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Becoming Jinn

Lori Goldstein. Feiwel and Friends, $17.99 (384p) ISBN 978-1-250-05539-2

In debut author Goldstein's genre-bending cross between urban fantasy and dystopia, genies secretly live among the human population, but they must keep their true nature secret or be punished by the despotic Afrit. Sixteen-year-old Azra hates her destiny as a jinn, forced to grant wishes and obey the Afrit's rules. Moreover, she is haunted by the death of her human best friend in a childhood accident—a crucial piece of backstory that lacks depth and power. As Azra and her jinn sisterhood come into their powers and begin granting wishes, Azra finds herself enmeshed in the lives of two boys: her deceased friend's brother, Henry, and Nate, an intimidatingly attractive, secretly sweet lifeguard. When Henry finds out about Azra's identity, life gets even more complicated. Azra's resentment of her situation is vivid and realistic, but it can border on whiny, and secondary characters are largely underdeveloped. Unfortunately, the plot tends toward the cliché, as Azra discovers that she has more power than most jinn and that there are secrets in her heritage. Ages 12–up. Agent: Lucy Carson, Friedrich Agency. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 04/24/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Valiant

Sarah McGuire. Egmont USA, $16.99 (384p) ISBN 978-1-60684-552-3

Debut novelist McGuire gives her ambitious retelling of the Grimms' tale of the Brave Little Tailor a solid dose of girl power. After her mother's death, 17-year-old Saville accompanies her gruff father to the village of Reggen, where he will start up his tailoring business anew. When he is felled by an apoplexy, Saville dresses as a boy, calls herself Avi, and takes on the guise of her father's apprentice. The ruse plays on even after Avi outwits two giants who were scouting Reggen for their mysterious leader, a duke who claims to be an heir of the ancient emperor and "holder of the eternal heart." But when the village learns the true identity of its supposed giant-slaying champion, and an army of raging giants approaches, Saville finds unlikely allies (and romance) as she takes on her next challenge. McGuire crafts a richly detailed cast, and her heroine brings verve to a familiar story. Explanations of the giants' mythology and the mystical eternal heart slow the action a bit, but readers will be rewarded by a satisfying conclusion. Ages 10–up. Agent: Tracey Adams, Adams Literary. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 04/24/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Boys of Fire and Ash

Meaghan McIsaac. Delacorte, $16.99 (336p) ISBN 978-0-385-74445-4

In this immersive fantasy, Urgle is one of the boys of the Ikkuma Pit, left alone in the ash of a volcanic caldera as babies; those who live through the night are taken in by "Big Brothers" and taught to survive. At maturity, they must leave the pit forever. When Blaze, a returnee from the outside, seeks refuge, he brings destruction with him, and Urgle's "Little Brother," Cubby, is taken away by bestial Tunrars. Urgle is unskilled, but he'll do anything to save his Little Brother. Together with Blaze and a tiny band of Ikkuma boys, he sets off to find the Beginners' High Temple, a cult with sinister plans for Cubby. The underlying creation myth that tries to explain why the tribe would abandon its male babies is somewhat hard to swallow, but the novel is urgently gritty, with rich worldbuilding and plenty of action. McIsaac's debut is at its best when it focuses on Urgle, a misfit among the discarded, cleaving to his quest in a world so alien to him. Ages 10–up. Agent: Alison McDonald, The Rights Factory. (May)

Reviewed on 04/24/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Girl in the Torch

Robert Sharenow. HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray, $16.99 (304p) ISBN 978-0-06-222795-9

Sharenow (The Berlin Boxing Club) follows the struggles of a 12-year-old Russian Jewish immigrant in early 20th-century New York City. Driven from their home after their village is attacked, Sarah Cohen and her mother travel by ship to Ellis Island. After her mother dies suddenly, Sarah is left there to fend for herself, with only a toy bear for company. Desperate, Sarah swims to Liberty Island. There, she survives on tourists' leftovers until she helps an injured, drunk watchman, who takes her to a rooming house in Chinatown where people of all cultures and religions sit at the dinner table together. The story has the feeling of being more about a time then a character, and Sarah's rapid education in American life can give the novel a didactic tone. But it's also rich with historical detail as Sharenow covers flophouses, newsies, and more, and its themes of drawing strength from others, making a new life, and struggling for independence are moving. Endnotes provide additional information on U.S. immigration history. Ages 8–12. Agent: Maria Massie, Lippincott, Massie, McQuilkin. (May)

Reviewed on 04/24/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Best Friend Next Door

Carolyn Mackler. Scholastic Press, $16.99 (224p) ISBN 978-0-545-70944-6

Hannah faces some emotional earthquakes in the waning weeks of the summer before fifth grade in this chipper, funny novel that explores the loyalties of family and friends. Things are bad enough now that Hannah's best friend and next-door neighbor, Sophie, has moved to Canada. Then Hannah's father and stepmother announce that they are expecting a baby, and a new family quickly moves into Sophie's house. When Hannah sees a girl arrive next door (wearing the exact tie-dye shirt Hannah is wearing!), she is determined not to like her. That proves impossible after Hannah meets Emme and learns that they share a birthday and a love of palindromes, peanut butter, and swimming, among other things. In her first book for middle-graders, Mackler (The Future of Us) warmly depicts the ebb and flow of this duo's relationship in alternating chapters narrated by each girl. Emme's two mothers and Hannah's parents form a supportive team during their daughters' first school year together; readers will enjoy spending time with this memorable pair as they, their friendship, and their families grow and change. Ages 8–12. Agent: Jodi Reamer, Writers House. (May)

Reviewed on 04/24/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Weatherboy

Pimm van Hest, illus. by Kristof Devos. Clavis (Legato, dist.), $16.95 (32p) ISBN 978-1-60537-212-9

