Dooley winningly combines engaging plot twists and rich character development with the introspective and thematic power of...

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A troubled teen discovers the therapeutic balm of verse.

In a backwoods West Virginia mining town beset by poverty and environmental hazards, 13-year-old narrator Sasha Harless finds herself reeling from the loss of her guardian brother, Michael, whose recent death magnifies the sense of abandonment she first encountered at age 5, when her mother left them, and again at 8, after their father was killed in a mining accident. Michael’s death places Sasha under the protection of a kindly foster mother, who attempts to provide stability, but Sasha suffers from anxiety and violent outbursts when overcome by disturbing emotions, especially when grief “blows through me like a cold wind, thundering for me to go, to get out, to move.” Sasha acts out at school and runs away repeatedly, taking a beloved cousin with her once with sobering consequences. Sasha remains intent on leaving town until she’s exposed to poetry in English class and begins to find “something about the shortness of haiku feels good.” Dooley cleverly weaves into her novel different verse forms, which Sasha attempts for a poetry club she joins, giving her protagonist poet some creative focus, the freedom to experiment with self-expression, and the courage to stay put long enough to let the strength of her emotions settle inside.

Dooley winningly combines engaging plot twists and rich character development with the introspective and thematic power of poetry: not to be missed. (Fiction. 10-14)

Pub Date: March 15, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-399-16503-0

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: Dec. 8, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2015

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An extraordinary and timely piece of writing.

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HARBOR ME

Just before she begins seventh grade, Haley tells the story of the previous school year, when she and five other students from an experimental classroom were brought together.

Each has been bullied or teased about their difficulties in school, and several face real challenges at home. Haley is biracial and cared for by her white uncle due to the death of her African-American mother and her white father’s incarceration. Esteban, of Dominican heritage, is coping with his father’s detention by ICE and the possible fracturing of his family. It is also a time when Amari learns from his dad that he can no longer play with toy guns because he is a boy of color. This reveals the divide between them and their white classmate, Ashton. “It’s not fair that you’re a boy and Ashton’s a boy and he can do something you can’t do anymore. That’s not freedom,” Haley says. They support one another, something Haley needs as she prepares for her father’s return from prison and her uncle’s decision to move away. Woodson delivers a powerful tale of community and mutual growth. The bond they develop is palpable. Haley’s recorder is both an important plot element and a metaphor for the power of voice and story. The characters ring true as they discuss issues both personal and global. This story, told with exquisite language and clarity of narrative, is both heartbreaking and hopeful.

An extraordinary and timely piece of writing. (Fiction. 10-14)

Pub Date: Aug. 28, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-399-25252-5

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Nancy Paulsen Books

Review Posted Online: June 11, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2018

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An endearing protagonist runs the first, fast leg of Reynolds' promising relay.

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GHOST

From the Track series , Vol. 1

Castle “Ghost” Cranshaw feels like he’s been running ever since his dad pulled that gun on him and his mom—and used it.

His dad’s been in jail three years now, but Ghost still feels the trauma, which is probably at the root of the many “altercations” he gets into at middle school. When he inserts himself into a practice for a local elite track team, the Defenders, he’s fast enough that the hard-as-nails coach decides to put him on the team. Ghost is surprised to find himself caring enough about being on the team that he curbs his behavior to avoid “altercations.” But Ma doesn’t have money to spare on things like fancy running shoes, so Ghost shoplifts a pair that make his feet feel impossibly light—and his conscience correspondingly heavy. Ghost’s narration is candid and colloquial, reminiscent of such original voices as Bud Caldwell and Joey Pigza; his level of self-understanding is both believably childlike and disarming in its perception. He is self-focused enough that secondary characters initially feel one-dimensional, Coach in particular, but as he gets to know them better, so do readers, in a way that unfolds naturally and pleasingly. His three fellow “newbies” on the Defenders await their turns to star in subsequent series outings. Characters are black by default; those few white people in Ghost’s world are described as such.

An endearing protagonist runs the first, fast leg of Reynolds' promising relay. (Fiction. 10-14)

Pub Date: Aug. 30, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-4814-5015-7

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Caitlyn Dlouhy/Atheneum

Review Posted Online: July 20, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2016

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