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Time Travel for Love and Profit

Sarah Lariviere. Knopf, $17.99 (320p) ISBN 978-0-5931-7420-3

After her friend Vera ghosts her, “aggressively weird” Nephele Weather, 14, begins to obsess over why—whether it’s her math obsession or her hirsute Greek heritage—and how to fix it. That’s how mathematics (“my one superpower”) comes into play. Armed with her knowledge of all things numerical, a strange book found at her parents’ bookstore, and her science teacher’s assistance, she devises a time travel app named Dirk Angus to change the past. Things, of course, go awry: while Nephele remains the same age, others mature a year every time she goes back, and by her 10th journey, she is no closer to her goal—in fact, that goal has morphed into something new but no less terrifying. Lariviere’s (The Bad Kid) YA debut is a multifaceted mélange of math and hormones; Nephele’s introspective monologues are filled with elegantly descriptive detail, tending toward a rambling stream-of-consciousness that many readers will find winning. Ages 12–up. Agent: Susan Hawk, Upstart Crow Literary. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 11/27/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Concrete Rose

Angie Thomas. HarperTeen/Balzer + Bray, $19.99 (368p) ISBN 978-0-06-284671-6

In this prequel to The Hate U Give, Thomas delves into the upbringing of Maverick Carter, the father of THUG’s protagonist, Starr. Mav is one of the subordinates (“li’l homies”) of neighborhood gang the King Lords and the son of one of the gang’s incarcerated OGs. At 17, Mav and his hotheaded best friend, King—both responsible for recruiting and initiating new members and dealing weed for the King Lords—have begun slinging harder drugs on the side, under the gang leaders’ noses. Risking hard time like his father or death like King’s dad by leading a double life, Mav soon finds himself in over his head when he discovers he’s fathered a child by King’s off-and-on girlfriend, who promptly abandons the baby to his care. Convincingly detailing the journey of a young Black man growing into fatherhood, Thomas brings her trademark wit, nostalgic love of the 1990s and all things R&B and hip-hop, and her penchant for heartfelt characterization to this first-person exploration of Maverick Carter’s coming-of- age. Through its portrayal of loss and upheaval, this story acts as a tender love letter to a close Black family and community—one that isn’t without problems but is always full of love. Ages 14–up. Agent: Brooks Sherman, Janklow & Nesbit Assoc. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 11/27/2020 | Details & Permalink

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The Star Outside My Window

Onjali Q. Raúf. Delacorte, $16.99 (320p) ISBN 978-0-5933-0227-9

In this sophomore novel by Raúf (The Boy at the Back of the Class), 10-year-old amateur star enthusiast Aniyah and her little brother, Noah, find themselves suddenly in foster care. Their Brazilian mother has been murdered after fleeing their abusive English father, and Aniyah believes that her mother has become a new physics-shattering star traveling right past Earth. Accompanied by Noah and fellow foster kids, determined, clever Aniyah races from her new home near Oxford to London, hoping to convince the Royal Observatory to name the historic star after her mother. Raúf doesn’t sensationalize her characters’ painful back-stories, instead focusing on their healing: Aniyah gradually recovers the memories she’s repressed and learns that the way her father treated the family wasn’t normal, and foster mother Mrs. Iwuchukwu models patient acceptance as she encourages Aniyah, who is selectively nonverbal following her mother’s death, to speak. Humorous first-person narration and plot devices (squirrels unexpectedly play a pivotal role) balance the heavy subject matter, while back matter provides a list of constellations and resources for abuse survivors. While Aniyah’s foster sister is a frustratingly clichéd villain, the story’s compassionate portrayal of young survivors more than makes up for its flaws. Ages 8–12. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 11/27/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Pity Party

