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Home Time

Campbell Whyte. Top Shelf, $24.99 (228p) ISBN 978-1-60309-412-2

On the last day of primary school, an eclectic and somewhat combative group of friends plans to celebrate with an epic two-night sleepover. Things go awry when they fall into a river and are transported to the Forest of the Peaches, where they are met by humanoid creatures who believe the children are gods who have come to save them from the Lizard Empire. As months pass in this strange world, some of the children become more acclimated than others, resulting in increased tension in the group. Visually, the story invokes the surrealism of Carroll’s Wonderland with exotic flora, fauna, and curiosities around every corner, and there are echoes of Lewis’s Narnia in the plot’s focus on children-saviors in an alternate world. Australian comics creator Whyte shifts artistic style with each chapter, moving from pencil sketches to bright, borderline psychedelic cartoons and even a chapter with a pixelated motif à la vintage arcade games. It’s both alienating and engaging, keeping readers as off-balance as the children, who are trapped in an alien landscape they don’t quite understand. Ages 13–up. (June)

Reviewed on 06/16/2017 | Details & Permalink

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If Birds Fly Back

Carlie Sorosiak. HarperTeen, $17.99 (448p) ISBN 978-0-06-256396-5

Aspiring filmmaker Linny Carson doesn’t expect to see Álvaro Herrera at a Miami Beach retirement community on her first day as a summer volunteer: the 80-something author has been missing for years and presumed dead. Linny is immediately drawn to Álvaro, confident that his story will provide insight into the disappearance of her own older sister. When 17-year-old budding astrophysicist Sebastian learns that the withdrawn Álvaro is his father, he impulsively leaves Los Angeles to volunteer at the retirement center, too. In distinctive alternating narratives, Linny and Sebastian begin to connect on multiple levels while working through their feelings regarding their parents (Linny’s expect her to follow a premed track at Princeton, but she plans to study film in California). The enigmatic Álvaro eloquently captures the lasting message of Sorosiak’s debut, an engrossing combination of romance and self-discovery: “Do not let anyone tell you that because you are young you cannot do things. That you cannot feel things. It is because you are young that you can feel everything.” Ages 13–up. Agent: Claire Wilson, Rogers, Coleridge & White. (June)

Reviewed on 06/16/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Summer Unscripted

Jen Klein. Random House, $17.99 (320p) ISBN 978-1-5247-0004-1

Rainie Langdon—a theater newbie and somewhat listless high school junior—begs her former best friend Ella to help her get a job as an actor-tech at a summer stock theater so Rainie can stay close to Tuck, the boy she has a crush on. Once the girls arrive at the theater, Rainie discovers that Tuck’s costar is also his girlfriend; soon, she loses interest in the job, feels terribly out of place, and wants to go home. After the arrival of Milo, Ella’s ex, Rainie finds a new reason to stay, though she’s reluctant to admit it, and Ella disapproves. Klein (Shuffle, Repeat) follows a familiar path in her story of romantic entanglements; preparations for and performances of the show provide backdrops for mild friendship and relationship upheaval, as two boys vie for Rainie’s heart and she discovers that the stage may be right for her after all. This is a bright and breezy romance, and watching Rainie fall for Milo and the theater should please the drama crowd. Ages 12–up. Agent: Lisa Gallagher, DeFiore & Company. (June)

Reviewed on 06/16/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Maybe in Paris

Rebecca Christiansen. Sky Pony, $16.99 (224p) ISBN 978-1-5107-0880-8

Keira Braidwood’s prom night is a disaster: Jacques, the snide French exchange student she’s infatuated with, mocks her and hooks up with another girl at the dance. But this drama pales next to the attempted suicide of her younger brother, Levi, the next morning, after which he is diagnosed with autism and admitted to a treatment center. Struggling with guilt that she and Levi, once inseparable, have grown apart, Keira invites him to accompany her to Paris: “Maybe if [Levi] sees the world, sees everything it has to offer in a brand-new corner of it, he’ll want to stay in it.” Keira’s romantic observations of Paris, countered by Levi’s cynicism, and their conversations bring their personalities into focus in Christiansen’s debut novel. But despite Keira’s obvious concern for her brother, she often comes across as self-centered (“How could he want to leave me?” she wonders after the suicide attempt), and the siblings being allowed to travel to France on their own after so much upheaval defies believability, despite some late-in-the-novel revelations. Ages 12–up. Agent: Rebecca Podos, Rees Literary. (June)

Reviewed on 06/16/2017 | Details & Permalink

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The Tiny Hero of Ferny Creek Library

Linda Bailey, illus. by Victoria Jamieson. Greenwillow, $16.99 (336p) ISBN 978-0-06-244093-8

Bailey’s eponymous hero, Eddie, is a bright green bug who lives with his 53 siblings in a crack in the wall of Room 19 of Ferny Creek Elementary School. When his Aunt Min goes missing, it’s up to Eddie (whose mother writes him off as “a dreamer, a fool—a nincompoop!”) to maneuver through treacherous hallways full of “Squishers” to the library to find her. But Eddie’s challenges are only beginning: Min is injured and unable to travel, and the school’s insect-hating new librarian threatens to make Ferny Creek a book-free zone. Encouraged by the brave characters from his Aunt Min’s stories, Eddie resolves to save the library and his aunt. Avid readers will enjoy the plethora of references to beloved children’s tales, as well as the adventures of an unlikely champion who overcomes human-size obstacles. The danger is mild, but Eddie delivers an entertaining bug’s-eye perspective on the larger world, and Jamieson’s b&w spot illustrations match the story’s energy and sense of adventure. Ages 8–12. Author’s agent: Hilary McMahon, Westwood Creative Artists. Illustrator’s agent: Paul Rodeen, Rodeen Literary Management. (June)

