Forbidden City

Street-smart and agile, Paris is a huge fan of Liverpool F.C., Doctor Who, and chess. He’s also a survival specialist and the oldest member of the City Spies—a secret team of young agents working for M16, the British Secret Intelligence Service.

When M16 sets out to thwart Umbra’s attempts to recruit a prominent North Korean nuclear physicist for their nefarious purposes, the operation calls for Paris to make a covert connection with the scientist’s chess-prodigy son at a pair of tournaments in Moscow and Beijing. Meanwhile, Sydney is embedded as a junior reporter for a teen lifestyle site as she follows the daughter of a British billionaire on tour with the biggest act of her father’s music label.

The band and the billionaire are somehow connected to the scientist and the recent thefts of nuclear material from an old Soviet missile base, and it’s up to the City Spies to figure out how. The stakes couldn’t be higher, and the team will have to work together in perfect harmony in order to succeed on their most dangerous mission yet.

The third installment of the City Spies Series takes its focus off Brooklyn, and instead, Paris takes center stage. On the current mission, Paris and Mother go undercover. As part of their cover, Paris participates in the Around the World Chess Tournament, which allows Paris’s personality to shine. This also allows Mother to show that he truly wants to be a good father to his adopted children. The new dynamic adds interest and allows the story to focus on the common question: “Who am I?” This question gives Mother the perfect opening to share some of his background which gives the story a more sentimental vibe.

While Paris wrestles with the question, who am I, he also makes a decision that he thinks was a huge mistake. These two story threads dovetail perfectly and highlight the fact that everyone makes mistakes, and while some mistakes have devastating consequences, mistakes should be forgiven. In addition, when it comes to mistakes and consequences, we should not “celebrate people’s misfortunes.”

The mission requires part of the City Spies team to travel to both Russia and China which adds adventure and action. However, the team splits up into three groups and the constant back and forth between groups is at times a little overwhelming. Plus, readers who fell in love with Brooklyn will be disappointed by her absence because she sits out most of the mission.

The City Spies Series doesn’t rely on one plot formula, but instead, each book has a new focus that keeps the story interesting. Despite this, for maximum enjoyment, the series should be read in order. While the team must work together to complete the mission, their relationships—like any family’s—are complicated and have conflicts. These conflicts make the characters more relatable and add an interesting dynamic to the spy story. While the City Spies Series will appeal to readers of all ages, the series is perfect for middle-grade readers who love spy mysteries but want to avoid the violence. The Friday Barnes Mysteries Series has a more humorous tone, but will also appeal to middle-grade readers who love mysteries.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • While walking down a street, a man says something to two bodyguards, the Sorokins. “In a flash, Sasha grabbed him by the wrist and spun him around, twisting his arm up behind his back as he writhed in pain. . . on the verge of tears, he said something that Sydney assumed was an apology.”
  • When Jin-Sun is kidnapped, the City Spies find where he is being held captive. Sydney puts several smoke bombs down the chimney in the house where Jin-Sun is being held. The man guarding Jin-Sun, Sorokin, comes out of the house and “Sydney jumped on him from above. It was a direct hit, and as he staggered farther into the courtyard, Monty attacks him with a flurry of Jeet Kune Do moves to knock him out cold.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • While misleading the China Ministry of State, a spy leads them to an airport where they find her alone on a plane. When they enter the plane, she “took a sip of champagne.”

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

Much Ado About Baseball

Twelve-year-old Trish can solve tough math problems and throw a mean fastball. But because of her mom’s new job, she’s now facing a summer trying to make friends all over again in a new town. That isn’t an easy thing to do, and her mom is too busy to notice how miserable she is.

But at her first baseball practice, Trish realizes one of her teammates is Ben, the sixth-grade math prodigy she beat in the spring Math Puzzler Championships. Everyone around them seems to think that with their math talent and love of baseball, it’s only logical that Trish and Ben become friends, but Ben makes it clear he still hasn’t gotten over that loss and can’t stand her.

Ben hasn’t played baseball in two years, and he doesn’t want to play now—but he has to, thanks to losing a bet with his best friend. Once Ben realizes Trish is on the team, he knows he can’t quit and be embarrassed by her again. To make matters worse, their team can’t win a single game. But then they meet Rob, an older kid who smacks home runs without breaking a sweat. Rob tells them about his family’s store, which sells unusual snacks that will make them better ballplayers. Trish is dubious, but she’s willing to try almost anything to help the team.

When a mysterious booklet of math puzzles claiming to reveal the “ultimate answer” arrives in her mailbox, Trish and Ben start to get closer and solve the puzzles together. Ben starts getting hits, and their team becomes unstoppable. Trish is happy to keep riding the wave of good luck . . . until they get to a puzzle they can’t solve, with tragic consequences. Can they find the answer to this ultimate puzzle, or will they strike out when it counts the most?

Much Ado About Baseball is a fast-paced story that teaches about friendship and fitting in using baseball as a backdrop. The story is told from both Ben’s and Trish’s point of view. The alternating points of view allow readers to see how Ben and Trish struggle with conflicting emotions. Middle grade readers will relate to Ben and Trish, who both are trying to fit in with their new baseball team. While the two are often at odds, they learn to work together. As a result, Ben realizes that friendship is about “arranging things so they’re best for the group, and not just for one person.”

While the story has plenty of baseball action, math puzzles also take center stage. Readers will enjoy trying to solve the puzzle before the answer is revealed. In addition, Much Ado About Baseball has a Shakespeare quoting character and magical fairies that need a lesson in cooperation. By combining baseball, puzzles, and Shakespeare, LaRocca creates an imaginative and engaging story that is full of suspense. While the story focuses on friendship, it also shines a light on the importance of honesty and forgiveness. The story’s conclusion is a little too perfect and cheerful. Everything is wrapped up in a positive manner which causes the ending to sound a little preachy. Despite this, Much Ado About Baseball will appeal to sports fans and non-sports fans alike. If you’re looking for another book full of baseball excitement, grab a copy of Soar by Joan Bauer.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • None

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • Several times someone is referred to as a jerk. For example, Trish thinks a boy is a jerk.
  • Heck is used occasionally.

Supernatural

  • Both Ben and Trish get a magical math puzzle book. When the right answer is written down, “the entire grid turned bright green. . . Then, under the puzzle, a sentence appeared.” The sentence gives help with a problem.
  • After using the magical math book, Ben tells the baseball where to go. The ball, “seemed to slow down. . . it was surrounded by sparkling green light.” Because of this, Ben is able to hit a home run.
  • Ben thinks eating the Salt Shaker snacks makes him better at baseball. His team eats the snacks before every game. “But the kids kept having weird reactions. . .breaking out in purple blotches that disappeared after a few minutes; hiccupping intermittently for an afternoon; even growing fuzzy hair on our forearms that resembled a donkey’s fur.”
  • In Ben and Trish’s world, fairies exist “as much as magic math books and lucky coins.”
  • Ben and Trish go to a part of the forest where fairies are. After a brief conversation, “The mouths surrounded us like a green cloud. When they finally flew away, we were back in my yard.”

 

Spiritual Content

  • None

Page by Paige

New city. New friends. New Paige?

When Paige’s parents move her family from Virginia to New York City, Paige doesn’t know where she fits in anymore. At first, the only thing keeping her company is her notebook, where she pours her worries and observations, and experiments with her secret identity: ARTIST. With the confidence the book brings her, she starts to make friends and shake up her family’s expectations. But is she ready to become the person she draws in her notebook?

Paige tells her own story, which allows readers to understand her insecurities and struggles. Paige is an extremely likable and relatable main character who worries about many typical teenage problems such as making friends, having a boyfriend, and becoming more independent. As Paige matures, she learns to be comfortable in her own skin and she becomes more confident in sharing her artwork.

Throughout the story, Paige’s doubts and insecurities are shown in thought bubbles. When it comes to her art, she questions herself and thinks, “You’re going to fail, so why even try? What if I have nothing to say? No good at all?” Paige’s self-doubts continue when she begins to make friends. Paige thinks, “I’ve always been scared of revealing too much, saying the wrong thing, screwing up. . .” Paige is tired of always feeling “awkward, behind, sheltered,” so she begins a journey of self-growth and starts to stretch herself and be more open.

One of the best parts of Page by Paige is the black and white illustrations which are beautiful and interesting. Instead of just relying on facial expressions, Paige’s emotions come through her own artwork. For instance, when Paige is afraid of expressing herself, the illustration shows Paige’s mouth sewn shut. The imaginative artwork gives Paige’s emotions a life of their own and the pictures will help the reader understand Paige’s inner conflicts.

Readers can learn a lot about self-acceptance from Paige. At the beginning of each chapter, Paige writes a rule she wants to live by. For example, “Figure out what scares you and DO IT and let yourself FAIL. Don’t take it all so personally.” When Paige allows these rules to guide her behavior, she learns more about herself and begins to overcome her fears. As Paige matures, she realizes, “Bad experiences are like bad drawings. They stay in our sketchbooks. They stay a part of us. You can’t erase your past or who you are. You have to deal with it, I suppose.”

Page by Paige’s format will appeal to even the most reluctant readers. The story includes list and thought bubbles that use simple but expressive vocabulary. Some pages have no words, but allow the illustrations to express Paige’s complex emotions instead. While a few pages are text heavy, most pages have one to eight short sentences. Even though Paige’s struggles are typical, her illustrations elevate the graphic novel’s ability to express emotions.

Page by Paige will appeal to a wide variety of readers because it focuses on issues that most teens face. While the story gives readers a lot of good advice, the story never feels like a lecture. Instead, the graphic novel focuses on Paige’s personal growth. If you’re looking for an engaging graphic novel with interesting artwork, then Page by Paige is the perfect book for you.

Sexual Content

  • When meeting kids at her new school, someone asks Paige, “Are you Irish?” Then the kids tell Paige what their diverse heritage is. Paige says, “Me, I’m just like if all the pale countries got together and had a big orgy.”
  • A boy teasingly tells Paige, “I’ll try not to pop your cherry.”
  • The illustrations show Paige kissing her boyfriend twice. This is her first kiss.

Violence

  • None

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • Crap is used four times.
  • Damn is used twice.

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

 

Just Ask: Be Different, Be Brave, Be You

Sonia and her friends are planting a garden, and each one contributes in his or her own way. Rafael has asthma and sometimes must stay calm so he can breathe, which gives him time to paint beautiful rocks for the garden. Anthony uses a wheelchair to get around and can move super-fast, directing the group. Anh has a stutter and prefers to listen, so she knows just how to plant each flower. All the friends are different, but they all have one thing in common: they like to ask questions and learn about one another!

This inclusive story is told by US Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor and inspired by her own diagnosis of diabetes. Readers will see differently abled kids use their strengths to work together and learn about each other. The book shows that differences are wonderful and that all you have to do when you don’t understand something is ask.

Each page of the picture book focuses on nature and the children who are working in the garden. The illustrations are brightly colored and show some imaginative elements as well. For example, Jordan loves dinosaurs, and in his illustration, he is walking over a rainbow and is surrounded by dinosaur shaped plants. Readers will enjoy finding all the animals that appear throughout the book such as a squirrel, a grasshopper, and birds.

The book uses a similar format on all the pages. Each two-page spread has a paragraph about a different person who has a disability. Each page also has a question for readers to consider. For example, “I also love reading and writing. What about you?” Even though each page only has 2 to 5 sentences, parents will need to read the book to their child rather than having the child read it independently. The complex sentence structure and advanced vocabulary will be difficult for beginning readers.

Just Ask uses an extended metaphor that compares people to a garden. For example, Sonia must take insulin because “my body doesn’t make insulin naturally like other people’s.” The full-page illustration that accompanies the words shows Sonia sitting in a flower, giving herself a shot of insulin. Just Ask introduces readers to a wide range of differences such as autism, stuttering, and needing to use a wheelchair. Plus, the children who appear in the story are diverse and have many different skin tones.

Parents and educators who want to educate readers about people with different abilities should put Just Ask on their must-read list. Unlike most picture books, Just Ask isn’t necessarily entertaining, but it teaches important lessons about being inclusive and shows how everyone can contribute in different ways. While young readers may not understand the connection between people and different types of plants, Just Ask is the perfect book to use as a discussion starter. While the story encourages readers to ask about people’s differences, it does not explain how to ask in a polite and kind manner.

The beautiful and creative illustrations, the diverse characters, and the positive message make Just Ask an excellent book to read to young children. The picture book gives information about different disabilities as well as food allergies and encourages readers to be inclusive.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • None

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

Brown Boy Nowhere

Sixteen-year-old Angelo Rivera is from the bustling city of San Diego where his parents owned a Filipino restaurant. Now, Angelo has moved across the country to Ocean Pointe where Angelo and his family are the only Asian people in the entire town. He’s left behind all of his friends, and his girlfriend Amanda, so his mom and dad can run a new restaurant called Sloppy’s Pit Stop. To make everything worse, Angelo wants to participate in a skateboarding competition in California, but the only way he can go is if he pays for his own plane ticket by working at Sloppy’s. But Angelo has a plan: Convince his aunt to let him stay in California so he can be with his friends and Amanda. He’s determined to leave Ocean Pointe behind for good.

Angelo’s plans go awry when he meets fellow outsiders Kirsten and Larry. All three of them are seen as outcasts by the students at Ocean Pointe High School where football players and cheerleaders are at the top of the social hierarchy. Kirsten abandoned cheerleading for art and Larry is the grandson of a known drug dealer. Both ask Angelo to teach them how to skate, boosting their self-confidence and creating a small group of friends for Angelo. After Amanda breaks up with Angelo over the phone, he begins to grow closer to Kirsten. As a result of bonding with Kirsten, a fight breaks out at OPHS that results in Angelo being more seen than ever.

Brown Boy Nowhere is a prose-style novel that is told from Angelo’s first-person perspective. As a result of being told in Angelo’s perspective, the reader will experience the same prejudice and violence Angelo does. This allows readers who aren’t Asian to understand the unique situations Asian people face in a racialized society. The story hits close to home for many Asian readers who understand what it’s like to be the only Asian person in a majority white town, school, or area.

Readers who aren’t Asian will also learn that some “jokes,” such as Asian people eating dogs and cats, are microaggressions that create lasting scars for their Asian peers. Even simple questions can be microaggressions depending on the person to whom they’re directed. For example, when Angelo first meets Larry, Larry asks Angelo where he’s from. When Angelo says he’s from California, Larry responds with, “No. I mean, where are you really from?” Such a question insinuates that Asian people do not, and will never belong in America and isolates Asian peers from their white peers.

Angelo also does his best to educate his new friends Kirsten and Larry on anti-Asian racism and microaggressions, calling them out on their blanket statements about Asian people. Angelo even tells Kirsten that saying, “I do not see race” is a microaggression and explains to her why. Angelo says, “I get that some people who say it mean well. But saying you don’t see race disregards my identity. I’m Asian. I’m proud of it. If you don’t see race, then you’re ignoring that part of me.”

Brown Boy Nowhere is a fascinating novel that tells a story about an Asian teenager finding himself in a town where he feels like he does not belong. The book has many early 2000s references, such as Angelo comparing Kirsten to actress Kirsten Dunst, and even has the feel of a 2000s teen movie. The book is not set in the early 2000s, but it provides Angelo with another interest and supplements his thoughts. It also tackles the incredibly complex issue of anti-Asian racism and the unique experience of a member of the Asian diaspora. Some events in the novel, such as the star football player named Grayson, vandalizing Sloppy’s, feel unrealistic and have unrealistic consequences. However, the novel is a perfect read for people who like coming-of-age dramas and want to learn more about the challenges Asian teenagers face in a world that expects them to be invisible.

Sexual Content

  • Angelo recalls that on his last night in San Diego, he had sex with his girlfriend Amanda. “Heat creeps into my cheeks. I don’t know what I expected losing my virginity would be like, but my fantasies certainly didn’t include me blubbering like an idiot, telling her how much I’d miss her.”
  • After Angelo saves Kirsten from being hit by a car, she gives him a kiss on his cheek. “I frown curiously as she takes a giant step toward me, letting out a soft gasp when she presses her soft lips against my cheek.”
  • While in the warehouse together, Angelo expresses a desire to kiss Kirsten. “My gaze flits down to her bottom lip. I want to kiss her. I want to kiss her more than anything in the world. More than skate competitions, burger patties, and even plane tickets to California.”
  • When Kirsten takes him to the beach, Angelo finally kisses her. “Pushing all second-guessing aside, I finally lean forward. I press my lips against hers. She takes a sharp breath against my mouth, stiffening for a second. Quickly, she relaxes and kisses me back, raking her fingers through my wet hair, tugging at the ends lightly.” They continue to make out for a page.
  • Angelo’s ex-girlfriend, Amanda, accidentally sends him a sext which includes “a photo of her chest with nothing but a tiny bikini top covering her, um, assets.”
  • After clearing up the misunderstanding because of the sext, Angelo and Kirsten kiss again. “Kirsten opens her mouth to speak, but before she can say anything I reach over and cup my hand over the back of her neck, pulling her into me. I press a kiss into her lips, quieting any lingering doubt she might have about me. My feelings for her. Us.”

Violence

  • Angelo decides to skate away from a group of boys who are harassing him. One of the boys throws a rock at Angelo which results in him falling off his skateboard. “The next thing I know, something jams against my front wheels. Before I can react, I’m flying off my board. On instinct, I stick my hands out to stop my fall, but I’m at a weird angle and land cheek first into the parking lot.”
  • When Grayson learns that Angelo and Grayson’s ex-girlfriend are friends, Grayson punches Angelo in the school hallway. Angelo tells Grayson he’s being racist. The scene lasts for 8 pages. Angelo doesn’t “even get to finish my thought. A blinding pain hits me square in the jaw. Sharp and intense. I stagger back, gasping for anything to hold on to, only to smack my open palms against the cold locker . . . Grayson keeps his fist up to my nose. His knuckles are bright red.”
  • To prevent Kirsten from being seen by the Sheriff, Angelo tackles her onto the grass. “Without thinking twice, I push off my board and tackle Kirsten onto the grass lining the street. We crash and find ourselves rolling into a ditch.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • When exploring Ocean Pointe, Angelo ends up at the high school where he sees a group of guys holding cigarettes. “Cigarettes glow from between their fingers as they stare me down, scanning me from head to toe.”

 Language

  • The word “shit” and other variations of the word are used frequently.
  • The words “ass” and “asshole,” along with their variations, are used often.
  • “Bitch” and “bitchy” are used often in the novel, typically in relation to female characters.
  • “Fuck” is thrown around a lot by the characters in the story.
  • Angelo faces multiple microaggressions from his white peers, many of them relying on the racist stereotype of Asian people eating cats and dogs. A football player even says, “Guess that makes this here brown boy the dog, huh? You are what you eat.”
  • The football players who bully Angelo often call him “brown boy” as an insult due to Angelo being Filipino and having brown skin.
  • Angelo calls his friend from San Diego, Mackabi, a “dipshit” affectionately.
  • Angelo says he “feel[s] a bit dickish” for objecting to teaching other students how to skate.
  • When Kirsten implies that Angelo’s bullies confront change by being aggressive, Angelo says, “That’s bullshit. Being scared isn’t an excuse to be racist. That’s just damn ignorant. You don’t call someone ‘brown boy’ or say he eats dogs just because he’s new to town.”
  • When Grayson says he isn’t racist, Angelo calls Grayson a “delusional dick”

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual

  • None

by Emma Hua

Blackout

The sun beats down on the city of New York where there are places to go and people to see. As a heatwave takes over New York City, electricity goes out. This creates the infamous blackouts causing the lights to go off and the trains to stop running. No electricity also means no air conditioners, and that everyone outside is sweating through their clothes from the summer heat and humidity. Amid the blackout, six couples spark a different kind of electricity in the City that Never Sleeps as old loves, and new ones, meet and head to a massive block party in Brooklyn.

Blackout features six short stories following six couples. “The Long Walk” follows two exes named Tammi and Kareem. Kareem needs to get to a block party and Tammi needs to go back home to Brooklyn – coincidentally where the block party is being held. Together, Tammi and Kareem begin a long walk to Brooklyn during the heatwave. “The Long Walk” is also split into 6 parts and scattered throughout the novel instead of being compacted like the rest of the short stories.

“Mask Off” is a queer, MLM (Man Loving Man) love story that follows Tremaine and basketball star JJ. The two of them are riding on the subway before it is shut down by the blackout. “Made to Fit” is another queer, WLW (Woman Loving Woman) love story that follows Nella and Joss at a senior living facility. Nella’s grandfather accidentally loses a picture of his wife, Nella’s grandmother, and Joss offers to help Nella look for it in the dark.

