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Who Is Mackie Spence?

Lin Kaymer. F + W Media/Merit, $17.99 (208p) ISBN 978-1-4405-8460-2

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In Kaymer’s first novel, set on a small island in Puget Sound, 16-year-old Jeremy’s life is refocused after his childhood friend Mackie nearly drowns during a boating excursion. Jeremy has fallen in love with Mackie at the wildlife center where they both volunteer, but ever since the accident—during which Mackie was in the water for several hours and fell into a coma—animals have been acting uncharacteristically respectful and calm around Mackie, and injured ones seem to exert a strange pull on her. Meanwhile, at school, Mackie’s aggressive ex, Brody, is determined to win her back. When a Ouija board yields the cryptic message “Save Akeso,” Mackie and Jeremy begin to wonder if it’s her destiny to be a healer and what his role in her life is meant to be. While the novel’s aura of otherworldly strangeness, dashed with moments of danger, is somewhat compelling, the characters and the budding romance between Jeremy and Mackie are only loosely sketched. The mystery surrounding Mackie is quite slow to build, and an oddly structured, tacked-on epilogue adds little in the way of closure. Ages 12–up. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 10/31/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Darkest Part of the Forest

Holly Black. Little, Brown, $18 (336p) ISBN 978-0-316-21307-3

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Fairfold is a contemporary American town long beset by fairies. This isn’t a secret—rather it’s a tourist attraction that provides the citizens with a healthy source of income (although the visitors do occasionally get eaten by the more dangerous fairies). Hazel, a local high school student, is in love with the town’s biggest tourist attraction, a fairy prince who has slept for generations in a glass coffin in the forest. In this, she has a friendly rivalry going with her gay brother, Ben, who also loves the sleeping prince. Things have been unbalanced in Fairfold ever since a mortal woman refused to return a changeling—who grew up to be Hazel and Ben’s friend Jack—to the fairies. Now even Fairfold natives are being attacked, and after someone frees the sleeping prince, Hazel rediscovers her secret debt to the fairies. Close in tone to some of Charles de Lint’s work, it’s an enjoyable read with well-developed characters and genuine chills, though perhaps not as original as Black’s earlier supernatural excursions. Ages 12–up Agent: Barry Goldblatt, Barry Goldblatt Literary. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 10/31/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Boy in the Black Suit

Jason Reynolds. S&S/Atheneum, $17.99 (272p) ISBN 978-1-4424-5950-2

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When high school senior Matt realizes that working at the local chicken joint might mean cleaning up vomit, he reluctantly accepts a job at the neighborhood funeral parlor—the same one where his mother’s funeral was just held. To Matt’s surprise, he finds relief in watching funerals and seeing how mourners handle their grief, and he begins to grow closer to the funeral home’s owner, a local character. As he did in When I Was the Greatest, Reynolds portrays Brooklyn’s largely African-American Bed-Stuy neighborhood convincingly; Matt and his family are lower middle-class, as are their neighbors, but gangs and violence are a presence, as well. Coincidences and plot twists (including a car accident that conveniently helps Matt’s grieving father address his drinking problem) detract from the impact of the story as it develops. Romantic interest Lovey, a very appealing girl Matt meets at her grandmother’s funeral, doesn’t come on the scene until halfway through the book, and the wait feels long. An affecting story of a teenager’s path through pain, but one whose faults offset its strengths. Ages 12–up. Agent: Elena Giovinazzo, Pippin Properties. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 10/31/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Honest Truth

