An enviable hero and appealing wish fulfillment that’s spiced with teen-friendship drama.

THE ZEE FILES

When her family moves to London, an American teen adjusts to a new school in this middle-grade novel.

Previously, 12-year-old Mackenzie Blue Carmichael, called Zee, detailed her seventh grade escapades in the five-volume Mackenzie Blue series. Now a year older and in the eighth grade, the red-haired, blue-eyed, olive-skinned Zee faces a major life change because her father’s job is taking the family to London from Los Angeles. Besides leaving behind sunny skies for London fog, Zee must say goodbye to Chloe Lawrence-Johnson, her best friend from Brookdale Academy. Another big change is that Zee will be attending a boarding school, The Hollows Creative Arts Academy, in the Cotswolds. That’s a bit intimidating, but the school has some huge advantages, especially its focus on the arts. She can concentrate on her singing and songwriting while studying academic subjects. Plus, her Brookdale friend Ally Stern now lives in Paris, just two hours away. Despite her anxieties, Zee makes several friends quickly. Unexpectedly, she is taken into the charmed circle of Izzy Matthews, a popular YouTuber, and hits it off with the school’s hottest ninth grade boy, the posh Archibald “Archie” Saint John the Fourth, a fellow songwriter. But hurdles remain, such as staying in touch with Chloe across time zones. Ally, too, has been mysteriously distant, canceling a planned Paris rendezvous for unclear reasons. Wells (now writing with Smith) continues the Mackenzie Blue series under a new umbrella title. Transplanting Zee to England allows for a fresh array of challenges and adventures, and American readers will likely enjoy learning about cultural differences with Britain. (Some references are off target; for example, the name St. John isn’t spelled “Saint John.”) Zee has a lively voice that makes her sound like a friend any teen would like to have, although few readers will be able to relate to the characters’ wealthy lives. Teens own expensive, high-status items like Alexander McQueen sneakers, and their school is so far out of reach for most that it might as well be Hogwarts. These elements are certainly entertaining as an aspirational fantasy, though Zee’s troubles seem lightweight indeed among so much privilege. The fast-paced plot ends rather abruptly just as it feels as if Zee’s story is really getting started; the tale continues in Book 2. Jamison supplies monochrome illustrations that deftly convey the teens’ expressive emotions.

An enviable hero and appealing wish fulfillment that’s spiced with teen-friendship drama.

Pub Date: N/A

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 167

Publisher: West Margin Press

Review Posted Online: April 20, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2021

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THE BIG NOTHING

From the Neighborhood series , Vol. 3

Big brother Duane is off in boot camp, and Justin is left trying to hold the parental units together. Fat, acne-ridden, and missing his best friend Ben, who’s in the throes of his first boy-girl relationship with Cass, Justin’s world is dreary. It gets worse when he realizes that all of his mother’s suspicions about his father are probably true, and that Dad may not return from his latest business trip. Surprisingly ultra-cool Jemmie, who is also missing her best friend, Cass, actually recognizes his existence and her grandmother invites Justin to use their piano in the afternoons when Jemmie’s at cross-country practice. The “big nothing” place, where Justin retreats in time of trouble, is a rhythmic world and soon begins to include melody and provide Justin with a place to express himself. Practice and discipline accompany this gradual exploration of his talent. The impending war in Iraq gives this story a definite place in time, and its distinct characters make it satisfying and surprisingly realistic. Misfit finds fit. (Fiction. YA)

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2004

ISBN: 1-56145-326-9

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Peachtree

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2004

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THE TIGER RISING

Themes of freedom and responsibility twine between the lines of this short but heavy novel from the author of Because of Winn-Dixie (2000). Three months after his mother's death, Rob and his father are living in a small-town Florida motel, each nursing sharp, private pain. On the same day Rob has two astonishing encounters: first, he stumbles upon a caged tiger in the woods behind the motel; then he meets Sistine, a new classmate responding to her parents' breakup with ready fists and a big chip on her shoulder. About to burst with his secret, Rob confides in Sistine, who instantly declares that the tiger must be freed. As Rob quickly develops a yen for Sistine's company that gives her plenty of emotional leverage, and the keys to the cage almost literally drop into his hands, credible plotting plainly takes a back seat to character delineation here. And both struggle for visibility beneath a wagonload of symbol and metaphor: the real tiger (and the inevitable recitation of Blake's poem); the cage; Rob's dream of Sistine riding away on the beast's back; a mysterious skin condition on Rob's legs that develops after his mother's death; a series of wooden figurines that he whittles; a larger-than-life African-American housekeeper at the motel who dispenses wisdom with nearly every utterance; and the climax itself, which is signaled from the start. It's all so freighted with layers of significance that, like Lois Lowry's Gathering Blue (2000), Anne Mazer's Oxboy (1995), or, further back, Julia Cunningham's Dorp Dead (1965), it becomes more an exercise in analysis than a living, breathing story. Still, the tiger, "burning bright" with magnificent, feral presence, does make an arresting central image. (Fiction. 10-12)

Pub Date: March 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-7636-0911-0

Page Count: 128

Publisher: Candlewick

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2001

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