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The Heartbreakers

Ali Novak. Sourcebooks Fire, $9.99 ISBN 978-1-4926-1256-8

Stella’s sister, Cara, has non-Hodgkin lymphoma, and is stuck in the hospital undergoing treatment. Stella and her brother, Drew (the siblings are triplets), visit Cara often and indulge their sister’s obsession with the Heartbreakers, a boy band à la One Direction. Even though neither Stella nor Drew cares about the band, they embark on a mission to get Cara the boys’ autographs. Stella is so lacking in knowledge about the Heartbreakers, she doesn’t realize it she when she meets Oliver Perry (the band’s equivalent of Harry Styles) at a Starbucks. Before long, the two are falling for each other. Novak (My Life with the Walter Boys) employs an array of misunderstandings and coincidental run-ins to throw her two romantic leads together and pull them apart (something Stella herself almost seems to be aware of: “How was it even possible to run into the same celebrity so many times in one day?” she wonders), while playing up the drama of the cancer-sick sister. First in a planned series, it’s a formulaic romantic fairy-tale, but that won’t stop Directioners and Beliebers from enjoying it. Ages 12–up. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 05/22/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Court of Fives

Kate Elliott. Little, Brown, $18 (448p) ISBN 978-0-316-36419-5

Launching a YA trilogy, adult author Elliott (the Spiritwalker series) takes readers on an imaginative journey into Efea, a socially divided world of “Commoners” and “Patrons.” Jessamy, the daughter of a high-ranking Patron army captain and a Commoner mother, wants to compete in the Fives—a challenging, obstacle-like game requiring cunning and athleticism—but her father forbids it. When the lord sponsoring Jessamy’s father dies unexpectedly, tearing apart her family, she gains the opportunity to train at one of the most prestigious arenas in the kingdom, alongside a lord whose sudden attention sets her heart racing. Elliot creates an intricate and intriguing story, conjuring a world of mysticism and centuries-old customs. Jessamy’s boldness and impulsiveness make her a striking heroine in a male-dominated land. While Efea’s complicated backstory can occasionally bog down the narrative, Jessamy’s daring escapades, her budding romance with Lord Kalliarkos, and the descriptions of her Fives trials keep things exciting. Jessamy’s challenges are only just beginning, and readers will be eager to know how she fares in future books. Ages 12–up. Agent: Russell Galen, Scovil Galen Ghosh Literary Agency. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 05/22/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Firefly Hollow

Alison McGhee, illus. by Christopher Denise. S&S/Atheneum, $16.99 (304p) ISBN 978-1-4424-2336-7

McGhee (the Bink and Gollie series) introduces three tiny creatures with big dreams in a whimsical tale that examines how friendships change and the value of chasing one’s dreams. Firefly longs to fly to the moon, while her friend Cricket wants to be “the cricket version of Yogi Berra” (“Why shouldn’t crickets learn how to catch falling objects?” Cricket reasons. “Wouldn’t that make them all safer?”). Their respective clans think both notions are ridiculous. The two find kindred spirits in Vole, the last of his river-dwelling kind, and Peter, a “miniature giant” who is mourning the departure of a close friend. As Firefly and Cricket pursue their goals and explore new terrain, they come to understand their limits and the risks of being different. The book’s portrayal of the world as an exciting but dangerous place filled with huge human “artifacts” (all warmly evoked in Denise’s illustrations) will tickle readers’ fancies, and the poignant conclusion may cause a few tears to be shed. Ages 8–12. Author’s agent: Holly McGhee, Pippin Properties. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 05/22/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Finding Someplace

