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After Life: Ways We Think About Death

Merrie-Ellen Wilcox. Orca, $24.95 (88p) ISBN 978-1-45981-388-5

Author and hospice volunteer Wilcox (What’s the Buzz? Keeping Bees in Flight) skillfully tackles the subject of death and dying in this nonfiction book for middle grade readers. Six short chapters (“We Are Stardust” and “Healing After Loss” among them) discuss the physiology of death—one page details what happens to the body minutes, hours, months, and years after the event—as well as the beliefs and rituals surrounding life’s end over the millennia and across the globe. Full-color photographs and artwork, as well as definitions and sidebars, will pull curious readers into the factual pages, which cover everything from green burials and grief stages to physician-assisted death, cryonic suspension, and bioethics. Thorough and well organized, this book honors its intended audience’s ability to handle the subject matter, offering detailed scientific, mythological, historical, cultural, and religious takes on how people handle death (“During the Middle Ages, parents in Europe dressed their young children like adults to trick death into looking elsewhere for its prey”). Print and online resource lists, an extensive glossary, and an index conclude this meaningful, straightforward look at an often taboo topic. Ages 9–12. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/20/2018 | Details & Permalink

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For a Muse of Fire

Heidi Heilig. Greenwillow, $17.99 (512p) ISBN 978-0-06-238081-4

A lush land reminiscent of South Asia is the setting for a thrilling trilogy opener by Heilig (The Girl from Everywhere). Sixteen-year-old Jetta, part of a family troupe of shadow performers, can bind departed souls to intricate shadow puppets with her blood, but such magic has been forbidden by the Aquitans ever since they conquered Chakrana. Her family seeks an audience with the king of Aquitan, hoping to gain access to its healing spring waters for Jetta’s “ups and downs,” and to find a place to weave their magic. Following a rebellion, daunting trials—such as the unforgiving jungle and a haunted underground passage—stand between Jetta and Aquitan. Jetta has her parents and her magic on her side, but there are those that would do anything to harness her power, and the specter of war looms. Telegrams, letters, and play scenes sprinkled throughout create a strong sense of place, and Jetta’s struggle to accept herself is relatable. Heilig uses intricate prose to animate nuanced characters and action-packed scenes in this immersive, epic fantasy. Ages 13–up. Agent: Molly Ker Hawn, the Bent Agency. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/20/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Wildcard

Marie Lu. Putnam, $18.99 (352p) ISBN 978-0-399-54799-7

Sure to inspire even deeper devotion among Lu’s fans, this sequel picks up just three days after the Warcross finale, raising complicated questions about the consequences of technology and power. Emika Chen, exempt from Hideo Tanaka’s unleashed algorithm thanks to a lucky accident, is reeling from Hideo’s betrayal and the knowledge that Zero, the hacker whom Hideo hired her to neutralize, is Hideo’s long-missing brother, Sasuke, whose disappearance drives Hideo to create Warcross and the algorithm. Having realized that the algorithm, meant to eliminate violence, may be causing people to commit suicide, Emika enters a tenuous partnership with Zero and the Blackcoats, a secret organization working to destroy the algorithm, and attempts to gain access to it by winning Hideo’s trust. Though Emika maintains her moral center, she struggles to do right as the virtual world crosses into reality and becomes personal: “There’s a point where the lines start to blur, and I am standing in that place now, struggling to see through the gray.” Lu’s futuristic world, with its immersive technology, feels dangerously within reach in this action-packed escapade with a thoughtful, emotion-driven core. Ages 12–up. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/20/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Impostors

Scott Westerfeld. Scholastic Press, $18.99 (416p) ISBN 978-1-338-15151-0

Set in the futuristic world of Westerfeld’s Uglies books, this action-packed series starter barely pauses to take a breath. Frey and Rafi are 16-year-old twin sisters, but the people of Shreve don’t know that. Rafi is the self-possessed face of Shreve, the city their father rules with an iron fist, electronically tracking the citizens’ every move. Trained as an assassin, Frey is a secret who exists only as her sister’s body double. After Frey, posing as her sister, is sent to the rival City of Victoria to help negotiate for much-needed steel, she joins a group of rebels to take down her father and prevent all-out war. In narrator Frey, Westerfeld presents a strong, complex heroine who learns to be her own person, not just a carbon copy. Themes such as environmental conservation and individual freedom deepen the story right up to its explosive finale, which will leave readers looking forward to the next installment. Ages 12–up. Agent: Jill Grinberg, Jill Grinberg Literary Management. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/20/2018 | Details & Permalink

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The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein

Kiersten White. Delacorte, $18.99 (304p) ISBN 978-0-525-57794-2

With this elegantly twisted retelling of the birth of a monster, White (Beanstalker and Other Hilarious Scarytales) resurrects the Gothic tale of survival found in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, which turns 200 this year. Rescued from an abusive caregiver at age five, Elizabeth Lavenza is brought to the Frankenstein family’s villa to act as companion to young Victor Frankenstein, a brilliant child prone to rage. Elizabeth becomes everything to Victor—his champion and protector, his friend and confidante—and hones her manipulative talents. But when the errant genius leaves the family to study and doesn’t write for almost two years, leaving Elizabeth open to possible dismissal from the Frankenstein home, she enlists the aid of her friend Justine to track him down. What she discovers in a strange Bavarian town is another link in a chain of horror that only grows after he’s found. Skillful worldbuilding and foreshadowing steadily build suspense to a breathtaking climax. Fans of psychological horror will luxuriate in the familiar feel of the timeless story and thrill at its unexpected twists. Ages 12–up. Agent: Michelle Wolfson, Wolfson Literary. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/20/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Zora and Me: The Cursed Ground

