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Run

Kody Keplinger. Scholastic Press, $17.99 (304p) ISBN 978-0-545-83113-0

Keplinger (Lying Out Loud) explores the unlikely friendship between two girls: Agnes Atwood, who has a genetic condition that has left her legally blind, and Bo Dickinson, a member of the most notorious (and most maligned) family in a small Kentucky town full of gossips. Alternating between Bo and Agnes's perspectives, Keplinger tells this story backward and forward—Bo's chapters take place in the present, as Agnes and Bo skip town in the middle of the night, while Agnes's start at the beginning of their friendship, revealing the local reputation of the Dickinsons and how the two girls met and became close. Keplinger creates strong, distinct personalities for the girls through their first-person narratives; that readers never get Agnes's thoughts about being with Bo as they flee police is the story's main weakness. Agnes and Bo may share equal space on the page, but this is primarily Bo's story, with Agnes left explaining Bo's circumstances. This, along with the drawn-out mystery behind Bo's reasons for running, tends to frustrate the story's tension rather than build suspense. Ages 14–up. Agent: Joanna Volpe, New Leaf Literary & Media. (June)

Reviewed on 05/27/2016 | Details & Permalink

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The Darkest Lie

Pintip Dunn. Kensington, $9.95 trade paper (256p) ISBN 978-1-4967-0358-3

In a romantic thriller that unfolds in the aftermath of profound loss, CeCe Brooks's mother, Tabitha, has allegedly committed suicide, following rumors that she was sleeping with the high school quarterback. Hounded by students and reporters, CeCe tries to keep a low profile during her senior year. Dunn (Forget Tomorrow) believably conveys Cece's anger, shame, and growing distrust, and the mystery intensifies when CeCe's father reveals that he doesn't believe Tabitha killed herself or slept with the student. The answers may lie at the crisis hotline where she worked, so CeCe volunteers there to investigate. New student Sam wants to help, but CeCe worries that he's trying to dig up dirt to win a journalism scholarship. When CeCe is threatened, she wonders whether a killer may be on the loose, and the suspects multiply. Layered on top of the mystery is romance, with CeCe torn between her feelings for Sam and Liam, a fellow crisis center counselor. While Dunn's writing can be overwrought at times, CeCe's attempts to preserve her mother's reputation keep the story's emotional stakes high. Ages 14–up. Agent: Beth Miller, Writers House. (June)

Reviewed on 05/27/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Cure for the Common Universe

Christian McKay Heidicker. Simon & Schuster, $17.99 (320p) ISBN 978-1-4814-5027-0

Heidicker's debut offers a realistic portrayal of the difficulty of overcoming addiction, whether it involves controlled substances or video-game controllers. Jaxon, 16, is addicted to an MMORPG; as his health and social life suffer, his father forces him into video-game rehab, but the timing couldn't be worse: Jaxon has just scored his first date. Desperate to get out of "V-hab" in time to meet Serena in just a few days, Jaxon must work through a series of game-like challenges to earn enough points to be discharged. The snarky, expletive-prone banter between Jaxon and his compatriots is both believable and an easy hook for readers who might typically prefer World of Warcraft to novels. But where the novel really shines is in Jaxon's interactions—as a white, upper-middle-class boy—with campmates who are diverse in terms of both ethnicity and sexuality, and who challenge some of his preexisting assumptions. In confronting Jaxon's privilege and complicated family history, the book eschews easy answers for a more authentic ending that promises that the work of self-improvement is ongoing and difficult. Ages 14–up. Agent: John Cusick, Folio Literary Management. (June)

Reviewed on 05/27/2016 | Details & Permalink

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The Misadventures of Max Crumbly: Locker Hero

Rachel Renée Russell. Aladdin, $13.99 (320p) ISBN 978-1-4814-6001-9

Russell returns to the journal-style format of her bestselling Dork Diaries series as she introduces a hapless, comics-loving boy named Max who recounts many of his woes while stuck inside his school locker. Featuring the same doll-like black-and-white cartooning style and lined-paper backgrounds of the Dork Diaries books, the story strikes an awkward balance between slice-of-life underdog problems and over-the-top plot developments, shifting into the latter after Max escapes his locker and attempts to live out his superhero fantasies by foiling thieves who have infiltrated the school. Unfortunately, the book's comedy is forced and often misses the mark, weighed down by tired catchphrases ("Don't get it twisted!"; "That was just wrong on so many levels!") and gross-out gags, such as when Max imagines peeing on school bully Doug "Thug" Thurston in a fight-or-flight response. Early on, Max cautions that those who don't like "comic book cliffhangers" may not want to continue, but that caveat may not prepare readers for just how unsatisfyingly and abruptly Russell concludes her story. Ages 9–13. Agent: Daniel Lazar, Writers House. (June)

Reviewed on 05/27/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Real Sisters Pretend

Megan Dowd Lambert, illus. by Nicole Tadgell. Tilbury House, $16.95 (32p) ISBN 978-0-88448-441-7

Tayja and Mia may enjoy pretending to be "hiking princesses" who must scale the mountains of the family sofa, but as older sister Tayja makes clear, there's nothing pretend about them being sisters, even though they don't look alike (Tayja has brown skin, Mia white). "We are sisters," she says, staring into Mia's eyes. "Real sisters." In an extended dialogue between the girls, Lambert (A Crow of His Own) highlights the small but important conversations that happen among siblings trying to understand their place in the world and within their families. Tadgell (Friends for Freedom) emphasizes the girls' closeness in warm watercolor-and-pencil vignettes that show them talking about being adopted by two mothers (one is white, the other of Asian background) while playing with their stuffed toy lion, having a snack, and generally hanging all over each other. The sisters also talk frankly about the fact that "some people" don't instinctively see them as a family, remembering a recent grocery store encounter. Though the story is somewhat message-heavy, it's still a useful reminder of the varied ways families can take shape. Ages 4–7. (May)

Reviewed on 05/27/2016 | Details & Permalink

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"Oh, No," Said Elephant

A.H. Benjamin, illus. by Alireza Goldouzian. Minedition, $17.99 (48p) ISBN 978-988-8341-07-8

Poor Elephant. His friends want to play hide-and-seek, leapfrog, and other games, but his bulk and slowness seem destined to keep him out of the winner's circle. "Oh, no," says Elephant in response to each suggested game. "I'm not good at that." Dressed in a natty bow tie and pants, Elephant makes the most of each situation, and Iranian artist Goldouzian does the same, in wildly inventive paintings that celebrate the animals' chaotic play. Teacups and chairs go flying when Elephant hides under a table during hide-and-seek; "I can see you!" shouts Monkey, soaring in through a window. Later, Zebra attempts to pole vault over the "too tall" Elephant during hopscotch. Some readers may be surprised at how mean Elephant's friends are ("You're foolish!" cries Leopard, tangled up with Elephant in a jump rope), but Benjamin (The Big Splash) subtly emphasizes the value of participation—and that it's possible to have fun even when an activity isn't one's strong suit. Eventually, the tables turn when Elephant suggests playing tug-of-war: Elephant may be big, clumsy, and slow, but he's also strong, in more ways than one. Ages 3–5. (June)

Reviewed on 05/27/2016 | Details & Permalink

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