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Nowhere Boy

Katherine Marsh. Roaring Brook, $16.99 (368p) ISBN 978-1-250-30757-6

Uprooted from their homelands through vastly different circumstances, two teenage boys form an unusual friendship in present-day Brussels. After a bomb kills Ahmed’s mother and sisters, he and his father undertake a treacherous journey from Syria to Greece, but Ahmed arrives alone, his father lost at sea and presumed dead. Once in Belgium, desperate to avoid yet another “reception center... human pens where refugees were crowded together, given expired food, and hollered at by impatient guards,” he flees, sneaking into the basement of a house on Avenue Albert Jonnart, named after a man who hid a Jewish teenager during WWII. Max, a misfit American teen who has just arrived at this house with his family, is grudgingly repeating sixth grade at the nearby “School of Misery.” Alternate chapters share each boy’s perspective with humor and pathos, capturing their sense of profound isolation and fear until they meet each other. Soon Max feels inspired to follow Jonnart’s example. Through the boys’ deepening friendship, Marsh (The Night Tourist) offers a timely and entertaining tale of suspense and intrigue while eloquently conveying the courage necessary to trust another person in a climate rife with fear, suspicion, and ethical dilemmas. Ages 10–14. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 11/16/2018 | Details & Permalink

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1919: The Year That Changed America

Martin W. Sandler. Bloomsbury, $24.99 (192p) ISBN 978-1-68119-801-9

In six lucid chapters, Sandler (Apollo 8: The Mission That Changed Everything) details headline-dominating events from 1919, “one of the most momentous years in the nation’s history.” After a riveting start devoted to a single, highly destructive incident—Boston’s Great Molasses Flood, which led to building code, municipal oversight, and corporate liability precedents—Sandler proceeds to topics with a longer history, some of whose reverberations continue today: the passage of the 19th Amendment granting women the right to vote, widespread racial strife, waves of red scares that spread the fear of a Communist takeover, labor unrest, and the advent of Prohibition. For each subject, Sandler provides historical context, recounts the specific events of 100 years ago, and traces the impact through to the present day. He succeeds to varying degrees in making connections between women’s presence in government and business, the Black Lives Matter movement, immigration, white supremacy, climate change, gun control, and public health. Even so, Sandler’s narrative skill and eye for detail, and the abundant archival photos throughout, make for an engrossing resource. Further reading, sources, credits, and an index augment the text. Ages 10-14. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 11/16/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Attucks! Oscar Robertson and the Basketball Team That Awakened a City

Phillip Hoose. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $19.99 (224p) ISBN 978-0-374-30612-0

In this rousing history of Indiana high school state basketball championships in the 1950s, Hoose (The Boys Who Challenged Hitler) explores the racism prevalent in the state and the black players who triumphed over it. Hoose chronicles the 25 years between the opening of all-black Crispus Attucks High School in 1927 and its first opportunity to play in the finals of the state tournament, laying bare the ugly forces the players had to overcome: the Ku Klux Klan, the poverty that made owning a basketball a pipe dream for most black kids, inadequate school facilities, biased referees, condescending civic authorities who cheated the state champions out of the parade a white team would have enjoyed, and more. Hoose balances this exposé of basketball’s racist history with thrilling game accounts, character insight, and great sympathy. Oscar Robertson may be the best-known player from this era, but Crispus Attucks’s basketball coach, Ray Crowe, who molded the teams, becomes the real hero in this masterfully told story. Archival material and sources are included. Ages 12–18. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 11/16/2018 | Details & Permalink

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A Thousand Sisters: The Heroic Airwomen of the Soviet Union in World War II