“All the Great Love Stories…and Dust” features two characters named Lana and Tristan, who are trapped in the New York Public Library during the blackout and play a game to see who can find the best book. “No Sleep Till Brooklyn” follows a love triangle on a double decker bus between Kayla, Micah, and Kayla’s boyfriend Tre’Shawn. The final story, “Seymour and Grace,” is a first meeting between Grace and her Ryde driver Seymour. Grace needs to get to the block party in Brooklyn, but the trip gets interrupted by Seymour’s car running out of gas.

All six short stories follow a prose narrative style in the first-person perspective of their respective narrators. Each writer has a different writing style and format. For example, “All the Great Love Stories…and Dust” features footnotes at the bottom of the page to convey Lana’s truth and demonstrate her character. “The truth: I [Lana] just wanted us to have our adventures together away from anyone we might run into. The people we are in Brooklyn aren’t the same people we are in Manhattan or the Bronx or Queens. Do you think you can be a totally different person in a different place? Your insides and outsides transforming into another you?”

There is a sense of consistency between all six authors, allowing the reader to easily grasp the flow of the stories and connect them to the other five. The stories feature romance, and the novel is meant to celebrate young black love. All the characters are teenagers, and most of them are in their late teens. This makes them relatable to a young adult audience as the characters deal with friendships, their identity, and college. For black young adult readers, Blackout provides them the representation they need, and the novel perfectly portrays each character in their own, individual light with their own individual stories and identity.

Blackout is a beautiful novel written by six black authors who bring to life the idea of young love. Each story celebrates young black love and the diversity that occurs in the black community. Queer black teenagers get their own love stories separate from their straight counterparts. Each story provides a small twist on the romance genre due to the authors’ distinct writing style and the story’s format. This book is for readers who are a fan of romance and for Blackout’s targeted audience of black readers. The book is extremely entertaining and will have fans wanting more.

Sexual Content

  • JJ brings up rumors about Tremaine, saying, “there are rumors he “deflowered” both the starting quarterback and his girl.”
  • JJ recounts a sexual encounter he had with a girl on his eighteenth birthday. She “danced me into a corner and started kissing my neck. And I did kiss her back—she was a great kisser, objectively speaking—and when she pushed things a bit further, I rolled with it.”
  • At the queer party, JJ kisses Tremaine without Tremaine knowing it was JJ. “When he turned back to me, I lifted the bottom of my mask, closed the space between us . . . and I kissed him right on the mouth.”
  • Nella was in love with her ex-best friend Bree, who Nella “used to dream about kissing.”
  • In a brief flashback scene, Nella relives the experience of Bree telling Nella that she only kisses other girls when she’s drunk. Nella says, “Twig saw you kissing girls at all those house parties?”
  • Joss puts on some purple lipstick and Nella thinks, “. . . her mouth is suddenly very, very distracting.”
  • In the laundry room, Nella and Joss kiss three times. The scene lasts for two pages. “When we kiss, it’s slow and warm. It’s thickly sweet, like the butterscotch candy we took from Queenie’s bedside table, but there’s something underneath the syrupy flavor that I know must be essentially Joss too.”
  • After Lana confesses her love to Tristan, the two of them make out. “Before I [Lana] could finish, his hands are on my back and his bottom lip brushes against my neck, my ear, then my cheek, before he kisses me.”
  • Tre’Shawn tries to kiss Kayla, but Kayla doesn’t let him. This happens twice.
  • Tre’Shawn tries to kiss Kayla a third time and this time Kayla lets him. “I let him kiss me this time. It’s comforting and familiar.”
  • After having a panic attack on the Brooklyn Bridge, Tammi brings Kareem close to her and kisses him. Tammi grabs “his shirt, pull[s] him close, and kiss[es] him. I kiss my messy, forgetful, silly-ass ex-boyfriend. And as we hover over the water, I forget the world as he kisses me back.”

Violence

  • While at the masquerade party for queer men, JJ gets hit on by an older man against his consent. The man says, “Oh, don’t play coy, now,” as he breathes down JJ’s ear and grabs his arm.

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • The words “shit” and “ass” are used a variety of times and in a variety of ways. For example, when Tristan is talking to Lana about them going to separate colleges, he says, “I’m supposed to help you and your dads move you into your fancy-ass Columbia dorms before I bounce to Binghamton.”
  • When talking about her ex, Taylor, Joss says, “That bitch missed out too.”
  • During an argument with Kareem over Tammi not trusting him, he says “Fuck it.”
  • Tammi reminisces over a middle school memory where Kareem was bullied. She calls those bullies “assholes.”
  • Kareem says that Tammi called him “a fucking liar” because Tammi thought he lied and cheated on her.
  • Kayla confides in her best friend, Jazmyn, about her issues with her relationship with Tre’Shawn. Jazmyn says, “Is he on some fuck boy shit?”
  • Kayla calls her classmate Micah a “jackass” lightheartedly.

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual

  • None

by Emma Hua

Gargantis

Herbie Lemon and Violet Parma team up once again to solve another Lost-and-Foundery mystery. This time, the outcome of the case has implications on the entire island. Eerie-on-Sea is under attack as a violent storm, nicknamed Gargantis, tears through town, destroying buildings and causing stormquakes (earthquakes caused by the storm).

Amid the chaos, another case presents itself to Herbie. Mrs. Fossil has found a mysterious bottle on the beach. It seems to move on its own and has indecipherable ancient writing on its side. Everyone claims to be the bottle’s rightful owner. Dr. Thalassi and Mrs. Fossil want it for their respective collections. The town’s fishermen say it is theirs due to the presence of their own ancient language on the side. However, a frightening man in a hood makes it clear that he wants the bottle more than anyone and he is willing to sacrifice everyone in Eerie-on-Sea to get it.

Some want to discover what the writing on the bottle means, what fairy-like creature is living inside, and why the man in the hood wants it so badly. They seek the help of Blaze Westerley, a young, outcasted fisherman. Blaze’s uncle was recently lost at sea while investigating the ancient legends of the Eerie fishermen. Soon, Herbie and Violet realize the legends may be more relevant to the case than they initially believed. In fact, if they can crack the case of the fish-shaped bottle, they may be able to save Eerie rock from the terrible Gargantis.

Gargantis shows off the charming relationship between Herbie and Violet as they take on the town’s adults. Blaze Westerley is a welcome addition as he diversifies the group. Blaze is a little unsure of himself, but confident in his uncle’s mission. He, too, is a bit of a “lost thing” like Violet and Herbie were before him. The trio works well together, and each person has skills and knowledge that contribute to solving the mystery.

The book dives a bit deeper into Herbie’s backstory. He must reconcile his fear of the sea with his love of finding homes for lost things. Since the bottle came from the ocean and most of the people who want it are fishermen, Herbie spends a lot of time doing things that scare him, such as being on boats far away from shore. Herbie’s experiences develop the theme that sometimes we must do what scares us in order to help ourselves and others.

The story also highlights how a new perspective can bring the truth to light. Without Blaze’s input or Violet’s seemingly “bonkers” ideas, the mystery would not have been solved. Taylor also applies this idea to Herbie’s book from the mermonkey. Herbie believes that the cover of the book is a message that he will meet his end at the bottom of the sea. However, he never reads the contents, which say something different. In the end, the townspeople gather and give their own interpretation of the cover, none of which end with Herbie drowning. The book, therefore, reinforces the importance of perspective and the value of individuality.

The fast-paced book introduces new characters and interweaving plotlines. For this reason, it is recommended that readers not read Gargantis as a standalone. In addition, the resolution may fall flat for those who did not read the first book, Malamander. Black and white illustrations bring some added visualization to some of the scenes. Plus, the characters are just as charming and quirky as before. If readers enjoyed Malamander, they are likely to enjoy Herbie and Violet’s deep dive into the ancient fishermen’s legends.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • A mechanical shell attacks Violet and Herbie. Herbie fends it off by throwing “the bucket at [it], knocking it to the ground.” Violet “wrestles with it” trying to get it to stop.
  • Violet tells Herbie that the fishermen cannot fish in the storm. She explains, “The one motorboat that tried got its engine exploded by lightning.” She then says, “One fisherman has drowned already.”
  • Amid the argument, Herbie fears “some sort of riot is about to break out in the hotel.”
  • Herbie narrates that when Lady Kraken, the owner of the hotel, slaps him “on the back. It feels like being hit with a sock full of dry twigs.”
  • Violet shows Herbie an image in a book that depicts a large creature who “uses its giant flippers to smash the town to pieces, while lots of little medieval people run away screaming.”
  • The book Herbie receives from the mermonkey, a prophetic machination who gives customers a book, has a picture that shows “tiny figures of men and women and children writhe and twist as they sink down, down, down to the depths.” Herbie thinks this describes his fate as well as his unknown family’s. The cover also shows these bodies being received by “the white tentacles, feelers, and claws of the abyssal horrors that lurk at the cold, dark bottom of the sea.”
  • The clockwork crab makes “steel blades slide out from each of [its] four raised arms.” It aims for Herbie. Herbie wonders if there is a rule for his profession about smashing “a lost object to smithereens if it tries to pinch your stuff and then attacks you with swords.” When the clockwork crab attacks, “Herbie experiences a sudden flash of pain” and then a thin line of blood runs down the back of his hand.” Herbie gives “the blasted thing an almighty kick up the trumpet” and knows “with certainty that something has broken” after hearing it land with a “PANG!
  • Herbie keeps a sprightning, a fairy-like creature that can produce lightning, under his cap. He feels “a small explosion” at one point, followed by “smoke and the unmistakable stench of singed hair.”
  • Without a word, the man in the deep hood, nicknamed Deep Hood, threatens Mr. Mollusc, Herbie’s boss. He merely shows him what is under the hood, which is enough to make Mr. Mollusc go “so white he’s almost see-through” and agree to the Deep Hood’s terms.
  • When faced with two difficult possibilities, Herbie outlines his choices. He says he can either “get on the boat — despite the mermonkey’s warning — and run the risk of a watery end on the cold, dark bottom of the sea, or don’t get on the boat, and face the certainty of being nabbed by a bunch of angry fishermen with ropes and knives.” He chooses the boat.
  • Blaze explains that his uncle was once “swept overboard and swallowed into the swirling mouth of the Vortiss,” a whirlpool in the ocean, but he survived. His uncle told his fellow fishermen that he saw “the wrecks of all the ships the Vortiss has gobbled up over hundreds of years. And the skeletons of all the men who were gobbled with them, too.”
  • Blaze explains that his uncle wanted to return to Vortiss to investigate, so he took Deep Hood with him. However, they began to argue. Blaze remembers that his “Uncle had his ax out.” Then, Deep Hood threw something like a bomb. Blaze was “thrown to the deck.” That was the last he saw of his uncle, as the rope connecting the two men to the ship was “cut clean through.”
  • Blaze sees Deep Hood and blames him for his uncle’s fate. Blaze then “leaps forward, the wrench raised like a club.” Deep Hood uses his tentacle to ward the boy off, “smashing Blaze in the face.”
  • Herbie’s sprightning makes his cap explode, shocking Deep Hood’s hand, and causing Deep Hood to be “hurled backward.”
  • When a fisherman, named Lanky Beard, questions Deep Hood’s intentions, Deep Hood’s tentacle “shoots out and strikes Lanky Beard in the face.” It then “[grabs] his beard and [yanks] his head down onto a tabletop.” Finally, the tentacle punches the man’s feet out from under him, causing him to go “down with a sickening crunch, and [stay] down.”
  • Deep Hood is the clockwork crab’s master. He becomes disappointed in it and “kicks the shell… a strong, cruel kick, designed to punish.” Soon other fishermen join in, kicking the shell around in what Herbie describes as a “spiteful game.”
  • The sprightning defends Herbie and Violet by shooting lightning at a fisherman. “The man is thrown off his feet as electricity scorches the moldy wallpaper right down the corridor.”
  • When trying to leave the pub, Deep Hood’s tentacle yanks Violet back. Herbie frees her when he “takes the door in both hands and slams it shut with all [his] force on the tentacle,” which is followed by a “sickening, rubbery crunch—and a roar of pain from Deep Hood.”
  • The sprightning uses its lightning on Mr. Mollusc, sending it “crackling up Mr. Mollusc’s arm and down into his trousers.” This causes him to “go stiff as a board and fall over backward in a puff of smoke.”
  • Deep Hood discovers Herbie and Violet eavesdropping. Herbie sees “Violet’s terrified face as the tentacle shoves her into the open sarcophagus and slams the lid shut.” Herbie also says, “I remember the smashing of glass in the tower as I was pulled out a window and carried away into the night.” He does not remember anything other than that, as he assumes he has been “knocked out.”
  • The fishermen use a rope to restrain Herbie. Herbie narrates, “It’s pulled tight, trapping my arms, and I’m jerked off my feet and out through the metal door.”
  • The fishermen and Deep Hood launch their first attack on Gargantis, using Herbie as bait. Herbie sees the weapons the fishermen and Deep Hood plan to use on Gargantis. It is a gun, “the type once used to hunt whales” with spears as projectiles that have bombs attached. The fishermen fire multiple times at Gargantis. The fishermen continue to attack the creature and use Herbie and the sprightning as bait. Herbie describes that the boat is “struck violently,” but everyone aboard is unharmed. Herbie sees that the fishermen are now armed with “axes and spears.” Herbie observes as “Gargantis attacks” the fishermen’s boat. Herbie thinks that by now all the fishermen are “down to the ocean floor.” It is later discovered that they all survived. This first attack takes place over 22 pages.
  • Herbie, Violet, and Blaze come across a swarm of sprightnings that singe Violet’s hair.
  • Later, Deep Hood attacks Gargantis again. Herbie sees the spear land “in the neck, embedding itself deep,” followed by “a sickening ball of fire that bursts out of the storm fish’s mouth” when the bomb explodes. Gargantis “writhes and twists, shrieking with pain and spouting flame.” This wound is nearly fatal to the monster, and the characters believe she is dead.
  • In response to Gargantis’s injury, the sprightnings “swarm around the iron fishing boat, darting and zapping at the fishermen and running in hot angry arcs across its surface.” The sprightnings’ electricity causes an explosion that results in the loss of the power engines, leaving the fishermen victim to the whirlpool, Vortiss. This second attack takes place over two pages.
  • When both the sprightning and Gargantis are close to death, Deep Hood launches another attack. Deep Hood explains that he wants Gargantis’s “carcass” for his potion. The Westerleys and Deep Hood grow increasingly angry with each other. Deep Hood calls Blaze to fight. Deep Hood “punches Squint in the face” and throws an ax at Herbie and Violet, but misses. In the final moments of this encounter, Gargantis returns, and Deep Hood is swallowed by her. This final attack takes place over six pages.
  • Squint tells the story of what happened on the day he was pulled into Vortiss. He remembers that Eels “threw the bomb . . . at his boat.” That act made Squint realize that Eels “wanted to kill us, so that no one else would know he was here, or how to find the Vortiss”. Later Eels “threw another bomb, right at Gancy’s head” and “seemed desperate to kill her before she could wake.”
  • Herbie identifies the remains of Saint Dismal by the features of the skeleton. He sees that, “On the chin of the skull, attached to scraps of mummified skin, is a long dangling beard that reaches all the way to his bony toes.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • The fishermen frequent a pub in which they drink “pints of Clammy Dodger.”
  • Blaze says his uncle was “brought . . . back to life with brandy and a slap.”
  • Herbie describes that in winter, it is normal to see the fishermen at the pub drinking beer and smoking pipes.
  • Violet refers to some “drunken sailors.”
  • Lady Kraken has a “long-stemmed glass with a little golden wine inside.”
  • Dr. Thalassi “prescribed [Lady Kraken] an ointment” for her tentacle growth.
  • Herbie explains how the fishermen’s behavior at the pub changes when the tourists leave for the colder season. He says, “Pipes are smoked once more as sea songs are sung and beer is spilled and fights erupt, and Boadicea Bates presides over it all.”

Language

  • Some of the characters are called ridiculous, crazy, annoying, a fool, and other similar terms.
  • Fishermen often say phrases like, “Bless his Beard,” and, “By Dismal’s beard.”
  • Herbie wants to know why Deep Hood “[had] to be so creepy about” turning in a lost object.
  • Herbie references Deep Hood to Mollusc, calling him one of “the strangest ones.”
  • Herbie thinks only “weirdos and crackpots” would visit Eerie-on-Sea in the winter.
  • Herbie mentally refers to the clockwork crab as a “stupid shell.”
  • Mollusc tells Dr. Thalassi to “take this frightful object away,” which turns out to be Mrs. Fossil caught in a net. He later calls her a “scruffy person.”
  • Lady Kraken calls Herbie a “dunderbrain.”
  • Herbie mishears Lady Kraken when she is brushing her teeth. She says she has yet to “[brush her] backside…the backside of [her] toosh.” She means to say tooth, but due to the foam in her mouth, the joke refers to her bottom.
  • The phrases “how on earth” and “bladderwracks” are used as exclamations.
  • Herbie occasionally uses the word “blasted” as a descriptor for frustrating objects.
  • Herbie’s narration calls Deep Hood the “awful man.”
  • Mrs. Fossil refers to Sebastian Eels as, “That rotter.”
  • Herbie sees a fisherman outside of the bathroom “doing up his fly.”
  • Deep Hood calls Blaze “dim-witted.”

Supernatural

  • Herbie encounters a clockwork crab, a machine that looks like a hermit crab. The crab seems to act autonomously. Herbie says, “I don’t see how a clockwork hermit crab, no matter how complex, can want things for itself.”
  • The book’s plot centers around the legend of Gargantis, a sea storm monster that travels through both the sky and water. The saying goes, “Gargantis sleeps, Eerie keeps . . . Gargantis wakes, Eerie quakes and falls into the sea.” Herbie describes the storm as “a vast creature—with the head of an anglerfish and dozens of fins along its sinewy body.” It also “is wreathed in storm clouds and lightning that seems to pour off its fins.”
  • The book revisits the mermonkey contraption from the first installment. The machine picks a book that it feels the customer needs to read. Herbie explains that “some people have only to touch the hat in the creature’s hand to set off the mechanism and be dispensed a book.”
  • The characters encounter a “fish-shaped bottle.” Within the bottle is a creature called a sprightning. The sprightnings are fairy-like creatures who can produce lightning, glow, and fly. Herbie sees that “two electrical arcs flicker out from the figure’s back, forming shapes that look for all the world like wings.”
  • When someone mentions the word “dismal,” “the storm spews lightning and thunder once more.” Herbie thinks the weather is “conjured by these words.”
  • Erwin, the cat, speaks again.
  • Deep Hood has a pink tentacle that he uses to attack his enemies. Deep Hood seems to have a supernatural sense of smell.
  • Lady Kraken is given a gold tincture made from the flesh of Gargantis that heals her incurable legs. Herbie watches as the “golden liquid . . . turns purple and strange.” She drinks it and temporarily can walk.
  • After the language Eerie script is decoded, Violet discovers the remainder of the saying regarding Gargantis and Eerie Rock. It continues, “Gargantis dies, Eerie dies, and all falls into the sea.” It turns out that Gargantis has “been holding [Eerie Rock] up all these years” and that Eerie’s stormquakes have been the result of Gargantis leaving her cavern to try to find her lost sprightning.
  • The sprightnings have the ability to “signal” to Gargantis to help their queen get back to them.
  • Squint explains the relationship between Gargantis and the queen sprightning. “The sprightning gives light to the storm fish, and Gargantis gives the sprightning electrical power in return, so she can breed her swarm. They bind forever and should never be separated for long.” They must reunite the two creatures to save their lives.
  • Once Deep Hood is revealed as Sebastian Eels, he shares that the tincture he offered to Lady Kraken allowed him to regrow the hand he lost in the previous book.
  • Eels has “dozens of little pink feelers” that “clutch at his lips and gums.” He also has gills.
  • Herbie narrates, “There’s a rushing sound as air is drawn into [Gargantis’s] mouth, and I sense her long body inflating and filling the cave beneath Eerie Rock completely.” She returns to her post holding Eerie Rock up.

Spiritual Content

  • The story refers to the legend of Saint Dismal, an Eerie-specific tale of the island’s “first Fisherman.” He is the “patron saint of calamitous weather and first fisherman of Eerie-on-Sea.” He is portrayed as having a “strange and holy light over his head,” which eventually is revealed to be a sprightning. They call this his “Gargantic Light.”
  • Violet reads that the people believed the sprightning to be a “miracle” because it was accompanied by an abundant catch of fish. In addition, the fishermen often use the phrase, “Bless his beard” in reference to their saint.
  • When Erwin, the cat, turns counterclockwise three times, the fishermen believe that a “bad omen” is upon them. The saying goes, “When Eerie cat turns widdershins thrice, ’tis dreary luck for men and mice.”
  • The fishermen are “extremely superstitious. When Herbie asks why the fishermen did not try to stop Erwin from turning, Violet says, “He who touches Bad Luck Cat will nary catch a cod nor sprat!”
  • Blaze explains that the whirlpool Vortiss is said to be “the place where storms are born” and has “strange lights and treacherous winds.” He also says that Saint Dismal talked of an “underwater world beneath Eerie Rock, where lie the wrecks of all the ships the Vortiss has gobbled up over hundreds of years.”
  • Gargantis is “a storm fish from the lost tales of creation” and “a creature from the beginning of the world, who should endure till its end.”

by Jennaly Nolan

Not Quite Snow White

Once upon a time, there was a girl who wanted nothing more than to play Snow White in her school’s musical.

