Wrecked by her parents’ divorce and then her brother’s disappearance three years ago, Andrea Murphy’s life has grown awful. The empty seat at the table, her unrelenting guilt that her brother’s disappearance is somehow her fault, and his ghost in the boxes stacked in the garage all haunt her. “I’m fine” is the lie she tells to hide the cracks and holes in her heart. As a reminder of his memory, she carries a missing piece of her brother in her pocket. When the pain grows too intense to bear, she rides her bike far and fast, letting the breeze whip through her hair whileRead More →

Readers of the Nevermoor series by Jessica Townsend and the Starfell series by Dominique Valente will likely enjoy The Midnight Hour by Benjamin Read and Laura Trinder. This fantastical tale features the young Emily Featherhaugh, whose mother’s idiosyncrasies turn Emily into a “human firework of foot-stamping rage” (2). Emily was shamed at school and accused of living like trash after helping her mother retrieve “important art materials” from the dumpster.  Even the City Council receives complaints that Maeve Connolly is a “crazy Irish art woman who makes noise at all hours” (2). But when her mom receives a special delivery– a heavy, khaki-colored envelope from a giant carryingRead More →

Growing up, we all face conflicts about our identities.  For those who are unsure of their pasts and parentage, those conflicts escalate.  Sophie Anderson explores this truth in her fantasy tale for young readers, The Girl Who Speaks Bear. As the plot unfolds, twelve-year-old Yanka feels alienated by her unusual size and strength, unsure whether to attribute those changes to a growth spurt or to some anomaly.  In the village, she is often reminded of her differences, despite the efforts of her best friend Sasha to include her and to remind her that she is strong and brave and kind.  Because she hears the callRead More →

Eleven-year-old Buddy Pennington is hexed with bad-luck blood so that everything he touches seems to end in disaster, it does.  (I found the author’s use of these parentheticals, along with his Huckleberry Finn-like river setting, a clever way of establishing local color). When Buddy accidentally sets his mother’s bakery on fire, he decides that he is tired of being a burden to his mother and would be better off with his father, so he leaves Collardsville, a boring but respectable town, and sets out for the swamplands in search of freedom and his pop, a true wild man. After five years absent from his father andRead More →

Fans of Alice Hoffman’s Nightbird or Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events will likely enjoy Temre Beltz’s new tweens novel, The Tragical Tale of Birdie Bloom with its fractured fairy tale elements, its message that words matter, and its invitation to believe in magic. Set in Wanderly, a kingdom that lives “by the book,” Birdie Bloom is a Tragical, an orphan sentenced to live out her days at Foulweather’s Home for the Tragical, “a house full of bad endings” (16).  The children living here have been brainwashed by Mistress Octavia—who manages to put a damper on everything with her sinister plotting—to believe that they are nothing,Read More →

Sasquatch are real. So are mermaids and chupacabras. And the Unicorn Rescue Society has taken it upon itself to rescue any of these mythical endangered creatures that need help. Which is why Elliot and Uchenna, elementary-age members of the Unicorn Rescue Society, are on their way to the state of Washington, where the Sasquatch are in trouble. An evil corporation is after the trees in their habitat, and after them, too! Can Elliot and Uchenna stop to the Schmokes Brothers before it’s too late? This humorous and heartwarming story is full of facts about many creatures, both fictional and real; disguises; complicated vehicles; beautiful trees;Read More →

For the past year, Stuart Mallory and Sophie Sawyer have lived and breathed Camelot’s Honor, an online multi-player game featuring King Arthur, Guinevere, Morgana, Merlin, and the many other characters from Arthurian Legend.  Slaving away on menial quests, gaining experience, and rising in levels, the two tweens are obsessed with gaming.  After all, life is so much easier inside the game where a person never has to worry about being cool or impressing anyone else.  Also unlike junior high, there are no surprises in the game, all the fight sequences can be researched online, and a person can look and act any way he orRead More →

Duncan and his assistant Emma – or Emma and her co-magician Duncan, depending on which you ask – are preparing to wow their classmates with their magic routine at the  school talent show. Then Duncan accidentally acquires a wand that can do…real magic! Now the local witch is after him to get it back, and she may not be the only person they need to worry about. This book alternates perspectives between Duncan and Emma in a cute if confusing way. It’s fun to realize that one or both of them is an unreliable narrator, but can be hard to remember which narrator you’re readingRead More →

Set in New York in 1863 at the time of the Civil War, Daniel José Older’s series novel Dactyl Hill Squad is a blend of history and fantasy with an abundance of action and adventure. Although Older adds dinosaur riders to his story—giving twelve-year-old Magdalys Roca the special ability to hear the dinos’ thoughts and control them with her mind—he tells the truth about orphan life and explores some other very real social issues.  For example, he mocks segregation habits like designating riding privileges along racial lines or colonization attempts like renaming. When the Kidnapping Club, led by the devious Magistrate Rich Riker, burns downRead More →