This series opener is a howling good time.

MIDDLE SCHOOL BITES

From the Middle School Bites series , Vol. 1

All Tom Marks wants is to be an ordinary kid—invisible, in fact. But it’s hard to be invisible when you’re a Vam-Wolf-Zom.

Tom’s many plans for middle school include the “Girlfriend Plan,” the “Easy Grade in Art Class Plan,” and, most importantly, the “Invisible Tom Plan.” He does not, naturally, have a “What If I Turn into a Vampire-Werewolf-Zombie Plan.” The day before school starts, however, what should be a perfectly routine visit to his grandmother’s cabin in the woods goes horribly awry, as he is bitten by a bat, a mangy dog, and what seems to be an eerily lifelike zombie prop within the span of several hours. Now Tom must juggle disturbing physical changes alongside tough classes, locker sharing, friendships old and new, a persistent bully with an unfortunate home life, and the ubiquitous desire for acceptance. Tom’s first-person narration is frank and engaging; much of the novel’s humor arises from his wry, self-aware commentary. A good portion of the remaining humor is drawn from Fearing’s grayscale spot cartoons, with their exaggerated facial expressions and exquisitely scratchy details. The monstrous premise, though admittedly far-fetched (so much so that its being far-fetched is directly addressed in a prologue), adds a delightful twist to the classic navigating-middle-school plot. The colorful personalities of Tom’s family, classmates, and teachers further enrich this not-so-spooky saga. The cast defaults white.

This series opener is a howling good time. (Fantasy. 8-12)

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-8234-4543-1

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Holiday House

Review Posted Online: Sept. 24, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2019

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Classic action-packed, monster-fighting fun

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THE LAST KIDS ON EARTH

From the Last Kids on Earth series , Vol. 1

It’s been 42 days since the Monster Apocalypse began, and 13-year-old Jack Sullivan, a self-proclaimed “zombie-fighting, monster-slaying tornado of cool” is on a quest to find and rescue his not-so-secret crush, June Del Toro, whether she needs it, wants it, or not.

Jack cobbles together an unlikely but endearing crew, including his scientist best friend, Quint Baker; Dirk Savage, Parker Middle School’s biggest bully; and a pet monster named Rover, to help him save the damsel in distress and complete the “ULTIMATE Feat of Apocalyptic Success.” Middle-grade readers, particularly boys, will find Jack’s pitch-perfect mix of humor, bravado, and self-professed geekiness impossible to resist. His sidekicks are equally entertaining, and it doesn’t hurt that there are also plenty of oozing, drooling, sharp-toothed monsters and zombies and a host of gizmos and gadgets to hook readers and keep them cheering with every turn of the page. Holgate’s illustrations play an integral role in the novel’s success. They not only bring Brallier’s characters to life, but also add depth and detail to the story, making plain just exactly how big Rover is and giving the lie to Jack’s “killer driving.” The marriage of text and illustration serves as a perfect example of what an illustrated novel can and should be.

Classic action-packed, monster-fighting fun (. (Graphic/horror hybrid. 8-12)

Pub Date: Oct. 13, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-670-01661-7

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: July 22, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2015

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Funny delivery, but some jokes really miss the mark.

NARWHAL I'M AROUND

From the Incredibly Dead Pets of Rex Dexter series , Vol. 2

An animal ghost seeks closure after enduring aquatic atrocities.

In this sequel to The Incredibly Dead Pets of Rex Dexter (2020), sixth grader Rex is determined to once again use his ability to communicate with dead animals for the greater good. A ghost narwhal’s visit gives Rex his next opportunity in the form of the clue “bad water.” Rex enlists Darvish—his Pakistani American human best friend—and Drumstick—his “faithful (dead) chicken”—to help crack the case. But the mystery is only one of Rex’s many roadblocks. For starters, Sami Mulpepper hugged him at a dance, and now she’s his “accidental girlfriend.” Even worse, Darvish develops one of what Rex calls “Game Preoccupation Disorders” over role-playing game Monsters & Mayhem that may well threaten the pair’s friendship. Will Rex become “a Sherlock without a Watson,” or can the two make amends in time to solve the mystery? This second outing effectively carries the “ghost-mist” torch from its predecessor without feeling too much like a formulaic carbon copy. Spouting terms like plausible deniability and in flagrante delicto, Rex makes for a hilariously bombastic (if unlikable) first-person narrator. The over-the-top style is contagious, and black-and-white illustrations throughout add cartoony punchlines to various scenes. Unfortunately, scenes in which humor comes at the expense of those with less status are downright cringeworthy, as when Rex, who reads as White, riffs on the impossibility of his ever pronouncing Darvish’s surname or he plays dumb by staring into space and drooling.

Funny delivery, but some jokes really miss the mark. (Paranormal mystery. 8-12)

Pub Date: May 4, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-7595-5523-5

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: March 16, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2021

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