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Two Men and a Car: Franklin Roosevelt, Al Capone, and a Cadillac V-8

Michael Garland. Tilbury House, $17.95 (64p) ISBN 978-0-88448-620-6

Garland (A Season of Flowers) uses a car to link two men who made very different headlines during the first half of the 20th century. Legend has it that President Franklin D. Roosevelt, on his way to deliver his “Day of Infamy” speech to Congress in 1941, rode in mobster Al Capone’s bulletproof Cadillac, 10 years after it had been confiscated by the U.S. government. A compare-and-contrast narrative describes how the two intelligent and ambitious New Yorkers, born 17 years apart, chose divergent paths. Their biographies intersect in a few interesting and little-known ways: Roosevelt was a wealthy only child who graduated from Harvard; Capone had eight siblings and once held a job at a dancehall called the Harvard Inn. “Roosevelt was a determined politician who fought his opponents with ballots” faces a page that declares, “Capone was a determined gangster who fought his opponents with guns.” Scratchboard-style illustrations in muted hues offer realistic portraits of the men and depictions of the era. An extensive timeline contextualizes the major events of their lives, and a further reading list concludes this comparison of contemporaries: one famous, the other infamous. Ages 10–12. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 01/18/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Mera: Tidebreaker

Danielle Paige, illus. by Stephen Byrne. DC Ink, $16.99 paper (192p) ISBN 978-1-4012-8339-1

Paige (the Dorothy Must Die series) details the story of the water-dwelling Xebel heir Princess Mera’s initial meeting with Aquaman—Arthur Curry, the Prince of Atlantis. Tired of living under the harsh rulings and prejudices inflicted upon penal colony Xebel under Atlantean rule, Mera wants nothing more than to protect her people, and she’s convinced that she can do this best by assuming the throne. After her father seems to choose for his successor Mera’s unwanted betrothed (and ex-lover) Larken, Mera decides she will stop at nothing to get her chance at the crown. All she needs is the head of the Prince of Atlantis. But when she meets him, he isn’t the cruel Atlantean she expected. Suddenly torn about carrying out her mission, Mera is faced with the difficult decision of following her heart or her ambitions. Byrne’s detailed illustrations capture Mera’s connection to the water in shades of blues and greens. Though it would have been all too easy for Paige and Byrne to focus on the well-known Aquaman origin story, the panels concentrate directly on Mera. Paige avoids employing the distressed female protagonist, instead providing a strong warrior princess who does the rescuing. Ages 13–up. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 01/18/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Pilu of the Woods

Mai K. Nguyen. Oni, $17.99 (160p) ISBN 978-1-62010-551-1

Struggling after her mother’s death, Willow cannot find the peace that she needs. Her sister is acting like a parent, and the kids at school tease her for showing her raw emotions. On a particularly rough day, she erupts at her taunting classmates and bossy sibling and flees into the woods, where she feels most comfortable. There, she stumbles upon Pilu, a tree spirit who doesn’t believe her mother cares about her. Together, the two explore the forest, and, along the way, help each other reconcile the inner turmoil that neither is prepared to face alone. Nguyen’s tale draws out (sometimes literally) the characters’ inner demons and presents readers with a language of self-awareness. The subdued, earthy palette helps to emphasize the story’s focus on quiet internal growth rather than on bright, loud action. Nguyen’s manga-like art style and slow panel pacing also aid in conveying the story’s inward focus. Effectively navigating grief, anger, and their place in the world, the characters in this debut show without didacticism how to engage with tough emotions. Final art not seen by PW. Ages 8–12. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 01/18/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Catwad: It’s Me.

