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Violet and the Pie of Life

Debra Green. Holiday House, $18.99 (288p) ISBN 978-0-8234-4755-8

Orange County, Calif.–based math whiz Violet Summers, 12, who has “big brown eyes and peach-colored skin,” feels gutted when her father goes from being her goofy, joke-telling partner in crime to disappearing from her life without explanation. After moving out one day, he fails to return her calls or emails; instead of providing sufficient clarification, her mother either works, nags, or uses “her soothy voice” to express sympathy. Despite her aversion to standing out, Violet auditions for The Wizard of Oz, hoping to avoid home and hang out with her domineering best friend McKenzie Williston, also white, at rehearsals. But when Violet secures the role of the Lion and McKenzie is cast in a minor role, Violet has mixed feelings about appearing alongside kind, popular part-white, part-Mexican Ally Ziegler (“her nice parents and cute sisters and perfect life”), who is cast as Dorothy and whom McKenzie abhors. Through charts, graphs, and diagrams, all pictured, Violet attempts to solve the mystery of her circumstances—and how she can fix them. Green sincerely conjures Violet’s deep pain, confusion, frustration, and worry over shifting relationships; her frank, energetic voice carries this sensitive narrative. Ages 8–12. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 02/26/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Renegade Flight

Andrea Tang. Razorbill, $18.99 (320p) ISBN 978-1-9848-3512-3

Picking up 15 years after the events of Rebelwing, this speculative standalone revisits the heroes of the first installment while focusing on a generation raised against the backdrop of sentient mechs and an intrigue-laden new world order. When 18-year-old Korean Canadian orphan Viola Park attempts to live up to her family’s legacy by enrolling in the prestigious Global Alliance of Nations Academy for Combat and Cybernetic Arts, a crisis of confidence results in a rejection for cheating on the entrance exam. However, she’s ultimately accepted, albeit as a much-derided probationary student, because Peacekeepers are vanishing at an alarming rate and GAN is desperate for fresh blood. Now, if Vi wants to achieve her childhood dream of becoming a GAN Peacekeeper and bond with a sentient mechanical dragon, she must survive both the rigorous academic schedule and a no-holds-barred tournament against the school’s best students, including the unbeatable Nicholas Lee, a beautiful boy with “bright, whiskey-colored... hair and moon-fair skin.” A leisurely buildup and slightly rushed climax underutilize the world’s potential, but Viola’s headstrong nature, drive to succeed, and complicated rivalry with Nicholas, paired with plentiful action sequences, are sure to satisfy. Ages 12–up. Agent: Thao Le, Sandra Dijkstra Literary. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 02/26/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Some Other Now

Sarah Everett. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $17.99 (368p) ISBN 978-0-358-25186-6

Jessi Rumfield, who has “brown skin and a thick, curly mane of hair,” is a biracial 17-year-old living in the mostly white town of Winchester. Her biological family consists of her white optometrist mother, whose untreated depression began postpartum, and her Black father, who tries to balance running their eye clinic, EyeCon, with parenting. But Jessi’s chosen family—half-white, half-Filipino Rowan, her best friend for a decade; his 18-year-old brother Luke; and their Filipina mother, Mel—fills her familial-love-shaped void. That is, until one day at the Cohens’ home, when Mel, whom Jessi considers her second mother, prepares to tell them her diagnosis, and Ro tells Jessi to go home. After learning that Mel is terminally ill with what she deems her “Big Bad,” Jessi’s relationships with Rowan and Luke begin to shift as they all attempt to cope with Mel’s declining health—especially when a white lie intended to cheer Mel transforms into something more. Drawing a resonant, impactful journey alternating between “Then” and “Now,” Everett skillfully unpacks grief, guilt, and love through the lens of teens learning to navigate life’s twists and turns. Ages 14–up. Agent: Suzie Townsend, New Leaf Literary and Media. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 02/26/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Princess Rose and the Quest of the Golden Gown

Jennifer & Daniel Frazier. J&D Stories, $7.99 paper (177p) ISBN 978-1-73529-580-0

