Monday, April 27, 2009

PW's Starred Reviews

-- Publishers Weekly, 4/27/2009

Hook by Ed Young. Roaring Brook/Porter, $17.95 (32p) ISBN 978-1-59643-363-2
Caldecott Medal–winner Young's enchanting story about an orphaned bald eagle discovered by a Native American boy is set against a vast landscape of canyon, mountain and spruce, as spare as the author's text (“An abandoned egg. A young boy”). The raptor (“a strange chick”) is hatched and raised by the boy's hen, who calls him Hook after his curved yellow beak. She quickly perceives his true nature—“You are not meant for earth,” she tells him. Young's pastels, a series of sketches on speckled burnt sienna paper, glow with life. The judicious use of detail is highly effective, and the birds possess an uncanny accuracy. Hook can't work out how to fly, so under a blackened predawn sky the boy takes him to the canyon. The mountains, stained blue in the dawn, look on as Hook is launched from the canyon precipice. Against a shimmering mountain blur, the young eagle plummets—then, in triumph, rights himself and soars. A powerful blend of language,imagery and emotion. Ages 2–6. (May)

The Summer I Turned Pretty by Jenny Han. Simon & Schuster, $16.99 (288p) ISBN 978-1-4169-6823-8
This well-written coming-of-age story introduces 15-year-old Isabel, aka Belly, for whom summer has always been the most important time of year: it's when her family shares a beach house with her mother's best friend, Susannah, and her two sons. Like Belly's older brother, Steven, Susannah's boys have always thought of Belly as their younger sister. But this summer—“It was the summer everything began”—is different. One brother, Jeremiah, is suddenly interested in Belly, but she has always had a crush on dark and unattainable Conrad. And then there is Cam, also spending the summer at the beach, who becomes Belly's first boyfriend. Han (Shug) realistically balances Belly's naïveté with her awareness of the changes the years have brought (“In some ways it was even harder being the only girl back then. In some ways not”). Anecdotal chapters of past summers are interspersed, rounding out Belly's character, her attachment to Susannah and her desire for the boys to include her. First in a planned trilogy, Han's novel offers plenty of summertime drama to keep readers looking forward to the next installment. Ages 12–up. (May)

Blade: Playing Dead by Tim Bowler. Philomel, $16.99 (240p) ISBN 978-0-399-25186-3
Bowler delivers an intense, gripping novel that introduces Blade, a 14-year-old British boy with a mysterious past, who is living on the streets. After Blade suffers a beating by a local gang, an offer of help from a Good Samaritan goes awry and he finds himself on the run from a group of mysterious armed men. Along the way, he ends up protecting a toddler named Jaz and the girl's teen mother, Becky (she, in turn, inspires memories of Blade's long-dead love). There's little joy in Blade's world: characters steal, cheat, abuse drugs and kill, and to Blade, little of this bleakness is out of the ordinary (the first chapter reveals that he's lived this way since at least the age of seven). Bowler (Frozen Fire) imbues Blade with a voice that throws around slang (“porker,” “gobbo,” “Bigeyes”) without needing to stop to explain it, and his reader-directed narration (“I don't trust you one little bit. Why should I?”) carries the novel, even as the plot frustratingly ends with a cliffhanger. Readers who like their thrillers brutally realistic will find much to enjoy. Ages 14–up. (May)

Moribito II: Guardian of the Darkness by Nahoko Uehashi, trans. by Cathy Hirano. Scholastic/Levine, $17.99 (272p) ISBN 978-0-545-10295-7
Having successfully protected young Prince Chagum in 2008's Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit, Balsa, a spear-wielding warrior, ventures to her rocky homeland of Kanbal in this sequel. Once again, Uehashi immerses readers in the culture, traditions, mythology—even diet—of the populace, creating a full, captivating world. Upon her return, Balsa rescues a pair of siblings in the area's caves (home to the mysterious hyohlu, the guardians of the darkness). She is soon marked as a fugitive, but with help she still uncovers a wide-ranging plot involving her deceased mentor and a scheme to attack the underground kingdom of the Mountain King. Uehashi explores themes of family and honesty with rich prose and compelling characters. Powerful and loyal, Balsa is the core draw (“Although her hands were bound and she was held captive, Balsa's eyes were filled with a fierce light, like a fighter ready to enter the ring”), but the cast of secondary characters are well developed and intriguing in their own right. Add to that some intense spear battles and a gripping finale, and this growing series has something for everyone. Ages 10–up. (May)

Congratulations to these authors!

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