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When Dimple Met Rishi

Sandhya Menon. Simon Pulse, $17.99 (384p) ISBN 978-1-4814-7868-7

In this bright and funny debut novel, Menon introduces two intellectually gifted teens from traditional Indian families who meet at a summer tech conference in San Francisco. The twist: Dimple and Rishi’s parents have arranged their marriage. Rishi is aware of the arrangement; Dimple is not. Rishi longs for a traditional marriage like the one his parents have, but Dimple is adamantly opposed to her parents’ efforts to push her toward the same, favoring a career and education over family. After a disastrous initial meeting (Dimple throws iced coffee at Rishi), the two creep toward friendship and love, a slow process recounted through their alternating points of view (often switching multiple times within a single chapter). This frequent back and forth provides a detailed play-by-play of the teenagers’ shifting emotions as Menon vividly conjures the joy, self-doubt, and humor of first love. Romance-loving readers will celebrate the ways that Rishi and Dimple learn to respect and appreciate their Indian heritage and traditions but also manage to go their own way. Ages 12–up. Agent: Thao Le, Sandra Dijkstra Literary. (May)

Reviewed on 03/24/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Dark Breaks the Dawn

Sara B. Larson. Scholastic Press, $17.99 (320p) ISBN 978-1-338-06869-6

Larson (the Defy trilogy) deftly weaves fantasy with the best parts of the Swan Lake ballet in this gripping first book of a duology. The kingdoms of the Éadrolan and the Dorjhalon have been engaged in a bitter war for 10 years, costing thousands of lives. Queen Ilaria now leads the forces of the Light, much to the dismay of her daughter, Evelayn. After Evelayn ascends to Éadrolan’s throne unexpectedly early, following her mother’s death, Evelayn grapples with learning how to control her newfound powers and how to be an effective wartime ruler. One of the powers inherent to royals is the ability to assume animal form, something Evelayn struggles with throughout, and her attempts to balance her personal and professional lives is mirrored in the give and take between the Éadrolan and Dorjhalon. Larson is especially effective in her portrait of Evelayn’s need to summon maturity before she thought she would have to, a sweetly innocent romance underscores the bite of betrayal, and the cliffhanger ending will easily build anticipation for the second book. Ages 12–up. Agent: Josh Adams, Adams Literary. (May)

Reviewed on 03/24/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Beyond the Bright Sea

Lauren Wolk. Dutton, $16.99 (304p) ISBN 978-1-101-99485-6

Creating mystery and suspense in an unusual setting, Newbery Honor–winner Wolk (Wolf Hollow) spins an intriguing tale of an orphan determined to find her roots, set in the 1920s. As a baby, Crow was found in a boat washed up on a (fictional) Massachusetts island. Osh, the introverted painter who found her, named her and took her in. Since then, Crow has enjoyed a tranquil existence, except for being ostracized by those who believe she came from nearby Penikese Island, which housed lepers. When Crow, now 12, spots a fire across the water on Penikese, her curiosity is awakened. After persuading Osh and their friend Miss Maggie to investigate, she takes the first step in an emotional quest to discover who her parents were. Crow is a determined and dynamic heroine with a strong intuition, who pieces together the puzzle of her past while making profound realizations about the definition of family. Wolk’s economical prose clearly delineates Crow’s conflicting emotions and growing awareness, and readers will feel the love and loyalty that she, Osh, and Miss Maggie share. Ages 10–up. Agent: Jodi Reamer, Writers House. (May)