Elizabeth Wein. Balzer + Bray, $19.99 (384p) ISBN 978-0-06-245301-3

In this engrossing account, Wein (The Pearl Thief) introduces three Soviet regiments of female combat pilots during WWII. The chapters cover the ambitions, training, daily life, horrors, and successes of the “thousand sisters” who volunteered to join their commander, Marina Raskova, for this perilous work. The opening sections about Raskova’s rise to prominence are particularly well-written and include helpful background on the Soviet Union’s formation, Stalin, and the 1930s, as well as the 1938 flight of the Rodina, which made Raskova a household name. Once the regiments disperse to separate locations, each with a different mission and type of aircraft, the narrative becomes trickier to manage. Wein successfully reminds readers of locations and who’s who, but some of the later chapters suffer from name overload. Still, readers will be impressed by her clear, casual style and her affecting introduction to these courageous, determined pilots, mechanics, and navigators. Insets provide information on side subjects, such as radar vs. radio and female pilots in the U.S. and Britain. Abundant archival photos, a bibliography, and source notes support the story. Ages 13–up. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 11/16/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Your Own Worst Enemy

Gordon Jack. HarperTeen, $17.99 (448p) ISBN 978-0-06-239942-7

A group of idiosyncratic teenagers navigates the precarious waters of identity and cultural appropriation while campaigning for student government in this delightfully comedic and timely high school drama by Jack (The Boomerang Effect). In California, extracurricular superstar and avid environmentalist Stacey faces unexpected competition in her run for student body president from a mysterious new girl, Julia, who appears to be a Latina—and garners the Latino vote—but hides the fact that she doesn’t actually know her heritage. Further complications ensue when Stacey’s best friend and campaign manager, Brian, develops a reciprocated crush on Julia, while his cunning conspiracy theorist younger brother, Mohawk, not only persuades the perpetually stoned, “not stereotypically Asian” Tony to join the race but also defaces Julia’s posters with the phrase “Build That Wall!”, successfully transferring public sentiment away from Stacey and toward Julia. The parents are all emotionally and sometimes physically unavailable, leaving the protagonists to wrestle with questions about their own identities, how to represent themselves to the world, and whom they can trust. This briskly paced, at times riotously funny satire offers a subtle, discerning critique of both the contemporary U.S. political scene and the milieu of identity politics through top-notch storytelling. Ages 14–up. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 11/16/2018 | Details & Permalink

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The Truth About Martians

Melissa Savage. Crown, $16.99 (336p) ISBN 978-1-5247-0016-4

In the summer of 1947, a flying saucer crashes near 11-year-old Mylo Hildago’s family ranch outside Roswell, N.M. Mylo and his best friend, Dibs, investigate the crash site, but Mylo doesn’t believe in Martians until a voice contacts him telephathically, asking for help. Mylo, who narrates, has other things on his mind: his brother, Obie, who died at age 12, “one year, one month, eight days” ago; his dramatic impatience to hit puberty; and Graciela (“my Lois Lane”), on whom he has a crush. Savage (Lemons) beautifully balances Mylo’s intense sorrow about Obie’s death with plenty of adventure and stinky-feet jokes. Mylo’s friendship with Dibs is heartwarming and genuine, rooted in comic books and constant companionship. As the friends embark on their quest to save the Martians, Savage keeps the story grounded in real-world, terrestrial challenges: how best to summon courage and embrace new beginnings. Ages 8–12. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 11/16/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Speechless

Adam P. Schmitt. Candlewick, $16.99 (304p) ISBN 978-1-5362-0092-8

This emotionally raw first novel places eighth grader Jimmy in an impossible situation when his parents force him to eulogize Patrick, a recently deceased cousin he despised. The novel spans the wake and funeral, and titles such as “some people enjoy a wake like it’s a wedding,” introduce the chapters, which include flashback scenes with the volatile and sometimes explosive Patrick, who was Jimmy’s age. The flashbacks vary in pacing and effectiveness; the first, about their seven-year stint in the park district’s Junior Explorers, feels bloated, while others are stronger, especially a description of a Fourth of July party thrown by the formidable Grandma Mutz, during which Patrick attacks Jimmy with little firecrackers and Patrick’s father becomes enraged. Jimmy transcends speechlessness to offer an honest and unvarnished tribute. With dark comedy and raw authenticity, Schmitt captures the awkward moments of the funeral while exploring complicated family dynamics, untreated mental health issues, and family secrets. Ages 9–12. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 11/16/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Salt

