An extraordinary and timely piece of writing.

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HARBOR ME

Just before she begins seventh grade, Haley tells the story of the previous school year, when she and five other students from an experimental classroom were brought together.

Each has been bullied or teased about their difficulties in school, and several face real challenges at home. Haley is biracial and cared for by her white uncle due to the death of her African-American mother and her white father’s incarceration. Esteban, of Dominican heritage, is coping with his father’s detention by ICE and the possible fracturing of his family. It is also a time when Amari learns from his dad that he can no longer play with toy guns because he is a boy of color. This reveals the divide between them and their white classmate, Ashton. “It’s not fair that you’re a boy and Ashton’s a boy and he can do something you can’t do anymore. That’s not freedom,” Haley says. They support one another, something Haley needs as she prepares for her father’s return from prison and her uncle’s decision to move away. Woodson delivers a powerful tale of community and mutual growth. The bond they develop is palpable. Haley’s recorder is both an important plot element and a metaphor for the power of voice and story. The characters ring true as they discuss issues both personal and global. This story, told with exquisite language and clarity of narrative, is both heartbreaking and hopeful.

An extraordinary and timely piece of writing. (Fiction. 10-14)

Pub Date: Aug. 28, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-399-25252-5

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Nancy Paulsen Books

Review Posted Online: June 11, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2018

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An intense referendum on football’s dangers and glories.

FINAL SEASON

A star 12-year-old quarterback has a championship to win, a developing family tragedy to cope with, and a life-changing decision to make.

Barely disguising the autobiographical elements contained here in the wake of his own diagnosis of ALS, former Atlanta Falcons player Green places his protagonist, Ben Redd, in a football family and on an upstate New York team coached by his dad and two older brothers—all former gridiron stars themselves. Ben’s anticipation as he looks forward to a season that will be capped by a game against archrival Penn Yan battles with his terror as he watches his father’s NFL injuries come home to roost in slurred speech, loss of physical coordination, and, eventually, a frantic trip to the hospital for an emergency tracheotomy. But as Ben’s parents, both iron willed, clash over whether he should be allowed to follow the family career path (and one of his brothers even announces that none of his kids will ever play), the sport’s allure comes through in a series of exciting clashes, with Ben and wonderfully hard-nosed new teammate, Thea Jean, leading the on-field heroics on the way to a last-yard, smash-mouth finale that leaves him dazed and exultant, with a broken finger, a probable concussion…and a choice of futures. Though the cast is mostly male and mostly White, between them, Thea and Ben’s mom add strong female representation.

An intense referendum on football’s dangers and glories. (Fiction. 10-13)

Pub Date: Sept. 14, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-06-248595-3

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: July 27, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2021

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Poignant, respectful, and historically accurate while pulsating with emotional turmoil, adventure, and suspense.

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REFUGEE

In the midst of political turmoil, how do you escape the only country that you’ve ever known and navigate a new life? Parallel stories of three different middle school–aged refugees—Josef from Nazi Germany in 1938, Isabel from 1994 Cuba, and Mahmoud from 2015 Aleppo—eventually intertwine for maximum impact.

Three countries, three time periods, three brave protagonists. Yet these three refugee odysseys have so much in common. Each traverses a landscape ruled by a dictator and must balance freedom, family, and responsibility. Each initially leaves by boat, struggles between visibility and invisibility, copes with repeated obstacles and heart-wrenching loss, and gains resilience in the process. Each third-person narrative offers an accessible look at migration under duress, in which the behavior of familiar adults changes unpredictably, strangers exploit the vulnerabilities of transients, and circumstances seem driven by random luck. Mahmoud eventually concludes that visibility is best: “See us….Hear us. Help us.” With this book, Gratz accomplishes a feat that is nothing short of brilliant, offering a skillfully wrought narrative laced with global and intergenerational reverberations that signal hope for the future. Excellent for older middle grade and above in classrooms, book groups, and/or communities looking to increase empathy for new and existing arrivals from afar.

Poignant, respectful, and historically accurate while pulsating with emotional turmoil, adventure, and suspense. (maps, author’s note) (Historical fiction. 10-14)

Pub Date: July 25, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-545-88083-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: May 10, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2017

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