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Louis Undercover

Fanny Britt, trans. from the French by Christelle Morelli and Susan Ouriou, illus. by Isabelle Arsenault. Groundwood (PGW, dist.), $19.95 (160p) ISBN 978-1-55498-859-4

In this quiet, probing graphic novel from the duo behind Jane, the Fox and Me, an adolescent boy named Louis describes the months after his parents separate. His father, still living in the family’s old house and drinking every day, cries for hours; “I know because I spy on him.” His mother has moved to a city apartment, and Louis shuttles back and forth with his younger brother, Truffle, who’s too small to understand the situation fully—he sees the world through his love for James Brown and the Everly Brothers. As painful as the ruin of his father’s life is, Louis has another problem he feels even more keenly. He’s in love with Billie—a brave, bookish girl from school—but can’t bring himself to speak to her. Britt writes with perception about the torment of first love and the pain felt by children caught up in a foundering marriage. Working in moody ink and pencil, Arsenault excels at capturing characters in the grip of powerful emotions they’re trying to conceal, and also at conveying a sense of place—both city and country are evocatively drawn. Ages 10–14. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/18/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Forest of a Thousand Lanterns

Julie C. Dao. Philomel, $18.99 (384p) ISBN 978-1-5247-3829-7

Eighteen-year-old Xifeng is destined to become the empress of Feng Lu, and although she is initially uncertain about this foretold fate, the power it promises becomes too much to resist. Demons and bloody magic keep Xifeng’s face preternaturally beautiful and help her harness the power of her rivals in debut author Dao’s lushly written first book in the Rise of the Empress series, set in an East Asian fantasy landscape and inspired by Snow White’s evil queen. Inhabiting a role usually reserved for the villain, Xifeng schemes her way into the palace, losing her lover Wei in the process. The demons she faces are both literal and metaphorical, external and internal, and her tug-of-war with the forces driving her down a dark path makes for tantalizing reading. As she strives for wealth and becomes well versed in betrayal and politics, part of her longs for a simple life like the one she left behind, brutal though it often was. A fascinating examination of destiny, responsibility, and how choices shape a person. Ages 14–up. Agent: Tamar Rydzinski, Laura Dail Literary. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/18/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Dare Mighty Things

Heather Kaczynski. HarperTeen, $17.99 (384p) ISBN 978-0-06-247986-0

Set in 2043, Kaczynski’s gripping debut stars Cassandra Gupta, a genetically engineered high school senior from Huntsville, Ala., who works as an intern in NASA’s legal department. Cassie dreams of becoming an astronaut, but because NASA no longer sends humans into space, she assumes that will never happen. Then she learns that the organization is planning a secret, highly experimental mission, and that she will be competing with 63 exceptional young people for a spot on the crew. Cassie travels to Johnson Space Center in Houston, where the applicants face a grueling selection process. As the field narrows, the tests grow stranger and more dangerous, forcing the candidates to wonder about the mission’s destination and purpose, as well as the nature of the winner’s role on the ship. First in a duology, this SF thriller uses a diverse, well-drawn cast and a twisty, cerebral plot to entertain readers while highlighting science, the space program, and the importance of empathy and friendship. A game-changing cliffhanger paves the way for book two. Ages 13–up. Agent: Kristin Nelson, Nelson Literary. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/18/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Satellite

Nick Lake. Knopf, $17.99 (464p) ISBN 978-1-5247-1353-9

Leo lives aboard Moon 2, a space station orbiting Earth, with his lifelong friends, twins Libra and Orion. All three teenagers were born in space and raised by astronauts. Now as the three turn 16, doctors believe that they are strong enough to move from their zero gravity existence to Earth, and all are eager to see the home they’ve never been to. The story is told entirely through Leo’s perspective, and it’s clear that he is missing some information—Lake (Whisper to Me) drop hints about a conspiracy and public protests, and Leo’s mother is standoffish and withholding. The mystery keeps the pages turning, but it’s a drawn-out unspooling of information. It doesn’t help that Leo narrates in something like text-speak: u for you, dr.ate for doctorate, and an aversion to capital letters that marks him as different from the very first page but that may test readers’ patience. But for those who embrace it, Lake’s novel raises many difficult moral questions to consider. Ages 12–up. Agent: Caradoc King, United Agents. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/18/2017 | Details & Permalink

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My Brigadista Year

Katherine Paterson. Candlewick, $15.99 (160p) ISBN 978-0-7636-9508-8

Two-time Newbery Medalist Paterson turns her attention to 1961 Cuba in the story of 13-year-old Lora Llera, who volunteers to become part of Fidel Castro’s literacy campaign—to her parents’ dismay. She and hundreds of other volunteers of all ages spend months living with farmers in the countryside, working alongside them during the day and teaching them to read and write at night. (Castro intended to have a fully literate population within a year’s time, and the brigadistas were an important part of that plan.) Through Lora’s naïve but openhearted perspective, Paterson weaves in details about Cuban history and the events that led to the overthrow of the Batista regime and the rise of Communism, though she skirts many of the political hot-button issues that surround Castro’s rule. An author’s note and timeline fill in additional details about Cuba’s past, but Paterson’s story is without political agenda, focusing instead on an improbable (and successful) literacy campaign and how it dramatically expands the world of one sheltered but determined girl. Ages 10–14. Agent: Allison Cohen, Gersh Agency. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/18/2017 | Details & Permalink

