A fast, positive, athletically aspirational read.

THE FASTEST FINISH

From the Junior Ninja Champion series , Vol. 2

The characters from The Competition Begins (2018) face choices and unexpected curveballs along the path to the Junior Ninja Champion finals.

The premiere episode of the reality TV competition is such a hit that the producers decide to add a twist. There will be one more round of semifinals, a wildcard episode, which will send up to 10 new competitors to the finals. Hypercompetitive sports superstar Ty Santiago’s furious—as an alternate, he’s not eligible for another try at one of those new spots. He’s quite grumpy when an aspiring wildcard joins the team at the kid-oriented gym his parents own: Noah Dhawan, a dancer with hidden motives. Despite Ty’s hostility and Izzy’s indifference, Noah (supported enthusiastically by Mackenzie) progresses well using his dancer athleticism and balance against the obstacles (described efficiently in the compact text). As the finals bear down on the cast, Izzy must make a choice between friendship and popularity or being a responsible competitor, and Ty’s in the uncomfortable position of needing something bad to happen to someone in order to compete. When it comes down to it, though, these are good, maturing kids who make good choices. Of the central characters, implied-Latinx Ty, black Kevin, and biracial (Indian/white) Noah balance Izzy, Mackenzie, and JJ, all default white; competing teams display a fair amount of diversity as well. The ending notes the show’s renewal for another season, prompting another installment.

A fast, positive, athletically aspirational read. (Fiction. 9-12)

Pub Date: Jan. 15, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-328-85901-3

Page Count: 160

Publisher: HMH Books

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2018

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Poet Alexander deftly reveals the power of the format to pack an emotional punch.

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THE CROSSOVER

Basketball-playing twins find challenges to their relationship on and off the court as they cope with changes in their lives.

Josh Bell and his twin, Jordan, aka JB, are stars of their school basketball team. They are also successful students, since their educator mother will stand for nothing else. As the two middle schoolers move to a successful season, readers can see their differences despite the sibling connection. After all, Josh has dreadlocks and is quiet on court, and JB is bald and a trash talker. Their love of the sport comes from their father, who had also excelled in the game, though his championship was achieved overseas. Now, however, he does not have a job and seems to have health problems the parents do not fully divulge to the boys. The twins experience their first major rift when JB is attracted to a new girl in their school, and Josh finds himself without his brother. This novel in verse is rich in character and relationships. Most interesting is the family dynamic that informs so much of the narrative, which always reveals, never tells. While Josh relates the story, readers get a full picture of major and minor players. The basketball action provides energy and rhythm for a moving story.

Poet Alexander deftly reveals the power of the format to pack an emotional punch. (Verse fiction. 9-12)

Pub Date: March 18, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-544-10771-7

Page Count: 240

Publisher: HMH Books

Review Posted Online: Dec. 18, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2014

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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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