Reviewed on 06/16/2017 | Details & Permalink

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One Shadow on the Wall

Leah Henderson. Atheneum, $16.99 (448p) ISBN 978-1-4814-6295-2

Life in Mor’s Senegalese village gets increasingly difficult after the 11-year-old and his two sisters are orphaned and threatened with separation. When their home is raided by the Danka Boys, Mor debates joining the gang, which offers food and security. Through tight, polished sentences and a smattering of regional vocabulary, debut novelist Henderson believably evokes the harsh realities of the impoverished seaside village and the resilience of its residents. The storytelling, though, can get bogged down amid a languid pace and lengthy sections of exposition; Henderson’s penchant for brevity at the sentence level isn’t reflected in the work as a whole. But Mor’s indomitable spirit, love for his family, and refusal to give up make him a fascinating and well-rounded protagonist, even if “he was still just a boy in his baay’s sandals.” And although the disembodied voice of Mor’s father offers guidance from beyond the grave, it’s an unlikely friendship with an outcast that provides a flesh-and-blood father figure to teach and watch over the boy. Ages 8–12. Agent: Melissa Nasson, Rubin Pfeffer Content. (June)

Reviewed on 06/16/2017 | Details & Permalink

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I Love You, Michael Collins

Lauren Baratz-Logsted. FSG/Ferguson, $16.99 (240p) ISBN 978-0-374-30385-3

In this epistolary novel set during the charged weeks preceding the Apollo 11 launch, a class assignment prompts 10-year-old Mamie Anderson to write letters to astronaut Michael Collins, while her classmates favor Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong, who will actually set foot on the moon. Though some of the letters can be forced (“Do you know what an Erector set is, Michael Collins?”), they are an effective way for Mamie to confide in the astronaut about the escalating tensions between her parents; the absence of her oldest sister, Eleanor (who recently moved out); and 16-year-old sister Bess’s fixation on her boyfriend. Against the highly gendered backdrop of 1969 (all the girls want to marry astronauts, while the boys want to become them), Mamie’s friendship with her neighbor Buster is particularly moving. Mamie and Buster share a fixation on the space race, and Buster remains loyal and constant even as Mamie’s parents’ conflict erupts. Mamie’s isolation at home echoes Collins’s solitude in orbit a bit too neatly, but her bravery and loyalty are memorable. Ages 8–12. (June)

Reviewed on 06/16/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Little Old Farm Folk

Andrea Wisnewski. Godine, $7.99 (34p) ISBN 978-1-5679-2594-4

Wisnewski follows an elderly pair of farmers through a busy day on their property in this homespun board book with a bright, nursery rhyme–like cadence. The text appears on left-hand pages (“The little old man and the little old dog/ walk out to the pen to slop the hogs”); folksy, standalone lines that trail off (“And as sure as the sun does shine...”) lead into each subsequent scene. At right, Wisnewski captures each moment in the couple’s day in circular vignettes whose thick black outlines and watery washes of bright color give them the look of stained glass windows. It’s a charmingly old-fashioned trip to the farm that speaks to hard work and simple pleasures. Up to age 4. (May)

Reviewed on 06/16/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Landscape with Invisible Hand

M.T. Anderson. Candlewick, $16.99 (160p) ISBN 978-0-7636-8789-2

Anderson (Symphony for the City of the Dead) sets this biting and brilliant satire on a near-future Earth where an alien race called the vuvv has brought advanced technology and cures for disease—and ushered in the collapse of Earth’s economy. Adam Costello, a 15-year-old artist beset by gastrointestinal illness, and his family are among the many desperate for money and work. Reluctantly, Adam and his girlfriend, Chloe, broadcast an exaggerated 1950s-quaint, pay-per-view version of their romance to the vuvv, who are entranced by “classic” Earth culture—doo-wop music, still-life paintings, and the notion of true, everlasting love. With Adam’s relationship with Chloe imploding, his illness worsening, and his art gaining vuvv attention, he must decide whether to bend to the whims of the vuvv or stay true to his humanity. Adam narrates in gloomy, vignettelike chapters whose titles (“Autumn in a Field Near a Discharge Facility”) give the sense of each scene existing as a painting in itself. The vuvv, described as resembling “granite coffee tables: squat, wide, and rocky,” are only interested in the parts of Earth culture they choose to acknowledge, and ignore the sweeping damage they’ve inflicted. “I just love the human race,” one of the vuvv tells Adam, patronizingly. “You people are so much more spiritual than we are.” Anderson takes issues of colonialism, ethnocentrism, inequality, and poverty and explodes them on a global, even galactic, scale. A remarkable exploration of economic and power structures in which virtually all of humanity winds up the losers. Ages 14–up. Agent: David McCormick, McCormick Literary. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 06/16/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Voyager’s Greatest Hits: The Epic Trek to Interstellar Space

Alexandra Siy. Charlesbridge, $18.99 (80p) ISBN 978-1-58089-728-0

Siy (Spidermania: Friends on the Web) weaves a musical theme into the riveting story of NASA’s Voyager mission, which got underway in 1977 with the launch of two probes; originally designed to explore Jupiter and Saturn, they are now proceeding into interstellar space while transmitting data back to Earth. Throughout, Siy introduces scientists who contributed to the launch while bouncing between the probe’s paths (and attendant discoveries, such as volcanic activity on Io) and the pivotal work of Galileo and other early astronomers, highlighting the way science builds on past discoveries. In keeping with the musical theme, Siy concludes by discussing the Golden Record, a copper LP with copies riding aboard the Voyager probes, which contains photos, greetings, and music in wait of a potential extraterrestrial listener. It’s an engaging and readily accessible account of a remarkable—and ongoing—scientific success story. Ages 10–up. (June)

Reviewed on 06/16/2017 | Details & Permalink

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