On the eve of her 13th birthday, Princess Rose of Ametheria is forced to embark upon a three-year quest. Rose senses something is amiss at her birthday banquet when a mysterious map appears in her pile of presents, but things escalate quickly when drinking a suspicious-tasting bedtime tea results in Rose awakening in an empty commoner’s cottage, only accompanied by her trustworthy stable boy Joseph, who does not know much more about the situation than she does. With the support of Joseph and her loyal steed Wisher, Rose, now an incognito princess, traverses various terrains, from the mountains to the desert to beneath the oceans, in a race to collect the components of her prophesied golden coronation gown. Alongside traditional fairy tale characters, settings, and missions, Rose’s emotional connection to her mother, the Queen, and her newfound friends-slash-travel companions feels genuine. Daniel Frazier adds simple b&w chapter heading illustrations, and storybook prose favorably features stories within a story. A reliance on tropes chafes, but characters including a frightened troll, mermaid raconteurs, and unpredictable goats keep the pages turning in the Fraziers’ energetic debut. Ages 8–12. (Self-published)

Reviewed on 02/26/2021 | Details & Permalink

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The Memory Thief (Thirteen Witches #1)

Jodi Lynn Anderson. Aladdin, $17.99 (336p) ISBN 978-1-4814-8021-5

In this heavily allusive fantasy set in coastal Maine, narrator Rosie, an avid fantasy writer, lives alone with her neglectful mother, leaving herself parental notes (“You look taller today, sweetie”). When her best friend, assertive and athletic Germ, suggests that the new sixth graders abandon childish things, Rosie burns her stories, inadvertently unlocking a special sight that reveals the ghosts—some friendly, some menacing—coexisting in her home. Helping to locate an old volume, The Witch Hunter’s Guide to the Universe, the ghosts disclose the existence of 13 witches who conjure the world’s evil, Rosie’s mother’s past as the last known witch hunter, and the root of Rosie’s mother’s neglect in the covetous Memory Thief’s curse. But the sight also places Rosie, and others, in danger of that witch and her emissaries. In this novel of ghosts, memory, and story, Anderson (Midnight at the Electric) weaves components of children’s literature mainstays into a dreamlike first-person narrative. Though reveals are clearly telegraphed, an atmospherically rendered villain and a layered portrait of two friends intent on rescuing each other elevate this trilogy opener. Ages 9–13. Agent: Rosemary Stimola, Stimola Literary Studio. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 02/26/2021 | Details & Permalink

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The Many Mysteries of the Finkel Family

Sarah Kapit. Dial, $17.99 (288p) ISBN 978-0-593-11229-8

Joining the shelf of books about autistic characters drawn to sleuthing, this quiet family story by Kapit (Get a Grip, Vivy Cohen!) centers two autistic sisters navigating life’s mysteries. Sorely hoping to find a “thing” of her own, avid reader and writer Lara Finkel, 12, starts FIASCCO (Finkel Investigative Agency Solving Consequential Crimes Only)—her sister Caroline, 11, who communicates through an app, has art; their brother has science. As the siblings head back to school, Lara, dodging Caroline’s interest in FIASCCO, begins looking into the secrets behind various events: why their father, an investigative journalist with ADHD, forgets to pick up the kids and ruins the Shabbat brisket. Caroline, meanwhile, grows increasingly annoyed with Lara’s protective overtures and befriends a fellow student. Employing a sometimes-formal voice, Kapit straightforwardly renders the siblings’ perspectives, including emotional and somatic responses, while building familial tensions to a High Holiday climax. She also emphasizes a diversity of experiences—of autism, Jewish traditions (Ashkenazi and Sephardic), and family and school life—showing that there’s no single iteration of any identity while highlighting a close-knit family that prioritizes making amends and learning to recover. Ages 8–12. Agent: Jennifer Udden, New Leaf Literary & Media. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 02/26/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Hunter’s Choice

Trent Reedy. Norton, $17.95 (176p) ISBN 978-1-32-401137-8

In the small town of McCall, Idaho, Hunter Higgins, 12, has spent years preparing for “the weekend of his first-ever hunt,” a coming-of-age ceremony in his white family. Now that he’s completed gun safety training, Hunter finally gets to join his lawyer father, construction worker grandfather, and Uncle Rick, an Army National Guard member—who served in Afghanistan 10 years ago and whose PTSD-like symptoms threaten to estrange him from his wife and daughter—on the last hunt of the season. There’s just one problem: though Hunter desperately wants to bag his first buck to prove himself, he feels deep uncertainty over killing an animal. His plans are upset when Yumi, Uncle Rick’s half-Japanese, half-white daughter and Hunter’s best friend and classmate, and her bespectacled friend Annette Willard, Hunter’s secret crush, show up at the family lodge to join the hunt, shifting the hunters’ all-male dynamic. Vividly realistic passages about shooting and hunting enrich the narrative, while explorations of toxic masculine attitudes in hunting culture, fear of failure, and trauma underscore the steady action. Though a slightly contrived final act and overly neat ending muddle the thematic impact, intertwining Hunter’s growth with his uncle’s narrative makes for an emotionally satisfying read. Ages 9–12. Agent: Ammi-Joan Paquette, Erin Murphy Literary. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 02/26/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Home Is Not a Country

