Painfully realistic, this is a strong addition to the middle-grade shelf.

STEPPING STONES

In her first graphic novel for kids, Knisley explores the struggles and joys of blending families.

Jen is not happy about the newest change to her life: She and her mother are moving from the city to the country, where her mom and her mom’s boyfriend, Walter, are starting a farm. This is her mom’s dream, but it’s certainly not Jen’s. Forced to help out at the farmers market, an uncertain Jen is left to independently run the till (without a calculator) even though she’s anxious about making change. Everything gets even worse when her new stepsisters arrive. While little Reese mostly stays out of the way, Andy is a confident know-it-all who completely gets on Jen’s nerves, just like Andy’s father, who ignores others’ feelings and commands space in a way that some readers may recognize as abusive. Knisley expertly renders the shame and frustration Jen feels at her lack of agency, balancing it with a positive shift in her relationship with her new siblings as they begin to reveal their own vulnerabilities. Although Jen’s stepsisters come around to see his behavior is hurtful, Walter is never held accountable. In her author’s note, Knisley references “My ‘Walter’ ” with some fondness and further explores the parallels between her own childhood and her semiautobiographical story. All characters seem white; the setting seems to be the 1990s.

Painfully realistic, this is a strong addition to the middle-grade shelf. (Graphic historical fiction. 8-12)

Pub Date: May 5, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-593-12524-3

Page Count: 224

Publisher: RH Graphic

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2020

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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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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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