FREEING FINCH

Rorby (How To Speak Dolphin, 2015, etc.) once again tackles social issues through animal relationships.

In her author’s note, Rorby explains that the book was originally inspired by an extremely sad dog, but then she met an elderly transgender woman whose experience became the basis for “the heart of this story.” She goes on to say she then spoke with some trans children and their families, and Finch Delgado is the unfortunate result. She is an 11-year-old transgender girl who deals with both predictable trans trauma (sexual assault, threats of conversion therapy) as well as the death of her beloved and understanding mother, a ne’er-do-well father, an unemployed, alcoholic stepfather, and his religiously conservative new wife. Finch’s solace comes from Maddy, an elderly neighbor who rehabilitates animals, and her new friend Sherri, a cool girl from Vegas with a deadbeat mom. Even if the story didn’t whiplash between cookie-cutter angst and the overwrought metaphor of a wary but loyal neglected dog, the story would still be rife with flaws. Finch reads like a much older character, and uneven character development, didactic writing, and excruciatingly slow pacing further derail the reading experience. Finch ultimately comes across as a collection of stereotypes rather than a fully realized character, and the cis characters are all either remorseless bullies or flawless supporters (and sometimes, confusingly, both). Finch’s Latinx-sounding surname notwithstanding, characters are default white.

Egregious. (Fiction. 8-12)

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-250-29372-5

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Starscape/Tom Doherty

Review Posted Online: July 14, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2019

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THE FIRST CAT IN SPACE ATE PIZZA

Will extragalactic rats eat the moon?

Can a cybernetic toenail clipper find a worthy purpose in the vast universe? Will the first feline astronaut ever get a slice of pizza? Read on. Reworked from the Live Cartoon series of homespun video shorts released on Instagram in 2020 but retaining that “we’re making this up as we go” quality, the episodic tale begins with the electrifying discovery that our moon is being nibbled away. Off blast one strong, silent, furry hero—“Meow”—and a stowaway robot to our nearest celestial neighbor to hook up with the imperious Queen of the Moon and head toward the dark side, past challenges from pirates on the Sea of Tranquility and a sphinx with a riddle (“It weighs a ton, but floats on air. / It’s bald but has a lot of hair.” The answer? “Meow”). They endure multiple close but frustratingly glancing encounters with pizza and finally deliver the malign, multiheaded Rat King and its toothy armies to a suitable fate. Cue the massive pizza party! Aside from one pirate captain and a general back on Earth, the human and humanoid cast in Harris’ loosely drawn cartoon panels, from the appropriately moon-faced queen on, is light skinned. Merch, music, and the original episodes are available on an associated website.

Epic lunacy. (Graphic science fiction. 8-11)

Pub Date: May 10, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-06-308408-7

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Katherine Tegen/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2022

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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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