A nostalgic but uneven exploration of friendship and growing pains.

THE BEST WORST SUMMER

A girl discovers a time capsule in the backyard of her new house.

Eleven-year-old Peyton has moved four hours away from her best friend, Lily; her brother is obsessed with his video games; and her parents are busy with their jobs. She’s convinced that her summer will be awful—until she unearths a box in her backyard containing mementos from 1989, a coded message, and an apology hinting at a broken friendship. Baffled by artifacts such as audiocassettes, she investigates the cryptic contents with help from Lucas, a precocious, sarcastic boy who uses a wheelchair. In alternating chapters set in 1989, Melissa narrates her own intense friendship with Jess, who makes her feel safe amid her increasingly troubled home life. As tension mounts and the note’s meaning unfurls, Peyton in the present-day timeline learns that sometimes friendships take new forms. Eulberg vividly depicts the insecurities of middle school friendships as well as their sometimes seemingly uncanny bonds. Unfortunately, Melissa and Jess’ lopsided relationship weakens the theme. Melissa seldom reciprocates Jess’ unwavering empathy, remaining silent when Jess experiences racism and failing to notice her sadness or loneliness; it’s unclear what Jess sees in her. Lucas is somewhat underdeveloped, and his and Peyton’s fascination with 1980s pop culture feels slightly forced. Most characters present White; Jess was adopted from Korea by White parents, and Lily is Latinx.

A nostalgic but uneven exploration of friendship and growing pains. (Fiction. 9-12)

Pub Date: May 4, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-5476-0150-9

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 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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