Kathleen Lane. Little, Brown, $16.99 (224p) ISBN 978-0-316-41736-5

Introducing a cast of tween characters experiencing insecurities and growing pains, this welcoming, often ironic collection of short stories reflects on the pity party that is middle school. In “Odd,” Julian’s aversion to odd numbers results in trouble with stairs. Cora’s wish that mean people would break out in spots has unexpected results in “Ugly Duck.” And in “Gio X,” a boy receives a mysterious package that might have the power to “upgrade” his friendless existence. The book contains stories that start and stop, only to be continued later; ads from “our sponsor”; a personality quiz; a “Choose Your Own Catastrophe” story; and a literal invitation to the pity party (“Dear missing parts, broken hearts/ picked on, passed up/ misunderstood/ sitting alone”). This eclectic volume good-naturedly explores common tween experiences, though the mixing of stories about garden-variety social anxieties and diagnosable disorders creates a false equivalence, and “Odd” may prove triggering for readers with OCD. In stories that largely follow the same formula—conflict is introduced, a Twilight Zone–like twist changes characters’ perspectives—Lane (The Best Worst Thing) offers a captivating distraction from self-pity, and creative variations and varied genre inclusions will keep readers’ attention. Ages 8–12. Agent: Charlotte Sheedy, Charlotte Sheedy Literary. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 11/27/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Karma Moon—Ghost Hunter

Melissa Savage. Crown, $16.99 (352p) ISBN 978-0-593-30279-8

Avid researcher Karma Moon Vallinari, 12, is accompanying her cinematographer father on the break of a lifetime: filming a Netflix docuseries focused on the haunted Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colo. The catch? The team, which includes Karma, her best friend Mags, and portly pug Alfred Hitchcock, must capture an actual ghost on film to satisfy the production company. Unfortunately, Karma’s “what-ifs” (a propensity to catastrophize) and her uncertainty over her mother’s abandonment join her on the trip. On-site, the team encounters personalities straight out of a Scooby-Doo caper, such as Nyx Brown, a local boy with a head full of paranormal knowledge, including about Harry Houdini’s connection to the area. Karma’s voice is front and center as readers are introduced to paranormal film classics such as The Shining, filmed at the Stanley, while being drawn into the world of a girl dealing with things beyond her control. Studded with occasional doodle-like illustrations by Savage (Nessie Quest), the mystery’s mix of unshakable friendship, spooky excitement, and life lessons pops with an empowering protagonist who’s full of promise. Ages 8–12. Agent: Laurie McLean, Fuse Literary. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 11/27/2020 | Details & Permalink

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The World Between Blinks (The World Between Blinks #1)

Amie Kaufman and Ryan Graudin. Quill Tree, $16.99 (336p) ISBN 978-0-06-288224-0

Two heroes head on a quest in this series starter with a strong focus on family and shared memories. After 12-year-old Marisol Beruna’s adventure-loving Nana dies, she travels from her home in La Paz to Nana’s South Carolina beach house, where the family is gathering to prepare the home for sale. Marisol hopes to use her uncanny ability—locating missing objects—to somehow afford the house’s upkeep and keep it in the family. When she and her favorite cousin, Jake, also 12, find a treasure map that their Nana drew, they follow it down the beach, only to wind up trapped in an adjacent realm filled with lost entities from their own world—cities such as Atlantis, historical figures such as Amelia Earhart, and treasures such as the fabled Amber Room. In their effort to return home, they must recover a magical book before they’re stuck there forever. Kaufman (the Aurora Cycle series) and Graudin (Invictus) take full advantage of the book’s inventive premise, introducing readers to a host of exciting historical oddities and concepts, including the Library of Alex-andria, the Tasmanian Tiger, and Queen Nefertiti, all of which are detailed further in supplementary notes. Ages 8–12. Agent: Tracey Adams, Adams Literary. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 11/27/2020 | Details & Permalink

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The Sea in Winter

Christine Day. Heartdrum, $16.99 (272p) ISBN 978-0-06-287204-3

Day (I Can Make This Promise) tackles an important and timely issue in her sophomore novel: how to start over when a dream is no longer possible. Middle schooler Maisie, who is Makah/Piscataway, wants nothing more than to dance—it’s been her obsession since her first ballet lesson at age four. But an accident tears her ACL and isolates her from her ballet friends, and Maisie sinks into a depression that results in slipping grades and familial tensions. Around a family road trip to the Olympic Peninsula, though, Maisie learns how her Makah ancestors brought “their community together, despite horrible events,” and how her mother healed after her father’s sudden death. Slowly, she also takes her own steps toward healing—forgiving a friend, learning to rely on family, and talking about her feelings of loss. Day, who is Upper Skagit, creates tension in this quiet novel by gradually unspooling the backstory of Maisie’s injury and her father’s death in Afghanistan. It’s a contemplative and emotional story of resilience and reinvention whose dedication sums it up well: “To anyone who needs a reminder that pain is temporary.” Ages 8–12. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 11/27/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Amari and the Night Brothers (Supernatural Investigations #1)

