A slice of African-American life seldom explored in stories for young people and a must for readers of middle-grade fiction.

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IT ALL COMES DOWN TO THIS

Twelve-year-old Sophie is the younger of two sisters in an upper-middle-class African-American family in 1965 Los Angeles.

Her older sister, Lily, is about to leave for college, and Sophie worries about her life without her. It is obvious that her parents’ marriage is having problems, and she can no longer count on Jennifer, the one white girl who had been her friend. Despite some misgivings, Sophie decides to try out for a play at the community center, which will bring her in close contact with the prejudiced girls in the neighborhood. In addition, the new housekeeper, Mrs. Baylor, seems to have it in for her. When Mrs. Baylor’s son begins doing odd jobs around the house, sparks fly between him and Lily—but despite Nathan’s success at college, Sophie’s mother deems him unsuitable for Lily due to his class and dark complexion. Nathan’s arrest during the Watts riots brings things to a head. This is a wonderfully written novel, one that manages to address complex subjects such as racism and colorism without sinking beneath them. Both the differences and similarities between the worlds of Sophie’s family and Nathan’s are handled with nuance. Most of all, this is an impressive coming-of-age story whose fully realized protagonist is surrounded by a rich supporting cast. Cultural details artfully evoke the tenor and tone of the times.

A slice of African-American life seldom explored in stories for young people and a must for readers of middle-grade fiction. (Historical fiction. 10-12)

Pub Date: July 11, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-544-83957-1

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Clarion Books

Review Posted Online: April 17, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2017

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However tried and true, the Harry Potter–esque elements and set pieces don’t keep this cumbersome coming-of-age tale afloat,...

EXILE

From the Keeper of the Lost Cities series , Vol. 2

Full-blown middle-volume-itis leaves this continuation of the tale of a teenage elf who has been genetically modified for so-far undisclosed purposes dead in the water.

As the page count burgeons, significant plot developments slow to a trickle. Thirteen-year-old Sophie manifests yet more magical powers while going head-to-head with hostile members of the Lost Cities Council and her own adoptive elvin father, Grady, over whether the clandestine Black Swan cabal, her apparent creators and (in the previous episode) kidnappers, are allies or enemies. Messenger tries to lighten the tone by dressing Sophie and her classmates at the Hogwarts-ian Foxfire Academy as mastodons for a silly opening ceremony and by having her care for an alicorn—a winged unicorn so magnificent that even its poop sparkles. It’s not enough; two sad memorial services, a trip to a dreary underground prison, a rash of adult characters succumbing to mental breakdowns and a frequently weepy protagonist who is increasingly shunned as “the girl who was taken” give the tale a soggy texture. Also, despite several cryptic clues and a late attack by hooded figures, neither the identity nor the agenda of the Black Swan comes closer to being revealed.

However tried and true, the Harry Potter–esque elements and set pieces don’t keep this cumbersome coming-of-age tale afloat, much less under way. (Fantasy 10-12)

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-4424-4596-3

Page Count: 576

Publisher: Simon Pulse/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: July 17, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2013

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A work of heavy, realistic fiction told with oddball humor, honesty, and heart.

I'M OK

When Korean-American Ok Lee loses his father in a construction accident, he and his mom must fend for themselves financially while quietly grieving.

Middle schooler Ok watches as his mother takes on multiple jobs with long hours trying to make ends meet. Determined to help, he sets his sights on his school’s talent show. The winner takes home $100 in cash, enough to pay the utilities before they get cut off. His search to find a bankable talent is complicated by unwanted attention from bully Asa, who’s African-American, and blackmail at the hands of a strange classmate named Mickey, who’s white. To make matters worse, his mother starts dating Deacon Koh, “the lonely widower” of the First Korean Full Gospel Church, who seems to have dubious motives and “tries too hard.” Narrator Ok navigates this full plot with quirky humor that borders on dark at times. His feelings and actions dealing with his grief are authentic. Most of the characters take a surprising turn, in one way or another helping Ok despite initial, somewhat stereotypical introductions and abundant teasing with racial jokes. Although most of the characters go through a transformation, Ok’s father in comparison is not as fleshed-out, and Asa’s African-American Vernacular English occasionally feels repetitive and forced.

A work of heavy, realistic fiction told with oddball humor, honesty, and heart. (Fiction. 10-12)

Pub Date: Oct. 9, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5344-1929-2

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Atheneum

Review Posted Online: June 25, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2018

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