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The Island

Olivia Levez. Rock the Boat (PGW, dist.), $9.99 trade paper (288p) ISBN 978-1-78074-859-7

Levez’s debut captures the emotional journey of 16-year-old Frances Stanton, one of a plane full of British juvenile delinquents and camp staffers headed to a skills-based intervention on an Indonesian island. When the plane crashes, Frances reaches a deserted island with few supplies, where she struggles to find food, water, and shelter among sharks and poisonous plants. With a dog as her only companion, Frances faces painful memories of her family back home, including her ill mother, her half-brother, and her mother’s lecherous boyfriend. Through short chapters, Levez effortlessly balances Frances’s past, present, and imagined future, including vivid flashbacks of her home life and acts of retaliation against a well-meaning teacher. After a storm hits, Frances meets another survivor, Rufus, whose prescriptive habits cause friction. Their relationship moves from rocky to companionable, but when food runs low and Rufus lands in a dire situation, Frances must find a way off the island to save her newfound friend. Echoing O’Dell’s Island of the Blue Dolphins, Levez’s story will keep readers riveted as determined, hard-edged Frances fights to survive. Ages 13–up. Agent: Clare Wallace, Darley Anderson Literary. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/22/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Sidekick: The Red Raptor Files, Part 1

Christopher J. Valin. CreateSpace, $9.99 ISBN 978-1-5186-9862-0

Valin (Tres Puercos) taps into the spirit of Golden Age comics in this first installment of the adventures of the Red Raptor, more commonly known in school and out of uniform as Sawyer, a kid who keeps to himself. Outside of school, Sawyer serves as sidekick to a Batman-esque billionaire who calls himself the Black Harrier. Sixteen-year-old Sawyer has an exceptional memory and the preternatural ability to copy and master skills after seeing them performed only once. Now his mentor has gone missing, and it’s up to Sawyer to dodge his mother’s newfound interest in his life (she’s a recovering alcoholic), keep his secret identity hidden, and impress a young female hero, Osprey, with whom he occasionally crosses paths. While some of the touches are overly similar to the world of the Dark Knight (the Black Harrier’s nemesis is an “evil clown,” and another villain, La Cucaracha, uses a serum to gain super-strength à la Bane), Valin has a strong handle on Sawyer’s brusque, sarcastic voice, and the plot unfolds with rapid-fire action that should keep superhero-obsessed readers engaged. Ages 12–up. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 07/22/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Tales of the Peculiar

Ransom Riggs, illus. by Andrew Davidson. Dutton, $24.99 (192p) ISBN 978-0-399-53853-7

Riggs follows his bestselling Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children and its sequels with an enticing collection of what purports to be “peculiar” folklore, “passed down from generation to generation since time immemorial.” Among the 10 tales—ostensibly collected, edited, and annotated by Millard Nullings, a peculiar from the novels—are “The Splendid Cannibals,” which concerns a town where people can regrow the lost limbs they regularly sell to rich cannibals at premium prices; “Cocobolo,” about a peculiar father and son in ancient China who turn into islands as they mature; and “The Pigeons of Saint Paul’s,” in which a peculiar named Wren makes a deal with London’s pigeons in order to get his cathedral built. Arriving just in time for the fall release of the Miss Peregrine film, these tales, which often reference events in the earlier novels, are alternately droll, somber, and a bit horrific, and they’re sure to appeal to fans of the series. Elegantly detailed engravings from Davidson open each story, setting the tone for the tale that follows. Ages 12–up. Author’s agent: Jodi Reamer, Writers House. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/22/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Shame the Stars