Denise Lewis Patrick. Holt, $16.99 (224p) ISBN 978-0-8050-4716-5

New Orleans native and aspiring fashion designer Reesie Boone is consumed with excitement about her approaching 13th birthday, but Hurricane Katrina preempts her plans. Reesie’s family didn’t anticipate the storm’s severity and evacuate; separated from her parents and older brother, Reesie sticks with Miss Martine, an elderly neighbor who turns out to have had an intriguing life. Patrick (A Matter of Souls) builds absorbing tension as Katrina’s effects worsen—“It felt as if the only life left in New Orleans was there, on top of this little house on Dauphine Street.” In the aftermath of the storm, Reesie’s parents disagree about the safety of the city, and Reesie and her mother leave town to live with relatives in New Jersey. When Reesie returns to New Orleans for Christmas, it’s not the same place she left. Reesie’s determination—both to achieve her own dreams and to take care of those close to her—shine in this intimate look at the impact of a devastating natural disaster and the commitment of those dedicated to rebuilding. Ages 8–12. Agent: Jill Corcoran, Jill Corcoran Literary Agency. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 05/22/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Cold War on Maplewood Street

Gayle Rosengren. Putnam, $16.99 (192p) ISBN 978-0-399-17183-3

Drawing from her own childhood memories, Rosengren (What the Moon Said) writes a quietly tense story set during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Joanna’s father abandoned her family when she was four, and her older brother, Sam, promised never to leave her. But he joined the navy right out of high school with the aim of seeing the world before going to college on the GI Bill. Joanna is furious, sad, and—lately—fearful, and she stubbornly ignores the letters Sam sends. With her mother busy working and taking night classes, Joanna is left alone in their basement apartment, which is bad for her wild imagination. Joanna’s frustrations and worries include potential burglars, a “strange” elderly neighbor, Sam’s fate overseas, and her mother’s refusal to let her attend her first “boy–girl party,” but she learns how to muster courage during a time of accelerated, unwanted change. Rosengren’s judicious use of details evokes a strong sense of the 1960s, and while some readers will already be aware of how history played out, they’ll find it easy to share Joanna’s feelings of nervousness, helplessness, and hope. Ages 8–12. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 05/22/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Time Sailors of Pizzolungo

Scott Abrams and Adam Blockton. Scott Abrams (timesailors.com), $9.99 paper (256p) ISBN 978-0-9905278-0-0

Time-traveling kids terrorize the 15th century after a mysterious ship catapults them back to 1497 in an adventure that plays fast and loose with history while taking advantage of the era’s rich tradition of exploration and discovery. Even though sixth-grader Guillermo Infante Jr. and his friends are suddenly facing real-life pirates and meeting famous explorers like Vasco da Gama and Christopher Columbus, Guillermo just wants to get home to the small Sicilian town of Pizzolungo. When he acquires a treasure map, he sees an opportunity to dig up the riches and help solve his family’s financial woes. With the wind at his back and his friends at his side, Guillermo sails the Grande Infante across the deadly seas in search of fame and fortune, with surprises at every turn. First-time authors Abrams and Blockton craft an entertaining tale, full of colorful personalities, and if they take some liberties with historical representations and gloss over logistics (the modern protagonists have no trouble communicating with the people they meet in 1497, for instance), it’s all in good fun. Ages 7–12. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 05/22/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Mango, Abuela, and Me

Meg Medina, illus. by Angela Dominguez. Candlewick, $15.99 (32p) ISBN 978-0-7636-6900-3

Abuela has left her house in a sunnier place and moved to the wintry city to live with Mia and her family in their small apartment. Even though Mia and Abuela share a room, the older woman still feels like a “far-away grandmother” because her English is “too poquito” for Mia to speak with her. But Mia won’t give up; embracing the role of teacher and enlisting the help of a bilingual pet parrot (the “Mango” in the title) she and Abuela are soon “full of things to say.” With its emotional nuance and understated, observant narration—especially where Abuela’s inner state is concerned—Medina’s (Tia Isa Wants a Car) lovely story has the feel of a novella. Dominguez’s (Knit Together) broader, more cartoonlike art initially seems like a mismatch, but she captures the doubt in Abuela’s eyes, and her sunny colors and simple characterizations keep the story from sinking into melancholy before it bounces back to its upbeat ending. A Spanish-language edition is available simultaneously. Ages 5–8. Author’s agent: Jennifer Rofé, Andrea Brown Literary Agency. Illustrator’s agent: Linda Pratt, Wernick & Pratt. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 05/22/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Wild Child