Excited, Tameika dances and sings her way through the halls. But on the day of auditions, she overhears some kids suggesting that she is not princess material. Tameika suddenly doesn’t feel quite right enough to play a perfectly poised princess.

Will Tameika let this be her final curtain call?

Readers will instantly connect with Tameika, who loves all types of dance including “a hip-rolling happy dance. . . A stomping mad dance. And a hair-flicking just-because-she-felt-fabulous dance.” At first, Tameika feels confident, until she overhears her peers talking about her. The other kids make comments like, “She can’t be Snow White. She’s too tall! She’s much too chubby. And she’s too brown.” Hearing these words makes Tameika feel self-conscious and doubt her ability.

Not Quite Snow White shows how Tameika’s peers’ whispered words affect her. Tameika’s mother encourages her by saying, “You are tall enough, chubby enough, and brown enough to be a perfect princess.” Parents may want to use Not Quite Snow White as a discussion starter. They could talk about Tameika’s facial expressions and how it feels to be the subject of mean words.

Tameika’s love of dance and music comes to life in adorably cute illustrations that use bright colors.  Some of the illustrations focus on Tameika and her family, who are African American. At school, the children and teachers have a variety of skin tones. Each page has 1 to 4 sentences. Even though the vocabulary isn’t difficult, young readers will need an adult to read Not Quite Snow White to them.

Not Quite Snow White will engage young readers while it teaches the importance of loving yourself. Any child who loves Disney will relate to Tameika, who does not look like the stereotypical Disney princess. Despite what others say, Tamika realizes she can still be a “perfectly poised princess.” Not Quite Snow White reinforces the idea that “you’re just enough of all the right stuff.” Not Quite Snow White may become one of your child’s favorite books not only because of the fun illustrations but also because of the feel-good message.

Parents and teachers who would like to read more books that build a child’s self-confidence should add I Am Enough by Grace Byers and Angus All Aglow by Heather Smith to their must-read list.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • None

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

The Madre De Aguas of Cuba

A legendary sea serpent is missing. Can the Unicorn Rescue Society find it and end Cuba’s terrible drought?

A brand-new adventure is ready to unfold as Uchenna, Elliot, and Professor Fauna fly to Havana to search for the Madre de Aguas. Is this missing creature responsible for the drought that has ravaged the island for months? And why are the Schmoke Brothers’ goons driving around Havana, dumping pink sludge into sewers? The Unicorn Rescue Society is ready to save the day—and hopefully not get eaten in the process!

Uchenna, Elliot, Professor Fauna, and a Jersey Devil come together on a fast-paced journey through Havana, where they meet several locals. The Madre De Aguas of Cuba shows how different cultures—Taino, Africans, and Spanish—have combined their traditions. Now the Cubans are like a ceiba tree, “many roots, one tree.” The story seamlessly incorporates the idea that people can have different beliefs and still live in peace.

When Uchenna, Elliot, and Professor Fauna get to Cuba, Yoenis—a Cuban American—gives a lecture on the political situation in Cuba, including commentary on the United States embargo. The history lesson is long-winded and has nothing to do with the story’s plot. Another downside of the book is that several of the characters, including Professor Fauna, speak Spanish. Some of the Spanish passages are long and there are not always enough context clues to understand what is being said.

All the characters are quirky in different ways, which adds humor and suspense. Even though the history of Cuba is introduced, young readers will still enjoy the story because of the humorous tone and the interesting characters. Black-and-white illustrations appear every 1 to 2 pages; the illustrations add humor and help the readers visualize the characters. Most of the text is easy to read because it uses short paragraphs, simple vocabulary, and dialogue.

The Unicorn Rescue Society Series will delight readers who want to learn about mythical monsters. Uchenna, Elliot, Professor Fauna, and a Jersey Devil are loveable characters who appear in each installment, and the interplay between the characters is both humorous and endearing. Readers who enjoy The Madre De Aguas of Cuba should check out Knights vs. Dinosaurs by Matt Phelan as it also mixes humor with monsters.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • Uchenna and Elliot are told some of Cuba’s history. “When Columbus first arrived in Cuba, he said it was the most beautiful place on earth, claimed it for Spain, and then he started killing the Taino, the Native People who live here.”
  • When the Europeans came to Cuba, they “began enslaving people in Africa and bringing them across the Atlantic.”
  • The Madre de Aguas uses the pipes to travel to a golden statue that is in a hotel. “Shards of gold and steel shot in every direction, hitting the ceiling and the chandelier, causing glass and plaster to mix with gold and steel to rain down on everyone.” No one is injured.
  • From the hotel window, the Madre de Aguas sees the ocean. “Her body rippled and vibrated with strength, and she tore away from the fountain and plowed through the tables, reducing them to wood chips and tatters of white fabric. . .She burst through the huge window” and escaped.

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • The Schmokes brothers use Sure-to-Choke insecticide to poison Cuba’s water supply.

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • An older woman explains the importance of the ceiba tree. She says, “The ceiba is sacred to the Taino, the Native People on this island.” The Spanish invaded Cuba in 1519. When they arrived, they gathered under a great ceiba tree and prayed, to give thanks for arriving safely in this land.
  • The Afro-Cubans considered the ceiba tree “the holy tree of Afro-Cubans.”
  • Cuba is suffering from a drought, and many Cubans “pray to Maria and she keeps them safe.”
  • At a gathering of people who work in agriculture, people argue over who is responsible for providing Cuba’s water. Some say, “We can all thank Oshun (daughter of the river) for all the sweet waters in Cuba.” Someone else says, “Every good Catholic knows that we get fresh water from Maria, Mother of God.” Others believe that the Madre de Aguas brings water.

Disney at Dawn

The Kingdom Keepers are back together to protect the Disney Parks from the evil fairy, Maleficent, and the Overtakers. But this time, the attack is personal. Amanda’s sister, Jez, has been kidnapped, leaving behind only her journal of clairvoyant sketches to help her friends find her. The search takes the Keepers to Walt Disney World’s Animal Kingdom, where Maleficent is hiding and using mind-controlled animals to do her evil bidding.

Raising the stakes further, Maleficent has set up a second hologram server that only she controls.  If the heroes fall asleep, Maleficent and the Overtakers can force them to “crossover” into their holographic state and be stuck in Sleeping Beauty Syndrome, a coma-like sleep from which you cannot wake up on your own. Finn and the rest of the Kingdom Keepers must go undercover as Animal Kingdom employees to uncover secret meanings in Jez’s clairvoyant drawings, stop Maleficent and the animals from their quest to escape the parks, and find a way to shut down the second server, all before they become unable to stay awake any longer.

This thrilling second installment in the Kingdom Keepers Series keeps readers on their toes with fast-paced action sequences, simultaneous missions, and an exciting new location where the magic of the parks is shown. The book successfully transports readers to Animal Kingdom in the thick of the action. Pearson’s narration once again manages to provide wayfinding tips as well as the necessary descriptions of park attractions, so even those who have never seen Animal Kingdom before will feel as if they are actually there with the Keepers. Pearson also strikes a balance between solo missions for each Kingdom Keeper as well as creating new duos and trios for the action to revolve around. As the teams split off, the characters’ dynamics shine, with each different personality on display for readers to enjoy. They all get the chance to be leaders in their own unique way.

As before, if your young reader enjoys the Disney Parks, or has an interest in the park’s operations, this book offers an exciting “behind the scenes” view from the Kingdom Keepers’ perspective. It balances the presence of technical knowledge of the theme park and its attractions with the fantastical plot that brings animals, animatronics, and evil villains to life. The second book in the series does everything that Disney After Dark does well, but on a bigger scale, with characters that readers now know and are sure to root for.

Sexual Content

  • In the tunnels, Jez and Finn’s “faces were about a foot apart,” when Jez reminds Finn that she has a boyfriend.

 

Violence

  • There are references to the events of the previous book, including Maybeck’s “Sleeping Beauty Syndrome” in which he crossed over into his DHI state against his will and was unable to wake up. The narration describes the severity of the syndrome, saying it “might have killed him.”
  • While trying to stop a man from chasing Finn through a series of booby-trapped tunnels, Finn decides to trigger one of the booby-traps so that they both fall through the chute, effectively throwing off the man’s pursuit. As Finn falls and grabs onto the ledge, “His body smacked into the hanging trapdoor.”
  • Jez is “kidnapped” by the Overtakers, the evil Disney villains trying to take over the park.
  • Finn fears that the weather balloon him and his friends spotted in the sky above the park is meant to “kill him and his friends.” Philby says if that were true, then the man chasing Finn and Philby to the top of the castle would be “suicidal” as he would also be subject to the lightning strike. Finn also imagines that it could be a Frankenstein-like experiment, picturing “some Disney monster strapped to a stainless-steel table with wires attached to his head and heart.”
  • Finn and Philby discover an actress dressed as Tinkerbell tied up in the room of the castle from which she is meant to “fly” by ziplining across the park during the fireworks shows. However, Maleficent has orchestrated this event as her escape. Finn watches as Maleficent “jumps” out the window, though he soon realizes that she is not falling, but flying away.
  • The kids often use an online virtual reality system that allows them to navigate the software that controls the park as well as communicate with other people. Finn remembers how his parents warned him of “stalkers” that preyed on kids “by pretending to be kids themselves.”
  • Finn wondered if his mentor, Wayne, had “died or been captured by the Overtakers” or “been in a coma” since he had not heard from him.
  • Wayne explains that Maleficent wants to put all the DHIs into Sleeping Beauty Syndrome so that they are “out of the way . . . for good.” They can only prevent this by “crashing” the system that the Overtakers will use to put them in the coma. However, if they do this too soon, Wayne says they may never see Jez again.
  • While on the roof of Amanda’s house, Finn slips causing him to fall “face-first.” The narration says that if Amanda had not grabbed his wrists in time, “he was gone.”
  • Amanda says her parents drowned, while Jez’s were possibly overtaken by “real pirates.
  • There is a recap of a time in the previous book in which the DHIs were attacked by the dolls in It’s a Small World as well as other characters.
  • A bat attacks the hosts from the sky. The Keepers turn on lights, knowing that bats have an aversion to it, causing the creature to dive “as if it had been shot.” They capture it and Philby later “suggested doing something to it that wouldn’t have been approved by the SPCA”.
  • Philby, after seeing Jez’s notebook of sketches, asks in a reference to Van Gogh, “At what point did she cut off her ear?”
  • A swarm of birds attack Maybeck. He sees a “pitch-black flurry of wings and beaks and scratching claws.” He escapes, surprisingly, without a scratch.
  • The plot of the safari ride at Animal Kingdom is described. Ride-goers try to prevent a group of poachers from catching a baby elephant.
  • Maleficent uses her powers to create a ball of flame that she intends to throw at Maybeck, but he sprays her with a hose first.
  • Finn pushes over the magically alive broom that is chasing him.
  • Philby thinks a tiger is looking at him as if he was “lunch.” The tiger then jumps to attack Philby, though he is not harmed. It is revealed later that the tiger is a hologram.
  • A few monkeys capture a cast member. They “knocked him over,” tied him up, and gagged him.
  • Maybeck encounters a lizard that he chases through the park. He recalls the amount of times his aunt “beat [lizards] with a broom” in her home. As a kid, he would catch them and pull their tails off, since they would grow back.
  • When being kidnapped by an orangutan, the animal lunges to bite Finn, though Finn pulls away in time.
  • Maybeck recalls when his dog has gotten into dogfights with other pets in the neighborhood. Maybeck thinks about how he “nearly got his hand bitten off.”
  • Finn runs under a trampoline while being chased by an ape. The animal is “crushed by the weight of the acrobat,” but is not seriously harmed.
  • In order to escape capture by orangutans, Finn sprays them in the face with a shower head. He then ties them up. Maybeck “poked it with a hanger that he wielded as a sword.”
  • Amanda is hit by a magical arrow that Maleficent made. She immediately falls unconscious. Finn becomes so angry that he slammed Maleficent against the wall and “was choking the life from her” telling her to bring Amanda back. She eventually agrees.
  • Philby and Wayne’s avatars are attacked on the virtual reality website they are using to navigate the park systems. They use swords to defend against the trolls. Philby is able to “slice the troll’s leg in two at the knee.” He later “severs” the virtual troll’s arm. However, the troll manages to “[chop] off the end of Philby’s right foot.” The attack occurs over three pages.
  • Finn faces multiple monkeys and a tigress. He defends himself with a baseball bat. He watches as the tiger seems to be hunting the monkeys for a “snack.” He also sees the tigress “swiping her huge claws” at other cats, but they do not feel the pain as they are holograms. Then the tigers attack him. He thinks they will “land on him, crushing him, then snap his neck with their powerful jaws and start the feast.” This does not happen. He watches as the monkeys jump to attack him, “and would have torn his head off…had the tigress not sprung.” The attack occurs scattered over 31 pages.
  • Maybeck and Willa are attacked by animatronic dinosaurs. Willa is “nearly beheaded” by a dinosaur tail. Maybeck is injured and felt as though “every joint was separating simultaneously.” He then snaps the pterodactyl’s leg in half. It reacts as if it is in pain, and he wonders if the bird is alive. Maybeck is nearly crushed by the creature and he leaves the attack “bleeding,” though he is alright. This event takes place over six pages.
  • The final showdown between the hosts and Maleficent includes her throwing fireballs at them. Finn realizes that the fireballs never actually hit him and determines that the imagineers who develop the parks would not create a being that could harm people, let alone kill him. Maleficent promises to kill Finn when he’s “no longer of use to” her. Using magic, Amanda lifts Maleficent and then threatens to drop her sixty feet. Finn, meanwhile, must cling to another Disney villain who is fighting alongside Maleficent, Chernabog, “rather than drop to the platform where the creature might squash him like a bug.” The final battle takes place over eight pages.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Maybeck refers to using the caffeine in Coca-Cola to avoid accidentally falling asleep. Later the kids all use this strategy.

Language

  • Some mean language is used including: stupid, hideous, what the heck, and darn. For example, often the characters use the word “stupid” to describe things they do not like.
  • There is some name calling including: geek, jerk, insane, buggy, nimrod, warped,
  • Occasionally, Maybeck is said to use “a few words that would have gotten him detention.” He later says, “Son of a –.” The book never says what words Maybeck uses, but it makes it clear that he is cursing.
  • Finn is also said to “curse at the screen” of his computer.
  • Maleficent calls Amanda a “little tart.”
  • Maybeck uses the word “bleeping” in place of a curse word.

Supernatural

  • The story takes place in Disney World where magic exists.
  • Maleficent, the evil fairy, often casts spells. No specific words are relayed, but when she does, the narration describes that she “chants.”
  • Maleficent can also fly and transform into different animals.
  • Jez dreams the future. She draws these images in a notebook that become the guide map for her friends and sister’s journey to rescue her throughout the book.
  • Amanda tells Finn that she and Jez are “fairlies,” “as in, fairly human.” She says they are “just kids with unusual abilities” like “spoon-benders, mind readers, clairvoyants” and the ability to cause fires to start mentally.
  • Amanda refers to the incidents of the previous book, in which Maleficent bewitched Jez so she could not recognize Amanda. She then makes Jez do the Overtakers’ bidding.
  • Amanda levitates Finn to the ceiling of a truck they are hiding in so that he is not seen by the security guards.
  • The hosts come to learn that heat is Maleficent’s “kryptonite,” impeding her power’s effectiveness.
  • Maybeck thinks the bat they captured may be able to understand his words. Then he sees a group of birds that appear to be “following him.” These are the first pieces of evidence that the animals are under Maleficent’s control.

Spiritual Content

  • Finn sees that Jez has collected fortunes from fortune cookies in her journal.
  • Willa told her parents she was going to Mass to get them to let her leave the house. Her mother is “no longer a churchgoer.”
  • In Animal Kingdom, the hosts see replicas of Temples. One location has “prayer flags.”
  • Jez says she prayed for help to come when she realized she was trapped in the tunnel, “though [she’s] not very good at praying.”

by Jennaly Nolan

I Believe I Can

From the moment she starts her book, I Believe I Can, Grace Byers writes a dedication of encouragement to her readers: “There will always be one person who might not believe in you; let that person never be you.” These words set off a first-person narrative of “I can” affirmations.

As the reader dives into the pages of I Believe I Can, they are sent into the narrative as the first-person character; a character with the imagination to accomplish a list of feats including sailing, stretching like the Alps, igniting like a rocket, or building the world up, brick by brick. The narrative describes all the extremes that a person can be: grounded, boundless, brave, loud, right, wrong, and strong. Through these adjectives, the reader understands that they may encounter stumbles along their path and that they may not always be perfect, but that ultimately, believing in oneself is the key to getting up and trying again whenever one falls down.

I Believe I Can by Grace Byers is a book of empowerment for young readers at the very beginning of their road towards understanding themselves and accomplishing new feats. In colorful penciled drawings by Keturah A. Bobo, readers follow along with a diverse cast of children dancing ballet, playing in pirate ships or astronaut helmets, dressing up in silly costumes, planting greenery, and decorating cakes. The book even shows the children making mistakes—like drawing in crayon on their house walls— to relate to the mistakes readers themselves may have experienced.

Byer’s diction is simple, the sentence length is short (at most five sentences per page), and most pages are a set of two-sentence rhyming couplets. There is no complicated plot to follow, as the story is more focused on accumulating powerful “I” statements that readers can use throughout their daily lives. In addition, Bobo’s drawings often add animation to the subjects described in Byer’s phrases. For example, when a rocket is mentioned, there is a drawing of a rocket made from building blocks. In this way, the powerful encouragements and detailed drawings will be suitable for any reader looking to study new words and rhyming sentences on their own.

After reading this book, all youngsters will feel encouraged to dive into the activities they love and believe in themselves as they tackle new things in their life—including reading. I Believe I Can by Grace Byers ultimately shows readers the importance of lifting yourself up, and the way believing in yourself can lead to a power you never knew you had.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • None

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

by Hannah Olsson

Super Fake Love Song

Sunny Dae is a third generation Korean-American and a 17-year-old high school student in Ruby Rancho, one of the richest areas in Southern California—a town that in which a majority of people are white. He calls himself a “super-huge mega-nerd” and a loser. His friends are Milo, a Guatemalan-American boy, and Jamal, a Jamaican-American boy. Together, they form the group DIY Fantasy FX where they create cheap, safe, and cool practical gadgets for all the LARPing (Live Action Roleplay) nerds out there.

Sunny, Milo, and Jamal love D&D (Dungeons & Dragons) and, for the most part, they spend their time making props. Sunny’s room is filled with boxes of props he’s made for DIY Fantasy FX while his brother Gray’s room is filled with guitars, amps, chords, and clothes that are opposite of Sunny’s. Gray hasn’t been home in years since he went off to Hollywood to in hopes of being a rock musician.

A new family in Ruby Rancho arrives and as fate would have it, the parents of said family are friends with Sunny’s parents. Through this connection with family friends, Sunny meets Cirrus Soh. When they first meet, Cirrus mistakes Gray’s room for Sunny’s and assumes that Sunny is a musician. Sunny, who finds Cirrus very pretty and develops a crush on her quickly, decides to play the role of a rock musician to impress Cirrus. He eventually ropes Jamal and Milo into joining him with the ruse, pretending they are a band known as The Immortals. To truly convince Cirrus they are a band, they sign up for the school’s annual talent show to perform one of Gray’s songs. Sunny’s new persona is getting him places with Cirrus, but then Gray comes home and shakes the balance Sunny had created. As Sunny attempts to navigate his relationships, he also struggles to truly understand who he is and wonders if he can ever truly be himself around Cirrus.

Super Fake Love Song is a high school romance told from the perspective of Sunny Dae, who is unapologetically a nerd. The story follows Sunny’s emotions, allowing the readers to feel his sense of division with his identity as he tries to understand himself. The complex relationships Sunny has with his friends, and especially his brother Gray, shape the entire story. Sunny is only able to pretend he is in a band because of Milo and Jamal. He does so convincingly because Gray takes Sunny under his wing. Oftentimes, Sunny reminisces about the better days with him and Gray, such as when they were younger and went on dungeon adventures or stole the spoons from the country club they visited. Then, Sunny returns to the bleak reality that he and Gray are just no longer close. These memories allow the readers to feel just how far apart Sunny and Gray have drifted while also showcasing a natural sibling relationship that’s both turbulent and loving.

