Mostly about the laffs, but not entirely, what with some weighty issues rising up.

NIGHT OF THE VAM-WOLF-ZOM

From the Middle School Bites series , Vol. 4

In his fourth outing, middle school multimonster Tom Marks does an old zombie a solid and just maybe launches a theatrical career amid thrills, chills, and lots of kissing.

Tom has no intention of trying out for the school play, which is a thinly disguised version of “Beauty and the Beast” (in outer space) that was plainly written by the drama teacher with him in mind as the beast. Nonetheless, he finds himself dragooned into the role…and minding it considerably less when he discovers that he gets to kiss the lead—or actually her understudy, as the original lead turns out to be prejudiced (“he’s not normal…he’s a Vam-Wolf-Zom”) and quits. Meanwhile, the pheromones fly as he gets more smooches, including from Martha, the 244-year-old teenage vampire who originally bit him. As further proof that he’s not one to hold a grudge, Tom also frees the zombie who infected him from an abusive carnival barker and delivers him to a secret free-range zombie refuge. Banks tucks in plenty of byplay, from bits of outhouse tipping and bully deflection to encounters with a skunk and with the menacing shape-shifter who bit Tom back in the first episode, as he sets the stage for a bravura on-stage performance and follows up with the customary startling development to lead into the next outing. In the monochrome scenes Fearing supplies for nearly every spread, Tom, his family, and the various monsters present White, but his classmates show a range of skin tones.

Mostly about the laffs, but not entirely, what with some weighty issues rising up. (Fantasy. 8-12)

Pub Date: Aug. 30, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-8234-5217-0

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Holiday House

Review Posted Online: May 10, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2022

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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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