Jim Benton. Graphix, $8.99 paper (128p) ISBN 978-1-338-32602-4

This playful collection of graphic-format short stories follows the adventures of two dissimilar cats—grumpy and cynical Catwad and happy-go-lucky Blurmp—who also happen to be best friends. From mistaking mosquitos for fairy unicorns to naming a virus (“I think I’ll call her ‘Sniffleen’ ”), Blurmp’s optimistic take on everything can be too much for Catwad. But whenever the grumpy Gus needs a reminder that the world is not as bad as he thinks, Blurmp is there to put a smile on his face—if only for a second. Throughout, humorous prose and bright illustrations by Benton (the Dear, Dumb Diary series) add to the amusement for each tale. While the Garfield-and-Odie-style humor may not be everyone’s cup of tea, younger readers in particular are sure to enjoy Catwad and Blurmp’s friendship. Ages 8–12. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 01/18/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Voices: The Final Hours of Joan of Arc

David Elliott. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $17.99 (208p) ISBN 978-1-328-98759-4

This collection of poems, each told from the perspective of Joan of Arc and the people and objects central to her life, creates a remarkable portrait of a person whose legend continues to fascinate. The narrative begins from Joan’s perspective as she stands bound to the pyre, awaiting her death: “And I will burn. But I have always/ been afire. With youth. With faith. With/ truth. And with desire.” Employing poetic forms prevalent during Joan’s era—ballades, rondels, sestinas, and villanelles among them—Elliott (Bull) builds the story of her visions and mission “to lift the siege at Orléans,” reactions to her wearing men’s clothing (“I was, they said, an/ aberration”), and sentencing. Concrete poems voiced by inanimate objects—candle, needle, sword, tunic, fire—reflect their speakers’ physical shapes. Also included are the voices of Joan’s accusers and defenders in direct quotes from the transcripts of her two trials: the first, in 1431, which found her guilty of heresy, and the second, which revoked that verdict more than two decades after her death. With stunning lyricism, these poems fashion an enlivened, gripping narrative that addresses themes of gender identity, class and vocation, and innocence and culpability, bringing fresh nuance to an oft-told story. Ages 14–up. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 01/18/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Dealing in Dreams

Lilliam Rivera. Simon & Schuster, $18.99 (336p) ISBN 978-1-4814-7214-2

In this dystopian novel by Rivera (The Education of Margot Sanchez), 16-year-old Chief Rocka leads her five-girl crew Las Mal Criadas, one of the violent all-female guardian gangs that keep order in Mega City, a metropolis still recovering from an earthquake that occurred generations ago. Rocka’s mother died when she was young, and her father and sister disappeared soon after, so the LMC is her only family. After losing a public match at the request of Déesse, Mega City’s leader, Rocka is asked to lead the LMC outside of the city into Cemi Territory to infiltrate the Ashé Ryders, a group that may pose a threat to Déesse’s society. The discoveries that Rocka and her crew make there will challenge their notions of how cultures should be organized. Rivera’s women-led metropolis may seem just at first, but later chapters reveal the society’s subjugation of men and strictly binary view of sexual identity, along with its citizens’ state-sponsored drug reliance. Rivera showcases multiple intricate character arcs and details several societies through impressive worldbuilding; young readers drawn to complex action novels that challenge conventions will find this read rewarding. Ages 14–up. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 01/18/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Once & Future

Amy Rose Capetta and Cori McCarthy. Little, Brown/Patterson, $18.99 (368p) ISBN 978-0-316-44927-4

Set in the future, this inclusive, refreshing take on the Arthurian mythos by Capetta (The Brilliant Death) and McCarthy (Now a Major Motion Picture) stars an impulsive teen female incarnation of Arthur who faces a heartless intergalactic commercial monopoly. While escaping the Mercer Company’s flagship, Ketchan-born Ari, 17, and Kay, her adoptive elder brother, crash on Old Earth, where Ari draws an ancient sword from a tree. With that act, she awakens backward-aging Merlin—now a teen—from his crystal cave and gives him his 42nd chance to vanquish Morgana and mentor Arthur’s efforts to unite humanity. Ari takes little interest in the Arthurian cycle until it collides with her personal quest to rescue her imprisoned mothers from Mercer. On Lionel, a medieval recreation planet and sole holdout against the corporation, others, including Queen Gwen, join the team, leading to a political betrothal that turns into something much more. This and other nonlethal stratagems and romances among people of various gender identities and ethnicities drive the plot, alongside desperate battle scenes and a well-rounded round table. A marvelous mythology remix for teens who enjoy action-packed speculative fiction and genderqueer romance. Ages 13–up. Agents: (for Capetta) Sara Crowe, Pippin Properties; (for McCarthy) Sarah Davies, Greenhouse Literary. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 01/18/2019 | Details & Permalink

