A tale that’s half engaging but never effectively plumbs its full potential.

A POSSIBILITY OF WHALES

Rivers introduces two middle schoolers who could help each other: Natalia, the motherless, paparazzi-plagued daughter of a loving, famous actor, and Harry, a transgender classmate who’s embracing his male identity in spite of his intolerant father’s rejection of his true self.

Natalia, new to Harry’s small, Canadian community, and her earnest, ebullient father, Xan Gallagher, share an understanding of the boy’s needs, but her classmates are more inclined toward ridicule. Unfortunately for Natalia, in an effort to find accepting male friends, Harry often pushes back against her yearning for a BFF. She needs one badly. Adolescence is sneaking up on her; it’s not a change she welcomes, and she feels it’s especially hard to navigate this complicated passage without the mother who apparently rejected her at birth. A scene in which she tries to select products for her first—unexpected—period in a supermarket is especially touching. Harry’s situation is ultimately helped by Xan’s intervention with Harry’s mildly star-struck parents. The tale is told in alternating third-person voices, but Natalia’s is far better captured than Harry’s; his complex needs and emotions are never fully explored the way Natalia’s are. In fact, Harry’s predictable history of transphobic assault, forced use of the girls’ bathroom, humiliation in front of his classmates, and constant deadnaming make him a collection of the pitiable tropes that are familiar to cis audiences but likely discouraging and alienating to trans readers. Harry, Natalia, and Xan all present as white.

A tale that’s half engaging but never effectively plumbs its full potential. (Fiction. 11-14)

Pub Date: March 13, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-61620-723-6

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Algonquin

Review Posted Online: Dec. 3, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2018

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Not for the faint of heart or stomach (or maybe of any parts) but sure to be appreciated by middle school zombie cognoscenti.

ZOMBIE BASEBALL BEATDOWN

Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle meets Left for Dead/The Walking Dead/Shaun of the Dead in a high-energy, high-humor look at the zombie apocalypse, complete with baseball (rather than cricket) bats.

The wholesome-seeming Iowa cornfields are a perfect setting for the emergence of ghastly anomalies: flesh-eating cows and baseball-coach zombies. The narrator hero, Rabi (for Rabindranath), and his youth baseball teammates and friends, Miguel and Joe, discover by chance that all is not well with their small town’s principal industry: the Milrow corporation’s giant feedlot and meat-production and -packing facility. The ponds of cow poo and crammed quarters for the animals are described in gaggingly smelly detail, and the bone-breaking, bloody, flesh-smashing encounters with the zombies have a high gross-out factor. The zombie cows and zombie humans who emerge from the muck are apparently a product of the food supply gone cuckoo in service of big-money profits with little concern for the end result. It’s up to Rabi and his pals to try to prove what’s going on—and to survive the corporation’s efforts to silence them. Much as Bacigalupi’s Ship Breaker (2010) was a clarion call to action against climate change, here’s a signal alert to young teens to think about what they eat, while the considerable appeal of the characters and plot defies any preachiness.

Not for the faint of heart or stomach (or maybe of any parts) but sure to be appreciated by middle school zombie cognoscenti. (Fiction. 11-14)

Pub Date: Sept. 10, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-316-22078-1

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: June 26, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2013

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A terrific premise buried beneath problem-novel tropes.

THE FORT

A gaggle of eighth graders find the coolest clubhouse ever.

Fulfilling the fantasies of anyone who’s ever constructed a fort in their bedroom or elsewhere, Korman hands his five middle schoolers a fully stocked bomb shelter constructed decades ago in the local woods by an eccentric tycoon and lost until a hurricane exposes the entrance. So, how to keep the hideout secret from interfering grown-ups—and, more particularly, from scary teen psychopath Jaeger Devlin? The challenge is tougher still when everyone in the central cast is saddled with something: C.J. struggles to hide injuries inflicted by the unstable stepdad his likewise abused mother persists in enabling; Jason is both caught in the middle of a vicious divorce and unable to stand up to his controlling girlfriend; Evan is not only abandoned by drug-abusing parents, but sees his big brother going to the bad thanks to Jaeger’s influence; Mitchell struggles with OCD–fueled anxieties and superstitions; and so forth. How to keep a story overtaxed with issues and conflicts from turning into a dreary slog? Spoiler alert: Neither the author nor his characters ultimately prove equal to the challenge. With the possible exception of Ricky Molina, one of the multiple narrators, everyone seems to be White.

A terrific premise buried beneath problem-novel tropes. (resources, author’s note) (Fiction. 11-13)

Pub Date: June 28, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-338-62914-9

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: March 29, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2022

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