Compassionate and compelling.

CLOSER TO NOWHERE

Sixth grade cousins learn to navigate complicated family dynamics.

Cal came to live with Hannah and her parents nearly 15 months ago. The two share a mean-spirited, alcoholic grandmother; their Italian heritage; and red hair. Hannah, a gymnast and dancer, has enjoyed stability, attention, and affection from her parents. Cal’s life has been filled with the loss of his mother at age 9 followed by a period of abuse and neglect by his now-imprisoned father. Cal suffers from PTSD and a defensive kind of vigilance while Hannah resents that Cal’s peculiar behavior makes him a target at school. Brief chapters in the first-person voices of Cal and Hannah reveal their divergent personalities. Imaginative Cal describes the world in terms of “Fact or Fiction,” his statements and answers offering sometimes wryly ambiguous observations of his experience. Practical and more certain of herself, Hannah’s poems with the header “Definition” are a jumping-off point for sharing glimpses into a more physically and emotionally privileged childhood. Hopkins’ use of free verse provides a canvas for sure-handed, brush-stroke development of the backstory and plot and emotional investment and identification with the characters. A school lockdown and shooting at the climax of the story allow Cal to demonstrate his new ability to connect with others and to see the ways that kindness can come back around.

Compassionate and compelling. (author's note) (Verse fiction. 10-14)

Pub Date: Oct. 6, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-593-10861-1

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: Aug. 18, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2020

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Poignant, respectful, and historically accurate while pulsating with emotional turmoil, adventure, and suspense.

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REFUGEE

In the midst of political turmoil, how do you escape the only country that you’ve ever known and navigate a new life? Parallel stories of three different middle school–aged refugees—Josef from Nazi Germany in 1938, Isabel from 1994 Cuba, and Mahmoud from 2015 Aleppo—eventually intertwine for maximum impact.

Three countries, three time periods, three brave protagonists. Yet these three refugee odysseys have so much in common. Each traverses a landscape ruled by a dictator and must balance freedom, family, and responsibility. Each initially leaves by boat, struggles between visibility and invisibility, copes with repeated obstacles and heart-wrenching loss, and gains resilience in the process. Each third-person narrative offers an accessible look at migration under duress, in which the behavior of familiar adults changes unpredictably, strangers exploit the vulnerabilities of transients, and circumstances seem driven by random luck. Mahmoud eventually concludes that visibility is best: “See us….Hear us. Help us.” With this book, Gratz accomplishes a feat that is nothing short of brilliant, offering a skillfully wrought narrative laced with global and intergenerational reverberations that signal hope for the future. Excellent for older middle grade and above in classrooms, book groups, and/or communities looking to increase empathy for new and existing arrivals from afar.

Poignant, respectful, and historically accurate while pulsating with emotional turmoil, adventure, and suspense. (maps, author’s note) (Historical fiction. 10-14)

Pub Date: July 25, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-545-88083-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: May 10, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2017

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An endearing protagonist runs the first, fast leg of Reynolds' promising relay.

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GHOST

From the Track series , Vol. 1

Castle “Ghost” Cranshaw feels like he’s been running ever since his dad pulled that gun on him and his mom—and used it.

His dad’s been in jail three years now, but Ghost still feels the trauma, which is probably at the root of the many “altercations” he gets into at middle school. When he inserts himself into a practice for a local elite track team, the Defenders, he’s fast enough that the hard-as-nails coach decides to put him on the team. Ghost is surprised to find himself caring enough about being on the team that he curbs his behavior to avoid “altercations.” But Ma doesn’t have money to spare on things like fancy running shoes, so Ghost shoplifts a pair that make his feet feel impossibly light—and his conscience correspondingly heavy. Ghost’s narration is candid and colloquial, reminiscent of such original voices as Bud Caldwell and Joey Pigza; his level of self-understanding is both believably childlike and disarming in its perception. He is self-focused enough that secondary characters initially feel one-dimensional, Coach in particular, but as he gets to know them better, so do readers, in a way that unfolds naturally and pleasingly. His three fellow “newbies” on the Defenders await their turns to star in subsequent series outings. Characters are black by default; those few white people in Ghost’s world are described as such.

An endearing protagonist runs the first, fast leg of Reynolds' promising relay. (Fiction. 10-14)

Pub Date: Aug. 30, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-4814-5015-7

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Caitlyn Dlouhy/Atheneum

Review Posted Online: July 20, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2016

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