A rich and deeply felt slice of life.

JUST PRETEND

Crafting fantasy worlds offers a budding middle school author relief and distraction from the real one in this graphic memoir debut.

Everyone in Tori’s life shows realistic mixes of vulnerability and self-knowledge while, equally realistically, seeming to be making it up as they go. At least, as she shuttles between angrily divorced parents—dad becoming steadily harder to reach, overstressed mom spectacularly incapable of reading her offspring—or drifts through one wearingly dull class after another, she has both vivacious bestie Taylor Lee and, promisingly, new classmate Nick as well as the (all-girl) heroic fantasy, complete with portals, crystal amulets, and evil enchantments, taking shape in her mind and on paper. The flow of school projects, sleepovers, heart-to-heart conversations with Taylor, and like incidents (including a scene involving Tori’s older brother, who is having a rough adolescence, that could be seen as domestic violence) turns to a tide of change as eighth grade winds down and brings unwelcome revelations about friends. At least the story remains as solace and, at the close, a sense that there are still chapters to come in both worlds. Working in a simple, expressive cartoon style reminiscent of Raina Telgemeier’s, Sharp captures facial and body language with easy naturalism. Most people in the spacious, tidily arranged panels are White; Taylor appears East Asian, and there is diversity in background characters.

A rich and deeply felt slice of life. (afterword, design notes) (Graphic memoir. 10-13)

Pub Date: May 18, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-316-53889-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: March 31, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2021

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It may take readers a few rounds to fully appreciate and understand the loose, unassumingly sophisticated narrative that...

OVERHEARD IN A TOWER BLOCK

POEMS

This slim volume of more than four dozen poems of varying lengths charts the narrator’s course from childhood in low-income urban housing to adolescence to young adulthood and fatherhood.

The unnamed narrator personifies the unforgiving public-housing tower block as a “zombie” hungry for human lives and memories. He dodges a bully in “Smashing Snails in the Rain” and overhears an “Argument”: “The monster / With a roar made up of shouts,” whose “jaws snap / Like slamming doors” and whose “claws clatter / Like kitchen drawers.” His father gives him the perfect pair of red sneakers in “Trainers.” These shoes return many times across the collection, acting as a possible symbol of the boy’s hero worship of his often absent father. As the boy enters his teens, he goes from confident to awkward to embracing the changes his body experiences in “Man…I Had It Made.” In later poems, he has his first kiss, gets exam results, and leaves home for the first time. He becomes a father, “whose heart thumps solely for his / daughter.” Poetic forms vary, with some rhyming and others not. Readers may have difficulty understanding the trilogy of sophisticated poems based on the myth of Prometheus. Race is not mentioned, and the flat, unemotional black-and-white sketches provide few clues.

It may take readers a few rounds to fully appreciate and understand the loose, unassumingly sophisticated narrative that joins the poems. (Poetry. 10-13)

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-91095-958-9

Page Count: 112

Publisher: Otter-Barry

Review Posted Online: Aug. 12, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2017

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A broadly diverse roster of role models.

KID ACTIVISTS

TRUE TALES OF CHILDHOOD FROM CHAMPIONS OF CHANGE

From the Kid Legends series

Introductions to iconic world changers of the present and recent past who stood up for racial justice and human rights.

Most of the 16 main figures are or should be familiar to young readers, but along with the likes of Frederick Douglass, Dolores Huerta, and Rosa Parks, Stevenson lays out early experiences and influences for some less-high-profile names: There’s gay politician Harvey Milk, for instance, transgender activist Janet Mock, and formerly enslaved child advocate Iqbal Masih, assassinated at the age of 12. In between the main profiles, the author slips briefer ones of associates, such as Mama Sisulu for Nelson Mandela and, for Milk, nods to the Mattachine Society and the Daughters of Bilitis, both early gay and lesbian organizations. Only a few are or were true “kid activists,” but the reminder that they all started out as children may make them and their causes seem accessible, and the preponderance of smiling faces in Steinfeld’s frequent, neatly drawn cartoon vignettes keeps the hardships and violence that many of them experienced safely distant. From Martin Luther “Little Mike” King’s “When I grow up I’m going to get me some big words” to 10-year-old Anishinaabe activist Autumn Peltier’s standing before the United Nations with the demand to “warrior up” in defense of clean water for all, their stories offer inspiration as well as memorable moments.

A broadly diverse roster of role models. (bibliography, index) (Collective biography. 10-12)

Pub Date: Sept. 24, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-68369-141-9

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Quirk Books

Review Posted Online: July 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2019

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