Hannah Moskowitz. Chronicle, $17.99 (268p) ISBN 978-1-4521-3151-1

In this thoughtful fantasy, 16-year-old Indi and his three siblings (Beleza, 19, Oscar, 12, and Zulu, 6) track and eliminate the vicious sea monsters that threaten “lubs” (landlubbers) and sailors who are ignorant of the monsters’ existence. In the months since their parents’ disappearance, Indi has dutifully played the roles of caretaker, teacher, and ship’s doctor, but his longing for a normal teenage life on land is becoming increasingly difficult to quell. As Beleza’s hunger to discover the truth of their parents’ disappearance pushes them into increasingly dangerous situations, Indi must decide whether to continue fighting monsters or to leave the sea—and his siblings—behind. Like Indi, the pacing here is measured and introspective, except for sea battles, when the motley four-person crew scrambles to defeat unimaginable monsters, including the “nine-tentacled... three-meter-toothed” Morde d’eau. Moskowitz (A History of Glitter and Blood) succeeds at creating a world that feels outside of time; the internet and other contemporary technologies exist outside the siblings’ worn sailboat as they traverse the Mediterranean. Indi’s relationships with his siblings, imperfect and complicated, and his dream that they be able to choose their own paths, will stay with readers long after the final battle. Ages 14–up. Agent: John Cusick, Folio Literary. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 11/16/2018 | Details & Permalink

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The Polar Bear Explorers’ Club

Alex Bell, illus. by Tomislav Tomić. Simon & Schuster, $17.99 (320p) ISBN 978-1-5344-0646-9

Twelve-year-old Stella faces several challenges: her white skin and hair set her apart from the black, brown, and pink people who populate her community, and the Polar Bear Explorer’s Club, which she desperately wants to join, does not allow female members. Stella’s adoptive father, Felix, found her abandoned as an infant, and, aside from puzzling scenes in the nightmares she suffers, Stella has no memories of her birth family. When Felix, a renowned explorer, flouts the rules and takes Stella on a joint expedition with the Polar Bear and Ocean Squid Explorers’ Clubs to venture to the coldest part of the Icelands, her adventure begins. After she and three other Junior Explorers are separated from the group, they navigate harrowing encounters—including one with “frosties,” small fairy-like creatures capable of causing killer frostbite—and the even more vexing process of learning to work together. Bell (Frozen Charlotte) meticulously crafts her world, and detailed illustrations perfectly complement the tale. Celebrating kindness and belief in oneself, this satisfying series starter sheds light on Stella’s past just in time to look forward to a second expedition. Ages 8–12. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 11/16/2018 | Details & Permalink

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More Than a Princess

E.D. Baker. Bloomsbury, $16.99 (288p) ISBN 978-1-68119-768-5

Aislin is all magical creature—half fairy and half pedrasi—and she is the princess of Eliasind, a magical kingdom and diverse court where all fey are welcome. When a band of humans passes unexpectedly into the hidden kingdom, Aislin worries that they will shatter the peace of Eliasind; pretending to be human, she convinces the invading contingent to leave, going with them in an act of sacrifice. Once in the human kingdom, Aislin must figure out how to move through the Magic Gate so that she can find a way home while navigating the human court’s intrigue. Integral to Aislin’s story is her acceptance of her mixed heritage and her willingness to speak up when she’s being harassed about her appearance, which doesn’t fit humans’ typical standards of beauty. Baker’s messages about self-acceptance, standing up for oneself, and the importance of inclusion and diversity are a bit heavy-handed, but Aislin’s journey to self-acceptance is rewarding, and readers will easily draw parallels between Aislin’s world and their own. Ages 8–12. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 11/16/2018 | Details & Permalink

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