunately, the story’s important messages are weakened by haphazard pacing, and readers may struggle to follow the logic of Meilan’s internal monologues.

Underscores the importance of personal stories. (author’s note, glossary, further reading) (Fiction. 8-12)

Pub Date: Aug. 17, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-11128-4

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Kokila

Review Posted Online: June 1, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2021

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Readers can still rely on this series to bring laughs.

WRECKING BALL

From the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series , Vol. 14

The Heffley family’s house undergoes a disastrous attempt at home improvement.

When Great Aunt Reba dies, she leaves some money to the family. Greg’s mom calls a family meeting to determine what to do with their share, proposing home improvements and then overruling the family’s cartoonish wish lists and instead pushing for an addition to the kitchen. Before bringing in the construction crew, the Heffleys attempt to do minor maintenance and repairs themselves—during which Greg fails at the work in various slapstick scenes. Once the professionals are brought in, the problems keep getting worse: angry neighbors, terrifying problems in walls, and—most serious—civil permitting issues that put the kibosh on what work’s been done. Left with only enough inheritance to patch and repair the exterior of the house—and with the school’s dismal standardized test scores as a final straw—Greg’s mom steers the family toward moving, opening up house-hunting and house-selling storylines (and devastating loyal Rowley, who doesn’t want to lose his best friend). While Greg’s positive about the move, he’s not completely uncaring about Rowley’s action. (And of course, Greg himself is not as unaffected as he wishes.) The gags include effectively placed callbacks to seemingly incidental events (the “stress lizard” brought in on testing day is particularly funny) and a lampoon of after-school-special–style problem books. Just when it seems that the Heffleys really will move, a new sequence of chaotic trouble and property destruction heralds a return to the status quo. Whew.

Readers can still rely on this series to bring laughs. (Graphic/fiction hybrid. 8-12)

Pub Date: Nov. 5, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-4197-3903-3

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Amulet/Abrams

Review Posted Online: Nov. 19, 2019

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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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