Sunny is a nerd who tends to talk about events as though they were a D&D campaign. For readers who are just being introduced to D&D, the specific references to the game may be confusing. Sunny is unique in that he understands things in D&D terms, which is his way of figuring out problems and how he accomplishes building his rock star persona. For example, Sunny understands that performing on stage is just like LARPing which helps him bridge the gap between Rock Star Sunny and Nerdy Sunny. He attributes different kinds of musical performers to the different classes of characters in D&D. To research being cool, Sunny decides to watch videos of rock stars. “As I watched, I became convinced of my hypothesis that music performance was a form of LARPing in itself. Rock performers, after all, hoisted their guitars like heavy axes; their screamsong was a kind of battle cry. Rappers swayed their arms and cast elaborate spells with cryptic finger gestures and fast rhymes. Pop stars danced love dramas, superstar DJs commanded their hordes via mass hypnosis, country crooners sold a pastiche of folklore simplicity long vanished.”

Super Fake Love Song is reaching out to a certain audience: teenagers that play and understand D&D. D&D references are sprinkled throughout the book and show that anyone can participate in D&D. In addition, teens will relate to Sunny’s struggle to understand himself.  The story subverts a traditional romance novel, ending with its own nerdy twist. However, some plot points are wrapped up too quickly and need to be fleshed out. Super Fake Love Song is a book for readers who want a love story and who also love D&D or want to be introduced to it without needing to campaign.

Sexual Content

  • Sunny and Cirrus kiss several times throughout the novel.
  • Cirrus tells Sunny that one of the hottest things a girl can imagine is a guy singing rock and roll to them.
  • At Cirrus’s housewarming party, Sunny takes Cirrus upstairs to her bedroom where they make out. The scene lasts for two pages.
  • Cirrus invites Sunny to a panopticon live. In the virtual world, he and Cirrus become sylphs and kiss using their avatars. “We kiss in that awkward way avatars do: the polygons of our faces glancing off each other, never really touching.”
  • Sunny goes over to Cirrus’s condo where “Cirrus kissed me at her front door.”
  • Cirrus and Sunny have a picnic where they cuddle with each other and kiss.
  • On the way back home, Cirrus and Sunny kiss again. This time, they also confess to each other that they love each other. The kiss is not described.
  • At Fantastic Faire, Sunny and Cirrus reunite after months of missing each other. They “kissed, and the beautiful nerds around us laughed and cheered.”

 Violence

  • Gunner bullies Sunny and his friends. “Gunner would invade my table at lunch to steal chips to feed his illiterate golem of a sidekick and tip our drink bottles and so on, like he had routinely done since the middle school era.”
  • Sunny imagines testing a prop he made on Gunner. “The wires streaked across the stone chamber in a brilliant flash and wrapped Gunner’s steel helm before he could even begin a backswing of his bastard sword. The rest of my party cowered in awe as a nest of lightning enveloped Gunner’s armed torso, turning him into a marionette gone made with jittering death spasms, with absolutely no hope for a saving throw against this: a +9 magical bonus attack.”
  • Gray catches Sunny sitting in his old room with his guitars and friends and doesn’t fall for the ruse of them being a band. Sunny is very frustrated with his brother’s snide behavior. He imagines himself using an FX prop he made against Gray. “I wished I could stun him with Raiden’s Spark for real from one hand, and then cast Esmeralda’s Veil with the other so that I could abscond with the iPod while he choked on clouds of sulfur―no constitution-saving throw, automatic lose-a-turn.”
  • Gunner has bullied Sunny ever since Sunny moved in middle school. Gunner apologizes for being a bully and Sunny thinks about how he “had always fantasized about propelling Gunner with a seventeenth-level Push spell into a fathomless crevice full of lava.”
  • Sunny is practicing how to shred on a guitar and he compares the experience to a D&D campaign experience. “And when I was done, I flung the neck aside like I had just sliced open a charging orc.”
  • Sunny’s anger boils over when his brother hijacks his performance. Sunny pushes Gray into oncoming traffic. “When I shoved him this time, Gray was unprepared. Gray tripped over a pipe jutting from the concrete; He hit the ground backward. . . He found his feet, looked right, and held up a polite hand as tires shrieked. Then he was taken down.” Gray ends up being injured and taken to the hospital. He doesn’t die.

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • When imagining himself as a rock star performing for the first time, Sunny describes the air as “stinking of smoke and sour spilled beer of the ages.”
  • While hosting a housewarming party, Cirrus says that there’s a variety of alcohol to drink such as “chevre, manchego, membrillo for said manchego, mild ojingeo, spicy ojingeo, stuff from my parents’ liquor stash like Aperol and Richard and makgeolli and like six bottles of clara in the fridge if you’re not into makgeolli, which I get, makgeolli’s definitely an acquired taste, ha!”
  • At the talent show, Sunny sees Gray “standing in the underlit glow of the stage wings, he held onto a truss and raised his beer in a swaying toast at me.” Because he is drunk, Gray ends up hijacking Jamal’s mic and ruining Sunny’s performance.

 Language

  • Both Sunny and his friend Milo call Gunner, “Asswipe.”
  • Jamal says that Gray is “kind of a dick.”
  • After learning someone keyed his car, Sunny’s dad goes into a cursing fit. He yells, “What kind of GD MF-ing A-hole SOB would pull this kind of BS on me?”
  • In a text message thread, Jamal says, “So Gray’s gone from garden variety dick to full on douchetube.”
  • Gray has been treating Sunny very poorly which frustrates Sunny. He says, “Why did Gray have to be what he was―the lord of all douchetubes?”
  • Gray mentors his brother and his friends on how to be a band. He describes a certain face to make saying, “Just grit your teeth like this and mouth a bunch of angry stuff like, You ugly guitar with your dumbass frets and your dumbass strings.”
  • Gray confesses to his family that when they moved to Ruby Rancho, someone asked him “if he ate dog.” Sunny also says that happened to him. Asking an Asian person, especially an East or Southeast Asian person, if they eat dogs is a racial microaggression.

 Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual

  • None

by Emma Hua

The Edge

For an upcoming documentary, billionaire Sebastian Plank recruits a team of young climbers to complete an International Peace Ascent on mountains all around the world. To fulfill part of Plank’s documentary, fifteen-year-old Peak Marcello and his mom are flown to the Hindu Kush mountains in Afghanistan along with a few other young climbers and a documentary crew. But when the camp is attacked and hostages are taken, Peak has to track down the attackers to save his friends and mother.

The Edge is the second book in the Peak Marcello Adventure Series and takes place relatively soon after his adventures in the first book, Peak. Much of the same cast from the first book is back, including the mysterious Sherpa guide/monk Zopa, Peak’s mom, and the documentary crew. Peak himself is still a fun and interesting character, and his love for his family and humanity, in general, makes him a sympathetic protagonist.

Much like in the first book, survival and climbing are strongly intertwined themes. Peak spends much of the book using survival techniques and climbing to find and save his mom and fellow climbers. He, fortunately, has the help of Ethan, a new character who is a fellow climber and former marine. Peak looks up to Ethan, and Ethan serves as a practical guide who keeps Peak and the others from dying out in the elements.

This second book’s plot involves political intrigue and terrorists, so it has more graphic violence than the first book. One of the climbers, Alessia, is the daughter of a French diplomat that Peak befriends and shows romantic interest in. Over half of the climbing group is taken as hostages from camp, and several of the group are killed on camera. The attackers make it clear that they are using the hostages to get money from the French government because they have the daughter of one of their diplomats, and they themselves are former French soldiers. Although Peak is spared from seeing some of the worst parts, some of the more gruesome scenes are described by other characters. The Edge covers sensitive topics like murder and a hostage situation, so younger readers should be prepared for more nitty-gritty details than in the first book.

The Edge furthers Peak’s story while rounding out old characters and introducing new ones. Peak and the others use their climbing skills to survive as well as perform for the camera. Despite the overall serious tone of the book, there are lighthearted moments early on from the documentary guy, Phillip, who clearly doesn’t understand much about climbing and causes some humorous frustration for Peak. This series is for people who like climbing and those who really want an action-packed adventure. Fans of Peak won’t have to look far for his next climbing journey, which is detailed in the next book in the series, Ascent. Although The Edge is a complete story on its own, the next book will surely have a new mountain for Peak to scale.

Sexual Content

  • Phillip’s personal assistant and girlfriend, Cindy, seems very friendly towards Ethan, one of the other climbers. When Peak asks Ethan about it, Ethan laughs and says, “Not my type, and I’m not her type either. She was doing that stuff with me at the river to get under Phillip’s skin and because she didn’t want to go for a hike.”

Violence

  • Tony, the immigration man helping Peak and his mother in Afghanistan, is playing the video game League of Legends on the plane when Peak meets him. Peak goes to speak with him, and Tony says, “I was just bludgeoned to death. Take a seat.”
  • Tony explains that Afghanistan “has been in a state of war for thousands of years. Genghis Khan, Alexander the Great, the British, the Soviet Union, Al-Qaeda, the Americans, the Taliban, and several others have all attempted to take over Afghanistan.”
  • As he’s climbing up the side of a cliff, an eagle attacks Peak. Peak says, “I scrunched up as best as I could on a vertical wall and shoved my face into a narrow crack to stop my eyeballs from getting plucked out. I felt the air from the first bird’s wings a second before it smashed into my helmet. This was followed by another hit on my pack, much hard than the first.”
  • As Peak reaches for the cave, the eagle knocks him in the butt. Peak smashes “[his] face on the back wall, which was only six feet from the opening.” Peak is bleeding considerably from a cut on his chin due to the impact.
  • The camera guy, JR, gets the “butt strike” on video. Peak responds to this with, “If you put it on YouTube, I will kill you.”
  • Peak falls asleep in his cave and when he wakes up hours later, everyone else is gone. Peak goes exploring only to find the guides Ebadullah and Elham “lying next to the cool water…Their throats are slit. The fronts of their kurtas are covered in dried blood. Their beards are caked in gore. Their eyes are open in surprise. Their rifles are gone. Their prayer rugs are unrolled. They were murdered during isha.”
  • Peak finds one of the other climbers, Rafe, laying on the ground. “There was a four-inch gash on [Rafe’s] forehead, his nose was broken, his left ear was torn, his upper lip looked like he had bitten through it, and these were just the injuries [Peak] could see.”
  • Rafe tells Peak that the others were kidnapped by “five or six guys. Afghans. Guns and knives.”
  • A donkey does not want to keep walking. When Ethan pulls on the reins, “it bites Ethan in the butt.”
  • Ethan was in the marines. He tells Peak, “I spent a couple years in Force Reconnaissance or Force Recon . . . It was a lot of fun until some gung-ho captain walked us into quicksand, which killed two men. He blamed us and became a major.”
  • Peak and Ethan come across three mounds that turn out to be graves. Peak has to know, so he digs each one up. Peak says, “The first grave was Phillip’s. Like Elham and Ebadullah, his throat had been slit. I didn’t want to uncover the other two, but I had to know. The second was Aki. The third was Choma. I sat back, covered my face, and began sobbing with horror and relief. It could have been Mom or Zopa or Alessia or the film crew.”
  • After Ethan finds the bodies of Phillip, Aki, and Choma, he says, “These dirtbags made the video crew film our friends’ execution. They’re going to use the tape to get money.”
  • Ethan kills one of the guards keeping the hostages. Peak sees the guard “sitting on his blanket. His headlamp was pointed down at a deck of bloody cards.”
  • Peak and some of the climbers come across a “crudely made rack” with a “snow leopard pelt.” The vultures flying overhead indicate to them that this poaching incident was recent.
  • Alessia explains that her father was a conservation biologist who died “in the Congo when [she] was ten years old. Killed by rebels, they say, but [her] mother believes he was murdered by the gorilla poachers he was trying to stop.”
  • Peak’s mom shoots the captors with a pistol. Peak describes, “She took a deep breath, let it out slowly, then squeezed the trigger. One of the men went down.” The description lasts for half a page.
  • Ethan shoots Émile. When Peak sees Émile, he “was on the ground covered in blood.” Émile dies.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • When Peak’s mom tells Peak’s stepfather, Rolf, that she and Peak are going to Afghanistan to climb, Rolf “pours himself a drink.”
  • Peak mentions that he “read that Afghanistan grows more opium than any other country in the world.” To this, Tony says, “It’s a four-billion-dollars-a-year industry with about twenty-five percent of that money going to the farmer and the rest divided between district officials, insurgents, warlords, and drug traffickers.”
  • Peak finds a cigarette butt while heading back to base camp. As they keep walking, Peak finds “three more Gauloises cigarette butts.”
  • Ethan tells Peak about his time in Iraq. He says, “We broke up a tobacco-smuggling operation . . . Learned more than I ever wanted to know about tobacco. There are a lot of counterfeit cigarette operations. The Taliban actually make money here running cigarettes when they aren’t smuggling dope.”

Language

  • Light language is used infrequently. Some words include nuts, nutcase, oaf, idiots, jerk, moron, dense, and dumb.
  • Cindy says about the Afghan guards, “All they do is stare at me, or leer, and I’m pretty sure they’re making snide remarks, but I don’t know what they’re saying.” Cindy is wearing tight-fitting clothing that is brightly patterned. Peak “looked at her snakeskin pants and had a pretty good idea what they were saying. Women in Muslim countries don’t dress like Cindy.”
  • When the donkey bites Ethan in the butt, Peak laughs and says, “Now you can say you’ve been bitten in the ass by an ass.”

Supernatural

  • Peak suggests that the snow leopard (shen) that he keeps seeing is watching over them. Ethan says, “You’re not going all magical thinking on me, are you?” To which Peak replies, “It works for Zopa. And we could use some magic.” Ethan replies, “Wish I had a magic wand, or an invisibility cloak.”

Spiritual Content

  • Tony mentions that the only hiccup they might have landing the plane in Afghanistan is that they’re landing “just before afternoon prayers.” Peak then describes, “I’d just read about these prayers in one of Mom’s books. Devout Muslims pray five times a day. Fajr, just before dawn. Zuhr, noon. Asr, afternoon. Maghrib, sunset. Isha, evening.”
  • Tony talks about the local Afghan people, saying, “Like most of the one point six billion Muslims in the world, the Afghans are trying to live a good life, raise their families, and get by. Ninety-five percent of them are great people. The other five percent have a strange take on the Koran. I suspect this percentage holds true for Christians and their Bible as well.”
  • The call to prayer sounds as Peak leaves the plane. Peak describes, “A sound came from somewhere outside. A mysterious sound. A beautiful sound . . . It seemed to come from all around on the hot, dry air.” It is coming from the minaret attached to the airport’s mosque.
  • Tony runs to the mosque for the afternoon prayer. He yells to Peak, “I am one of those one point six billion Muslims I was telling you about, as are my sister and two brothers. My parents are Protestants.”
  • Cindy, Phillip’s girlfriend, complains that there’s no running water or electricity at the base camp. She then says, “But we do have a camel and a donkey. All we’re missing is the Virgin Mother and a manger.”
  • Cindy makes a comment about the mountains being a “god-forsaken place,” which upsets Peak. Peak thinks, “I wanted to tell her that mountains are not godforsaken places. They are where humans go to find God, which is kind of the whole point of humans climbing mountains.”
  • Partway through a hike, an Afghan guide named Elham does the evening prayer, “kneeling toward Mecca on a small prayer rug he had pulled out of his little pack.”
  • Peak tells Alessia that he was on Everest, and her eyes “got that look. It was like I had just said I’d met God.”
  • Zopa refers to the snow leopard as a “living Talisman.”
  • Alessia asks Peak about Zopa. She asks, “Do you think that by above, he meant that God would save us?”

by Alli Kestler

 

Bird Boy

Nico is the new kid at school. With that title comes a lot of uncertainty, and for Nico, a new nickname: “Bird Boy.” At first, the nickname is an attempt to tease Nico for his ability to befriend a couple of birds on the playground, but Nico quickly makes the name his own. Instead of letting the monomer “Bird Boy” put him down, Nico uses the new name as a chance to explore his imagination– becoming an eagle over the forest, a diving penguin, or an agile hummingbird. It isn’t long before other classmates take notice of Nico’s unique ability to become “Bird Boy,” and they begin to admire his confidence. In the end, Nico finds a way to connect with others simply by being who he wants to be.

Matthew Burgess’s Bird Boy introduces readers to the wonderfully imaginative, kind, and sweet, Nico. Each page is 1-2 paragraphs of around 1-6 lines of text with occasional parentheses that leave space for Nico to describe his initial feelings about a situation through a third person narrator. For instance, through lines such as, “with a backpack full of stones. (That’s how it felt.),” or “he turned the name over in his head a few times and smiled (It surprised him, too.),” readers get a very personal and present idea of how Nico encounters and overcomes feelings of isolation and loneliness.

Bird Boy does have some more complex vocabulary that could be challenging for new readers. However, words such as huddles, side-curved, aquamarine, and nectar-filled would be great for young readers looking to take their first flight into some new diction. Parents could also easily read this engrossing narrative to a child of any reading level. The vibrant illustrations of watercolor and graphite transform the school’s playground into chaotically beautiful, bird-filled scenes that are sure to captivate all readers.

Whether listening to it read aloud, or reading this narrative themselves, readers will discover the inspirational message at the heart of Bird Boy: the understanding that true friends come to you when you choose to confidently love everything that makes you uniquely yourself. While it should be made clear that not all name calling should be as easily accepted as the way Nico accepts the name “Bird Boy,” Bird Boy shows how Nico uses this monomer to find a new form of strength, agency, and even love for the outdoors. The book demonstrates to readers that sometimes it’s about how you choose to view yourself in an uncomfortable situation that makes the real difference, rather than anything anyone else chooses to say about you.

Ultimately, in Bird Boy friendships and community come after one discovers the power and comfort that comes from being who they want to be and standing by that decision with their head held high. If you’d like to explore other picture books that help children accept themselves, check out Angus All Aglow by Heather Smith and I Am Enough by Grace Byers.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • None

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • The term “Bird Boy” is a name initially used to tease Nico, before he transforms it into a description that he finds empowering.

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

by Hannah Olsson

 

Pax

Twelve-year-old Peter regrets when he and his father abandon Pax, his pet fox, in a forest two hundred miles away from home. Pax has been part of their family since Peter lost his mother five years ago, and the two friends were inseparable. To Peter, “leaving Pax hadn’t been the right thing to do” so he sets out to bring Pax home. Not far into his journey, Peter fractures his foot, and Vola, a veteran who lost a leg and knows the cost of war, forces him to stay at her cabin until he can walk again.

Pax, with the help of the local foxes, travels through the forest to find Peter. At first, he struggles with living in the wild, but he befriends Bristle and Runt, who teach him about hunting and survival. However, the foxes get into a tiff with soldiers, including Peter’s father, who is gearing up for an unspecified war. As Peter and Pax try to reunite, they are changed by their experiences.

Each chapter alternates between Peter’s and Pax’s perspectives, which allows the reader to understand their bond. In Pax’s point of view, the foxes speak in italics because “fox communication is a complex system of vocalization, gesture, scent, and expression.” The “dialogue” in italics attempts to translate their eloquent language. Switching the point of view adds interest to the overall narrative as the main characters reflect on the five years they have known each other.

Peter faces his limits but resolves to find Pax amongst a brewing war. Peter’s recovery time with Vola helps him gather his scattered thoughts and focus on finding peace within himself, his relationship with his father, and his relationship with his late mother. Older elementary school readers will relate to Peter, who must consider if he should leave Pax in the forest, effectively putting his childhood behind him, or keep Pax and move forward without knowing their future. By the end of the story, Peter learns that “his fox belonged to [Bristle and Runt]. And they belonged to Pax. Inseparable.”

While Pax has several light-hearted moments, it hits on grim topics, including war, death, grief, and betrayal. The descriptive, violent content may shock sensitive readers. Even though there are minimal effects of war on the humans, the foxes are threatened with violence at every turn. Despite this, the story’s slow pacing gives respect for each character. In the end, Peter has found his peace, and Pax has found another place to belong. The story’s conclusion is bittersweet; nonetheless, it demonstrates the inseparable, yet distanced friendship between Peter and Pax.

