UNCRASHABLE DAKOTA

Air travel is reimagined in this sluggish alternative-history novel.

Like the Titanic that inspired it, the Wendell Dakota airship, powered by farting beetles whose gaseous emissions are powerful enough to rip trees from the ground, is said to be uncrashable. But on its maiden voyage in April 1912, mutinous sailors and a bizarre beetle-worshipping cult hijack the ship. Who is the mastermind behind the coup? Hollis Dakota, son of the ship’s deceased, famed designer, is determined to find out, along with apprentice beetle keeper Delia Cosgrove. But their investigation is hindered by Rob Castor, son of the ship’s chief operating officer, Jefferson Castor. Rob’s father is married to Hollis’ recently widowed mother, and when Hollis finds evidence that Jefferson Castor may have orchestrated the mutiny, he and Rob are at each other’s throats. Then the Dakota hits an invisible obstruction in the sky, and the battle lines disappear as everyone fights for survival. With such a crackerjack premise, this plot should rise like beetle gas. And certain parts do, like the flashbacks that detail Hollis’ grandfather’s discovery of the beetles’ talent during the American Civil War. But dense third-person prose that constantly telegraphs every character’s motivations slows the rest of the action to a crawl, and the story quickly sinks beneath its weight.

Leaden. (Steampunk. 12-16)

Pub Date: Nov. 12, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-8050-9630-9

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: Sept. 18, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2013

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An engrossing addition to a thoughtful coming-of-age series.

AKATA WOMAN

From the Nsibidi Scripts series , Vol. 3

A Nigerian teen is pushed to otherworldly limits in search of a mystical object.

Three years after discovering her power as a Leopard, Sunny Nwazue, now 15, must embark on yet another dangerous journey. Tasked with retrieving what the Nimm women (her and Chichi’s ancestors) stole from Udide, the Great Spider Artist, Sunny and her coven—even-tempered Orlu, brash Sasha, and clever Chichi—have no choice other than to comply or risk their pasts and futures. As events are set in motion to track down Udide’s scroll, Sunny must also learn how to be one with Anyanwu, her spirit face, now that she is doubled, a rare occurrence among Leopard People. However, Anyanwu seems to disappear just when Sunny needs her most, and Sunny begins to resent something that is part of her. Over the course of the seven-day time limit Udide sets, Sunny must explore treacherous parts of the spirit world’s wilderness, a parallel Earth teeming with lush plant life and remarkable technology, and new parts of herself. Through the steadily paced, omniscient narration, Okorafor draws readers into Sunny’s compelling world—both real and imagined—making the setting as much of a character as the rest of the cast. As in the previous entries, themes of balance and accountability are woven throughout as Sunny is tested. All characters are Black.

An engrossing addition to a thoughtful coming-of-age series. (Fantasy. 12-16)

Pub Date: Jan. 18, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-451-48058-3

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 26, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2021

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Though it lacks references or suggestions for further reading, Arn's agonizing story is compelling enough that many readers...

NEVER FALL DOWN

A harrowing tale of survival in the Killing Fields.

The childhood of Arn Chorn-Pond has been captured for young readers before, in Michelle Lord and Shino Arihara's picture book, A Song for Cambodia (2008). McCormick, known for issue-oriented realism, offers a fictionalized retelling of Chorn-Pond's youth for older readers. McCormick's version begins when the Khmer Rouge marches into 11-year-old Arn's Cambodian neighborhood and forces everyone into the country. Arn doesn't understand what the Khmer Rouge stands for; he only knows that over the next several years he and the other children shrink away on a handful of rice a day, while the corpses of adults pile ever higher in the mango grove. Arn does what he must to survive—and, wherever possible, to protect a small pocket of children and adults around him. Arn's chilling history pulls no punches, trusting its readers to cope with the reality of children forced to participate in murder, torture, sexual exploitation and genocide. This gut-wrenching tale is marred only by the author's choice to use broken English for both dialogue and description. Chorn-Pond, in real life, has spoken eloquently (and fluently) on the influence he's gained by learning English; this prose diminishes both his struggle and his story.

Though it lacks references or suggestions for further reading, Arn's agonizing story is compelling enough that many readers will seek out the history themselves. (preface, author's note) (Historical fiction. 12-15)

Pub Date: May 8, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-06-173093-1

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: March 21, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2012

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