Dan Gemeinhart. Scholastic Press, $16.99 (240p) ISBN 978-0-545-66573-5

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Gemeinhart debuts with an emotionally hard-hitting survival story about 12-year-old Mark who, facing another bout of the cancer he’s been fighting throughout his childhood, runs away with his loyal dog, Beau, to fulfill his dream of climbing Mount Rainer. Armed with cash, camera, notebook, and a pen for jotting down the haikus that come constantly to mind, Mark soon encounters distressing setbacks, culminating in the onset of a dangerous storm. His harrowing adventures are interspersed with brief third-person half-chapters focusing on his best friend Jessie, who knows where he is and the danger he is in, and struggles whether to keep his secret. Jessie’s internal battle between her loyalty to Mark and her empathy for his frightened parents is nearly as intense as Mark’s trip to the mountain and his attempt to climb it. Both children’s reflections on dying ring very true, as do most of the secondary characters Mark meets. The many moments of heart-racing suspense, as well as the underlying gravity, may overwhelm faint-hearted readers; hardier ones will find it a gripping page-turner. Ages 8–12. Agent: Pam van Hylckama Vlieg, D4EO Literary. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 10/31/2014 | Details & Permalink

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I Love You to Pieces!

Barbara Benson Keith. Brownian Bee Press (www.brownianbee.com), $8.99 paper (32p) ISBN 978-0-9789688-3-0

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Keith (Mosaic Zoo: An ABC Book) wisely keeps preciousness to a minimum in this sweet-natured look at animals’ devotion to their young. “Look” is the key word, since her striking stained glass mosaics are the book’s standout feature—it’s a medium that can’t help but echo the “pieces” referenced in the title and throughout Keith’s verse. Readers meet 15 parent-child animal pairs (foxes, armadillos, whales, crocodiles, and more) through variations on a repeating rhyme. “ ‘I love you to pieces, you’re my sweetie pie!’/ said the sheep to her lamb with a big happy sigh,” writes Keith. In the accompanying spread, the knock-kneed younger sheep smiles adoringly at its mother, as clouds of geometric glass shapes in creams, greens, blues, and browns create their woolly coats. While there are occasional hiccups in the lilt of Keith’s verse, the artistry she brings to her animal portraits—brightly colored squares on the breasts of her owl family resemble patchwork sweaters, while enamel painting gives her pigs speckled skin and faces that exude contentment—mark her as a real talent. All ages. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 10/31/2014 | Details & Permalink

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When Otis Courted Mama

Kathi Appelt, illus. by Jill McElmurry. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $16.99 (40p) ISBN 978-0-15-216688-5

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Though the anthropomorphic coyotes in this well-matched collaboration are anything but wily, Appelt (The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp) takes a canny approach to the topic of accepting a stepparent. With tactical repetition, the narrator emphasizes that young Cardell has a “mostly wonderful life” with a “perfectly good mama and a perfectly good daddy,” even though his father lives across the desert with Cardell’s stepmother and stepbrother. Cardell’s mother has had her share of suitors, but none were up to snuff (one slobbered, another was conceited). Charming new neighbor Otis interrupts that pattern, and Cardell isn’t happy about it: “His fur bristled. His ears lay back. His GRRR... got louder. He put Otis on notice.” Affecting scenes reveal how Otis gradually wins over Cardell with kindness, persistence, and a knack for pouncing and storytelling, among other talents. McElmurry’s (the Little Blue Truck series) gouache illustrations revel in the desert setting, her homey paintings evoking the look of weather-beaten folk art while contributing to the story’s overall humor and sweetness. Ages 4–8. Author’s agent: Holly McGhee, Pippin Properties. Illustrator’s agent: Marcia Wernick, Wernick & Pratt Agency. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 10/31/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Bunnies!!!