Pax is a raw and entertaining story suited for more mature readers. The alternating chapters begin with an illustration of Peter or Pax, and other black and white illusions are clustered in the beginning, middle, and end. The illustrations will help readers visualize the story’s characters and events. Readers looking for a compelling, but tamer story about how war affects animals should read Survival Tails: World War II by Katrina Charman and Judy, Prisoner of War by Laurie Calkhoven.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • Gray, an older fox, mentions, “When the war-sick arrive here, [his] family will have to move nearer to those colonies or go north, into the mountains.” The soldiers would come into the forest and clear the land for war. While traveling through the forest, Pax watched “the war-sick spread out along the riverbank, rolling out more wires, digging more holes, and burying more dark boxes under the hot sun.”
  • Throughout the story, the foxes hunt frequently. “In a second, Bristle’s head reappeared, and in her jaws was a wood rat. She leaped clear of the grass, bit through the rat’s neck, then dropped it to the ground.”
  • Pax recalls a story about two foxes. “A mated pair of foxes, struggling with something that reminded Pax of his pen—steel, but with jaws and clamps instead of bars. The steel jaws and the white snowy ground were smeared with blood.”
  • Bristle tells Pax about her parent’s death from a gunshot. Just before Bristle and Runt’s mother reaches the chicken coop, “steel jaws sprang out of the earth with such speed that the air snapped. Our mother screamed. The clamp held her front leg.” Their father tries to help their mother, but “the human raised the stick, and in front of our eyes our mother and father burst into blood and fur and shattered bones spattered over the snow.”
  • Peter steals Vola’s knife because he thought she might kill him. Peter “found the knife she’d left . . . the knife he’d stolen grew heavier across his thigh.” Later, she confronts him about her missing knife and scolds him for thinking she would harm him. “My tools? I have twenty acres of trees to care for. And I’m a wood-carver. You thought they were weapons?”
  • Vola says she has post-traumatic stress disorder from being in a war. “People around me, they called it PTSD, post-traumatic stress disorder, from being in the war. . . I had forgotten everything that was true about myself.”
  • While in the military, Vola killed someone. “I killed someone. . .  probably killed a lot of people, or at least contributed to their deaths . . .” She regrets killing him, saying, “Even though he had grown up in a different country—we might have had something in common. . . But I’d killed him, so now we would never know. I searched his body, not for weapons, but for clues to who he’d been.”
  • An unnamed fox injures Gray. “The challenger ignored the peaceful greeting and sprang, hitting the old fox hard in the flank and pinning him down, then sank his teeth into Gray’s thin neck. . . The puncture was deep.”
  • An explosion kills Gray. “Gray tripped. Instantly, the scorched-air smell sizzled up from the spot like an earthborn bolt of lightning, and at the same second the riverbank exploded. . .The old fox was still. . . The scent of Gray’s death was on Pax’s fur, but the foxes knew already.”
  • Lightning strikes Bristle and Runt. Bristle’s “beautiful brush was burned to a black crust” and Runt lost a hind leg. “Where Runt’s hind leg should have been, where the neat black-furred leg and the quick white paw should have been, there was only a shredded red mess on the blood-soaked leaves.” Peter finds the hind leg, thinking it belongs to Pax. “Fleshless and singed, but still he knew it was a hind leg. . .” When Peter finds his father, he “pressed the fox leg into his father’s hand.”
  • The towns that Peter walks through are vacant because they had been evacuated due to the impending war. Peter “had traveled on roads though vacant towns, past abandoned schools and playgrounds and neighborhoods spookily silent without their squeaking tricycles, their car radios, their pickup ball games.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • An employee in a hardware store “took a drag on his cigarette” while speaking with Peter. The man “stubbed out his cigarette” when following Peter around the store.
  • Vola says she will give Peter “something for the pain, something that’s legal to give a child. . .a measure of willow bark. . . Aspirin in the wild.”

Language

  • Peter’s mother calls the rabbit that stomped on her tulips a “little devil.”
  • Several times, Vola uses the word “dyableman,” a Haitian Creole word meaning damned.
  • Peter uses “holy dyableman” once.
  • Vola says her first prosthetic “scares the devil out of [her]” and “scares the devil out of the crows, too, apparently.”

Supernatural

  • Peter refers to Vola as “witchy.”

Spiritual Content

  • Peter refers to the baseball field as “holy.”
  • Vola describes her concept. “It’s a Buddhist concept. Nonduality. It’s about one-ness, about how things that seem to be separate are really connected to one another. There are no separations. . . All these things are separate but also one, inseparable.”

by Jemima Cooke

Malamander

Twelve-year-old Herbie Lemon has always been fond of lost things. After all, as an infant, he was a “lost thing.” Herbie was found and given a home in the town of Eerie-on-Sea, where he was eventually put in charge of the Lost-and-Foundery at the Grand Nautilus Hotel. His job now is to keep track of every lost item in the hotel and, when possible, find its home.

One day, a new kind of lost thing arrives, inspiring quite an eventful case for the young detective-of-sorts. Violet Parma puts Herbie in charge of helping her track down her missing parents, who became “lost” when she was an infant while staying at the Grand Nautilus. Herbie reluctantly takes the case, and the pair works together, discovering that one legend from the town’s past may have more to do with the Parmas’ disappearance than they could have imagined.

The Parma mystery leads the duo to the malamander, a mythic creature that supposedly lives in the water surrounding Eerie-on-Sea. The malamander only comes inland once a year to lay its wish-granting egg. The power of the egg draws a variety of characters into the fray, including a gruff man with a boat hook for a hand. Herbie and Violet must consult the eclectic townspeople and watch their backs as they work to uncover the mysteries which are hidden in the mist of Eerie-on-Sea.

Taylor wonderfully builds the world of Eerie-on-Sea. From the very first chapter, it is clear Eerie-on-Sea is no ordinary island. It is home to ancient legends regarding the existence of sea monsters, which Herbie and Violet discover to be more fact than fiction. The legends– and the people who tell them– are enthralling, and each person is essential to the story being told. By the end of the novel, readers will feel as if they were on the island themselves.

Herbie is a loveable narrator who provides much needed information about the culture of Eerie-on-Sea. Herbie’s friendship with Violet also helps readers understand the mysteries of such a place. She is new to the island, as is the audience, allowing readers to identify with Violet as they learn about the stories which the townspeople know well. The balance between Herbie and Violet is engaging from their first meeting. Violet is a go-getter, who thinks quickly and is strong-willed. Herbie, while confident in some moments, is much quieter and cautious.

The malamander’s egg is central to many of the characters’ motivations, and Taylor’s story touches on the harmful nature of greed that has lasting effects it can have on others. For example, the legend of Captain K demonstrates how the captain’s desire for the egg causes his entire crew to be lost to the malamander. Captain K wishes for eternal life, and while he gets what he wished for, he becomes a shell of a man. Consequently, Captain K’s family spends generations trying to fix his mistakes. On the other hand, Herbie acts as a counter to this greed. Herbie’s job is dedicated to helping others find what they have lost. His decision to help Violet as well as his concern for the townspeople teach readers that selflessness and caring for others can lead to happiness.

The author occasionally uses advanced vocabulary, but the context clues provided make Malamander a good option for children looking to learn new words. Black and white illustrations bring the quirky characters to life; the illustrations are used periodically to aid in the visualization of some of the more significant moments in the story. Young readers who love mysteries and myths will enjoy Malamander as the story creates an interesting setting that has endearing characters and a gripping plot.

Sexual Content

  • Mrs. Fossil, a beachcomber, thinks she has some “beach finds” which would “suit a young man looking for something for that special someone in his life.” She assumes Violet and Herbie are romantically involved.
  • After hugging Herbie, Violet “looks a bit embarrassed and tries to hide it by punching [Herbie] on the arm.”

Violence

  • A man has a “large iron boat hook, ending in a long gleaming spike” for a hand. He is called “Boat Hook Man.”
  • When the Boat Hook Man comes looking for Violet in Herbie’s Lost-and-Foundery, he “shoves [Herbie] against the wall as he pushes past.”
  • Boat Hook Man uses his hook to break into the chest where Violet is hiding. “He raises his spike and brings it down with a sickening thud, driving it deep into the lid of the chest.” When he cannot find her, Herbie says the Boat Hook Man “[goes] berserk.” Herbie narrates, “He starts ransacking my cellar, sweeping his massive arms from side to side.”
  • Violet’s history becomes a large part of the story. She was “found abandoned” as a baby. Her parents left behind only “two pairs of shoes . . . left neatly on the harbor wall.” There were also “footprints in the sand, leading from the harbor wall to the sea.”
  • Herbie’s cap almost never cooperates when he tries to put it on his head. At one point he narrates “the elastic strap pings and nearly takes [his] eye out.”
  • Violet tells Herbie that “a fork bounced off the wall behind [her]” when she ran out of the hotel kitchen, where she was not supposed to be. Herbie knows that these were the actions of the head chef who “guards his kitchen like a fortress.”
  • In Herbie’s lost and found system, if red lines are crossing out a name, that means “the owners were declared dead.” Violet’s parents’ entry is crossed out in red, and Herbie apologizes while giving Violet her parents’ lost belongings.
  • Herbie teases his boss, Mr. Mollusc, to the point that he “is close to bursting a blood vessel.”
  • While walking with Violet, Herbie mentally describes how “the snow is like a swarm of icy bees—stinging [their] eyes and trying to get up [their] noses.”
  • Herbie fears he may have seen “a shadow stepping back into a doorway” when he checks to see if he and Violet are being followed.
  • While eating at the diner, Herbie notes, “Outside, where the sea mist is gathering, someone screams.” Herbie and Violet see Boat Hook Man head for the beach, “his long, hooked spike dangling like a weapon.” However, they never find out where he was going, because instead they find Mrs. Fossil, a townsperson, “clutching one arm and sobbing with pain.” Her clothes are “torn to shreds” and “there are angry red marks on her skin.” She had been bit by something with what she calls “teeth like needles.” She passes out.
  • Boat Hook Man sees Violet on the beach and “grabs Violet by her collar, lifting her in the air.” She has a hard time speaking because of where he grabbed her. She is left “clutching her throat.”
  • Herbie says, “I need to get some work done, or Mollusc will have me stewed and served up as today’s special.”
  • Mrs. Fossil receives treatment for her wound and reports that she “can already move [her] fingers again.”
  • Mrs. Fossil tells the children about the legend of the malamander. She says the creature lays an egg and then “devours it.” Since the egg has the power to grant wishes, she explains, many people have sought it. However, she tells them, “Every single one of them . . . gobbled up by the beastie!”
  • Herbie points out “all that’s left of the battleship Leviathan” is in the sea. He says, “It was wrecked years ago.”
  • Boat Hook Man corners Herbie and Violet in the fish shed. They try to escape using a rope, by jumping from the window to a suspended fishing net. Herbie misses the first opportunity for release and is left “dangling, four stories up.” He thinks, “At this point, I can let go of the rope and probably break both my legs, or I can stay dangling where I am and be filleted like a small lemon-flavored herring in a Lost-and-Foundery’s cap.”
  • Just before Boat Hook Man can use his hook to capture Herbie, Violet “strikes Boat Hook Man in the eye” with her book. Violet and Herbie manage to escape, but they fall before they get all the way to the ground. Herbie notes “the air escaping from [his] lungs with an OOF.” Violet hurts her ankle on impact and needs help running away. This event is described over four pages.
  • Jenny, the bookstore owner, explains how Sebastian Eels and Violet’s father knew each other. They were both authors interested in the malamander, and at one point “they went monster hunting together.”
  • The malamander comes to the museum when Herbie and Violet are there. It “slaps the window right in front of us with such force that it shatters.” Herbie feels “points of pain on my hands and face as the pieces cut in.” Then, the creature tries to “throw itself over the edge” of the museum walls, but Violet grabs its tail. Herbie thinks, “All I can see is that if Violet doesn’t let go, she’ll be pulled over the ramparts too, down onto the toothlike steeples of Maw Rocks, far below.”
  • When trying to save Violet, Herbie is dragged hard against the wall.” He cannot yell, because he feels “the air being crushed out of [his] lungs.” When the creature strikes Violet with its tail, they let go and the malamander falls. Herbie expects “to hear a thud, and maybe the crunch of breaking bone” but the creature simply slithers back to the ocean. This encounter is described over two pages.
  • When Herbie and Violet are caught in the museum by its owner, Dr. Thalassi, Herbie notices, “The folded umbrella [the owner] brandished as a weapon is on the desk, too, like a polite threat.”
  • In anger, Dr. Thalassi attempts to justify his luring of the malamander, which caused the attack on Violet. Herbie exclaims, “An experiment that just slashed off half of Vi’s face!” Herbie knows it’s “an exaggeration” but she was injured by the creature.
  • The museum owner tells the story of the Leviathan and its Captain. The captain led his crew into a cavern where “they found a great stinking mound of seaweed, bones, and shipwreck salvage.” They found the malamander and took its egg, causing it to attack the ship. Dr. Thalassi says, “Many lives were lost defending Leviathan against the creature.” Despite the crew’s use of weapons, the monster kept attacking. Dr. Thalassi explains, “Bullets sparked off its scales, leaving scarcely a mark, and its claws could rend iron.”
  • While the Captain was holding the egg, the malamander “delivered a . . . good, hard bite, which injected stinging venom” that numbed the captain. Then, the creature “with a single snap of its jaws tore his right hand—the hand that held the malamander egg—clean off and swallowed it whole.” The story is recounted in seven pages.
  • Herbie notices in the museum, “Above us the skeleton of a whale hangs suspended, and in the cabinets all around, stuffed and desiccated sea creatures peer out at us through glass eyes.”
  • The hotel’s owner, Lady Kraken, says, “I have no doubt [Violet’s dad] wanted the egg, too, and no doubt that the malamander devoured him for his trouble.”
  • Sebastian Eels plans to carry a weapon to confront the malamander. He claims it “will be for protection only, to scare it away if I’m seen.”
  • When Boat Hook Man is arguing with Eels, Eels says, “Don’t you wave that hook at me.” Boat Hook Man then warns Eels that the malamander will kill him if he goes after its egg. Later, Herbie watches as “Eels brings his fist down on the desk.”
  • Sebastian Eels’ plan for the malamander is to “put a dozen harpoons through its stinking fish guts before it can even spit.” If people come to stop him, he will do the same to them. Eels says, “the sea will quickly dispose of the bodies.”
  • While hiding from Sebastian Eels and Boat Hook Man in Eels’ home, Herbie and Violet are caught. Boat Hook Man goes after them, using his hook as a weapon, though he misses Herbie by inches. Erwin the cat protects them by “attacking the old mariner’s head ferociously, raking at [Boat Hook Man] with his claws.” Herbie watches as “instead of blood, only water spouts from the wounds.”
  • Herbie narrates, “the poor cat is flung to one side” by Boat Hook Man. When trying to escape the building, Sebastian Eels uses his harpoon gun multiple times on the children with one missing and “ricocheting back . . . and clonking Boat Hook Man in the face” causing him to fall. He is not fully human, though, so he is not injured when he hits the ground. Another harpoon makes its target, Violet. The harpoon hit the book in Violet’s pocket, narrowly saving her life. The incident occurs over six pages.
  • Herbie says of Eels, “hopefully the big bully will get himself eaten by the monster.”
  • Eels steals an important paper from Violet. When she tries to fight back, “he picks her up with one hand and throws her out of his way.” Erwin comes to the rescue, “hissing as he claws up [Eels’] legs and sinks his teeth into the man’s hand, making him drop the paper.”
  • Eels throws the cat away, and the cat “hits the corner of a bookshelf and . . . falls limply to the ground.” Eels then “brings his fist down on [Herbie’s] head.” This event is described in one page.
  • Eels retells the story of Achilles and the “arrow in the heel that brought about his death.”
  • Violet says to Eels, “I hope the malamander bites your head off.”
  • Eels promises to “wipe [Violet] out of existence and end [her] misery for good” with the power of the malamander egg.
  • Violet discusses the legend of the malamander, including its annual move “near the town to hunt” and lay its egg, which it then “devours.”
  • Aboard the Leviathan, Herbie thinks, “I shrink back into the darkness, still pulled by Violet, desperately hoping it is Violet pulling me and not some flubbery faceless horror from the deep.” Later, he sees actual sea creatures around him and kicks them off.
  • Herbie observes the malamander open “its cavernous tooth-needle mouth and roars an earsplitting, soul-tearing, nightmarish cry of saurian fury.” This is followed by the creature charging the pair. Herbie wonders “if it’s worth fighting for a moment or two of extra life, or if it’s better to just fall down into the water and hope the end comes quickly.” He then remembers Eels’ comment about bodies being disposed by the sea and thinks it could be true, “especially if the bodies are quite small — and devoured by a folkloric fish man in the belly of a sunken warship.” The malamander passes them over in its search for Eels.
  • Herbie sees “human bones” in the malamander’s nest.
  • Eels threatens to shoot Violet with the harpoon gun but does not.
  • In a flashback to Violet’s parents’ disappearance, her dad comes to believe that Eels could be responsible for the infant Violet’s disappearance. He says to his wife, “He said I’d pay a heavy price if I kept my discoveries from him. But surely he wouldn’t . . .”
  • Eels tries to get the egg from Violet. Eels “grabs the egg with one hand and punches Violet in the face with the other.” She falls into the cold water. Herbie dives in after her and wonders “for a moment if I’ve died without noticing” due to the “cold and dark.” When he finds her, “she gasps and coughs.”
  • The malamander resurfaces. “In its claws it is holding the broken body of Boat Hook Man.” Herbie recognizes Boat Hook Man is not dead, but “he has clearly lost the fight with the monster” as his “face is white and awful”.
  • The malamander tries to get its egg back from Eels, but he “shoots it” first. He repeatedly fires and Herbie hears the “th-TOUM” sound the gun makes. Herbie then sees that “the harpoon has buried itself deep between two of the monster’s scales, where — now that we look closely — a slim opening in its armor can be seen.” This opening is the only way the malamander can be killed. The malamander has been shot “straight through its heart” and “with a gurgling sigh, the malamander twitches one last time and then goes still.”
  • After Boat Hook Man was attacked by the malamander, Herbie describes that the creature’s victim “looks awful, his twisted body half submerged, his skin raked over with great gashes and slashes.”
  • Boat Hook Man tells Eels about his pursuit of the egg. He says, “I lost everything — my ship, my fine men, even my family, in the end.”
  • Eels uses the egg to transform malamander into a tentacle-ridden sea creature to restrain Boat Hook Man. “As we watch, the scaly corpse of the monster quivers and splits, and dozens of fleshy tendrils shoot up from it.” Eels then magically replaces Boat Hook Man’s hook with a crab pincer. Boat Hook Man uses it “to cut through one of the tentacles holding him by using his new claw.” In response, Eels turns Boat Hook Man “into a mass of squid and jellyfish and sea slime.”
  • Trying to get the egg away from Eels, Violet shoves him. She then “lands a kick in the man’s face.” Eels tries to shoot Violet at “point-blank range” but there are no harpoons, so it only makes a “fut! Fut!” sound. When Violet gets the egg, Eels pulls “his knife from its sheath.”
  • Eels gets the egg back, but the malamander’s “mouth, lined as before with tooth needles, closes with a sickening crunch over the hand that holds the egg.” The monster drags him under the water and “there’s a ripple or two . . . then there’s nothing”. The entire fight between the malamander, Herbie, Violet, Eels, and Boat Hook Man aboard the Leviathan takes place over 30 pages.
  • Herbie thinks he has drowned aboard the Leviathan. He thinks, “It’s not cold, though, so I guess being as dead as driftwood has an upside.” However, Herbie is warm because he was rescued. He feels the effects of nearly drowning, his “chest and throat feel as if they’re on fire”.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Mrs. Fossil explains that the town doctor has prevented her from “languishing in a hospital bed somewhere, pumped full of goodness-knows-what.”
  • Violet’s cut is treated with “a wad of cotton, soaked in disinfectant.”
  • In Eels’ house, Herbie sees “an empty bottle of whiskey” on the floor near Violet. She insists she did not drink it and asks him, “Do you think I drink whiskey?”