Guadalupe Garcia McCall. Tu, $19.95 (320p) ISBN 978-1-62014-278-3

McCall’s (Summer of the Mariposas) complex historical novel explores a seldom-covered era: the struggle between American-born Mexicans (Tejanos) and white Americans in border towns during the Mexican Revolution of the early 20th century. Narrated by 18-year-old Tejano Joaquín del Toro, a secret poet impassioned both by his love for 18-year-old Dulceña Villa and his strong sense of justice, the book covers three-and-a-half bloody years in the small Texas town of Monteseco in graphic detail. Initially torn apart by their fathers’ opposing stances on dealing with the corrupt Rangers who rule the town, Joaquín and Dulceña are set up as Romeo and Juliet figures, but startling revelations bring the families to work for the same side. Sophisticated readers will appreciate the intricate political and ethical questions raised, as well as their relevance to contemporary border issues. McCall’s depiction of two important female characters, who stand out for their strength and grace in an otherwise staunchly traditional—and often hot-headed—male hierarchy, is especially compelling. A character list helps readers track the extensive cast, primary-source newspaper clippings appear throughout, and back matter includes a glossary, historical background, and reading suggestions. Ages 12–up. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/22/2016 | Details & Permalink

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The Mighty Dynamo

Kieran Crowley. Feiwel and Friends, $16.99 (368p) ISBN 978-1-250-07924-4

Twelve-year-old Noah Murphy lives for soccer, but when his father takes a much-needed job in Australia, continents away from their tiny Irish town of Carraig Cruach, Noah wonders if playing professional soccer might be the only way to save his family. With the Schools’ World Cup—and his opportunity to be scouted—weeks away, Noah is devastated when he is banned from his school’s team for a fight he didn’t start. Aided by best friend Stevie, Noah recruits a colorful new team of players whose skills are questionable but whose enthusiasm abounds. The initial chapters of adult author Crowley’s first children’s book are sluggish as he introduces many characters and sets up a complicated plot, but the story picks up once Noah’s new team is assembled. Moments of hilarity abound both on and off the field, and sports fans will enjoy the action-packed gameplay. After getting to know this lovable team of underdogs (Crowley also provides some outrageously awful antagonists), readers will be all in for the crescendo of the final showdown. Ages 9–13. Agent: Marianne Gunn O’Connor. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/22/2016 | Details & Permalink

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The Memory Wall

Lev A.C. Rosen. Knopf, $16.99 (368p) ISBN 978-1-101-93323-7

Unable to cope with his mother’s early-onset Alzheimer’s, a boy finds solace in the latest installment of his favorite video game, Wellhall, a complex fantasy world with uncanny parallels to his real life. While his mother accepts her fate, checking into a home where she can receive care, Nick researches other diseases, certain that she can be cured. And as he plays Wellhall, he meets a character that he suspects to be his mother, granting him hope that she’s playing the game as well. Nick’s struggle to accept his mother’s condition interweaves with his online quest, though not always as he expects. Rosen (Woundabout) crafts a complex, emotional story about grief and acceptance, but it’s somewhat diluted by the other subplots at play (Nick is also dealing with bullies, his biracial background, and a nascent romantic interest, and a major theme of the narrative invokes the Cold War and the fall of the Berlin Wall). Even so it’s a strong, thought-provoking novel. Ages 9–12. Agent: Joy Tutela, David Black Literary. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/22/2016 | Details & Permalink

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More Than Magic: Secret Friends to the Rescue

Kathryn Lasky, illus. by Ricardo Tercio. Random/Lamb, $16.99 (224p) ISBN 978-0-553-49891-2

Magic and reality collide in Lasky’s (the Guardians of Ga’Hoole series) humorous Cinderella-esque tale. Eleven-year-old Ryder is stunned when her soft-spoken, widowed father tells her that he has found happiness with a manipulative woman named Bernice. In the midst of Ryder’s angst, Rory, the animated star of Ryder’s parents’ successful TV show, jumps out of the screen and into Ryder’s bedroom pleading for help. Script changes to a planned film are transforming the brave, fierce heroine—who, as an animated character, lacks free will—into an older, curvier, wand-wielding princess scheduled to be married to a hapless prince. “How can you kick butt with a wand that isn’t even magic?” Ryder gripes. Narration rotates among several characters, and as Ryder and Rory join forces to find allies in both the real and animated worlds, they begin to learn that there is more to each of them than meets the eye. Ryder’s courage and humor in the face of adversity will captivate readers as Lasky explores friendship, family, and the pressures that society puts on girls. Final art not seen by PW. Ages 8–12. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/22/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Howard Wallace, P.I.