B.B. Alston. HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray, $17.99 (416p) ISBN 978-0-06-297516-4

Following the mysterious disappearance of her beloved big brother, Quinton, 13-year-old Amari Peters is offered a spot in a summer camp run by the Bureau of Supernatural Affairs, a secret agency that forms the “link between the known world and what is hidden.” Learning that Quinton was one of the Bureau’s top agents, Amari vows to follow in his footsteps in order to discover his fate. But Amari’s initiation reveals that she’s a natural-born magician, which the Bureau considers rare and dangerous. Given this status, Amari must dispel the prejudices against magicians while passing a series of extremely competitive trials to join the exclusive Department of Supernatural Investigations. But with a terrifying foe lurking in the shadows, Amari’s career may be cut short. In this thrilling debut, Alston thrusts his intrepid heroine into a setting packed with magic, mythical creatures, and danger. Amari, a Black girl with limited means, confronts privilege and prejudice even while delving into a world of wonder, humor, and adventure, making this a sure-to-please winner. Ages 8–12. Agent: Gemma Cooper, the Bent Agency. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 11/27/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Sunny-Side Up

Jacky Davis, illus. by Fiona Woodcock. Greenwillow, $17.99 (40p) ISBN 978-0-06-257307-0

It starts out as a promising morning for a child, with a father-made breakfast of sunny-side up eggs and a grape juice chaser: “Yes! Purple lips and happiness.” But when Daddy raises the shades, there’s no sunshine outside, just “drips of gray sky covering everything,” writes Davis (the Ladybug Girl series). In Woodcock’s (Look) digitally enhanced rubber stamp, pencil, and watercolor illustrations, even the living room is drenched in mottled, dreary tones. Through a combination of her own ingenuity and parental nudging, the white-skinned, red-nosed child comes up with activities to make time pass, such as opening a pretend-play bakery for stuffed companions (“I make./ I make make-believe muffins and pies./ Ones that you might like to try?”), and an internal sunniness returns in fits and starts. Stippled with subtle textures, the settings always seem on the verge of dematerializing, underscoring the tenuousness of the child’s mood. When the child’s mother returns, the sun does emerge—and soon, the whole day is no more than a dream. Readers should appreciate this realistic take on how much emotional stamina can be required to make it through a day gone wrong. Ages 4–8. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 11/27/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Mr. Complain Takes the Train

Wade Bradford, illus. by Stephan Britt. Clarion, $17.99 (32p) ISBN 978-0-544-82981-7

Mr. Complain, a dour, pink-skinned gentleman sporting a green suit and hat, is traveling by animal-populated train to his vacation destination; the only human aboard, he’s not a happy camper. The bright pink train is too loud, his seat is too lumpy, and he’s tickled by a passel of pig passengers. “Don’t worry!” the amiable ostrich conductor tells Mr. Complain, but the journey gets goofier and goofier: as callouts in the boisterous, mixed-media illustrations urge the reader to tilt the book this way and that, the train goes up a bridge, through a diamond mine, past a volcano, and into the ocean. His fellow passengers gleefully slip and slide and fly through the air, but when the conductor announces that the final leg of this crazy ride involves a loop-de-loop, it seems all but certain that Mr. Complain is going to blow his stack. Instead, he exclaims “YA-HOOOOOOO!” and decides to remain on the train rather than get off at the grim-looking Dullsville. Bradford (There’s a Dinosaur on the 13th Floor) and Britt (Over in the Hollow) make the idea of “rolling with it” vivid and endearingly silly—who knew that building resilience could be such a good time? Ages 4–7. Agent (for Bradford and Britt): Abigail Samoun, Red Fox Literary. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 11/27/2020 | Details & Permalink

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