Language

  • Many of the characters use names such as weasel, fool, stupid, and creep. For example, Herbie calls Mollusc a horrible, hideous man, though not to his face.
  • Herbie narrates that “Lady Kraken is almost a recluse.” Herbie thinks, “The way her wrinkly head emerges from her sumptuous silky gown reminds me of a turtle.” He watches her “clawlike hand” and “wizened eye.”
  • Lady Kraken calls Herbie an “incorrigible dunderbrain.” She also asks if he has “cloth for brains.”
  • Lady Kraken exclaims, “Curse the clouds!”
  • Violet refers to the mermonkey cards as “freaky” and “weird.”
  • Herbie mentally describes the mermonkey as “grotesque” and “ugly.”
  • Violet thinks Eels looks “booky” and he gives her the creeps. Herbie calls him “a bit full of himself.”
  • Mrs. Fossil collects “coprolite” which she explains is “doodah…dino turd…petrified poo.”
  • Herbie thinks Boat Hook Man is an “awful man” and “freaky.”
  • Herbie calls Mollusc “old Mollusc breath.” He then refers to him as “that whiny old whinge-bag.”
  • The characters occasionally “swear” to show honesty. Jenny says Violet’s father “swore blind that he saw things” that were supposed to be only legend, not real.
  • Herbie often internally describes the museum owner as having a “Julius Caesar nose” or a “beaky nose.”
  • Mrs. Fossil uses the expression “goodness-knows-what.”
  • Herbie uses the expression “bladderwracks” occasionally.
  • Eels calls himself “just an old daydreamer” in a disparaging way.
  • Eels uses the expression, “Goodness me.”
  • Herbie calls Eels “Eel Face” in conversation with Violet.
  • Violet asks Herbie if he thought Jenny was a bit “shifty.”
  • Herbie calls himself a “ninny.”
  • Herbie says that he and Violet are “freezing [their] cockles off.”
  • In the story of Captain K, the captain calls his men “cowards” for wanting “to turn back.” They later plead, “for the love of grog, give it back its egg!”
  • The captain calls the malamander “just a dumb animal” and a “fiendish creature.”
  • Herbie calls an action in the story of Captain K “bonkers.” The museum owner agrees and says the captain was “drunk with power.”
  • After his encounter with the malamander, the captain is described as becoming “a ruin of a man, ranting and raving.”
  • Herbie asks himself, “How could I have been so stupid?”
  • Lady Kraken calls the museum owner “sly” and Violet “that sneaky little friend of yours.”
  • Damned is used occasionally. For example, Eels says, “I’ll be damned if I’m going to let that bleeding-heart Peter stand in my way, even from beyond the grave.”
  • Eels tells Boat Hook Man, “It’s not my fault you didn’t have the wit or the will to use the egg properly.”
  • Eels calls the behavior of the malamander “pathetic” and asks, “doesn’t it just make you want to puke?” He also adds, “But also, how very unsurprising that a softy like Peter Parma would be the one to discover such a ridiculous fact.”
  • Herbie assumes Eels believes “no one in their right mind would crawl into such a small and dismal hole.”
  • Hell is used several times. For example, Herbie calls the shipwreck “watery hell.”
  • Violet’s dad uses the expression “dear gods.”
  • Eels calls Violet “wretched, unimaginative child” and “as weak and pathetic as [her] father.”

Supernatural

  • The legend of the malamander is central to the story. According to the townspeople’s beliefs, “It’s a monstrous creature — half man, half fish, half goodness-knows-what” with “rows of quivering spines.” The creature lays a “magical egg” once a year. The egg’s abilities are described as the “grants-you-your-dearest-wish kind.”
  • The malamander can climb walls and swim very well, as well as survive long falls. The malamander “was not invincible . . . it could be killed” by attacking the small opening to its heart. Eels says, “the monster opens its heart when it lays its egg. Quite literally — the armored plates over its heart fold back so that its beatings can be heard in the ocean. That’s how it calls its mate.”
  • The book dispensary has an animatronic mermonkey, a monkey that “has the lower body of a fish” and dispenses the identification code for a book that it feels the reader needs. Jenny, who owns the dispensary says, “It’s the book that chooses you.” Herbie also tells Violet that many believe the machine to have “a sense of humor, too” because Herbie “met a man once who swears he belched in front of the mermonkey and got dispensed a copy of Gone with the Wind.
  • Lady Kraken, the hotel owner, has a mechanism called a “cameraluna” which uses the moon to project “a moving image of the pier at Eerie-on-Sea, seen from above.” She uses it to spy on the townspeople in real time. She can also reverse the recordings, making the “little figures of the townsfolk dart around, walking backward at high speed, as if [Herbie and Lady Kraken] are going back in time.”
  • Herbie explains that the rumor is that the diner owner “came here as a young man and saw a mermaid from the end of the pier. Heard her sing. No one ever recovers from that.”
  • The cat, Erwin, speaks occasionally.
  • The egg can vaguely communicate telepathically with its holder. “In the captain’s wondering mind, a thousand voices seemed to whisper as one: I can make your dreams come true.”
  • Captain K, also known as Boat Hook Man, wished to “live forever” and the egg granted that wish. The egg responds, “But if you lose [the egg], your wish shall become your curse.” Captain K’s “wounds closed up as soon as they opened, and his injuries healed.”
  • Boat Hook Man exists today as half-man, half-water. He arrives in the form of a “cloud of mist” which gathers into a shape.
  • The egg’s power is used multiple times by Eels and Violet. Violet uses it to see her parents’ disappearance in a mist “like a tornado,” which displays images and sound. In addition, the mist “encircles” Boat Hook Man and transforms him into his former self, Captain K. “The boat hook on the end of his right arm evaporates, and a new hand appears there, pink and perfect.”
  • Eels uses the egg to replace Captain K’s hook with a “red crab pincer” and then turns the malamander body into multiple sea creatures. “Captain Kraken’s body trembles and ripples, then collapses into a mass of squid and jellyfish and sea slime.”
  • Violet then uses the egg to make the malamander “miraculously whole again,” raising it from the dead.

Spiritual Content

  • The diner owner says, “In my country, we leave gifts for beings like this, for spirits. Offerings. At night, when I close up, I, too, leave gifts — the fried fish that is left over — outside on the pier. In the morning, it is gone.”

by Jennaly Nolan

Artemis Fowl #1

Captain Holly Short is a highly skilled elf. However, as the first female officer assigned to her unit in LEP (Lower Elements Police), she has a lot to prove. But with the short-tempered Commander Root breathing down her neck, Holly wonders if she’ll ever be given a fair chance to succeed. If only the fairy folk still lived above ground and had never been driven into hiding by the Mud Men.

Artemis Fowl is a twelve-year-old human genius. His family has a long history of illegal activity, though Artemis’ father had tried to legitimize the family fortune. But when Artemis’ father’s ship sank—along with most of the family fortune—Artemis decides to return to his family’s illegal roots in order to regain his father’s lost wealth. Luckily for Artemis, he is in a unique position. His youth means he still believes in magic, while his genius may allow him to become the first human in history to succeed in stealing fairy gold.

Artemis Fowl is told in the third person with the main points of view being Artemis’s and Holly’s; however, the story often jumps to other characters’ points of view, which helps develop smaller characters and flush out the actions of the large cast of characters. While Holly and Artemis are on opposite sides of his gold-stealing scheme, they are both likable characters. Holly is impulsive, clever, and confident. Artemis is brilliant, socially stunted, and he never goes anywhere without his bodyguard Butler. While Artemis is a criminal mastermind, he learns from his mistakes and grows to realize that kidnapping Holly was wrong (though he still keeps the money).

This first installment of the Artemis Fowl series is fast-paced, hilarious, and action packed. Colfer does an effortless job introducing a myriad of fairy folk in a way that does not feel overwhelming. Each chapter leaves readers on the edge of their seats, as they wonder what will happen next. While there is violence, it is not graphically described. There is also potty humor. For instance, dwarves tunnel much like worms, with dirt going in one end and coming out the other, which allows for plenty of bathroom-related humor. But for readers ready for action and excitement, Artemis Fowl is a delightful read that will leave them reaching for the next book, Artemis Fowl and the Arctic Incident.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • While walking through a city, “an unfortunate pickpocket attempted to steal Butler’s wallet. The manservant broke the man’s fingers without looking down.”
  • When Holly sees a dwarf picking pockets, she “gave him a swipe in the backside with her buzz baton. The electric charge singed the seat of his leather pants.”
  • A troll eats a couple of cows. “It was not a pretty sight. Without going into details, let’s just say that there wasn’t much left besides horns and hooves.”
  • Holly stuns a troll before it can kill anyone. “Aiming for the weak point at the base of the skull, she let the troll have a long burst of the concentrated ion ray . . . The troll picked up a table . . . He pulled back a shaggy arm and let fly.” Holly’s gas tank is hit. It “burst into flames like some deadly firework. Most of the gas landed on the troll. So did Holly.” The struggle is described over three pages.
  • Butler picks a fight in order to cause a diversion. “Butler dropped the first with a round house punch. Two more had their heads clapped together, cartoon style. The fourth was, to Butler’s eternal shame, dispatched with a spinning kick.”
  • Artemis lures Commander Root into a trap, then sets off an explosion. Commander Root, “made it. Barely. He could feel the explosion rattling his torso as he threw himself into a reverse loop. Flames latched on to his jumpsuit, licking along his legs. Root continued his maneuver, crashing directly into the icy water.”
  • Butler fights off a squad of LEP officers. “Captain Kelp was the first casualty, a titanium-tipped dart puncturing the neck of his suit . . . Butler continued the swinging motion, driving punishing punches into the chests of two more fairies.” The fight takes place over three pages.
  • A goblin tries to blow a fireball out his nose and hit Mulch. Mulch stuffs his thumbs up the goblin’s nose. “The fireball had nowhere to go. It rebounded on the balls of Mulch’s thumbs and ricocheted back into the goblin’s head. The tear ducts provided the path of least resistance, so the flames compressed into pressurized streams, erupting just below the goblin’s eyes.”
  • When Mulch starts to burrow, Foaly tries to watch. However, “a blob of recently swallowed and even more recently recycled limestone whacked him in the face.”
  • There are several other times where characters are either hit with earth or gas that Mulch ejects from his derriere. For instance, “the constrained wind had built itself up to minicyclone intensity and could not be constrained. And so it exited. Rather abrasively. Blowing open Mulch’s back flap, and slamming into the rather large gentlemen who had been sneaking up behind him.”
  • During her escape, Holly punches her kidnapper, Artemis. “Holly put an extra few pounds of spring in her elbow and whacked her abductor right on the nose.”
  • Butler and Holly fight a troll. Trolls are primal hunters; they have little brain power and kill anything that gets in their path. Butler “squeezed the trigger as rapidly as the Sig Sauer’s mechanism would allow. Two in the chest, three between the eyes . . . scything tusks ducked below Butler’s guard. They coiled around his trunk, slicing through his Kevlar reinforced jacket . . . he knew immediately that the wound was fatal. His breath came hard. That was a lung gone, and gouts of blood were matting the troll’s fur.” Holly joins the fight with the troll. “Her heels caught the beast square on the crown of its head. At that speed, there was at least half a ton of G-force behind the contact. Only the reinforced ribbing in her suit prevented Holly’s leg bones from shattering. Even so, she heard her knee pop. The pain clawed its way to her forehead.” Later, “The human twirled the mace as though it were a cheerleader’s baton, ramming it home between the troll’s shoulder blades. . . Butler planted his foot just above the creature’s haunches and tugged the weapon free. It relinquished its grip with a sickly sucking sound.” Butler defeats the troll but does not end its life, at Holly’s request. The fight takes place over seventeen pages.
  • The fairies send in a blue-rise bomb, which kills all life forms but doesn’t harm anything else. However, Artemis and his friends had already escaped, so the only thing killed are bugs and rats.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Artemis meets a fairy hooked on alcohol. He gives her “a virus that feeds on alcohol,” to purge it from her system. He also mixed a “slight amnesiac” into the injection, so she won’t remember ever meeting him.
  • Artemis secretly slips a fairy holy water, which would have killed her. Then he offers her the antidote as part of a deal.
  • Artemis’ mother is ill. “Nervous tension, the physicians said. Nothing for it but rest and sleeping pills.”
  • Holly is tranquilized with a dart. “Holly felt the dart puncture the suit’s toughened material, depositing its load of curare and succinylcholine chloride-based tranquilizer into her shoulder. The world instantly dissolved into a series of technicolored bubbles.”
  • Root smokes cigars often.
  • Mulch burrows through the earth, into a wine cellar. “Over the centuries, residue seeped through the floor, infusing the land beneath with the wine’s personality. This one was somber, nothing daring here. A touch of fruit, but not enough to lighten the flavor. Definitely an occasion wine on the bottom rack.”
  • Artemis, Butler, and Butler’s sister drink champagne, to celebrate when the ransom is paid. However, Artemis secretly spiked the champagne with a tranquilizer.

Language

  • Holly thinks another officer is “a bimbo. An airhead.”
  • Idiot is used once.
  • D’Arvit is a fairy curse word that is used several times.
  • Two fairy coworkers call each other “half-wit” and “cave fairy.”
  • Mulch says “Oh, gods above” when surprised by something.
  • Damn and hell are used a few times. For example, a sprite says, “Blow the door off its damn hinges.” Holly asks, “What the hell is going on here?”

Supernatural

  • The fairy folk live underground, where they hide from the Mud Men (humans). There are pixies, sprites, centaurs, dwarves, goblins, etc. The first fairy Artemis meets is a sprite. “The fairy’s nose was long and hooked under two slitted golden eyes. Her ears were pointed, and the alcohol addiction had melted her skin like putty.”
  • “A lot of the magic attributed to [fairies] is just superstition. But [faries] do have certain powers. Healing, the Mesmer, and shielding being among them . . . What fairies actually do is vibrate at such a high frequency that they are never in one place long enough to be seen.”
  • Fairies can use their magic to heal. Holly heals Butler during a fight with a troll. “Butler could actually feel his bones knitting and the blood retreating from semicongealed scabs.”
  • Fairies can temporarily stop time over a small area. “Five elfin warlocks would form a pentagram around the target and spread a magic shield over it, temporarily stopping time inside the enchanted enclosure.”
  • Dwarves “can unhinge their jaws, allowing them to ingest several pounds of earth a second. The material is processed by a super-efficient metabolism, stripped of any useful minerals and . . . ejected at the other end.”

Spiritual Content

  • Every fairy carries a book that contains all the rules the fairy folk live by. “It was their Bible, containing . . . the history of their race and the commandments that governed their extended lives.”
  • Sprites are the only fairies with wings, and male sprites are very arrogant about that. It’s said in passing, “Give a fairy a pair of wings and he thinks he’s God’s gift to women.”

by Morgan Lynn

 

 

 

Daughter of the Deep

Ana Dakkar is a freshman at Harding-Pencroft Academy, a five-year high school that graduates the best marine scientists, naval warriors, navigators, and underwater explorers in the world. Ana’s parents died while on a scientific expedition two years ago, and the only family she’s got left is her older brother, Dev, also a student at HP.

Ana’s freshman year culminates with the class’s weekend trial at sea, the details of which have been kept secret. She only hopes she has what it’ll take to succeed. All her worries are blown out of the water when, on the bus ride to the ship, Ana and her schoolmates witness a terrible tragedy that will change the trajectory of their lives.

But wait, there’s more. The professor accompanying them informs Ana that their rival school, Land Institute, and Harding-Pencroft have been fighting a cold war for a hundred and fifty years. Now, that cold war has been turned up to a full boil, and the freshman are in danger of becoming fish food.

In a race against deadly enemies, Ana will make amazing friends and astounding discoveries about her heritage as she puts her leadership skills to the test for the first time.

In Daughter of the Deep, the books 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and The Mysterious Island written by Jules Verne are more factual than fictional. One of the teachers explains who the book’s characters are and where they fit into modern society. Ana also discovers that she is a descendant of Captain Nemo who “hated the great colonial powers. . . and had personal reasons to hate imperialism.” While introducing the above topic, both the Land Institute and Harding agree that “turning Nemo’s technology over to the world’s governments, or worse, the world’s corporations, would be disastrous.” Riordan repeatedly reminds readers of the danger of the world’s governments and corporations, who are more concerned with keeping their monopolies than helping citizens. This theme is not well-developed, and most teens will quickly forget these passages.

The story is told from Ana’s point of view. Even though she is the heroine, Ana is not portrayed as a perfect person. After her parents died, Ana dissociates; the narrative explains that Ana has talked to the school counselor regarding her grief. While Ana’s talk of her painful menstrual cycle makes her more relatable, the topic will make some younger readers uncomfortable. After the hostiles destroy Harding-Pencroft Academy, killing anyone on campus, Ana decides that the hostiles will be let free without any consequences. In the story’s conclusion, Ana unrealistically forgives the people who destroyed the school and then tried to kill her and her friends.

The story has a large group of characters who are both racially and religiously diverse. Plus, one character, Ester, has autism and needs an emotional support animal. However, even with readers paying close attention, the large cast of characters is difficult to keep track of. Daughter of the Deep has a unique premise, interesting characters, and fun technology; however, the story leaves the reader wondering if justice was served or if Ana’s opponents will just regroup and come back to continue their killing spree. Before jumping into Daughter of the Deep, readers who are intrigued by Jules Verne’s books should read the Max Tilt Series by Peter Lerangis.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • In order to demonstrate a Leyden, Dr. Hewett shoots a student. “The only sound is a high-pressure hiss. For a millisecond, Gem is wrapped in flickering white tendrils of electricity. Then his eyes crossed, and he collapsed in a heap.” Gem recovers quickly.
  • Students from the Land Institute attack the Harding-Pencroft Academy’s yacht. When they board the vessel, they use grenade launchers. “Two fist-size canisters plunk onto our gangway and roll hissing. . . the explosions still leave [Ana’s] head ringing.”
  • A student’s dog helps defend his person. The dog, Top, “joins the party, clamping his jaws around the guy’s throat . . . As it is, he [the attacker] crab-walks backward, screaming and trying to shake off the furious twenty-pound fluff demon attached to his windpipe.”
  • During the attack, “Two hostiles fire their silver weapons. Miniature harpoons impale Elois’s shoulder and Cooper’s leg. White arcs of electricity bloom from the projectiles, both [students] crumple.” When the hostiles continue to fire, “Drue Cardenas shoots another intruder. Unfortunately, the electricity also arcs to Nelinha, who had been in the process of pummeling said intruder with a socket wrench. Both of them go down.” No one is killed, but several are injured. The fight is described over six pages.
  • Caleb, a student from the Land Institute, attempts to kidnap Ana. They are in the ocean when Ana snaps her “head backward and hears the satisfying crunch of Caleb’s nose breaking.” As the two struggle, “help comes from an unexpected direction. Right next to us, a mass of sleek blue-gray flesh explodes out of the sea, and Caleb is body-slammed into oblivion under the weight of a six-hundred-pound bottlenose dolphin.” Ana is able to escape.
  • A huge octopus, Romeo, likes the submarine, the Nautilus. When Ana and Gem first see it, “Gem tackles me and jets me out of the way, but the creature isn’t interested in us. Eight tentacles the size of bridge cables wrap themselves around the Nautilus.” The group manages to safely detach the octopus from the sub.
  • Ana’s brother, Dev, who is captain of the Aronnax, attacks the Nautilus. “The Aronnax’s four torpedoes sail straight over our heads. . .” Before the Aronnax can cause any damage to the Nautilus, “Romeo’s enormous tentacles wrap around the Aronnax, pulling her into an embrace… Romeo snaps the Aronnax like gingerbread. Fire and sea churn together. Giant, silver air bubbles, some with people inside, billow toward the surface.” The Aronnax is destroyed, but everyone survives.
  • There is a multi-chapter confrontation between Dev’s group and Ana’s group. When Ana and Gem try to get back to base, they see “Dev’s skiff is waiting for us. . . a black wedge bristling with weapons like the spines of a porcupine fish. It faces us from only fifty feet away. . . and in the pilot’s seat is my brother. . . We sail over the Dev’s stern . . . Gem shoulders his Leyden rifle and fires two rounds straight into the submersible’s propulsion system.” Once the skiff is out of commission Ana and Gem go to free the hostages.
  • Back at the base, Ana and Gem are attacked before they can get out of the ocean. “The nearest diver jabs [Ana] with his knife. . . The razor-sharp edge rips the fabric and grazes my ribs. . . White spots swim in my eyes. Nevertheless, I use my boots to wrestle my attacker, pushing him backward into one of the pier’s pylons.”
  • In order to get away from her attacker, Ana unsheathes her “blade and stabs him in the BC vest. . . With his vest’s air bladder punctured, my opponent is blinded by bubbles. He starts to sink . . . On his way down, I kick him for good measure.” Socrates, Ana’s dolphin friend, helps in the fight. “While he headbutts the blue-eyed diver into submission, three of the local bottlenose dolphins descend on the other guy . . . The dolphins welcome him to the neighborhood with an extreme tail-fin smackdown.”
  • Gem shoots several of the opponents with non-lethal bullets. The bullets leave them with “nasty red welts in the middle of their foreheads.”
  • When Gem and Ana get to the base, they see their friends “are being held at gunpoint.” Gem uses an alt-tech flash-band and then enters the dining room “but there’s no one left to shoot at. Our friends are still alive, though they’ve looked better. . . All four hostiles are out cold, spread-eagled on the floor, goofy grins frozen onto their faces. . .”
  • Dev finds Ana and Gem. “My brother smacks [Gem] across the head with a ratchet. Gem collapses. . . My brother glares at me. . . He grabs my wrist, slapping the gun from my hand, then steps in and twists, attempting to throw me over his shoulder.” The brother and sister fight until, “[Ana] shoot[s] him three times. The last rubber bullet snaps his head back, raising an ugly red spot right between the eyes.” Dev is taken as prisoner and locked in a room. The casualties from the battle are minor. There were no deaths on either side.