Casey Lyall. Sterling, $14.95 (272p) ISBN 978-1-4549-1949-0

A middle-school gumshoe takes on a new case—and a new partner—in this promising first installment of a series that cleverly introduces the world of classic private eyes to young readers. Twelve-year-old Howard Wallace runs his P.I. business, Wallace Investigations, out of an old shed in the back of Grantleyville Middle School, where he solves cases along the lines of missing trumpets and cats, while portraits of his heroes Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe look on. It’s not surprising that Howard is a loner: he dresses in a ratty brown bathrobe (his version of a trench coat), and he sounds like he walked off the set of The Maltese Falcon. “What can I do for you, doll face?” he asks one prospective client, who grimaces in response. His latest case is a doozy, replete with blackmail and increasingly menacing threats, and then there’s new student Ivy Mason, who’s determined to join Wallace Investigations. Engagingly blending the fictional world of dames and private eyes with keen insights about adolescent friendship, Lyall’s debut is a winner. Ages 8–12. Agent: Molly Ker Hawn, Bent Agency. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/22/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Charmed, I’m Sure

Sarah Darer Littman. Aladdin, $17.99 (208p) ISBN 978-1-4814-5127-7

In this playful update of a classic fairy tale, Rosamunde White Charming, the daughter of Snow White and Prince Charming (who now run a website called Charming Lifestyles), would “be happy to swear off romance forever if I weren’t Rosie Charming with a family legacy to uphold.” Rosie is desperate for a date to her Manhattan middle school dance, but she takes all the wrong advice to reach her goal. When Rosie’s mother gives her an expensive makeover and a bejeweled, talking compact, the formerly kind and low-key teen starts to change, taking her lead from the mirror’s dark source. Focused on being “the fairest in the land,” Rosie loses sight of who she really is, hurting her friends and her chances for the right date. Readers will enjoy Littman’s (Backlash) riffs on and jabs at the original story (on how Rosie’s parents met: “Every time I imagine being totally passed out and waking up to find some strange guy kissing me, all I think is, ‘Eww, nope! Nope! Nope!’ ”) and take heart in the underlying message about being true to oneself. Ages 8–12. Agent: Jennifer Laughran, Andrea Brown Literary. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/22/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Catching a Storyfish

Janice H. Harrington. Wordsong, $17.95 (224p) ISBN 978-1-62979-429-7

In this affecting novel in verse, Keet has always had a lot to say, but since moving from Alabama to Illinois, her voice feels stifled. With a conspicuous accent and no friends, Keet finds happiness in her weekend fishing trips with her grandfather. In the poem “Why?,” Keet questions the motivation for her family’s relocation: “Better job,/ better pay,/ better school,/ away, away./ For Grandpa’s sake. He’s all alone./ For all the reasons parents drone,/ for all the reasons parents say,/ for bigger dreams, for better dreams,/ we moved away.” Keet feels even more adrift after Grandpa has a stroke and retreats into depression. With the help of a new friend and her own passion for storytelling, Keet reconnects with her grandfather and finds her voice. Harrington (Busy-Busy Little Chick) makes thoughtful use of several types of poetry to tell Keet’s story, including blues, catalog, concrete, narrative, contrapuntal, and prose poems (all discussed in a glossary). The poetry forms are well-chosen, their diverse rhythms and formats sensitively reflecting the fluctuating emotions of Keet’s narration. Ages 8–12. Agent: Stephen Fraser, Jennifer De Chiara Literary. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/22/2016 | Details & Permalink

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