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Stories of My Life

Katherine Paterson. Dial, $17.99 (320p) ISBN 978-0-8037-4043-3

“Sometimes I can’t believe my own life,” writes Paterson in these autobiographical stories about her missionary parents, her childhood in China and the U.S., and her career—first as a missionary herself and, after marriage and motherhood, as one of the most decorated authors in children’s literature. Fans of her novels will enjoy learning about the real-life places and events that inspired her work: the family farm that became the setting for Park’s Quest, the similarities between her mother and Susan Bradshaw in Jacob I Have Loved, and the death of her son’s best friend that led to Bridge to Terabithia. Written in a conversational style, these “kitchen sink stories” will perhaps be received best by professional adults and readers who grew up with her books; much of what she recounts is about the distant past, courtship, and motherhood. What absolutely shines through is Paterson’s warm, self-effacing humor, and the extraordinary humility of a writer who has won two National Book Awards, two Newbery Medals, and the Hans Christian Andersen Medal. Like Mark Twain, to whom she is distantly related, Paterson is a true American treasure. Ages 14–up. (Oct.)■

Reviewed on 07/18/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Sally Ride: Life on a Mission

Sue Macy. S&S/Aladdin, $17.99 (160p) ISBN 978-1-4424-8854-0

Drawing from a broad selection of books, periodicals, and interviews, Macy (Wheels of Change) fuses a biography of the first American woman in space with a chronicle of NASA’s space shuttle program during Ride’s career. The author provides a balanced portrait of Ride’s personal and professional lives, depicting her as a reserved, private, intelligent, and competitive young woman whose diverse interests led to degrees in both physics and English at Stanford. Though various media have documented Ride’s missions on Challenger, Macy also underscores her tenacity in a profession that had historically discriminated against women, as well as her passionate advocacy for educating children about space exploration and encouraging them—especially girls—to pursue careers in science. Readers whose interests lean in those directions will appreciate the thorough, at times technical, explorations of the history, operations, triumphs, and tragedies of NASA’s space shuttle program. Photos of and quotations from Ride (who died of pancreatic cancer in 2012) and from those who knew her help bring her personality into sharp focus. Ages 8–12. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/18/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Magician of Auschwitz

Kathy Kacer, illus. by Gillian Newland. Second Story (Orca, dist.), $18.95 (32p) ISBN 978-1-927583-46-3

Kacer (the Holocaust Remembrance series) presents a true tale about children and the Holocaust. Werner Reich, a boy at Auschwitz, meets famous magician Herbert Levin, who is also interned there. Herr Levin, as Werner calls him, is the famous Nivelli who performed in theaters all over Berlin before WWII. The magician teaches Werner a card trick at one of the lowest points of the boy’s imprisonment: “In this dreadful place where there was nothing to own and nothing to give, the magician had given Werner a gift.” Thick, roughly painted black lines surround many scenes, reinforcing a feeling of captivity. Newland’s (A Chanukah Noel) limited palette of shadowy grays and greens (excepting the red of playing cards and swastika armbands) and the dark, sunken faces of prisoners contrast with Werner’s small smile when he masters the magic trick. Concluding pages feature photographs of Werner and Levin along with short backstories and epilogues; a final author’s note briefly recounts the Holocaust in accessible language. Like Kacer’s previous books, this story is infused with hope and a message about human capacity for good in the face of evil. Ages 7–up. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/18/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Mocha Dick: The Legend and the Fury

Brian Heinz, illus. by Randall Enos. Creative Editions, $18.99 (32p) ISBN 978-1-56846-242-4

