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Apocalypse Bow Wow

James Proimos III, illus. by James Proimos Jr. Bloomsbury, $13.99 (224p) ISBN 978-1-61963-442-8

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In this uninhibitedly wacky collaboration by Year in the Jungle illustrator Proimos and his son, two dogs find that their owners have disappeared in a kind of Rapture moment along with all the other humans on Earth: “Clotheslines were ablaze. Humans vanished from moving automobiles. Animals were totally losing it.” Brownie and Apollo’s initial imprisonment in their own house creates a real sense of grief as readers watch the dogs realize that their owners are never coming back. But they manage to escape, as Brownie explains: “I licked our doorknob and made a deer crash through our window, and that’s how we got out.” The nearest grocery store has food, but is already claimed by animal adversaries. Fortunately, a flea who has read Sun Tzu advises Brownie, whispering military strategies in his ear: “If you don’t seek out allies and helpers, then you will be isolated and weak.” The elder Proimos’s artwork, a mix of full-page scene and panel sequences, is a potent combination of unhinged energy and poignant sentiment, giving it an off-kilter charm. Ages 8–12. Agent: Joanna Volpe, New Leaf Literary & Media. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 10/24/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Mountain Garden

Will Ottley, illus. by Chloë Holt. Perpetualaum Books (www.mountaingarden.co.uk), $7.99 paper (104p) ISBN 978-0-9927763-1-2

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When marauding wolves and once-friendly lions threaten the deer realm, a young stag named Buckan is dispatched to ask the Great King Stag for help. The elder stag instructs Buckan to find the Mountain Garden, “a magical pace that he had heard mentioned in the fairy tales of his fawnhood,” and to “embrace the power” he finds there. The king’s warnings that Buckan’s greatest challenges lie ahead and that things “are not always as they seem” prove true as Buckan journeys through the perilous Dark Forest, encountering a conniving bat, a treacherous crocodile, and a hostile mountain goat. Ottley’s first novel is less an animal adventure aimed at children than an allegorical tale about summoning inner strength in order to triumph over dark, threatening forces. Holt’s bold, inky b&w illustrations, which have the feel of violently stroked watercolors, accent Buckan’s journey with dramatic and ominous notes. Though this fable of trust, forgiveness, redemption, and the strength-giving power of love occasionally gets caught up in its own portentousness, readers (especially adult ones) seeking a dose of spiritual affirmation can take heart in its message. All ages. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 10/24/2014 | Details & Permalink

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X: A Novel

Ilyasah Shabazz, with Kekla Magoon. Candlewick, $16.99 (384p) ISBN 978-0-7636-6967-6

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This fictionalized account of the boy who became Malcolm X maintains a suspenseful, poetic grip as it shifts among moments in his life between the years 1930 and 1948. The first-person, present-tense narrative emphasizes the experiences that affected Malcolm from early childhood to his eventual imprisonment. Memories, such as a favorite teacher telling him, “Be as good as you want in the classroom, but out those doors, you’re just a nigger,” or his sighting of a lynched man, trigger a sense of hopelessness that leads to self-destructive choices. Significant people in Malcolm’s life offer different messages: his white lover, Sophia, fears being seen with him, while his siblings believe he has the potential for greatness. Shabazz (Growing Up X), one of Malcolm X’s daughters, and Magoon (How It Went Down) capture Malcolm’s passion for new experiences, the defeatism that plagued him, and the long-buried hope that eventually reclaimed him. Author notes expand on historical context and the facts behind this compelling coming-of-age story. Ages 14–up. Agent: (for Shabazz) Jason Anthony, Lippincott Massie McQuilkin; (for Magoon) Michelle Humphrey, Martha Kaplan Agency. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 10/24/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Waiting for Gonzo

