Fans of fabulism will love this book but may find the denouement unsatisfyingly prosaic.

ALONG THE INDIGO

Love, mystery, and tragedy in a small town with a haunted past.

Marsden does not want to be a prostitute. She and her sister manage to lie low, working in the kitchen of the boardinghouse that fronts as iron-fisted Nina’s brothel. Marsden is multiracial Chinese and looks strikingly similar to her mother, who provides exotic diversions for Nina’s largely white clientele. Marsden’s desperation to protect her younger sister from the debauchery they live among leads her to skim cash from dead bodies—and in this dark and mysterious tale, dead bodies abound. The covert—the neglected wooded land that is her birthright—captures the imagination of the lost and hopeless. Local folklore and a history of bloodshed lead many to believe that earth from the covert, along the Indigo River, contains magical powers of absolution. Suicide victims with cash in their pockets are a common occurrence in the covert, where Marsden runs into Jude, a boy from school who is also “as mixed as she was, except black to her Chinese.” Jude is there to look for clues to his older brother’s suicide, and Marsden reluctantly agrees to help. The story builds on eerie developments and real-world fears as Nina blackmails Marsden to turn her first trick. The book is captivating and unearthly, with beautifully poignant writing and elegantly drawn characters. However, resolutions are disappointingly mundane, leaving readers craving more poetry and magic.

Fans of fabulism will love this book but may find the denouement unsatisfyingly prosaic. (Fabulism. 12-16)

Pub Date: March 20, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-4197-2531-9

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Amulet/Abrams

Review Posted Online: Dec. 6, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2018

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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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Characters to love, quips to snort at, insights to ponder: typical Spinelli.

DEAD WEDNESDAY

For two teenagers, a small town’s annual cautionary ritual becomes both a life- and a death-changing experience.

On the second Wednesday in June, every eighth grader in Amber Springs, Pennsylvania, gets a black shirt, the name and picture of a teen killed the previous year through reckless behavior—and the silent treatment from everyone in town. Like many of his classmates, shy, self-conscious Robbie “Worm” Tarnauer has been looking forward to Dead Wed as a day for cutting loose rather than sober reflection…until he finds himself talking to a strange girl or, as she would have it, “spectral maiden,” only he can see or touch. Becca Finch is as surprised and confused as Worm, only remembering losing control of her car on an icy slope that past Christmas Eve. But being (or having been, anyway) a more outgoing sort, she sees their encounter as a sign that she’s got a mission. What follows, in a long conversational ramble through town and beyond, is a day at once ordinary yet rich in discovery and self-discovery—not just for Worm, but for Becca too, with a climactic twist that leaves both ready, or readier, for whatever may come next. Spinelli shines at setting a tongue-in-cheek tone for a tale with serious underpinnings, and as in Stargirl (2000), readers will be swept into the relationship that develops between this adolescent odd couple. Characters follow a White default.

Characters to love, quips to snort at, insights to ponder: typical Spinelli. (Fiction. 12-15)

Pub Date: Aug. 3, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-30667-3

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: June 1, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2021

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