T.R. Simon. Candlewick, $16.99 (272p) ISBN 978-0-7636-4301-0

In this compelling sequel to Zora and Me (both stories fictionalize the childhood of literary great Zora Neale Hurston), two best friends unearth a town’s secret. In their covert late night wandering, Zora and 12-year-old narrator Carrie discover that their mute friend Mr. Polk speaks, and, in the process, they extract a promise for a story from purported witch Old Lady Bronson. Set in Florida and told in alternating chapters that switch settings between Carrie and Zora’s 1903 African-American town of Eatonville and an 1855 plantation community in the same location, then called Westin, the parallel tale reveals the plight of Lucia, 11, a black orphan who sails from Europe with her friend Prisca and guardian Don Frederico into brutal enslavement. Lucia’s story exerts the stronger pull in much of the novel, until the two worlds collide powerfully to highlight the “unfinished business of slavery” and reveal why the town is cursed ground. The result is a thought-provoking look at racially motivated violence and the enduring wounds of slavery. An included biography offers insight into Hurston’s life and later work. Ages 10–14. Agent: Victoria Sanders, Victoria Sanders & Assoc. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/20/2018 | Details & Permalink

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You Don’t Know Everything, Jilly P!

Alex Gino. Scholastic Press, $16.99 (256p) ISBN 978-0-545-95624-6

Twelve-year-old Jilly may know everything there is to know about the characters of Magically Mysterious Vidalia, her favorite book trilogy, but she has a lot to learn about people and dynamics in her own world. In a novel that carries a strong social message, Gino (George) traces the stages of Jilly’s enlightenment across multiple events. As Jilly becomes aware of racially charged microaggressions occurring within her family, and a number of police shootings target black teens, she finds her white parents unwilling to discuss either. Her growing friendship with a black, Deaf boy she meets online (“Big-D Deaf is about community and ASL,” he informs her) aligns temporally with the discovery that her infant sister has a hearing impairment, but she makes mistakes in her enthusiasm to learn about Deaf culture. For the first time, Jilly comes to recognize that people face different challenges—and sees how her own actions can impact situations for better and for worse. If the book’s dialogue sometimes seems to exist in the service of its lessons, its thoughtful handling of characters and dynamics offers fodder for further discussion about privilege in all its forms. As Jilly’s Aunt Alicia says, “Nothing changes if we don’t talk.” Ages 8–12. Agent: Jennifer Laughran, Andrea Brown Literary. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/20/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Property of the Rebel Librarian

Allison Varnes. Random House, $16.99 (288p) ISBN 978-1-5247-7147-8

When 12-year-old June’s father finds a library book he deems inappropriate among her belongings, her protective parents go on a censoring rampage, taking away the book and auditing her personal library—even, eventually, rewriting the end to Old Yeller. Before she knows it, they’ve called a PTA meeting, removed books from the school library (“It’s called a book extraction,” her father says), and gotten the librarian suspended. When June discovers a Little Free Library along a new route to school, and other kids learn that she has access to books, June soon finds herself running an underground library. Her crush, Graham, has asked her out, but his participation in the censorship has her questioning their relationship, especially after she meets new book-loving friends. When a school witch hunt for anyone with banned books reveals June’s role, she must decide if she has the strength to fight for the right to read. Debut author Varnes’s painting of overbearing parents occasionally feels over the top (their book rewrites extend to pasting over fart jokes), but the farcical take also drives home important points about bureaucracy, oversight, and freedom. Ages 8–12. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/20/2018 | Details & Permalink

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A Perilous Journey of Danger and Mayhem: A Dastardly Plot

Christopher Healy. Walden Pond, $16.99 (384p) ISBN 978-0-06-234197-6

In this timely historical adventure set in 1883 New York City, a female duo attempts to break into a male-dominated field and stumbles across a fiendish plan concocted by a ruthless mad scientist. All that 12-year-old Molly Pepper wants is for her brilliant mother, Cassandra, to be accepted by the Inventors’ Guild and its leaders—Thomas Edison and Alexander Graham Bell. While trying to secure themselves an exhibition space in the upcoming World’s Fair, Molly and Cassandra discover that Bell is plotting to destroy the city with a secret army of robotic death machines. With the help of Bell’s assistant, Emmett, the mother-daughter team joins up with the Mothers of Invention to thwart Bell’s (or is it Edison’s?) evil schemes. Plot twists and banter hit at breakneck speeds in this heartfelt yet tongue-in-cheek look at the tumultuous Age of Invention, and its focus on two often marginalized groups—immigrants and women—allows for relevant social commentary. While Healy (The Hero’s Guide series) takes a few liberties with history, his inclusion of real inventors may inspire further reading about their lives and contributions. Ages 8–12. Agent: Cheryl Pientka, Jill Grinberg Literary Management. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/20/2018 | Details & Permalink

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All the Things That Could Go Wrong

Stewart Foster. Little, Brown, $16.99 (336p) ISBN 978-0-316-41685-6

Many books offer compassionate renderings of bullied victims; far fewer cast bullies in a sympathetic light. Foster (The Bubble Boy) does both with frankness and wit in this story told in alternating points of view by British middle schoolers Alex and Dan. Alex has severe OCD and a long list of fears, including germs, people dying, and classmate Dan, whose gang of troublemakers torment him at school. Dan lives his life in anger while worrying about his older brother, who is locked up in a detention center. When Dan’s and Alex’s parents meet at the movies and decide their sons should spend time together, both boys are distraught. Forced together against their will to work on the raft Dan is building, they come to understand each other’s vulnerabilities. In this insightful novel, Foster shows a clear understanding of adolescent dynamics, inside the classroom and out. As the characters come to grips with each other’s behavior, readers will find themselves rooting for both protagonists. Ages 8–12. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/20/2018 | Details & Permalink

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