A straightforward but well-structured and absorbing supernatural tale of change and coping.

GHOST HUNTERS

BONES IN THE WALL

A bereaved boy discovers that he can see ghosts in this middle-grade novel.

Ever since 1900, when spiritualists “tore a hole” between the real world and the supernatural realm, poltergeists have come through the opening and plagued mortals. Like all children, 12-year-old Alex Lenard was tattooed at birth with a mark shielding him from “evil spirits.” His house in New Orleans is covered in pentacles and other signs of protection. Supernatural entities—and the arcane methods of keeping them at bay—are an everyday part of life. Alex is a star ghostball player at school. But on the way to the state championship, he is badly injured in a car accident. His mother is killed. Not only will the grief-stricken Alex never play again, the accident switches something inside of him. He develops psychic powers—a change thought to be impossible at his age. Alex doesn’t wish to see ghosts. His dad is staunchly anti-psychic, and going back to school will be hard enough for Alex without having his crazy aunt and his weird, paranormal-obsessed cousin Hannah move in next door. But what Alex wants doesn’t seem to matter. When he accompanies his aunt and cousin on one of their investigations, they uncover a spirit that needs putting to rest—and an evil entity hell-bent on stopping them. Backed by his Jamaican best friend, Jason Anderson, Alex must either accept his new situation or risk losing everyone he has left. McCauley writes in the first person, past tense and tells a simple story at an effective pace. The worldbuilding is a bit clumsy at first—the early chapters repeat some information—but once over its teething troubles, the book moves smoothly from premise to execution. The dialogue is well handled. The ubiquitous nature of the spirits is a pleasing facet that stands out. But of course the true focus is on Alex’s loss and how he deals with it. Alex is an average but likable protagonist, and Hannah and Jason are able supporting characters. Young readers should find themselves deeply engrossed.

A straightforward but well-structured and absorbing supernatural tale of change and coping. (glossary)

Pub Date: Jan. 14, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-951069-04-9

Page Count: 178

Publisher: Celtic Sea, LLC

Review Posted Online: April 30, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2020

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THE BAD BEGINNING

The Baudelaire children—Violet, 14, Klaus, 12, and baby Sunny—are exceedingly ill-fated; Snicket extracts both humor and horror from their situation, as he gleefully puts them through one terrible ordeal after another. After receiving the news that their parents died in a fire, the three hapless orphans are delivered into the care of Count Olaf, who “is either a third cousin four times removed, or a fourth cousin three times removed.” The villainous Count Olaf is morally depraved and generally mean, and only takes in the downtrodden yet valiant children so that he can figure out a way to separate them from their considerable inheritance. The youngsters are able to escape his clutches at the end, but since this is the first installment in A Series of Unfortunate Events, there will be more ghastly doings. Written with old-fashioned flair, this fast-paced book is not for the squeamish: the Baudelaire children are truly sympathetic characters who encounter a multitude of distressing situations. Those who enjoy a little poison in their porridge will find it wicked good fun. (b&w illustrations, not seen) (Fiction. 10-12)

Pub Date: Sept. 30, 1999

ISBN: 0-06-440766-7

Page Count: 162

Publisher: HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1999

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  • SPONSORED PLACEMENT

An uplifting sequel told with heart and humor.

MERCI SUÁREZ CAN'T DANCE

Merci returns for another year of challenges and triumphs at home and at Seaward Pines Academy.

Life is a little different for Merci Suárez in seventh grade. Her older brother, Roli, is off at college; her grandfather Lolo’s Alzheimer’s is more pronounced; and she has to regularly babysit her Tía Inés’ spirited young twins. Merci is also assigned to manage the school store with math whiz Wilson Bellevue, a quiet classmate who she realizes is not obnoxious like other boys. When Merci and Wilson are expected to sell tickets to the Valentine’s Day Heart Ball, she must interact with a slightly-less-mean Edna Santos, who’s running the dance and unexpectedly getting closer to Hannah, one of Merci’s best friends. Medina continues to tenderly explore issues such as multigenerational immigrant family dynamics, managing the responsibilities of home and school, and learning how to navigate changing friendships and first crushes. Merci’s maturity and growth are as engaging and compelling as they were in the author’s Newbery Medal winner, Merci Suárez Changes Gears (2018). The cast is broadly diverse; Merci and her family are Cuban American, Edna is Dominican, and Creole and Cajun Wilson has a physical disability.

An uplifting sequel told with heart and humor. (Fiction. 9-13)

Pub Date: April 6, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-7636-9050-2

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Candlewick

Review Posted Online: Jan. 12, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2021

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A beautifully rendered setting enfolds a disappointing plot.

A GALAXY OF SEA STARS

In sixth grade, Izzy Mancini’s cozy, loving world falls apart.

She and her family have moved out of the cottage she grew up in. Her mother has spent the summer on Block Island instead of at home with Izzy. Her father has recently returned from military service in Afghanistan partially paralyzed and traumatized. The only people she can count on are Zelda and Piper, her best friends since kindergarten—that is, until the Haidary family moves into the upstairs apartment. At first, Izzy resents the new guests from Afghanistan even though she knows she should be grateful that Dr. Haidary saved her father’s life. But despite her initial resistance (which manifests at times as racism), as Izzy gets to know Sitara, the Haidarys’ daughter, she starts to question whether Zelda and Piper really are her friends for forever—and whether she has the courage to stand up for Sitara against the people she loves. Ferruolo weaves a rich setting, fully immersing readers in the largely white, coastal town of Seabury, Rhode Island. Disappointingly, the story resolves when Izzy convinces her classmates to accept Sitara by revealing the Haidarys’ past as American allies, a position that put them in so much danger that they had to leave home. The idea that Sitara should be embraced only because her family supported America, rather than simply because she is a human being, significantly undermines the purported message of tolerance for all.

A beautifully rendered setting enfolds a disappointing plot. (Fiction. 10-12)

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-374-30909-1

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Nov. 24, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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