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • Students from the Land Institute attempt to kidnap Ana. Ana describes, “Someone behind me locks his forearm across my throat. I feel a sharp pain like a wasp sting in the side of my neck.” Ana discovers that she has been injected with sea-snake venom.
  • Ana takes Midol for period pain.

Language

  • God, oh god and my god are all used as exclamations several times.

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • When Ana’s school is attacked and destroyed, she prays, “Three-Eyed One, Lord Shiva, who nourishes all beings, may He liberate us from death.”
  • While thinking about her ancestors, Ana thinks, “Ester and I were bound together before we were born. It makes me wonder about reincarnation and karma, and whether our souls might have met at another time.”
  • After Ana realizes that her brother destroyed their school, she said “a prayer for my brother, and for the future.”

The Marrow Thieves

The world has been ruined by global warming. In the destitute landscape of North America, the Indigenous people are being hunted by Recruiters, truancy agents who bring any person of Indigenous descent to the schools where their marrow is extracted at the cost of their lives. Why are they being hunted? Because people of Indigenous descent still have the ability to dream when the rest of the population has lost it. To survive, people have begun to move periodically, to prevent themselves from being sent to the schools where their bone marrow is to be extracted in exchange for their dreams. However, some have taken up the opportunity to betray their own people and turn them in to the Recruiters in order to receive a large sum of money for survival.

Frenchie has escaped from Recruiters after they kidnapped his brother. His father and mother were also taken by Recruiters, thus leaving him as the only one left in his family. In the woods, he is saved by a group of fellow Indigenous survivors. Among them are Miigwans, an older gay man who has escaped from the schools, Minerva, a woman elder who teaches the kids her native Indigenous tongue, Rose, a Black-Indigenous girl who becomes Frenchie’s girlfriend, Wab, a girl with a large scar on her face, and RiRi, a young Indigenous girl whose mother was kidnapped by Recruiters. Each member of the group carries their own story of trauma tied to their Indigenous identity. However, as the years progress and the losses continue to pile up, Frenchie learns that there may be a way to stop the marrow thieves and end this genocide.

The Marrow Thieves is told in a prose narrative style written in the first person. Much of the novel is told from the perspective of Frenchie, an Indigenous boy. This allows for readers to empathize with his emotions of loss and anger as well as demonstrate the horror of Indigenous genocide through the lens of an Indigenous protagonist. Some chapters shift in perspective to provide backstory of certain characters, such as Miigwans and how he lost his husband, or Wab telling the group about her violent backstory. This shift in the narrative style gives the reader the illusion of the character telling the entire group their backstory.

The novel heavily deals with themes about Indigenous genocide and the trauma Indigenous people continue to endure. The story makes many references to past genocides, such as the residential schools run by the Roman Catholic Church whose goal was “to kill the Indian, save the man.” These residential schools killed thousands of Indigenous children during their operations and traumatized millions more when the Church stole their children. While telling the story of how the marrow thieves came about, Miigwans says, “Soon, they needed too many bodies, and they turned to history to show them how to best keep us warehoused, how to best position the culling. That’s when the new residential schools started growing up from the dirt like poisonous brick mushrooms.” The characters in the novel even call the institutions where Indigenous marrow is extracted, the “new residential schools,” following the theme of the cycle of genocide and intergenerational trauma that Indigenous people go through, proving that history is constantly repeating itself.

The Marrow Thieves is a novel with which teenage audiences will empathize. For Indigenous readers, it provides well needed representation with a variety of characters who have unique personalities and identities and validates the trauma they feel. For non-Indigenous readers, it exposes the part of history that is often left out in many countries, particularly in America and Canada. The novel teaches non-Indigenous readers about the genocides Indigenous people have faced and, despite what the school curriculum makes it seem like, they are still facing. They survived.

Some readers may struggle with the flow of the plot as it jumps around between the past and the present, such as the story shifting from Miigwans’s backstory to a chapter jumping forward about 3 years. However, it should be known that many Indigenous writers tell stories in a way that doesn’t fit into the typical Western/European formula most books are written in. The ending of the novel is heartwarming and provides a sense of hope and catharsis for its characters and its Indigenous readers. In its entirety, it validates the feelings of its Indigenous characters and its Indigenous audience, who have, historically, constantly faced invalidation. Non-Indigenous readers who want to learn more about Indigenous history and start diversifying their library, as well as readers who like science fiction, should read The Marrow Thieves.

Sexual Content

  • Frenchie and Rose kiss for the first time after he asks Rose how she knows an Indigenous language when he doesn’t. “She pushed her face into mine, and for the first time I didn’t think about kissing her.”
  • While sleeping in a bed together, Frenchie and Rose kiss before being interrupted by RiRi. Rose “moved her face forward, just a few centimeters and I took her lip between mine. She slid a knee over my thighs and pressed close.”
  • Upon realizing that Frenchie loves Rose, he kisses her. “And I kissed her and I kissed her and I didn’t stop.”
  • Frenchie expresses that he “wanted so badly to kiss [Rose] again.” On the next page, he proceeds to kiss Rose.
  • Before Rose throws Frenchie’s cut hair into the fire, she kisses him. Rose “kissed me when she was finished, tossing the rough edges of my cut hair into the fire.”

Violence

  • The entirety of The Marrow Thieves covers the multiple genocides Indigenous peoples have faced throughout history. There are references to residential schools and colonial expansion when Europeans discovered the New World. Kidnappings, that are implied to be violent, are common as it’s how real-world genocides operated. For example, Frenchie’s brother, Mitch, is kidnapped by Recruiters and taken to the schools. “Mitch was carrying on like a madman in the tree house. Yelling while they dragged him down the ladder and onto the grass. I heard a bone snap like a young branch. He yelled around the house, into the front yard, and into the van, covering all sounds of a small escape in the trees.”
  • When recalling why she ran away, Wab discloses that some men her mother brought home would sexually assault her. “Sometimes they came after me, waking me up from my sleep when they tried to jam their rough hands in my pajamas. Sometimes they got more than just a feel before I could fend them off and lock myself in the bathroom.”
  • In Wab’s backstory, a man slices her face and it is heavily implied he also raped her. “He moved fast, too quickly for me to do anything but close my eyes again. I didn’t feel the slice. Just the wet on my cheek, and neck, and chest. Then he was pulling off my pants. Then I stopped feeling all together.” The scene lasts for a page.
  • Miig, the leader of the group, tells Frenchie about Minerva’s backstory. “‘Minerva was feeding her new grandson when the Recruiters burst into her home. They took the baby, raped her, and left her for dead. They answered to no one but the Pope himself, back then.’”
  • In the same chapter, Miig also tells Frenchie about twins, Tree and Zheegwon’s, backstory in which they were tortured by a colony of townspeople who wanted to extract their dreams. “‘We found them tied up in a barn, dangling like scarecrows from a rope thrown over a beam.’ He sighed, paused for another breath. ‘They were full of holes that’d been stitched up with rough thread, all up and down their sides. And with a pinky missing on each hand. They were seven then.’”
  • Frenchie wakes up to a traitor Indigenous person named Lincoln choking RiRi. “But then he turned and I saw RiRi, her throat grasped under [Lincoln’s] thick arm, legs kicking the air. She was grabbing at his forearm with her little hands, her face bright red.”
  • The group fights back against the traitors and then Lincoln runs off into the woods holding RiRi hostage. “[Chi-Boy] jumped from his crouch on the group, the knife out of his arm and back into his hand. He lunged at Travis, driving the blade into the man’s leg, just above the knee.” The scene lasts for two pages.
  • After Lincoln kills RiRi, Frenchie, infuriated and grieving, kills Travis. Frenchie thinks, “I heard him whine a little at the end of his plea. But then, maybe, it was just the wind. I pulled the trigger and the wind stopped blowing.”
  • When attempting to save Minerva, an Indigenous soldier named Derrick shoots the van driver transporting Minerva. “The driver was hit. I looked up in time to see Derrick lower his gun.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • In Wab’s backstory, she tells the group that her mother was an alcoholic and eventually became addicted to drugs. “My mom traded favors for booze since food wasn’t really her priority . . . She’d started smoking crack, which was plentiful, to replace the booze, which was scarce.”
  • When Frenchie’s listening to his dad talk about the relationship between him and Frenchie’s mom, he recounts the following: “‘Your mom, she was always smarter than me. One day she found me drinking bootleg with a couple of the boys in Chinatown.’”

Language

  • The words “shit” and “assholes” are used throughout the novel along with their variations.
  • Upon learning that Rose knows more about the Indigenous language than Frenchie, he exclaims, “Bullshit!”
  • During Wab’s backstory, she says, “fuck” when she realizes she’s been tricked into a trap with a man who wants to hurt her.
  • Wab calls the man who lured her into the trap a “dick.”
  • Travis says, “Lincoln, for fucksakes, put [RiRi] down!” as an attempt to reason with Lincoln to stop him from killing RiRi.

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • Minerva performs a prayer that the campers perform later in the book too. “Minerva made her hands into shallow cups and pulled the air over her head and face, making prayers out of ashes and smoke. Real old-timey, that Minerva.”
  • Because hair is sacred in most Indigenous religions and is kept long, many of the characters wear their hair in braids. There are multiple scenes in the book where a character braids another character’s hair as an act of intimacy.
  • After Minerva dies, Rose and Frenchie perform a ritual for mourning the loss of a loved one. This involves cutting their hair, which is extremely important as hair is sacred in most Indigenous religions. “We buried Minerva the day after, the Council holding ceremony and prayer, even in the midst of our escape. Before I could stop her, Rose took scissors to her curls . . . I picked up the scissors when she put them down and cut my own braid off to send with Minerva.”

by Emma Hua

Golden Gate

Fourteen-year-old Sydney is a surfer and a rebel from Bondi Beach, Australia. She’s also a field ops specialist and frequent mission leader for the City Spies—a secret team of young agents who work for MI6, the British Secret Intelligence Service.

After thwarting a notorious villain at an eco-summit in Paris, the City Spies gear up for their next mission. Operating out of a base in Scotland, this secret team of young agents have honed their unique skills, such as sleight of hand, breaking and entering, observation, and explosives. These skills allow them to go places in the world of espionage where adults can’t.

Sydney is excited to learn that she’ll be going undercover on the marine research vessel, the Sylvia Earle. But things don’t go exactly as planned, and while Sydney does find herself in the spotlight, it’s not in the way she was hoping.

Meanwhile, there’s been some new intel regarding a potential mole within the organization, offering the spies a lead that takes them to San Francisco, California. But as they investigate a spy who died at the Botanical Gardens, they discover that they are also being investigated.

Similar to the Charlie Thorne Series, City Spies Golden Gate takes readers on a fast-paced, multi-country mission in a fight between good versus evil. The second installment of the City Spies Series focuses on solving several mysteries, including finding the person who killed a spy. Even though there is less action, the story is immensely interesting because it contains mystery, high-risk undercover work, and gives readers a peek into the inner turmoil of an adolescent spy. Even though all the City Spies have an amazing skill, they make mistakes and have moments of insecurity. Because the characters are multifaceted and imperfect, they are both likable and relatable.

During the City Spies’ mission, Mother is absent. Even though the loveable character is missed, this allows Monty to take a more active role in the mission, which leads to several surprises. Even though much of the story is intense, there are still moments of humor and heart. Plus, readers will get a look inside several of San Francisco’s landmarks, including Muir Woods, Alcatraz, and Fort Point.   

 The complicated plot, the evil villains, and the advanced vocabulary will be difficult for younger readers. However, the City Spies Series will appeal to a vast number of readers because it contains action, adventure, intrigue, and mystery. Readers ready for more mature mysteries will love the City Spies Series. Mystery-loving fans who want to learn some gangster lore will also enjoy Notorious by Gordon Korman.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • A terrorist attempts to kidnap two girls from a ship. When the man enters the girls’ room, Brooklynn “put her arms on the upper bunks to brace herself. Then, like a gymnast using parallel bars, she swung up the lower half of her body and executed a perfect scissor kick to the underside of his jaw. He froze momentarily before collapsing into a heap.”
  • While on the ship, Sydney detonates a bomb so that it doesn’t damage the ship.
  • Monty goes into an office to talk to a park ranger. When Monty hears another voice, she “turned toward the voice and saw a gun pointed directly at her.” Brooklyn walks into the room and “her hands were duct-taped. . . she fell onto the floor and landed alongside Monty, their faces right next to each other.”
  • There is “a report of an explosion at Fort Point. . . The explosion went off on the roof. It was designed for minimal damage and maximum visuals.”
  • As Sydney is running from Magpie, a rogue spy, she “tripped over the curb when she reached the parking lot and crashed against the pavement, cutting the palms of her hands and gashing her left knee.” The spy almost reaches Sydney. “Then a blur came from the side, and just like that, Magpie was gone from Sydney’s frame of vision. She heard two loud thuds. . .” The spy is captured.

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • God and OMG are both used as an exclamation once. For example, while discussing the attempted kidnapping, a girl says, “OMG, tell me everything!”

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • While being questioned by Parliament, Sydney had to repeat this oath, “I promise before Almighty God that the evidence which I shall give shall be the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.” And then she lies.
  • A park ranger discusses a man’s death. The ranger says, “You should tell your father that the last images his friends saw were among God’s most beautiful creations.”

Stinky Spike and the Royal Rescue

Can Stinky Spike sniff out a missing royal pup?

Stinky Spike and Captain Fishbeard are thick as thieves and ready for adventure! That is, until they’re captured! When Princess Petunia offers Spike a chance to find her lost puppy and free Driftwood’s crew, Spike is the top dog for the job. How hard could it be to find one fluffy royal pooch?

Stinky Spike takes center stage in a silly tale that has Stinky Spike and a princess looking for a lost puppy. While Stinky Spike’s love of putrid smells is a unique premise, the dog’s bad body order becomes less humorous as the story progresses. Stinky Spike is clearly the hero of the story, but he doesn’t use investigative skills and there are no clues for mystery-loving fans to follow. Another disappointing aspect of the story is that the pirates do not play a large role in the story’s plot. Despite this, younger readers will still enjoy Stinky Spike’s adventure.

Stinky Spike and the Royal Rescue has fun, brightly-colored illustrations that will tickle readers’ silly bones. Even though the story focuses on animals, the humans that Spike meets a diverse group of pirates. Plus, Princess Petunia has dark hair and brown skin. Stinky Spike and the Royal Rescue is told in three chapters and each two-page spread has 4 to 7 sentences. While early elementary readers will enjoy the story, they may need help with the story’s vocabulary.

Stinky Spike is a unique main character who has very few heroic qualities but still saves the day. The high-interest topic—dogs and pirates—will cause readers to pick up the book while the silly plot, large illustrations, and many animal characters will keep readers interested until the very end. Readers who want to learn more pirate facts should set sail to the library and check out Pirate Pedro by Fran Manushkin.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • Stinky Spike, the princess, and a flock of parrots attack the pirates who have stolen the princess’s puppy. “The flock of seabirds flew at the pirates. They dove after their pirate hats. They pecked at their pirate beards. They clawed at their shiny silver buckles.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • King Seabreeze calls the pirates “bumbling buccaneers.”
  • A bear calls Stinky Spike and the princess “troublemakers.”
  • Spike yells at a parrot, “Watch where you’re flying feather-neck.”

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise

Twelve-year-old Coyote Sunrise and her dad, Rodeo, have lived in an old school bus named Yager for five years—the same amount of time it’s been since her mother and two sisters suddenly died in a car accident. Coyote and Rodeo haven’t gone back home since the accident. They’re only looking forward and never turning back. Then, Grandma calls Coyote and tells her that the city is tearing down the park in Coyote’s hometown—the same park where Coyote, her mom, and sisters buried a treasure chest.

Coyote devises a plan to trick Rodeo into driving home to Washington State to get the treasure chest. Along the way, Coyote and Rodeo pick up an eclectic cast of characters, all with their own stories and destinations in mind. Coyote and Rodeo both learn that to move forward, sometimes you must go back.

The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise is a funny, touching book that explores themes of grief and love. After the tragedy that strikes their family, Coyote and Rodeo never allowed themselves a moment to process their grief. They go so far as to pick new names for themselves, and they consider going back to their home in Washington State to be a major “no-go.”

When Rodeo figures out that Coyote has tricked him into taking them back, they must face each other not as companions on a school bus adventure, but as a father and daughter who lost the rest of their family. Coyote demands of him, “Why can’t you be my dad?” Coyote and Rodeo’s relationship is one of the most interesting dynamics because so much goes unsaid between them. Although Coyote helps explain certain rules and turns-of-phrase for the reader, Coyote and Rodeo’s relationship is more complicated than what’s initially expected.

Coyote is the narrator of this book, and she has a unique way of speaking to the other characters and to the reader. Coyote is funny and expressive, but much like with her relationship with Rodeo, there are certain things that are left unsaid until she’s comfortable thinking about them. For instance, she doesn’t even think about her sister’s names until late into the book. Through Coyote’s narration, the reader can see her complexity.

The supporting characters are striking and dynamic, and Rodeo and Coyote embrace their new friends with open arms. The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise is as much about putting the past to rest as it is about a found family. In the end, Coyote and Rodeo are happy to remember their loved ones while embracing their found family. The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise is for readers of all ages and is a must read because it handles the universal themes of grief, love, and family with an intelligent and kind hand. This isn’t a journey to miss.

 Sexual Content

  • Lester needs a ride to Boise, Idaho, to get his kind-of-ex girlfriend Tammy back. She wants him to get a “real job” while Lester wants to play in his jazz band. Lester tells Coyote, “If I get a real job, she’ll marry me.” This spawns a conversation between Coyote and Lester about love that lasts for a few pages.
  • Salvador asks Coyote why she’s really headed north, and Coyote responds, “I’ll show you mine if you show me yours.” Salvador’s “face flushed deep red” and then Coyote clarifies, “Geez. I mean, I’ll tell you where we’re going if you tell me why your mom and aunt lost their jobs.”
  • Salvador’s mom and aunt tell Coyote funny stories from their childhood. According to Coyote, one of the stories was about “something about their mom walking in on Salvador’s mom with a boy. They wouldn’t give [Coyote] all the details on that one, but the embarrassed blood running to [Salvador’s mom’s] face pretty much told [Coyote] what [she] needed to know.”
  • On their journey, Coyote and Rodeo pick up a girl named Val. Val tells them that she was kicked out of her parent’s house because she’s gay. Coyote relates that her mom’s sister, Jen “is gay, and her wife Sofia, is [Coyote’s] very favorite aunt-in-law, and the thought of having someone hating on them for who they love made [Coyote] want to put on boxing gloves.”

Violence

  • Coyote explains, “My heart stopped short like a motorcycle slamming into the back of a parked semi (which I actually saw once outside Stevenstown, Missouri . . . not a sight you’re likely to forget, I promise you).”
  • Coyote’s cat, Ivan, is startled when he wakes up on Rodeo’s neck. Ivan sinks “all ten of his razor kitten claws” into Rodeo’s neck. Eventually Ivan lets go, though Rodeo is bleeding a bit.
  • When her new friends ask where Coyote’s other family members are, Coyote responds, “They’re . . . they’re dead, ma’am. They were killed in a car accident five years ago.”
  • Salvador admits that his dad physically abuses Salvador and his mom. Salvador tells Coyote, “Sometimes he . . . hits.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Coyote describes the gas station’s contents, noting that beer is one of the drinks lining the coolers along the walls.
  • Rodeo buys a six-pack of beer at a gas station and sits out back, drinking it.

Language

  • A variety of creative language is used to show displeasure. Only adult characters use words like hell, badass, and damn. Everyone often uses words like darn, weirdo, freaky, heck, wimpy, holy heck, dang, crazy, idiots, stupid, shut up, morons, jerk, pee, crap, pissed, and freaking.
  • Coyote sometimes refers to Rodeo as “old man.”
  • While telling a story about two animals, Rodeo refers to the crow in the story as an “ornery old cuss.”
  • One girl at a campground says, “Oh. My. God” in response to how cute Ivan is.
  • The girl from the campground mentions that she’s reading Anne of Green Gables and Coyote responds, “Oh, lord, I love Anne of Green Gables!”
  • Coyote once uses the phrase “how on god’s green earth” as an exclamation.
  • When Rodeo and Lester accidentally leave Coyote behind at a gas station in Gainesville, Florida, Coyote says, “Oh god” and “Oh, lord.” Coyote and Lester use these sorts of exclamations often.
  • A few years back, Rodeo installed an old bell in the bus. Rodeo and Coyote named it the “Holy Hell Bell on account of if you really put your arm into it, that old bell made a holy hell of a racket.”
  • Coyote stands in a river and pees. She says, “if you’re already standing in a river and you’re getting out to go pee, you’re doing it wrong.”
  • When the brakes give out on Yager, Lester “said a couple words [Coyote] won’t repeat, but with which [Coyote] totally agreed.”