Heinz’s (Red Fox at McCloskey’s Farm) history of the whale that inspired Melville’s Moby-Dick is beautifully written, magnificently illustrated, and agonizing to read. The white whale Mocha Dick, named for the island off Chile whose waters he frequented, was hunted and wounded, but survived: “Six teeth were shattered, one eye made blind.” His encounter with a harpoon made him a warrior bent on revenge. He pursued whalers and attacked them, sinking harpooners’ boats and sending sailors to the bottom of the sea before he was tracked down and slaughtered by those whose cruelty drove him mad. Enos’s (My Full Moon Is Square) superb linocuts recall 19th-century folk art. He combs the waves with curls and swells, then breaks them with the bulk of the breaching whale. The sailors who tumble out of their boats cry out of gaping, toothy mouths. In the borders, neatly labeled portraits of sea life and whaling tools ignore the mayhem within. Only the most resolute readers will come away unaffected: “Mocha Dick made a final lunge, but his strength ebbed away. His spirit was broken.” Ages 6–up. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/18/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Monstrous Affections: An Anthology of Beastly Tales

Edited by Kelly Link and Gavin J. Grant. Candlewick, $22.99 (480p) ISBN 978-0-7636-6473-2

Link and Grant (Steampunk!) present an engrossing, morally complex anthology of 15 stories centered on the seemingly antagonistic concepts of monsters and love. Throughout, troubled protagonists meet genuine monsters—some traditional, like vampires, others much less so. Almost invariably, it’s understood that other people in the protagonists’ lives are far worse than the monsters. In Paolo Bacigalupi’s poetic “Moriabe’s Children,” a teenager fleeing her abusive stepfather finds sisterhood with the kraken that haunt the nearby sea. In Holly Black’s bloody but funny “Ten Rules for Being an Intergalactic Smuggler (The Successful Kind),” a girl stows away on her uncle’s spaceship, fights off pirates, and partners with a purported alien killing machine. M.T. Anderson’s wistful and beautifully realized tale of WWII on the home front, “Quick Hill,” concerns a young man’s sacrifice for his community’s safety, and Kathleen Jennings’s graphic short, “A Small Wild Magic,” is a delightful variation on the story of the boy who receives three magical wishes. Additional stories are written by Cassandra Clare, Patrick Ness, and others; all of the entries are strong, and many are splendid. Ages 14–up. Agent: Renee Zuckerbrot, Renee Zuckerbrot Literary Agency. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/18/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Falling into Place

Amy Zhang. Greenwillow, $17.99 (304p) ISBN 978-0-06-229504-0

Zhang debuts with the haunting story of a suicide attempt gone awry as high school junior Liz Emerson drives her Mercedes off the road, winding up in a coma. The reasons for Liz’s actions and her substantial self-hatred emerge in chapters that alternate between the present, as friends and family gather at the hospital to find out whether Liz will pull through, and the weeks leading up to the car crash, along with examples of Liz’s cruelty over the years. Among the sources of guilt and pain swirling around Liz’s brain are her father’s death, her mother’s absentee parenting, her friends’ drug problem and abortion (both of which Liz had a hand in), her own struggles with bulimia and loneliness, and the many classmates’ reputations she has helped ruin. At times, the story takes on the feel of a novel-length guilt trip, all but entreating readers to recognize how they could be kinder in their own lives. But Zhang writes with confidence and finesse, and many readers will be moved as Liz recognizes the lives she has damaged. Ages 14–up. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/18/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Being Audrey Hepburn

Mitchell Kriegman. St. Martin’s/Dunne, $18.99 (336p) ISBN 978-1-250-00146-7

Lisbeth is a Jersey girl who works at a local diner but dreams of a glamorous New York City life à la Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Her best friend Jess, who has an internship at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, surprises Lisbeth with the chance to try on Hepburn’s famous Givenchy dress, and Lisbeth’s world changes as Manhattan’s rich and famous mistake her for one of their own at a Met gala. Thus begins a whirlwind of celebrity party-hopping for Lisbeth, with aspiring designer Jess updating Lisbeth’s grandmother’s vintage wardrobe behind the scenes. As Lisbeth worries that she’ll be found out, she has less and less time for family, friends, and Jake, the boy she’s flirting with back home. First-time novelist Kriegman (creator of Clarissa Explains It All) hits all the right notes for breezy escapist fiction—Manhattan glamour, glitzy parties, couture designs, and the name-dropping that goes with them. Yet as the stakes grow higher, Kriegman neglects Lisbeth’s New Jersey life (much as Lisbeth herself does). By the time she realizes she’s “forgotten about Jake,” readers may have forgotten him, too. Ages 14–up. Agent: Amy Berkower, Writers House. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/18/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Beetle Boy