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The Perfect Score

Rob Buyea. Delacorte, $16.99 (368p) ISBN 978-1-101-93825-6

As he did with younger students in his Mr. Terupt books, Buyea takes readers into a sixth-grade classroom to follow five memorable students: Natalie, a rule-following future lawyer; Scott, a kid with brains, heart, and big ideas (that always seem to go south); Trevor, who acts tougher than he is; Gavin, a football enthusiast who struggles in school; and Randi, a state-ranked gymnast with loads of pressure at home. After their expected teacher moves away, they wind up with the elderly Mrs. Woods, whose no-nonsense style dates back to when their parents were in school, but whose love of books and underlying compassion wins them over. As the pressure to perform during state testing mounts, the five students reluctantly band together with a risky plan to ace them. Buyea gives his narrators clear voices and diverse backstories. The plot, however, plods along, pushed forward mostly by amusing mishaps (perpetrated by the irrepressible Scott) until the testing debacle late in the book. The students’ stories are compelling, and Buyea confidently mixes humor and heart, but the story lacks tension until the final chapters. Ages 9–12. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/18/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Timeless: Diego and the Rangers of the Vastlantic

Armand Baltazar. HarperCollins/Tegen, $19.99 (624p) ISBN 978-0-06-240236-3

In this ambitious adventure set after the catastrophic Time Collision restructured Earth into a world where dinosaurs coexist alongside steam technology and giant robots, four children team up with pirates to rescue their loved ones from marauders bent on destroying society. Thirteen-year-old Diego Ribera, his best friend Petey, streetwise Paige, and Victorian-era Lucy join a last-ditch effort to thwart the forces of the Aeturnum to preserve the only world they’ve ever known, but first they have to learn to work as a group, mastering their respective skills and uncovering the secrets of the mysterious Vanguard. This epic tale from Baltazar, a former art director for Disney and Pixar, is not only wildly imaginative and attention-grabbing, it’s downright beautiful: more than 150 full-color photorealistic art pieces bring the characters and setting to life in a manner suggestive of film storyboards. A series opener that conveys a true sense of wonder and excitement on every page, with a setting and premise that lend themselves to further exploration. Ages 8–12. Agent: Seth Fishman, Gernert Company. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/18/2017 | Details & Permalink

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The Secret of Nightingale Wood

Lucy Strange. Chicken House, $16.99 (304p) ISBN 978-1-338-15747-5

Set a year after the end of WWI, this compelling debut places imaginative 12-year-old narrator Henrietta “Hen” Abbott in an impossible situation. After the death of Hen’s brother, her father moves the family from London to the countryside, only to depart to the continent for work, leaving Hen’s mother struggling with mental illness and cared for by a sinister doctor. “Suddenly I felt dangerously alone,” Hen recounts. “Mama was ill and drugged. Father was not here. Doctor Hardy thought I was going mad, and Nanny Jane had become his spy.” She finds solace in the woods and meets a supposed witch (whom she dubs Moth) living in a caravan. The mystery surrounding this woman becomes a central thread, and her character extends needed kindness to Hen, supporting her efforts to save her family. Strange effectively weaves in fairy tales, poetry, and themes common to classic children’s literature, reflecting Hen’s love of books. A brave heroine propels this strong and richly layered novel, a memorable portrait of grief, resilience, and rebirth. Ages 8–12. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/18/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Marge in Charge

Isla Fisher, illus. by Eglantine Ceulemans. Harper, $15.99 (176p) ISBN 978-0-06-266218-7

Spontaneity and mayhem reign in actress Fisher’s first children’s book, which unfolds over three chapters and kicks off a series about an eccentric babysitter. Marge shows up in the guise of a strict, elderly matron, but after Jemima and Jake Button’s parents leave, Marge sheds her dowdy hat, reveals fabulously multicolored hair, and announces that she’s a duchess who has abandoned palace life. Marge regales the kids with tales of her days as a renegade royal while bringing chaos into their lives, filling the bathroom with bubbles, serving chocolate soup for dinner, saving a rained-out birthday party with magic tricks, and turning a school concert rehearsal into a free-for-all. Though the children sometimes feel that the caregiver-child roles have been reversed, Marge’s whimsy has a purpose: she manages to liberate timid seven-year-old Jemima and calm rambunctious four-year-old Jake. Both Marge and the individual stories feel stuck in overdrive, but readers will get some laughs out of the unpredictability she brings to the children’s lives, captured in Ceulemans’s buoyant b&w cartoons. Ages 8–12. Author’s agent: Stephanie Thwaites, Curtis Brown UK. Illustrator’s agency: Plum Pudding Illustration. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/18/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Mustaches for Maddie

Chad Morris and Shelly Brown. Shadow Mountain, $16.99 (256p) ISBN 978-1-62972-330-3

“Everything is funnier with a mustache” is 12-year-old Maddie’s motto, and she has fake press-on ones for every occasion, including imaginative stories and games she makes up on the spot. Maddie’s offbeat sense of humor is the heart of this story from spouses Morris and Brown, which was inspired by their own daughter. Maddie is trying to make inroads with cool classmate Cassie, who handpicks the girls she hangs out with during recess and tells them which parts to try out for in an upcoming performance of scenes from Shakespeare. Maddie secretly auditions for Juliet (the role Cassie wants) and is overjoyed when she gets it, but her life takes a turn when her family learns that she has a brain tumor. Maddie learns to stand up for herself and face her fears head-on in this moving story of courage and heart. Morris and Brown balance the gravity of Maddie’s illness with her buoyant imagination as she navigates the reality of the surgery she needs and the politics of sixth grade. Ages 8–11. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/18/2017 | Details & Permalink

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