Dave Cousins. Llewellyn/Flux, $9.99 trade paper (288p) ISBN 978-0-7387-4199-4

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The last thing British teenager Marcus wants is to make a bad impression on his first day at a new school, but things go from bad (mistakenly bringing the laundry bag instead of his book bag) to worse (getting chased by a dog on his way home). In just a few hours, Marcus humiliates himself in front of the school bully, enrages a girl with anger management problems, and causes a car accident that leaves his sculptor mother with a broken arm. All of these disasters must be sorted out, but Marcus’s dilemmas pale in comparison to those of his 17-year-old sister, who hasn’t yet found the courage to tell their parents that she’s pregnant. In a darkly comic story written as Marcus’s monologue to his unborn nephew (whom he nicknames Gonzo), Cousins (15 Days Without a Head) offers a vibrant, highly visual account of teen angst and backfiring schemes. Marcus makes more than a few mistakes at school and at home, but readers will never doubt that his heart is in the right place. Ages 12–up. Agent: Jenny Savill, Andrew Nurnberg Associates. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 10/24/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Infected

Sophie Littlefield. Delacorte, $17.99 (256p) ISBN 978-0-385-74106-4

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In Littlefield’s (Hanging by a Thread) page-turning thriller, high school seniors and track-and-field stars Carina Monroe and Tanner Sloan are infected with an experimental virus that gives them superhuman strength and endurance. The trouble, however, is that the virus comes with a fatal side effect—after 36 hours, it will begin a gruesome and irreversible attack on their nervous systems. Carina and Tanner race to find the antidote and, along the way, discover the secrets that Carina’s deceased mother and uncle were keeping about their scientific research. Pursued by stereotypical foreign gangsters, they also have to reckon with Carina’s menacing legal guardian, whom her uncle warned her against. Though derivative in its plot and occasionally cheesy (Tanner’s advantages over the villain include “heart, and courage—and love”), Littlefield’s novel serves up plenty of twists and exciting action sequences, as well as disturbing set-pieces like the video Carina and Tanner find of a man dying from the virus, which raises the stakes for them. Ages 12–up. Agent: Barbara Poelle, Irene Goodman Literary Agency. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 10/24/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Book of Storms

Ruth Hatfield. Holt, $16.99 (368p) ISBN 978-0-8050-9998-0

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Eleven-year-old Danny O’Neill awakens after a thunderstorm to find he’s been abandoned by his parents and suddenly is able to speak to plants and animals. Setting out to find his family, Danny is plagued by the terrifying creature Sammael, a sandman who inhabits dreams, bargains for souls, and wants Danny dead. With a distinctly British wit, debut author Hatfield weaves a dark and twisted tale in the vein of Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book, as Danny searches for the titular book—“just a flat black shape in the darkness, full of some kind of promise”—along with his cousin and protector Tom. In this trilogy opener, Hatfield creates an imaginative, whimsical world filled with distinctively voiced flora and fauna and other strange characters, including her personification of Death as an old woman who cradles the newly deceased like a grandmotherly angel. Hatfield doesn’t shy from depicting violent deaths or the occasional bit of gore, but the story is never gratuitous—the frights are just enough to keep readers’ hearts racing as they read late into the night. Ages 10–14. Agency: Lindsay Literary Agency. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 10/24/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The War That Saved My Life

Kimberly Brubaker Bradley. Dial, $16.99 (320p) ISBN 978-0-8037-4081-5

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Bradley (Jefferson’s Sons) examines WWII through the eyes of a disabled child eager to escape her life of neglect and abuse. With the threat of German bombs being dropped on London, most parents are anxious to get their children out of the city. But Ada’s mother, shamed by her daughter’s deformed foot, doesn’t seem to care. Ada takes it upon herself to board an evacuee train with her younger brother and, without their Mam’s knowledge, they arrive in a country village with a crowd of students. Malnourished and filthy, the siblings are placed with Miss Smith, a woman lacking any experience with children, who claims she isn’t “nice.” Nonetheless, she offers Ada and Jamie food, clothing, and security, and she owns a pony that Ada is determined to learn to ride. In this poignant story, Bradley celebrates Ada’s discovery of the world outside her dismal flat, movingly tracing her growing trust of strangers and her growing affection for Miss Smith. Proving that her courage and compassion carry far more power than her disability, Ada earns self-respect, emerges a hero, and learns the meaning of home. Ages 9–12. Agent: Ginger Knowlton, Curtis Brown. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 10/24/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Way to Stay in Destiny

