Uneven verse and thin explanation don’t carry this telling of a recent, relevant historical outrage.



An 11-year-old refugee just wants to start fresh in the United States after her flight from Nazi Germany on the St. Louis.

Ruthie Arons misses her dog, her grandmother, and her home in Breslau. But her family’s been ordered to leave Germany, so Ruthie and her parents are America-bound. On the St. Louis, all passengers are European Jewish refugees, and the crew are White Germans. Although it’s 1939, many of the crew are not Nazis, and the captain tries to make things as decent for the passengers as he can. The free-verse chapters recounting Ruthie’s journey vary in quality; many read like prose broken into short lines, filler between more artfully crafted poems. They’re most successful when they focus tightly on Ruthie: the pranks she and her friend play on the passengers and crew or the surreal vision of refugees fleeing on a cruise liner complete with a pool, shuffleboard, and movies. Less successful are the poems peppered with true details from the tragic voyage of the real St. Louis—a ship that the United States, disgracefully, turned back to Europe, where nearly a third of the passengers were murdered by Nazis. Ruthie is not very interested with these adult events and thus describes them without context, background, or emotional punch.

Uneven verse and thin explanation don’t carry this telling of a recent, relevant historical outrage. (historical note, timeline, reading list) (Historical fiction. 9-11)

Pub Date: May 1, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-5415-7912-5

Page Count: 168

Publisher: Kar-Ben

Review Posted Online: March 17, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2021

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A moving exploration of the places we come from and the people who shape us—not to be missed.


On a birthday trip to New York City, a girl learns about her roots, Harlem, and how to stay true to herself.

Eleven-year-old sneakerhead Amara is struggling to feel seen and heard. A new baby sister is on the way, her mom still wants to put her in dresses, and that birthday trip from the Portland, Oregon, suburbs to New York City that she so desperately wants feels out of reach. When Amara gets a family-history assignment, she is finally able to convince her mom to say yes to the trip, since it will allow Amara to meet her dad’s side of the family in person. In addition to the school project, her mom gives Amara a secret mission: get her dad and grandpa to spend time alone together to repair old wounds. Harlem proves unlike any place Amara has ever been, and as she explores where her father grew up she experiences black history on every street. Watson is a master at character development, with New York City and especially Harlem playing central roles. Through her all-black cast she seamlessly explores issues of identity, self, and family acceptance. Although the ending feels rushed, with no resolution between Amara and her mom, Amara’s concluding poem is powerful.

A moving exploration of the places we come from and the people who shape us—not to be missed. (Fiction. 9-11)

Pub Date: Sept. 3, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-68119-108-9

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: May 8, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2019

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Superb storytelling.


When Bug’s traditional summer routine is shaken up, her entire life changes.

It’s 1987, and 10-year-old Beatrice “Bug” Contreras has a plan: spend her summer months with her brother, Danny, on Venice Beach as she has for the past two years. But when 14-year-old Danny—who has matured into the name Daniel—wants more time to himself, Bug learns she will be instead hanging out with 11-year-old Frankie, the nephew of Phillip, her mother’s best friend and their upstairs neighbor. Frankie, who is visiting from Ohio, is trans at a time before this identity was well understood and has not been treated with kindness or acceptance by his parents. Frankie and Bug become fascinated with trying to solve the case of the Midnight Marauder, a serial killer who has been striking in the area. When Phillip is attacked, ending up in the hospital, their investigation swivels, and the titular characters uncover a few untold family tales. Bug and Daniel’s late father was a professor from El Salvador with Indigenous ancestry who spoke Nahuatl as well as Spanish and English. Biracial identity is explored in part through the differences in the siblings’ physical appearances: Their mother is implied to be White, and Daniel—who resembles their father more than Bug does—experiences more overt racism and dives into an exploration of his Salvadoran heritage. Readers interested in complex emotional development and relationships will appreciate each character's subtle nuances.

Superb storytelling. (resources, author’s note) (Fiction. 9-11)

Pub Date: Oct. 12, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-5344-8253-1

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Aladdin

Review Posted Online: Aug. 16, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2021

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