Part new-kid-in-town coming-of-age story, part supernatural thriller, with a slow start and a mostly satisfying end.

THE KEEPER

When James and his younger sister, Ava, move to a new town in a new state, they expect to encounter some differences—but their new neighborhood seems to be hiding dark secrets.

Twelve-year-old Mexican American James, who is Texas born and bred, has no interest in moving to cold and rainy Oregon. He misses his two best friends, and he especially misses Ita, his maternal grandmother, who passed away shortly before the big move. Tensions are high with his parents and 10-year-old Ava, too, due in part to the siblings’ ongoing prank war. Then creepy letters addressed to James from someone who signs off as “The Keeper” start appearing with warnings that he must prove himself as a member of his new community. Though at first mutually suspicious, James and Ava come to believe that neither one is behind the letters, but the erosion of trust caused by their rivalry leads their parents to believe it’s just another one of their elaborate hoaxes. Now, instead of being adversaries, the siblings must work together to solve the mystery behind their secretive community. The plot is slow to build, taking time to establish the siblings’ relationship and the neighbors’ ostensible friendliness. Unfortunately, this leaves less time to cultivate the mystery of the letters; this storyline only really picks up around the halfway mark, and the resolution feels rushed.

Part new-kid-in-town coming-of-age story, part supernatural thriller, with a slow start and a mostly satisfying end. (Horror. 8-12)

Pub Date: Jan. 25, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-06-307692-1

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Oct. 26, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2021

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Readers can still rely on this series to bring laughs.

WRECKING BALL

From the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series , Vol. 14

The Heffley family’s house undergoes a disastrous attempt at home improvement.

When Great Aunt Reba dies, she leaves some money to the family. Greg’s mom calls a family meeting to determine what to do with their share, proposing home improvements and then overruling the family’s cartoonish wish lists and instead pushing for an addition to the kitchen. Before bringing in the construction crew, the Heffleys attempt to do minor maintenance and repairs themselves—during which Greg fails at the work in various slapstick scenes. Once the professionals are brought in, the problems keep getting worse: angry neighbors, terrifying problems in walls, and—most serious—civil permitting issues that put the kibosh on what work’s been done. Left with only enough inheritance to patch and repair the exterior of the house—and with the school’s dismal standardized test scores as a final straw—Greg’s mom steers the family toward moving, opening up house-hunting and house-selling storylines (and devastating loyal Rowley, who doesn’t want to lose his best friend). While Greg’s positive about the move, he’s not completely uncaring about Rowley’s action. (And of course, Greg himself is not as unaffected as he wishes.) The gags include effectively placed callbacks to seemingly incidental events (the “stress lizard” brought in on testing day is particularly funny) and a lampoon of after-school-special–style problem books. Just when it seems that the Heffleys really will move, a new sequence of chaotic trouble and property destruction heralds a return to the status quo. Whew.

Readers can still rely on this series to bring laughs. (Graphic/fiction hybrid. 8-12)

Pub Date: Nov. 5, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-4197-3903-3

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Amulet/Abrams

Review Posted Online: Nov. 19, 2019

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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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