Augusta Scattergood. Scholastic Press, $16.99 (192p) ISBN 978-0-545-53824-4

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It’s May 1974, and Theo M. Thomas is begrudgingly taken in by his gruff Uncle Raymond, a Vietnam vet, and brought from Kentucky to the small town of Destiny, Fla., on the Gulf Coast (Theo’s parents died when he was young, and his grandparents can no longer care for him). They move into Miss Sister Grandersole’s Rest Easy Rooming House and Dance Academy, where Theo is saddled with chores and ordered around by his uncle, who wants little to do with him. Theo isn’t looking forward to starting sixth grade at a new school until he meets the mayor’s daughter, Anabel, who shares his love of baseball. Miss Sister encourages Theo to use his talent for playing the piano at the academy’s recital, but just when Theo feels that his destiny is at his fingertips, Uncle Raymond threatens to uproot him again. With an eye and ear for period details and dialogue, Scattergood (Glory Be) builds a cast of memorable, realistically flawed characters in an affecting story about holding on to one’s dreams. Ages 8–12. Agent: Linda Pratt, Wernick & Pratt. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 10/24/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Terrible Two

Mac Barnett and Jory John, illus. by Kevin Cornell. Abrams/Amulet, $13.95 (224p) ISBN 978-1-4197-1491-7

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Two rival pranksters headline this boisterous series opener set in Yawnee Valley, “the cow capital of the United States, this side of the Mississippi, excluding a couple of towns that cheat.” Barnett (the Brixton Brothers series) and John (All My Friends Are Dead) are in perfect comic harmony, filling their story with exaggerated archetypes (the overbearing principal, the do-gooder), pranks gone awry, and wisecracking banter. On his first day at Yawnee Valley Science and Letters Academy, master trickster Miles is impressed that someone has moved Principal Barkin’s car to block the school entrance—and distressed that he wasn’t the perpetrator. Determined to establish his prankster dominance, Miles masterminds a huge birthday party—presents required—for a fictitious peer, who (somehow) shows up to wow the crowd and abscond with the gifts. Eventually, Miles finally forms a partnership with his unlikely nemesis to create a “secret society founded on mutual admiration and the joy of pranking.” Cornell’s (The Chicken Squad) b&w cartoons layer on the laughs, especially when portraying the megalomaniacal Principal Barkin, and Barnett and John’s deadpan writing lets Yawnee Valley’s absurdity shine. Ages 8–12. Agent: Steven Malk, Writers House. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 10/24/2014 | Details & Permalink

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A Violin for Elva

Mary Lyn Ray, illus. by Tricia Tusa. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $16.99 (32p) ISBN 978-0-15-225483-4

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Elva, a girl with an upturned nose whose hair is never quite tidy, hears a neighbor’s enchanting music through the hedge and asks her parents for a violin. Ray’s (Go to Sleep, Little Farm) prose softens their refusal by giving it lilt and rhythm: “She asked them both. She asked with please. But they hadn’t heard what Elva heard. And they said no.” Elva, undeterred, continues to dream. She grows up, works, loves her dog, grows gray—and buys, at last, a violin. Ray’s story is not a fairy tale—Elva never masters the instrument—but Tusa’s (Marlene, Marlene, Queen of Mean) image of the earnest woman standing amid much smaller child students at their first recital has a deep sweetness. Quiet humor (Elva’s dog lying belly-up on the floor, defeated by his mistress’s terrible intonation) provides a tender accompaniment to this meditation on fulfilling one’s dreams. The last spread, in which Elva soars into the air with her violin, borne aloft on strains of music, offers a vision of the only kind of success that really matters. Ages 4–8. Author’s agent: Erin Murphy, Erin Murphy Literary Agency. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 10/24/2014 | Details & Permalink

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