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • Coyote and Rodeo have a ceramic pug that sits on the dashboard of their bus. They call him the “Dog of Positivity, and Rodeo insisted he was a sort of canine guardian angel, keeping us happy.”
  • Coyote explains her beliefs just before a miracle happens. She says, “Now, here are some things I generally don’t believe in: fate, astrology, angels, magic, or the mystical power of wishes. Sorry, I just don’t. So there ain’t no easy explanation for what happened next. But that’s all right, ‘cause not everything in this world needs to be explained. We can just chalk it up to luck and call it good.”
  • Coyote mentions her mom on the bus. Coyote says that doing this is like “farting in church,” as in deeply inappropriate.
  • According to Coyote, Rodeo is “always saying how the universe seeks balance.” Coyote isn’t sure what this means.
  • Coyote says that “Rodeo says that anywhere outside can be a church, ‘cause anytime you’re in nature you can feel God.”
  • Rodeo, Coyote, and other characters say, “Help me, Jesus,” and other similar phrases.
  • Ms. Vega prays when the bus’s brakes give out.

by Alli Kestler

The Unexplainable Disappearance of Mars Patel

Kids are disappearing all over the world, and that includes seventh-grader Manu “Mars” Patel’s friends, Aurora and Jonas. Aurora disappeared five days ago. During a lockdown, Jonas disappears after leaving the closet Mars and his friend, Caddie Patchett, were hiding in. Jonas and Aurora’s disappearance sparks an investigation by Mars. To help, he is accompanied by his intelligent friend Randall “Toothpick” Lee, Caddie, who is an empath, and JP McGowan, a nonbinary person. Mars’ idol, Oliver Pruitt, a genius tech billionaire, also guides the way for Mars. But as Mars and his friends get closer to the truth, they soon learn that danger follows them and maybe Oliver Pruitt isn’t their ally after all.

Mars gets a message from an unknown person, someone only named Lost in London (LIL). LIL tells Mars about the missing kids. What’s even stranger is that Mars also gets a message from Aurora, saying “Ad astra.” Mars’ desperation to find his friends mounts as his mother threatens to leave Port Elizabeth for Cleveland, Ohio due to Mars’ troublemaking habits. But Mars is so close to discovering the truth. And then, he’s gone without a trace. It’s up to Caddie, Toothpick, and JP, along with some other unexpected allies, to find Mars and bring him home.

The Unexplainable Disappearance of Mars Patel is written in the third person perspective, overseeing the narrative with an omniscient narrator. The formatting is in prose style with small breaks from the typical prose style of narration. These breaks come in the form of snippets from Oliver Pruitt’s podcast and text messages among Mars’ friend group. For example, one of Oliver Pruitt’s podcasts goes:  “Dear listeners: Ever wonder what makes you who you are? Is it the socks you wear? Your favorite band? I believe what makes you YOU is your response when you’re tested. When the odds are stacked against you, are you brave? Generous? A good friend? If someone asks YOU to take the leap, will you hide or will you FLY? To the stars!” With this podcast specifically, Oliver is testing Mars’ friendship with his kidnapped friends, Aurora and Jonas. These small breaks are used to push the plot forward as the podcasts originally serve as an ally to Mars.

The story is a general mystery blended with elements of sci-fi. Through JP, readers will understand how a nonbinary middle schooler may feel when others don’t understand the concept of being nonbinary. JP’s mother tells them, “The world sees everything gendered. We don’t, but they do.” JP isn’t the only outcast, as they are friends with fellow outcast Mars. Mars is called names because he’s a troublemaker and is constantly getting into detention with his friends. Despite that, the story teaches that real friends stick together no matter how far apart they are. Real friends will defend you and real friends are going to support you in any way necessary. A good example is when a teacher, Mr. Q, accidentally misgenders JP. Toothpick corrects Mr. Q, saying, “Are they here, you mean. That’s the pronoun JP uses.”

Middle schoolers will identify with Mars and his friends, who feel the authority figures are out to get them. Mars also realizes that his idol may not be a good person. Mars can also relate to middle schoolers through his friendships. One day they may be perfectly fine, and the next they may be rocked to their core. Middle schoolers who are also questioning their gender identity will relate to JP’s struggle with his gender identity; albeit it’s not a major part of the main plot due to the narrative format. JP’s character also provides much needed representation for nonbinary middle schoolers who wish to see a major character that has fun and is not treated as a token LGBTQIA+ character.

While The Unexplainable Disappearance of Mars Patel is a fun mystery with intriguing twists and turns, the breaks in the narrative format slow the pacing. The story also has strange plot holes that may confuse the reader, such as how a character can have powers but suddenly doesn’t have them anymore. The story also isn’t very clear with its lore. For example, the world is set in a technologically advanced world similar to our own, but Mars and his friends have superpowers when they’re at Pruitt Prep. It is not mentioned previously that they have powers. Overall, The Unexplainable Disappearance of Mars Patel is a fun story about a group of friends trying to solve the mystery of kids’ disappearances.

Sexual Content

  • At the school dance, a girl tells Toothpick, “You look hot!”

 Violence

  • A hate crime is mentioned. “Recently in Seattle, someone beat up a teenager wearing a skirt on a bus because they didn’t look like a girl or a boy. The teenager ended up needing stitches.”
  • Multiple times, drones appear to spy on Mars and his friends. Mars ends up destroying a drone once, and another time the drone even shot at Mars. The drone is used to kidnap Mars as well, which we can suspect is how all the kids were kidnapped.
  • On the ferry to Gale Island to find Mars, a girl throws a shoe at a bodyguard so the rest of the group can get away.

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • A student named Clyde Boofsky calls Mars “Martian Patel.”
  • Clyde makes many transphobic remarks towards JP, who identifies as nonbinary. He calls JP things such as “boy-girl” and “They-Them.” He purposely misgenders JP, who is AFAB (assigned female at birth). He also mocks JP for “not choosing” which one they are. Clyde says, “Even my dog knows she’s a she. I guess she’s smarter than you, JP.”
  • Clyde’s friend purposefully misgenders JP, saying, “Or we can just call her It?”
  • During the assembly with Oliver Pruitt, the student body begins repeatedly calling Mars a loser.
  • A girl calls JP a “wuss” because they didn’t want to try a chia seed cookie. In response, JP says, “I’d like to wuss you.” JP implies they would like to fight the girl.

 Supernatural

  • Caddie and her friends encounter a large spider that is made of metal. “Never had [Caddie] seen such a thing. Several feet tall, armored, long grotesque legs stretching out in all directions. It was watching them with its many eyes, its mouth sprawled open and ravenous. What she saw was an enormous spider plated in steel.” Caddie and her friends run from the spider.
  • There is a creature in Pruitt Prep named Muffin, who guards the school. She’s described as a “wolf-spider,” but according to Mr. Q, Muffin is a microscopic tardigrade crossbred with a wolf. Mars and his friends meet it after running into Mr. Q, who stops Muffin from eating the children. “In the hallway, the howling creature seemed even larger than before. Its legs were covered in thick fur and its multiple eyes bore down on them like a spider looks at its prey before striking.”

 Spiritual Content

  • None

by Emma Hua

 

Disney After Dark

Have you ever wondered what happens after Walt Disney World is closed at night, when no one is around, and the characters are all alone? When middle schooler Finn Whitman becomes a Disney Interactive Host, a hologram meant to guide guests through the parks, he finds that the answer is a lot more magical and frightening than he ever thought possible. Every night, Finn and his four fellow hosts “crossover” and become a human-hologram hybrid able to explore the parks. Wayne, the Imagineer responsible for creating the DHI program, reveals the hologram hosts were created to become the parks first line of defense against an army of evil characters called the Overtakers. The evil characters want to use the magic that powers the parks to bring darkness to the world. The five hosts must solve Walt Disney’s Stonecutter’s Quill fable, defeat the Overtakers, and restore peace to the “Most Magical place on Earth.”

The hosts are all middle schoolers with starkly different personalities. At first, each character feels alone and afraid, and they do not want to go on the mission. None of the hosts believe they are equipped to take on Maleficent’s black magic, but in the end their teamwork makes saving the park possible. As the book progresses, they each learn to make sacrifices for each other, utilize their individual strengths, and work together to become a powerful team. The book develops the theme that teamwork is necessary to overcome challenges.

The story emphasizes the value of working as a team and maintaining the power of one’s beliefs. Wayne believes the ability for the characters to come to life is powered by the parkgoers who believe the magic in the parks to be real. Finn later discovers that his own thoughts are powerful enough to transform himself from a physical being into light. Pearson shows that the characters’ thoughts and beliefs can alter reality, making that power a significant theme in the book.

In the earlier stages of the text, the characters are hindered by their simple personalities (pretty, smart, athletic, quiet, leader). However, as they learn to work together, they become more likable. The plot of the story, and the setting, create the true magic of this book. Pearson ensures that every corner of the Magic Kingdom is featured, and he fully explains the details that are necessary to feel as if you are traveling around with the characters. He also incorporates some fascinating park history and operational fun facts which offer insight into the parks.

Disney After Dark includes some facts about the park’s operations and may poke holes in the illusion of magic that the parks create. Fans of the Disney Parks may enjoy reading about the hosts’ quest to solve Walt’s fable throughout the Magic Kingdom and MGM Studios. Pearson does not visit every park in this first book, leaving other areas to explore in later additions to the series. He also makes it clear that while Maleficent is certainly a powerful foe, she is not the only villain the five hosts will have to face. This builds anticipation for the following books, while still creating a satisfying end to this story. Much of the book focuses on the children avoiding harm from the hand of the Overtakers, but the violence is fairly mild, with many of the interactions between the villains and the kids resulting in minimal injuries. The effect on the hosts is fear more than anything else. Pearson creates a well-paced story that is just thrilling enough to draw readers into the adventure, using mystery, action, and creative storytelling to bring Disney magic through the pages of this first installment in the Kingdom Keepers series.

Sexual Content

  • Finn develops a crush on his friend Amanda. The first time he sees her, she is stretching in gym class. “Finn wasn’t big on girls, but something about Amanda grabbed and held his attention.” At the same time, his friend Dillard does not think Finn can go talk to her, because “Dillard thought of girls as a separate life-form.”
  • Amanda smiles at Finn’s jokes. Finn thinks she probably did not want to show that she thought he was funny, because “it wasn’t cool for a girl to show she liked a boy any more than the opposite.”
  • Amanda tells Finn that Willa, another host, “said [he was] cute.”
  • When Amanda visits Finn at his house, Finn’s mom tells him to leave the door to his bedroom open.
  • Willa becomes afraid of the witch Maleficent and holds Finn’s hand. Finn is “glad they were all invisible” because “he wouldn’t have wanted to explain their holding hands” to the other hosts.
  • Finn describes Jezebel as beautiful. “Her deep-set gray eyes captivated him, even from a distance.” She frequently charms the boys into doing what she wants. Her ultimate goal is to distract them from completing their tasks.
  • At the Girl Scout car wash, Finn observes Jezebel joining in a water fight while in a bathing suit. She looks at him. His friend notices and asks, “You think she likes you?” Later, when Maybeck, another host, and Jezebel have a water fight, Finn thinks, “for some reason [he] wanted to be at the center of that battle.”
  • When Maybeck expresses wanting to hurry up with a mission, Charlene jokingly asks if he has “a hot date.” Maybeck responds, “Not with you I don’t.” Later, it is discovered that he did have a plan to meet up with Jezebel.
  • Jezebel arrives at the Halloween party dressed in “a skintight black-and-white leotard with black-and-white tights” and “bright red lipstick.” Finn thought, “She looked like a college girl . . . she drew looks from a good number of boys as she passed.” When she approaches Finn, she “stepped up to Finn, standing a little too close” and “spoke softly, privately.” When she makes eye contact and smiles at Finn, his friend coughs and interrupts the encounter. Finn suggests Jezebel may have already put a spell on him after all.
  • Maleficent, Charlene, and Amanda try to draw Finn into a trap. Maleficent says, “If you didn’t care so much about your two girlfriends up there, you wouldn’t have followed us down here.”

Violence

  • A rumor spreads that Finn is going “psycho.” Finn says, “I’m not stabbing girls in showers or anything.”
  • In the Haunted Mansion, a man is depicted “dangled from a noose attached to the ceiling.”
  • Wayne the Imagineer talks about an event that went wrong. The dragon that is meant to be slain by Mickey Mouse rebelled and set Mickey on fire. Wayne says, “Mickey could have . . .” Mickey could have died, but he was able to survive by jumping into water.
  • Finn is approached by some of the animatronic pirates from the Pirates of the Caribbean ride. He offends them and they draw swords and knives, though they do not use them. Instead, they use the laser guns from a different ride’s vehicle, which are supposed to be harmless beams of light, to attack Finn. The magic has made the lasers real, and Finn is burned. Finn “smelled burning hair” and skin, realizing what had happened. Later, the burn turns into a painful “pea-size red-and-brown scab with” a “dime-size scarlet circle of flesh that surrounded it.”
  • Maleficent’s presence makes the air incredibly cold. When Finn first feels this effect, he fears the “cold might kill him.” Later, Jezebel uses her magic, making the same cold effect. Finn was touching the surface of the door when ice starts to form. He gets stuck to the door and eventually “tore some skin off the palms of both hands as he pulled away from the icy bar” of the door.
  • While looking for clues in the ride It’s a Small World, the animatronic dolls come to life and attack the hosts. “One bit down onto Finn’s arm, locking its jaw. It drew blood.” Maybeck is able to pick up a doll and throw it against the wall so that “it struck the wall and smashed into pieces.” As the dolls continue to attack, Maybeck suggests using an “automatic weapon” to fight them off, while Charlene prefers a “baseball bat.” Maybeck continues, asking if they could use a “stick of dynamite.” In the end, they tame the dolls with a smile.
  • While floating along Splash Mountain, Finn and fellow-host Philby, face the final drop which Finn is unsure whether to call a “thrill or kill” drop. The current pulls Philby down the drop and he “tumbled through space and water, holding his breath and sucking for air. His lungs burned.” Finn rescues Philby.
  • Maleficent turns herself into a bird and dives after Finn with “talons like dinner forks.” When Finn tries to hide in the water, she turns herself into an eel and “dragged him under. . . It climbed up Finn’s body…and squeezed…He felt the wind being choked out of him.” Before he suffocates, Philby uses his boat’s propeller to “cut the eel like a meat grinder.” Maleficent then let’s go and escapes.
  • A biker chases Amanda and Finn through a skatepark. To stop his pursuit, they clothesline him. He is “thrown to the concrete.”
  • After the Overtakers kidnap Maybeck, Finn recognizes the Overtakers are willing to kill the hosts. He also believes they have been causing the brownouts that make the kids have fainting spells and feel sick.
  • The Overtakers attack and drain an electrical company power station of all its power.
  • Charlene and Willa looked for clues in the Winnie the Pooh ride. They realize their car has stopped and they are trapped in one room. Rain started to fall from the ceiling. “But then it wasn’t simply rain, it was a torrent. Buckets. Both girls gasped for breath . . . it was hard to breathe without coughing.” The danger grows as an increasing number of “electrical wires were submerged.” Willa fears they “could be electrocuted.” The car the girls are on is “pinned with the girls inside it.” They manage to dislodge the bar that is blocking the door.
  • While searching the Big Thunder Mountain rollercoaster, a T-Rex skeleton comes to life and chases Finn and Philby. “The dinosaur had all its bones, with no eyes, no skin, no flesh—but all its teeth.” Finn notices “the dinosaur’s jaws clapping open and shut, sounding like a door being slammed.” While the dinosaur gets a piece of Finn’s shirt, the boys remain unharmed. They stop the T-Rex by waiting until the “skeleton’s teeth were a foot away” and then moving so he crashes into the wall. The skeleton’s bones “splintered and snapped at the knee” and the T-Rex landed “with a noisy explosion of broken bones that scattered like tree branches.”
  • Finn and Amanda accidentally run into one another and “they went down hard.” Finn “came to his knees, dazed.”
  • A spell affects Amanda and Charlene, causing them to go weak and faint. Finn thought, “She felt cold, really cold, and stiff, as if she were suffering some kind of seizure.”
  • Maleficent forms a magical version of what she likens to “shock collars” and “wireless fences.”  She puts one on Finn and says, “I don’t advise testing it, but be my guest, if you must.” Later, Finn tries to escape and “he was knocked back off his feet and onto the floor.” The electricity caused him to “[feel] as if he’d been stabbed in the chest.”
  • Maleficent uses magic on Finn, Maybeck, and Philby. On Philby, she uses a spell that makes him “[seem] to lose every bone in his body . . . he fell to the floor in a heap of unwilling limbs and muscle, a lump of flesh.” With Maybeck, Maleficent makes him unable to speak and then suggests she can “add some pain” but does not. For Finn, Maleficent conjures balls of fire which she bowls at him. She “singed his cape” but she fails in hurting Finn. He escapes by using a magic pen on her. When the pen touched Maleficent’s skin, “she [flies] back and [falls] to the stone floor.” He “[stabs] at Maleficent” again, weakening her enough to escape.
  • After Finn uses the magic pen on Maleficent, he describes that “she was either half dead or ready to kill.”
  • Philby uses the pen on Maleficent. He and Finn watch as she is “thrown violently . . . into the heavy black shelves.” She ends up “pinned to the computer shelves, impaled onto a stack of electrical outlets and surge suppressors” but she is alive and gains power from the incident.
  • In order to get stolen papers from Jezebel, Finn “dove at [her], knocked her down, and took the plans back.” She in turn casts a spell on him which causes him to feel “a sharp pain flood through him.”
  • While escaping through a trash shoot, Finn “slammed into some kind of mesh gate.” When Maleficent reaches for him, he “kicked out and pushed her back.” She casts a spell meant to turn him into a rat, but she misses and hits a piece of trash. Finn then “grabbed hold of the clawing rat and threw it at her.”
  • Maleficent is captured and Wayne promises “We don’t kill anything here. Not even witches.” They plan to lock her in a prison instead.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • From afar, Finn sees Tom Sawyer “smoking a pipe with a long stem.”
  • Rather than telling his mom what actually happened with the laser-burn, Finn tells her that a bully burned him with a cigarette. He knows he can’t tell her it was his own cigarette because “Finn had once walked across a restaurant and boldly asked a smoker to put out his cigarette so that his own hamburger didn’t have to taste like an ashtray.” His mom smells his breath just to confirm his story.

Language

  • Finn thinks his teacher’s British accent makes him sound “like a pompous snob.”
  • When Finn says something a bit too confidently, his mom calls him “Mr. Hotshot.”
  • Finn thinks Willa, another host, seems “a little geeky.”
  • When Finn tells his friend, Dillard, about his experiences as a hologram, Dillard says, “You’re going psycho on me.”
  • Amanda tells Finn to “get a life.”
  • Finn notices a variety of tourists including “fat people, sweaty people, smelly people, bald people . . .”
  • Stupid is used several times. For example, a girl student corrects her friend, saying, “It’s not Zoom, stupid.”
  • Philby, a host, tries to distract some pirates saying, “Hey, dog breath!”
  • Philby asks his fellow host Maybeck if he is “a computer freak.”
  • Dumb is used a few times. For example, Amanda makes a reference to “some dumb thing [her] mother” had said. Later Maybeck says, “I can’t go through a dumb wall.” When he realizes he can, he exclaims, “What a dumb jerk!”
  • The pirates use “a roar of rough-sounding words.”
  • Dillard, Finn’s best friend, is described as “big.” He explains that for this reason, “people make fun of him.”
  • Wayne calls himself an “old goat,” a phrase that Finn later uses to describe Wayne.

Supernatural

  • The book is centered around the existence of magic, both good and evil. Inanimate objects and fake characters come to life. People can become holograms. Frequently, witches use spells to fight against the hosts.
  • The Overtakers harness the power of a hurricane, draining its strength. Wayne says it is like “a vampire sucking blood.”
  • Finn thinks the environment in the Splash Mountain ride looks “devilish” in the dark.
  • Finn finds himself rhyming in his thoughts without meaning to, which Amanda explains is a sign of witches.
  • Maybeck tells the group that the Overtakers have the ability to “put thoughts into your head. . .  They’re like orders.”
  • Finn doesn’t speak his fears aloud for fear of jinxing the group and causing something worse to happen.

Spiritual Content

  • Maybeck, another host, “made a point of telling Finn that he was a Baptist.” Maybeck has a Bible on the bedside table.
  • Finn “wasn’t terribly religious.”
  • Finn says he cannot tell his mom the truth because “she’d cart him off to the mental ward, or worse, their minister.”

by Jennaly Nolan

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