Cathartic proof that childhood provides lessons for a lifetime and that change is possible.


From the day baby Daniel arrives, crying so loudly that it hurts Charise’s ears and absorbing her mother’s attention, Charise starts growing into her role of bad sister.

The popular children’s author highlights rough-and-tumble episodes from their childhoods that scar her and her brother, literally and figuratively. Charise plays wildly, tricks her little brother, and enjoys her power. Often Daniel gets hurt, and her parents insist she should know better. The selected stories and details shared here reveal volumes about the family’s dynamics. The siblings’ escalating antics are captured in clean, colorful panels that often end with moving illustrations in moody blues conveying Charise’s isolation, frustration, and guilt. Readers will relate to the rivalry, ambivalent feelings, and raw honesty—and they, unlike Charise’s parents, will see the full picture: It takes two to tango; sometimes four, counting their parents’ roles in exacerbating everything. As Daniel grows and Charise matures, the dynamic changes as well. Charise admires Daniel’s social skills which she feels she cannot match, partly due to her undiagnosed prosopagnosia, or face blindness. Over time she begins to treat Daniel better, especially after reaching a turning point when she clearly sees the lasting consequences of her behavior. By the end, they become partners, with the power to forgive. This is a powerful story of growth, self-awareness, and genuine insight into family relationships. Most characters read as White.

Cathartic proof that childhood provides lessons for a lifetime and that change is possible. (Graphic memoir. 8-12)

Pub Date: Sept. 14, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-250-21906-0

Page Count: 240

Publisher: First Second

Review Posted Online: May 17, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2021

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A mighty portrait of poverty amid cruelty and optimism.


Recounting his childhood experiences in sixth grade, Ogle’s memoir chronicles the punishing consequences of poverty and violence on himself and his family.

The start of middle school brings about unwanted changes in young Rex’s life. His old friendships devolve as his school friends join the football team and slowly edge him out. His new English teacher discriminates against him due to his dark skin (Rex is biracial, with a white absentee dad and a Mexican mom) and secondhand clothes, both too large and too small. Seemingly worse, his mom enrolls him in the school’s free-lunch program, much to his embarrassment. “Now everyone knows I’m nothing but trailer trash.” His painful home life proffers little sanctuary thanks to his mom, who swings from occasional caregiver to violent tyrant at the slightest provocation, and his white stepdad, an abusive racist whose aggression outrivals that of Rex’s mom. Balancing the persistent flashes of brutality, Ogle magnificently includes sprouts of hope, whether it’s the beginnings of a friendship with a “weird” schoolmate, joyful moments with his younger brother, or lessons of perseverance from Abuela. These slivers of relative levity counteract the toxic relationship between young Rex, a boy prone to heated outbursts and suppressed feelings, and his mother, a fully three-dimensional character who’s viciously thrashing against the burden of poverty. It’s a fine balance carried by the author’s outstanding, gracious writing and a clear eye for the penetrating truth.

A mighty portrait of poverty amid cruelty and optimism. (author’s note, author Q&A, discussion guide, writing guide, resources) (Memoir. 9-12)

Pub Date: Sept. 10, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-324-00360-1

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Norton Young Readers

Review Posted Online: June 16, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2019

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Mirroring the career he eventually entered, architect Fernandez builds up, like one of Havana’s ornate structures, memories of childhood in his pre- and post-Castro hometown. A gifted illustrator, he drew constantly, easily rendering even minute architectural details. Before emigrating to New York City, young “Dino” and his family moved first to Madrid to assist relatives. Discovering a dictatorship that wasn’t much different from the one they’d left in Cuba, the family returned home and then finally moved to the United States. Havana was never far from his mind, and art brought solace. So homesick was Dino in Manhattan that he actually “built” a cardboard replica of Havana that captured the colors and warmth he remembered. This fictionalized memoir is for the contemplative reader and anyone who has felt out of place or yearned for a beloved home; it could serve as a catalyst for creative expression. Wells has chosen anecdotes wisely, and Ferguson’s illustrations are atmospheric, capturing Dino’s childlike enthusiasm and longing. An author’s note reveals how Wells came to know of and be inspired by Fernandez’s story. (Fiction. 8-11)

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-7636-4305-8

Page Count: 72

Publisher: Candlewick

Review Posted Online: Dec. 6, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2010

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