Reviewed on 03/24/2017 | Details & Permalink

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How to Be a Supervillain

Michael Fry. LB/Patterson, $13.99 (320p) ISBN 978-0-316-31869-3

Cartoonist and author Fry (the Odd Squad series) explores what happens when supervillain parents end up with a good kid in this offbeat story, which is bolstered by plenty of loopy b&w comics sequences. Twelve-year-old Victor wants to please his parents, Rupert and Olivia Spoil, but it’s hard when he’s a neatnik who doesn’t have an evil bone in his body. Enter the Smear, one of the many nutty heroes and antiheroes populating the story. Not even the most sinister of villains, Dr. Deplorable, is remotely menacing—Fry draws heroes and evildoers alike as egg-headed, out-of-shape has-beens with such names as Professor Tuba and the Pollinator. The Smear, whose superpower is staining people, has been hired by Victor’s parents to tutor Victor in the art of supervillainy in a world in which superhero battles are all staged, “just like pro wrestling.” Kids who like their humor absurdist may be entertained, but with low-as-can-be stakes and what’s essentially a cast of losers, it may not impress diehard superhero fans. Ages 8–14. Agent: Daniel Lazar, Writers House. (May)

Reviewed on 03/24/2017 | Details & Permalink

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My Little Half-Moon

Douglas Todd Jennerich, illus. by Kate Berube. Putnam, $16.99 (32p) ISBN 978-0-399-16901-4

A boy sees a half-moon hanging in the sky and assumes “he” must be pining for his other half: “No one to glow with and everyone knowing/ How sad is the face that the half a moon’s showing.” So the boy begins a combination vigil/intervention, camping out in his backyard to keep the moon company, attempting to lighten the mood with an extended show and tell, and even offering a pep talk (“I told him without him, the world would be dim,/ How tides in the ocean were all ’cause of him”). One night, finally, the moon is full. Not only have the boy’s efforts worked—in his opinion, at least—but he’s found his own other “half”: a girl who has been admiring him from afar. Debut author Jennerich has written a heartfelt tribute to the power of empathy, but his literal-minded quatrains don’t wear well. Although Berube’s (Hannah and Sugar) blue-green palette provides lovely nocturnal atmosphere, it’s not enough to counter a text that quickly turns cloying. Ages 5–8. Author’s agent: Grainne Fox, Fletcher & Company. Illustrator’s agent: Lori Kilkelly, Rodeen Literary Management. (May)

Reviewed on 03/24/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Mr. Tanner

Harry Chapin, illus. by Bryan Langdo. Ripple Grove (SPU, dist.), $17.99 (40p) ISBN 978-0-9913866-8-0

The late singer-songwriter Chapin’s 1976 song “Mr. Tanner” gets a picture-book adaptation that softens some of the song’s melancholy, though not much. Inspired by real-life events, it tells of Mr. Tanner, a “cleaner from a town in the Midwest,” who loves to sing but recognizes that although “music was his life, it was not his livelihood.” After friends urge him to “use his gift instead of cleaning coats,” Mr. Tanner hops a plane to New York City and performs at Town Hall, but the reviews are not kind. Langdo (There’s a Cat in Our Class!) portrays Mr. Tanner as a well-dressed brown bear, and his sensitive watercolors draw out the joy Mr. Tanner gets from singing, his shock over the bad review, and its effect on him: after returning home, “he smiled and just said nothing, and he never sang again.” Although closing images of Mr. Tanner singing to himself at his shop temper this outcome somewhat, it’s a somber reminder of the way criticism can get inside an artist’s head. Ages 5–7. (May)

Reviewed on 03/24/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Bad Guy

Hannah Barnaby, illus. by Mike Hamada. Simon & Schuster, $17.99 (32p) ISBN 978-1-4814-6010-1

“Mom calls me Sweetie Pie and Buddy Bear,” says Barnaby’s (Some of the Parts) narrator. “But I am not those things. I am bad.” In vivid vignettes with the feel of animation stills, the eye-patch-wearing boy lives up to his villainous self-image by vanquishing his sister, Alice, in various pretend-play scenarios. “On Tuesday I sailed the seven seas and kept all the treasure for myself,” he recounts (Alice is shown tied to a tree); on Friday, he dumps spaghetti on her head and makes believe that he’s eating her brain. But Alice turns the tables on Saturday: she ensnares her brother in a classic net trap, then taunts him by eating “all the orange Popsicles right in front of me.” Yamada (Kai to the Rescue!) gives Alice a determined glare that generally makes her look more like someone biding her time than a victim. But her triumph falls somewhat flat—her nemesis is bratty and mean, but not much else, and it’s hard to care about the comeuppance of a one-dimensional character. Ages 4–8. Author’s agent: Linda Pratt, Wernick & Pratt. Illustrator’s agent: Kirsten Hall, Catbird Agency. (May)

