A stellar, hauntingly beautiful narrative.

MOONWALKING

Alternating perspectives explore an interracial friendship forged amid family turmoil and societal injustice and tension in pre-gentrification Brooklyn.

After Joseph John “JJ” Pankowski’s father is blacklisted for participating in the 1981 air traffic controllers’ strike, his family moves from Long Island to his father’s childhood home in Brooklyn, where his Polish grandmother still lives. They leave behind the Catholic school where JJ was bullied as well as his older sister—rarely mentioned, for reasons that JJ, who is cued as autistic, doesn’t yet understand. One of the few White students at his new middle school, JJ observes: “Things / That / Make / No / Sense. // One out of twenty kids / in the school / but one out of four kids / in honors class.” There he meets Pierre “Pie” Velez, a Puerto Rican and Congolese “genius kid" and graffiti artist who struggles to care for his mother, who has mental illness, and younger half sister in the predominantly Spanish-speaking neighborhood of Los Sures. The boys become friends via their shared love of art: For JJ, it’s music, especially the Clash, and for Pie, it’s artist Jean-Michel Basquiat. An encounter with the police highlights the differences between them, threatening their friendship. The coauthors’ equally strong contributions evocatively bring the characters and setting to life through visual poetry. The even pacing makes for an engrossing read, and the characters’ pain and promise will remain with readers.

A stellar, hauntingly beautiful narrative. (authors’ notes, sources) (Verse novel. 11-15)

Pub Date: April 12, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-374-31437-8

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Jan. 26, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2022

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A sly, side-splitting hoot from start to finish.

THE MECHANICAL MIND OF JOHN COGGIN

The dreary prospect of spending a lifetime making caskets instead of wonderful inventions prompts a young orphan to snatch up his little sister and flee. Where? To the circus, of course.

Fortunately or otherwise, John and 6-year-old Page join up with Boz—sometime human cannonball for the seedy Wandering Wayfarers and a “vertically challenged” trickster with a fantastic gift for sowing chaos. Alas, the budding engineer barely has time to settle in to begin work on an experimental circus wagon powered by chicken poop and dubbed (with questionable forethought) the Autopsy. The hot pursuit of malign and indomitable Great-Aunt Beauregard, the Coggins’ only living relative, forces all three to leave the troupe for further flights and misadventures. Teele spins her adventure around a sturdy protagonist whose love for his little sister is matched only by his fierce desire for something better in life for them both and tucks in an outstanding supporting cast featuring several notably strong-minded, independent women (Page, whose glare “would kill spiders dead,” not least among them). Better yet, in Boz she has created a scene-stealing force of nature, a free spirit who’s never happier than when he’s stirring up mischief. A climactic clutch culminating in a magnificently destructive display of fireworks leaves the Coggin sibs well-positioned for bright futures. (Illustrations not seen.)

A sly, side-splitting hoot from start to finish. (Adventure. 11-13)

Pub Date: April 12, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-06-234510-3

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Walden Pond Press/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2016

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Rich and strange (and kitted out with an eye-catching cover), but stronger in the set pieces than the internal logic.

THE SCHOOL FOR GOOD AND EVIL

From the School for Good and Evil series , Vol. 1

Chainani works an elaborate sea change akin to Gregory Maguire’s Wicked (1995), though he leaves the waters muddied.

Every four years, two children, one regarded as particularly nice and the other particularly nasty, are snatched from the village of Gavaldon by the shadowy School Master to attend the divided titular school. Those who survive to graduate become major or minor characters in fairy tales. When it happens to sweet, Disney princess–like Sophie and  her friend Agatha, plain of features, sour of disposition and low of self-esteem, they are both horrified to discover that they’ve been dropped not where they expect but at Evil and at Good respectively. Gradually—too gradually, as the author strings out hundreds of pages of Hogwarts-style pranks, classroom mishaps and competitions both academic and romantic—it becomes clear that the placement wasn’t a mistake at all. Growing into their true natures amid revelations and marked physical changes, the two spark escalating rivalry between the wings of the school. This leads up to a vicious climactic fight that sees Good and Evil repeatedly switching sides. At this point, readers are likely to feel suddenly left behind, as, thanks to summary deus ex machina resolutions, everything turns out swell(ish).

Rich and strange (and kitted out with an eye-catching cover), but stronger in the set pieces than the internal logic. (Fantasy. 11-13)

Pub Date: May 14, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-06-210489-2

Page Count: 496

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Feb. 13, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2013

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