A memorable middle-grade murder mystery that’s darkly humorous in some places and delightfully creepy in others.

IKENGA

A 12-year-old seeks revenge after his father is murdered.

It seems that every great hero’s origin story begins with unthinkable trauma, and Nnamdimma “Nnamdi” Icheteka’s beginning is no different. A year after his father, the police chief of Kaleria, is gunned down, Nnamdi chases a figure through his town and is gifted a mysterious Ikenga—which means “place of strength” in Igbo—totem that gives him superpowers and guides him through different, herculean tasks to discover his father’s killer. Set in a small province in Southeastern Nigeria, Okorafor’s tale features an eclectic cast of villains—whose curious quirks and storied names don’t make them any less lethal—and literal ride-or-die friendships that are tested by Nnamdi’s ongoing struggles to control his powers. She creates a believable, flawed superhero who, even when he transforms, is still very much a 12-year-old boy: confused, scared and frustrated about why his path seems to be particularly difficult; his best friend, Chioma, has this sage life advice: “It’s not about the answers to a riddle; it’s about what you learn by solving it.” Okorafor’s thoughtful mixing of West African traditional religions with Christian beliefs flows easily throughout the narrative alongside her regular inclusion of Igbo greetings and phrasings, although the actual story pacing can be slow and uneven.

A memorable middle-grade murder mystery that’s darkly humorous in some places and delightfully creepy in others. (Mystery. 9-12)

Pub Date: Aug. 18, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-593-11352-3

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 3, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2020

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

Wholesome shading to bland, but well-stocked with exotic creatures and locales, plus an agreeable cast headed by a child...

KEEPER OF THE LOST CITIES

A San Diego preteen learns that she’s an elf, with a place in magic school if she moves to the elves’ hidden realm.

Having felt like an outsider since a knock on the head at age 5 left her able to read minds, Sophie is thrilled when hunky teen stranger Fitz convinces her that she’s not human at all and transports her to the land of Lumenaria, where the ageless elves live. Taken in by a loving couple who run a sanctuary for extinct and mythical animals, Sophie quickly gathers friends and rivals at Foxfire, a distinctly Hogwarts-style school. She also uncovers both clues to her mysterious origins and hints that a rash of strangely hard-to-quench wildfires back on Earth are signs of some dark scheme at work. Though Messenger introduces several characters with inner conflicts and ambiguous agendas, Sophie herself is more simply drawn as a smart, radiant newcomer who unwillingly becomes the center of attention while developing what turn out to be uncommonly powerful magical abilities—reminiscent of the younger Harry Potter, though lacking that streak of mischievousness that rescues Harry from seeming a little too perfect. The author puts her through a kidnapping and several close brushes with death before leaving her poised, amid hints of a higher destiny and still-anonymous enemies, for sequels.

Wholesome shading to bland, but well-stocked with exotic creatures and locales, plus an agreeable cast headed by a child who, while overly fond of screaming, rises to every challenge. (Fantasy. 10-12)

Pub Date: Oct. 2, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-4424-4593-2

Page Count: 496

Publisher: Aladdin

Review Posted Online: July 18, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2012

Did you like this book?

Reflective children will revel in this thought-provoking world.

THEY THREW US AWAY

From the Teddies Saga series , Vol. 1

The journey to find a child becomes an existential quest for an abandoned teddy bear.

Buddy is not just any stuffed bear, but a blue Furrington Teddy with a Real Silk Heart. So why did he wake up in a landfill with other Furringtons of varying hues? A more pressing matter, however, is escaping Trashland and its murderous gulls and bulldozers. Yearning to connect with a child and achieve a state of peaceful Forever Sleep, Buddy and his new friends of differing temperaments and gifts set out on a harrowing journey through the city to find children who will want them. As they encounter other Furringtons in disarray, this opener in The Teddies Saga series becomes a mystery about why these teddies are being harmed in the first place. While the visceral narrative follows the teddy troupe’s adventurous challenges and survival, its focus is on Buddy’s inner struggles as he ponders identity, leadership, and other existential dilemmas. Kraus doesn’t shy away from anger, fear, death, and other dark subjects; instead they become opportunities for growth in difficult environments. Cai’s intense, slightly nightmarish grayscale illustrations add immeasurably to the text. Reminiscent of Watership Down in theme and structure, the novel’s intermittent teddy creation stories also become parables of a moral code and extend the epic story arc. A cliffhanger ending sets the scene for the next installment.

Reflective children will revel in this thought-provoking world. (Fantasy. 9-12)

Pub Date: Sept. 15, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-22440-8

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: June 30, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2020

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet
more