Safia Elhillo. Make Me a World, $17.99 (224p) ISBN 978-0-59317705-1

Nostalgia for the unknown controls the rhythm of this resonant novel in verse. Muslim, implied Sudanese American Nima, 14, feels invisible and unmoored, wishing she were “a girl mouth open & fluent who knows where she is from.” Pining for the love of her late father, and facing constant abuse at school because of her accent and identity (“a boy at school/ called me a terrorist”), Nima lives alone with her hijabi mother; her only friend is an energetic boy in her building named Haitham, who feels like a sibling. As rising Islamophobia in their suburban American community increases both the bullying at school and her and her mother’s fear, Nima longs for the life she believes she would have had if she had been named Yasmeen as planned. With her desire to become Yasmeen growing, Nima begins seeing glimpses of her other self while beginning to disappear. After a string of incidents leaves her feeling completely alone, Nima meets Yasmeen, launching both into their parents’ past and homeland to decide which of them will be born. Artfully profound and achingly beautiful, Elhillo’s verse aptly explores diasporic yearning for one’s home and a universal fascination with possibilities. Ages 12–up. Agent: Ammi-Joan Paquette, Erin Murphy Literary. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 02/26/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Fearless

Kenny Porter, illus. by Zach Wilcox. Graphix, $24.99 (192p) ISBN 978-1-338-35587-1

Combining middle school realism with a (super)hero’s journey, this relatable graphic novel follows Kara’s reluctant transition from ferret-owning fifth-grade fangirl to mature preteen. Kara and her ride-or-die bestie are suburban white kids who love reenacting their favorite episodes of a show called Shinpi Rider—or so Kara thinks, until Alice signals that she’d rather spend her time on science and fashion projects and then moves two towns away. Not great at reading the room, Kara ditches the first day of middle school to bike, uninvited, to Alice’s new town. Inspired by Shinpi Rider on the way, she helps a boy fix his dad’s fruit stand, encourages a kid to stand up to his brother, and cleans up a storefront destroyed by a rogue stag. Her newfound empathy helps her accept a difficult truth: that her friendship with Alice has changed, partly because she didn’t listen to her friend’s needs and preferences. When the Shinpi series itself transforms, Kara is mostly ready to start school and make new friends. Though some of Kara’s adventures, such as taking down a bike-stealing bully, skew a bit textbook, Wilcox’s gracefully laid out, anime-inspired illustrations complement Porter’s quirky and flawed protagonist. Ages 10–14. Agent (for author and illustrator): Mark Gottlieb, Trident Media Group. (May)

Reviewed on 02/26/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Wildflowers

Liniers. Toon, $12.95 (40p) ISBN 978-1-943145-53-9

After a plane crash, three sibling survivors—two seemingly older girls and a younger one sporting glasses and a pair of yellow boots—find marvels exploring an island’s jungle in this early reader graphic novel. “Look at these exotic plants,” says one of the older children, gazing at a wall of huge, colorful flowers. “What does ECK-STO-TICK mean?” asks the younger. A flower speaks to the young child (“You are surely the strangest wildflower I have ever seen!”). She reports it to her older sisters, one of whom objects: “But plants don’t talk!” She stands her ground: “These do because they are ECK-STO-TICK because they are in the jungle.” Unexpectedly, in this moment and in others, she persuades them. While their surreal discoveries provide the action, the girls’ closely observed interpersonal interactions add pleasure, too. Paneled art in ink and watercolor by Liniers (Good Night, Planet) imagines the lush greenery of the island in detail, with wildlife and dangers that quicken pulses before a gentle butterfly landing of an ending. Quirky and endearing, it’s a journey both internal and external. Ages 6–9. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/26/2021 | Details & Permalink

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