Margaret Willey. Carolrhoda Lab, $17.95 (208p) ISBN 978-1-4677-2639-9

Willey (Four Secrets) returns with a riveting story about being robbed of one’s childhood. When Charlie Porter is seven years old, his mother abandons him, his father, and his younger brother, Liam. To comfort his father, Charlie recites his mother’s bedtime stories about a beetle. Sensing an opportunity, Charlie’s short-tempered, womanizing father shoves him into the role of the “world’s youngest published author,” pressuring him to write and promote the books they cobble together, wear a bug costume, visit schools, and attend conferences. It’s at these author gatherings that Charlie gets to know acerbic veteran author Mrs. M., with whom he forges an unlikely but crucial friendship. Now 18, Charlie is estranged from his family and living with his girlfriend Clara, who is growing increasingly frustrated with Charlie’s unwillingness to discuss his past. Willey expertly peels away Charlie’s backstory in flashbacks that alternate with present-day scenes that have Charlie wracked by horrific beetle-themed night terrors and consumed by guilt over abandoning Liam when life with their father became too much to bear. A potent story about the power that the past exerts on the present. Ages 13–18. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/18/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Unfriended

Rachel Vail. Viking, $16.99 (288p) ISBN 978-0-670-01307-4

Backbiting, scheming classmates take center stage in Vail’s (the Justin Case series) contemporary novel about middle-school relationships and acts of disloyalty. The nastiness begins when sixth-grader Truly betrays her friend Hazel by joining the popular group. Truly’s former best friend Natasha has ulterior motives for inviting Truly into the coveted circle, but Truly doesn’t know that. When both Hazel and Natasha turn against Truly, the result is a slew of mean-spirited online posts that cause trouble at school and make everyone miserable. The book is told from the rotating perspectives of six middle-schoolers—including Truly, Natasha, and Hazel—who are peripherally or directly affected by the ongoing drama, which draws in some of the boys in the class as well. Readers only get brief, glimpses into the complex problems at home, personal conflicts, and motivations for the students resisting or engaging in the bullying. A history project involving a reenactment of Benedict Arnold’s traitorous scheme finally forces the girls to see the errors of their ways, leading to a too-tidy, overly optimistic resolution. Ages 11–up. Agent: Amy Berkower, Writers House. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/18/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Starry Night

Isabel Gillies. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $17.99 (336p) ISBN 978-0-374-30675-5

Gillies’s (Happens Every Day) first YA novel traces the rise and fall of a young artist’s first love and how it changes her course. High school sophomore Wren is eager to spend her junior year abroad, studying art in France at Saint-Rémy, where Vincent van Gogh created The Starry Night, her favorite masterpiece. But that’s before a magical evening at a Metropolitan Museum of Art event orchestrated by her museum director father. There, decked out in her mother’s precious Oscar de la Renta gown, Wren is swept off her feet by a handsome young musician, who appears to be just as enamored with her. Over the next few weeks their feelings for each other intensify, making Wren lose sight of her dream of going to France. The enchantment of the couple’s first evening together outshines the rest of the novel, making subsequent conflicts, squabbles, and betrayals anticlimactic by comparison. Still, Wren’s rude awakening from her fairy-tale happiness will be felt deeply, alerting romantics to the danger of losing oneself amid the dazzle of infatuation. Ages 12–up. Agent: Bill Clegg, William Morris Endeavor. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/18/2014 | Details & Permalink

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