In a melancholy story translated from the Dutch, a boy with flyaway orange hair is born with the ability to control the weather based on his temperament. "Weatherboy," as he is known in his village, grows weary of his gift once demands from people around him become too overwhelming: "Heat waves, rainbows, thunder, lightning, hail, storm, fog... Everyone wanted something from him and they all wanted something different." Devos's moody art depicts the covetous masses as menacing, clownlike figures, who drive Weatherboy to seek solitude in a house built in the ropey arms of a tree, his unhappiness mooring the world in darkness and snow. When another outlier, Skateboy, nicknamed for his love of ice skating, comes to Weatherboy's door, the two become fast friends, and the warmth of their friendship causes the world to begin to thaw and makes Weatherboy worry that his new friend will be unhappy. Van Hest touches on an individual's power to influence his or her environment and being true to one's identity, yet the abrupt conclusion leaves unresolved Weatherboy's friendship concerns and relationship with the world at large. Ages 5–7. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 04/24/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Taffy Time

Jennifer Lloyd, illus. by Jacqui Lee. Simply Read (IPS, dist.), $16.95 (40p) ISBN 978-1-927018-62-0

In a story about taking part and feeling needed, from the team behind the Murilla Gorilla books, a girl named Kate eagerly tags along when her older sister and father head out to make maple syrup on their farm. Despite the rural setting, the atmosphere is far from rustic: dominated by minty shades of pink and blue, the landscape of the farm is crisp and modern, while Kate and her family are drawn in a naïf cartoon style with dot eyes and bean-shaped noses. The girls' father (who is gently exasperated by Kate's insistence on helping) explains the process of making syrup, but Kate spills a pail, drops her mitten in the bubbling sap, and gets lost when she wanders away from the sugar shack. After her relieved father finds her, he lets Kate take part in an activity that allows her abilities to shine—making maple taffy by pouring syrup onto a tabletop covered with snow and winding it around using a popsicle stick. A sweet-natured story that gives readers insight into family dynamics and a unique seasonal business. Ages 4–8. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 04/24/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Mo and Beau

Vanya Nastanlieva. Simply Read (IPS, dist.), $15.95 (36p) ISBN 978-1-927018-63-7

Nastanlieva (The New Arrival) introduces an unlikely animal duo in Mo, a small white mouse, and Big Beau, a goliath brown bear. Beau's immense size doesn't intimidate Mo, who is eager for a play companion. After Mo fearlessly tweaks the fur on Beau's foot to get his attention, the resting bear opens his eyes and, looking almost ominous in Nastanlieva's bristly art, "showed off his teeth." Not to be outdone, Mo also shows his teeth and the two animals engage in a playful imitation game. When Beau takes deep breath, so does Mo; when Beau roars, Mo squeaks, and when the bear stretches or scratches himself, the little mouse does the same. Following a "big yawn" for both animals, Beau falls asleep with Mo napping cozily between his ears. Ample white space keeps the focus squarely on these dramatically dissimilar animals (Beau's hulking form fills many of the spreads, while Mo rises barely above the bear's paw). It's a simple yet striking story about the dynamics of parallel play and of making friends. Ages 3–7. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 04/24/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Lumberjanes Vol. 1

Noelle Stevenson and Grace Ellis with Shannon Watters, illus. by Brooke Allen. Boom!/Boom! Box (S&S, dist.), $14.99 trade paper (128p) ISBN 978-1-60886-687-8

The first four supernatural adventures of five young scouts-in-training at Miss Qiunzella Thiskwin Penniquiqul Thistle Crumpet's Camp for Girls Hardcore Lady Types are gathered in this clever, funny, and just-creepy-enough collection. After a skulk of three-eyed foxes deliver the ominous message, "Beware the kitten holy," friends Jo, Mal, Molly, April, and Ripley are drawn into a world of paranormal goings-on that involves a mysterious lighthouse, a trap-laden underground cave, and a nearby camp for boys. With a cast of varied skills and temperaments, there's something here for everyone. Wild child Ripley doesn't hesitate to leap after the eagle that snatches her candy bar. April, who has the doe eyes and buoyant tresses of a Disney princess, doesn't just arm-wrestle a giant talking statue, she snaps off his arm in the process. Natural leader Jo is a math whiz, and the mutual attraction between nervous punk-rocker Mal and sweet-natured Molly is evident. Humorously riffing on everything from scout badges to the X-Men to feminist heroes ("Where the Phillis Wheatley were you?"), it's a sharp, smart, and most of all fun celebration of sisterhood that will leave readers eager for the Lumberjanes' future exploits. Ages 10–up. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 04/24/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Truth About Us

Janet Gurtler. Sourcebooks Fire, $9.99 trade paper (320p) ISBN 978-1-4022-7800-6

Ever since Jess's mother was attacked in a random, violent assault and subsequently fell into a depression, their family has fractured, and Jess's own behavior has become destructive. After Jess is caught drinking, sunbathing topless, and running up her parents' credit card, her father forces her to spend the summer volunteering at a local shelter. Privileged Jess is fearful and judgmental at first, but she soon befriends Wilf, a cantankerous elderly volunteer, and falls for a boy named Flynn, who brings his younger brother to the shelter for meals. Jess and Flynn's attraction is immediate and intense, but their friends and families don't want to see kids from different neighborhoods together. Jess's conversations with Wilf are gratifying, and her evolution into a more conscientious person comes across organically. Yet the story is weighed down by occasionally mawkish dialogue ("Fair is a place that has corn dogs and Ferris wheels. It's not real life," Flynn responds when Jess complains that life isn't fair) and the rehashing of plot. Ages 14–up. Agent: Jill Corcoran, Jill Corcoran Literary Agency. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 04/24/2015 | Details & Permalink

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