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After the Dark: The Castaway King Chronicles

Spencer Labbé. Little Pieces of Paper, $9.99 paper (336p) ISBN 978-1-948208-00-0

In this serviceable fantasy series opener, 17-year-old elf Pil Persins and his friends Felicity and Dirk apply to join the Exidite—the only group of elfin allowed to leave their underground home of Westleton to hunt for aboveground supplies at night. Ever since dangerous creatures drove the elfin underground hundreds of years earlier, they’ve considered it too perilous to be on the surface during daylight. After passing an exam, Pil and the other new graduates are rushed into an important mission, where they learn that there might be a traitor in their midst. The trio must then survive on its own when a creature attacks the Exidite. Labbé’s debut requires two suspensions of disbelief: that brand-new recruits would be sent along on a dangerous mission, and that an authority figure would immediately reveal the presence of a traitor. The addition of a two-dimensional bully feels like a shortcut to building added drama. Readers who can overlook these stumbling blocks, however, will find enjoyable characters and an appealing world. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 01/18/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Friendroid

M.M. Vaughan. S&S/McElderry, $17.99 (384p) ISBN 978-1-4814-9065-8

Vaughan (Six) imparts sophisticated social commentary in this tale of friendship with a futuristic twist, told alternatively in the voice of 12-year-old Danny and in the journal entries of his friend Eric, nicknamed Slick. Danny immediately conveys that Slick is dead, having been murdered six months earlier, that Slick was an android, and that Danny is publishing his journals to lead to Slick’s killers’ capture. Slick mostly befriends popular kids when he moves to town, but he and Danny gradually bond over an online game, Land X, as well as Danny’s work building a computer. Danny finds many aspects of Slick’s life unsettlingly odd, from his perpetually smiling parents to his weekly dentist appointments and extreme sleep habits, but it still comes as a great surprise to both when they learn that Slick is a robot. The android’s stilted dialogue adds to his convincing character portrayal, and his journal entries reveal obsessions with certain brands and Land X, both of which hint at the hidden agenda behind his creation. Along with expected messages about choosing friends wisely, Vaughan offers a critique of consumerism for middle-grade readers who are ready to fight the power. Ages 8–12. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 01/18/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Who Cares!

Barbara Steinitz, trans. from the German by Aisha Prigann. Cuento de Luz, $16.95 (26p) ISBN 978-84-16733-34-7

Steinitz puts a hyperbolic spin on the notion that dogs resemble their owners in this droll tale set in a town where the maxim is universally true—almost. Slim, angular Fidelio looks nothing (“Not one eensy-weensy bit”) like his owner, plump opera fan Leonora, and the same is true of bulbous Pistachia, whose owner Carmelo, a wiry baker, showers her with chocolate bonbons. The canine-human incongruity is amusingly magnified by the fact that Pistachia’s fur replicates the swirly blue pattern of Leonora’s dress, and Fidelio’s orange plaid coat is identical to the fabric of Carmelo’s suit and cap. Though they pretend not to mind, Leonora and Carmelo are sad when townsfolk “turn up their noses and double over with laughter” at the sight of them with their mismatched pets, and they and their dogs become sadder yet after swapping leashes so they’re in visual synch. Steinitz embellishes her story with, well, waggish depictions of lookalike owner-dog duos, set against a backdrop that combines teal and tawny hues and vintage and contemporary ambiances. But below the book’s lighthearted surface is a resonant message about looking beyond appearances and appreciating differences. Ages 5–8. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 01/18/2019 | Details & Permalink

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