Steven Salerno. Abrams, $16.95 (32p) ISBN 978-1-4197-1662-1

“The jungle can be a scary place,” begins Salerno, and his battle royale of an opening scene proves it, as an elephant and rhino point sharp tusks at each other, a gorilla swats at a vulture, snakes and leopards hiss, and a lion and crocodile leap into the fray. But the arrival of a “wild child” who is “Constantly grabbing, pinching, and pooping!” and “Forever pulling, kicking, and crying!” has these kings and queens of the jungle desperate to soothe the ill-tempered babe. Working in mixed-media, Salerno uses slashes of black crayon to outline his characters—it’s perhaps the perfect medium for conveying unadulterated rage, either human or animal. With fierce frowning eyebrows, a scribble of hair, and not a stitch of clothing, the wild child looks like a feral cousin to the star of Salerno’s Harry Hungry!; the animals’ attempts to sooth the child with bugs (the anteater) or roaring (the lion) only fuel its anger. Forceful writing and the improbable gracefulness Salerno bestows on this kicking, biting, punching machine make this a furiously fun read. Ages 4–8. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 05/22/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Specific Ocean

Kyo Maclear, illus. by Katty Maurey. Kids Can, $17.95 (32p) ISBN 978-1-894786-35-5

With depth and subtlety, Maclear (Julia, Child) writes about a girl who is taken on vacation to a place she resents, warms to, and learns to love. She’s first seen curled up on her bed. “I do not want to go,” she says. “I want to stay in the city with my friends.” But though the water is freezing and the seashore is lonely, this new world begins to enchant her. “I used to call it the Specific Ocean until my brother corrected me,” she confesses. At last, she succumbs. “I want this ocean to be mine,” she says. “Mama has a snowy mountain in Japan, and Papa has the South Downs in England.... If I had my own ocean, I could let my thoughts swim free and dream of an underwater life.” Maurey’s (Francis, the Little Fox) pale gouache paintings shimmer with whites, pale blues, and greens; dreamy scenes of floating and swimming mirror the girl’s drifting thoughts and emotions. Maclear and Maurey capture with finesse the mysterious process by which a physical place finds its way into the heart. Ages 4–8. Author’s agent: Jackie Kaiser, Westwood Creative Artists. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 05/22/2015 | Details & Permalink

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I Thought This Was a Bear Book

Tara Lazar, illus. by Benji Davies. S&S/Aladdin, $17.99 (32p) ISBN 978-1-4424-6307-3

Familiar storybook characters go off-topic in an off-kilter literary mashup that originates with two books tumbling off a child’s shelf in the night. Amid billowing pink exhaust, a spacecraft barrels out of one volume and crashes on a page with the “three bears” of Goldilocks fame. “I am Prince Zilch from Planet Zero!” a green alien announces to the startled bears. Zilch needs to return to his own book in time to “save Planet Zero from giant planet-eating numbers,” yet the curious bears only muddle around in his ship. “Pardon me, small Earthling,” Zilch implores readers. “It is crucial I return by page 27!” Baby Bear breaks the fourth wall, too, urging readers to shake the book so Zilch may “crash out” of the story. Lazar (The Monstore) tells the story through dialogue, and Davies (Goodnight Already) color-codes the voice balloons by character. With its wandering cast of characters, overlapping stories, and inside jokes aimed at those well-versed in nursery rhymes and fairy tales, this “bear book” reveals itself as a book about books. Ages 4–7. Author’s agent: Ammi-Joan Paquette, Erin Murphy Literary Agency. Illustrator’s agency: Bright Agency. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 05/22/2015 | Details & Permalink

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