Kevan Atteberry. HarperCollins/Tegen, $12.99 (32p) ISBN 978-0-06-230783-5

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Wild excitement at meeting new friends and the struggle to control emotions make Atteberry’s monster hero an effective (and funny) stand-in for a certain sort of child. His blue, ovoid monster is happy to see everything in the forest (“Hello, tree. Hello clouds”), but when it spots four candy-colored bunnies, its joy knows no bounds: “BUNNIES!!!” It starts to chase the bunnies, who—understandably—run and hide. The spurned monster continues walking, shoulders slumped, its tail dragging; it halfheartedly continues to greet an ever-more-depressing array of objects (“Hello, stick. Hello, dirt”). The bunnies can be seen hiding behind trees, conflicted; they don’t want to be overwhelmed, but they don’t want to make the monster sad, either. At last, the bunnies willingly subject themselves to the monster’s exuberance—until something new catches its attention, that is. In his first outing as author, Atteberry (Halloween Hustle) concentrates on conveying the monster’s tempestuous feelings (and lots of giggles besides) in polished scenes that mix single- and double-page images with sequential panels. A diplomatic exploration of loving not wisely, but too well. Ages 4–8. Agent: Erin Murphy, Erin Murphy Literary Agency. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 10/31/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Must. Push. Buttons!

Jason Good, illus. by Jarrett J. Krosoczka. Bloomsbury, $16.99 (32p) ISBN 978-1-6196-3095-6

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Good, a writer and comedian, created a small viral sensation in 2011 by blogging a list entitled “Approximately Three Minutes Inside the Head of My Two-Year-Old.” Krosoczka (Peanut Butter and Jellyfish) turns a (less profane) version of the list into a jumble of vignettes starring a mischievous boy, whose behavior slips and slides along a continuum that ranges from “Mommy left FOREVER!” (no, she’s right there in the kitchen) to “I think I peed.” As stories go, it’s basically a series of rapidly shifting emotional gears: “I’m tired. I’m not tired. This shirt itches. STOP ASKING ME IF I’M TIRED.” The boy has enough agency and independence to be an appealing hero (he seems closer to a preschooler than the original list’s toddler), but the action is surprisingly mild-mannered; because the scenes and literal captions never build to anything, the pages quickly take on a catalog feel. Nevertheless, weary parents—as well those responsible for some of that weariness—will find it easy to recognize themselves. Ages 3–6. Author’s agent: Courtney Miller-Callihan, Sanford J. Greenburger Associates. Illustrator’s agent: Rebecca Sherman, Writers House. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 10/31/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Supertruck

Stephen Savage. Roaring Brook/Porter, $12.99 (32p) ISBN 978-1-59643-821-7

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In a city “full of brave trucks,” writes Savage (Little Tug), the green bucket truck, red fire truck, and blue tow truck spend their days rescuing this and fixing that, all with can-do smiles. But the nebbishy, bespectacled garbage truck? He’s not only colorless, “He just collects the trash.” Of course, Clark Kent flew under the radar, too—and, sure enough, when a blizzard hits, that very same garbage truck emerges from his garage as the snow-plowing Supertruck. He “digs out the whole city” (as well as his snazzier counterparts), only to disappear without waiting for thanks: “The next morning, the trucks wonder about the mighty truck who saved them. Where could he be?” Savage’s take on the superhero myth is terrific: there’s no bullying or teasing of the garbage truck, which makes his Supertruck transformation a triumph pure and simple. And the images are as fun as they are gorgeous: Savage’s vehicles exude a Golden Book sweetness, while his city scenes have both a crisp stylishness and an emotional punch. Ages 2–6. Agent: Brenda Bowen, Sanford J. Greenburger Associates. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 10/31/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Zombie in Love 2+1

Kelly DiPucchio, illus. by Scott Campbell. S&S/Atheneum, $14.99 (32p) ISBN 978-1-4424-5937-3

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Zombie lovers Mortimer and Mildred, last seen in Zombie in Love, have “a little problem” in the form of the baby left on their doorstep. They happily take Sonny in, but “His teeth were coming in instead of falling out,” he sleeps soundly through the night, and his skin is quite pink compared to their blue-green pallor. A trip to the doctor puts their fears to rest, and before long they are playing “got your nose” in the way only a zombie family can. DiPucchio and Campbell are in ghoulishly comic sync, with plenty of punning and visual gags (brains appear as everything from hobby-horse heads to table lamps) to keep kids cackling. Ages 4–8. Agent: Steven Malk, Writers House. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 10/31/2014 | Details & Permalink

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