This entertaining read is as complex as it is delightful.

JUST BE COOL, JENNA SAKAI

Jenna Sakai, seventh grade superstar journalist in the making, tackles the story of her life.

Japanese American Jenna from Keep It Together, Keiko Carter (2020) is having quite the school year. Her parents are still adjusting after a nasty divorce, and her boyfriend and fellow student journalist Elliot Oxford has broken up with her. Nursing a bruised, but not broken, heart on multiple fronts, she becomes more resolved than ever to protect herself and focus on her goals as a hard-hitting investigative reporter. This is not without challenges in the form of having to write a personal essay for newspaper club and scoping out a stellar story for a journalism scholarship competition, all while trying to reconnect with her friend Keiko. Jenna finds some solace in hanging out in a Broadway-themed diner, but when the mysterious and artistic Rin Watanabe encroaches on her preferred Hamilton booth, she has to determine if his presence is annoying or—possibly worse—welcome. Jenna faces even more surprises as her scholarship article forces her to reexamine her own emotional journey and biases. Florence offers a tightly written narrative that is as fearless as it is balanced, diving into complicated feelings of distrust and isolation while still offering glimmers of friendship and hope. Jenna’s honest voice shines with clarity, portraying a flawed but relatable protagonist whom readers will root for.

This entertaining read is as complex as it is delightful. (Fiction. 9-12)

Pub Date: Aug. 3, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-338-67156-8

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: June 1, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2021

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An inspiring sports story all the way to the buzzer.

WE ARE FAMILY

Basketball is life in Lorain, Ohio.

A group of seventh graders have different reasons for joining Hoop Group, an elite youth basketball program. Jayden, who lives in a tiny, cramped house with his mother and grandmother, desperately needs the money playing for the NBA would bring. Chris’ uncle made it out of Lorain and into the NBA, but he doesn’t share his uncle’s skills and can’t quite live up to his father’s expectations. Tamika’s dad was Hoop Group’s coach before Parkinson’s disease put the team’s future in jeopardy; she has a lot to prove and dreams of being the next Pat Summitt. Dex and his hardworking single mom are struggling with poverty, but he just loves the game––especially the Cleveland Cavs. And Anthony, frankly, doesn’t have much of a choice; it was either join this character-building group or face expulsion from school. A makeshift team of preteens with a lot on their plates, they discover as much about themselves (and one another) off the court as they do on it. The authors present a convincing argument about the value of basketball beyond points on the board and big contracts. The characters’ dreams are relatable along with the book’s universally valuable emphasis on hard work and perseverance. But the specifics about what it takes to make it in basketball and the fast-paced on-court action provide something special for young fans of the game. Main characters read as Black.

An inspiring sports story all the way to the buzzer. (Fiction. 9-12)

Pub Date: Aug. 31, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-06-297109-8

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: July 8, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2021

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Falters in its oversimplified portrayal of a complicated region and people.

GROUND ZERO

Parallel storylines take readers through the lives of two young people on Sept. 11 in 2001 and 2019.

In the contemporary timeline, Reshmina is an Afghan girl living in foothills near the Pakistan border that are a battleground between the Taliban and U.S. armed forces. She is keen to improve her English while her twin brother, Pasoon, is inspired by the Taliban and wants to avenge their older sister, killed by an American bomb on her wedding day. Reshmina helps a wounded American soldier, making her village a Taliban target. In 2001, Brandon Chavez is spending the day with his father, who works at the World Trade Center’s Windows on the World restaurant. Brandon is heading to the underground mall when a plane piloted by al-Qaida hits the tower, and his father is among those killed. The two storylines develop in parallel through alternating chapters. Gratz’s deeply moving writing paints vivid images of the loss and fear of those who lived through the trauma of 9/11. However, this nuance doesn’t extend to the Afghan characters; Reshmina and Pasoon feel one-dimensional. Descriptions of the Taliban’s Afghan victims and Reshmina's gentle father notwithstanding, references to all young men eventually joining the Taliban and Pasoon's zeal for their cause counteract this messaging. Explanations for the U.S. military invasion of Afghanistan in the author’s note and in characters’ conversations too simplistically present the U.S. presence.

Falters in its oversimplified portrayal of a complicated region and people. (author’s note) (Fiction. 9-12)

Pub Date: Feb. 2, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-338-24575-2

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: Dec. 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2021

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