Reviewed on 03/24/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Princess Lila Builds a Tower

Anne Paradis, illus. by Karina Dupuis. CrackBoom (Legato, dist.), $15.95 (32p) ISBN 978-2-9815807-5-7

A pampered princess makes baby steps toward independence in this underwhelming fairy tale from author/publisher Paradis, which features airy, whimsical artwork from newcomer Dupuis. Princess Lila, whose blonde locks would give Rapunzel’s a run for their money, lives in a castle where she has all the books, toys, dresses, and servants she could ask for. Lila dreams of exploring beyond the castle’s walls, but her parents forbid her from entering the forest, which they claim is “much too dangerous for a princess.” Hitting on a solution, Lila oversees the construction of a giant tower that lets her spy distant lands through a telescope—and she discovers a faraway prince with his own telescope. Readers may appreciate that the princess finds a way to achieve some autonomy within the restrictions placed on her, but the tower doesn’t really bring her any closer to “meet[ing] people from other places and play[ing] with children her own age.” Rather than a triumph, Lila’s tower-based surveillance makes her existence seem even more isolated, and other rational solutions (such as an escorted trip to the forest) are ignored. Ages 3–up. (May)

Reviewed on 03/24/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Caring for Your Lion

Tammi Sauer, illus. by Troy Cummings. Sterling, $16.95 (32p) ISBN 978-1-4549-1609-3

It’s a common enough problem: ask for a kitten, receive a lion instead. Luckily, Sauer (Mary Had a Little Glam) has readers covered in this step-by-step guide to a singular pet, which adopts the dry tone of an owner’s manual. Countering that deadpan writing is Cummings’s (Little Red Gliding Hood) boisterous artwork, a mix of schematic-style diagrams and vividly exaggerated cartons starring a boy and the enormous yellow lion that arrives in a crate. “Try very hard not to look like a zebra. Or a gazelle. Or a bunny,” advises Sauer in step three; Cummings shows the boy frantically covering up his rabbit T-shirt. If one does accidentally get eaten, worry not—a simple, tickle-inducing feather is all that’s needed to remedy the situation, a process depicted in a series of Ikea-esque labeled diagrams. Humorous details are everywhere, from the stack of pizzas delivered to satiate the lion (toppings include rhino and antelope) to the lion’s house-cat-like tendency to sleep in sunbeams and on top of the fridge. Ages 3–up. Author’s agent: Laura Rennert, Andrea Brown Literary. Illustrator’s agent: Ronnie Ann Herman, Herman Agency. (May)

Reviewed on 03/24/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Raymond

Yann and Gwendel Le Bec. Candlewick, $16.99 (32p) ISBN 978-0-7636-8950-6

The doggy wears Prada? Kind of. The Le Bec brothers (Danny) introduce a brown dog named Raymond who has a “pretty nice” life with his human family: “They always saved him a snug little spot by the sofa, scratched behind his ears in just the right place, and, every year, threw him a surprise birthday party.” But Raymond dreams of more and begins to “act more and more like a human,” joining his family for cupcakes, cappuccinos, and trips to the movies. Inspired by his new perspective (“The world looked different on two feet, bigger on two feet”), Raymond accepts a job at Dogue magazine as a “rover-ing reporter,” working late into the night typing up stories. The Le Becs’ chic digital illustrations are just right for the busy, glamor-tinged life Raymond embarks on, which culminates in his becoming a TV news star, before realizing that he had it pretty good when he only needed to worry about chasing balls and having his belly rubbed. It’s an entertaining “be careful what you wish for” story, albeit one that may speak more to overworked parents than their children. Ages 3–7. (May)

Reviewed on 03/24/2017 | Details & Permalink

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