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  • Tinsey Clover

    by Chelsea Walker Flagg

    Rating: 9.50

    Plot: The author is a master in the art of cliff-hanger chapter endings. Every peril confronting Tinsey is so imaginative, it's impossible to guess the outcome.

    Prose/Style: Tinsey's narrative employs the classic voice of a feisty underdog, and for a plot concerning a panoply of mythical creatures (elves, trolls, dragons, and the like), the tone of this chapter book is refreshingly untwee. The action scenes are vivid and suspenseful.

    Originality: This genre of child-appropriate fantasy is a popular one, but rarely are the underlying issues explored so sensitively and entertainingly. All of the fantastical elements are delivered in a matter-of-fact manner, in such a way that children's imaginations are easily engaged. The upshot is that Tinsey learns, gradually, to embrace "the other." The book is full of laudable lessons but steers clear of preachiness.

    Character Development: Tinsey grows in both confidence and empathy. Readers in the target age group will enjoy relating to her anxiety and, in turn, her ever-improving competence. This stirring adventure is told from the perspective of a just-turned eleven-year-old who's suffering from a classic case of Little Sister Syndrome. Chipmunk-sized Tinsey Clover has a grievance and a voice, and both are compelling. 

  • The Edge Rules (The Rules Series Book 3)

    by Melanie Hooyenga

    Rating: 9.25

    Plot:This book is tightly plotted and well paced. A few of the protagonist's issues still feel unresolved by the ending, but overall, the book comes together very well.

    Prose/Style:This is a well-written book, both technically and aesthetically. Characters sound "real" and both plot arcs and language flow smoothly.

    Originality:The reformed bully trope is not new to the genre, but the places Brianna goes and the paces she is put through do lend this book an authentic feel with its own unique voice.

    Character Development:Characters are developed thoroughly in this book. Character arcs, particularly among the main cast, are paced as meticulously as the plot. The characters are all believable, both in terms of their situations and actions.

  • The Real Education of TJ Crowley

    by Grant Overstake

    Rating: 8.00

    Plot: With muted riots following the assassination of Martin Luther King in the background, Overstake's story of seventh-grader TJ Crowley of Wichita shaking off his racist upbringing to begrudgingly bond with his black neighbors is both authentic and deft. 

    Prose: The novel's young narrators come across as real kids, squabbling one day and back to being best friends the next. They’re realistically brought to life by the author's crisp, age-appropriate prose--though peppering the pages with almost 100 uses of the non-word "n*****" can come across as almost as exploitative. 

    Originality: Novels about kids from clashing cultures and classes thrown together are common-enough YA tropes, but Overstake's lesson about the destructiveness of stubborn bigotry manages to be both fresh and illuminating.

    Character Development: Through the emotional growth of adolescent TJ and his evolving connection to his schoolmates, his racist mother and her KKK-affiliated boyfriend are central to the story. Each of the supporting characters is gifted with a distinctive personality.

  • Rune's Folly (Tower of Shells Book 1)

    by Garen Glazier

    Rating: 7.50

    Plot: The quest is fun, as are the characters who embark upon it, but the pacing could be structured a bit better to improve the book. The lack of a true setup and explanation of certain concepts can hinder the immediacy of many of the actions in this storyline.

    Prose/Style: Technically, this book is very well-written. Detailed descriptions and a steady flow make this a breezy read.

    Originality: In some ways, this is a standard fantasy quest; however, the dynamics between several of the characters, as well as the relationship between the "real" world and the Otherworld, give this book its own place in the genre.

    Character Development: The primary characters are well-rounded, with properly explored motivations, but the supporting characters would benefit from more exposition about their origins and motives.

    Blurb: “Rune's Folly” is a well-conceived adventure tale with an entertaining main cast and some exciting twists, but a lack of development in key areas of the plot and in the supporting cast keep this book from achieving its potential.

  • Frank Vaughn Killed by His Mom

    by D. Krauss

    Rating: 7.00

    Plot: Krauss' novel successfully takes us on a journey through an unforgettable, darkly fantastical summer in Butch's life after his mother and father announce their impending divorce.

    Prose/Style: Krauss' prose is minimalist, but it gets the themes and main concepts across very well, while also maintaining a child's point of view.

    Originality: Krauss' book has all of the hallmarks of a coming-of-age drama set in the 60’s, as Butch’s eyes are slowly opened to the real (and less-than-real) world around him.

    Character Development: The characters in Krauss' young adult tale are nuanced, with many twists to them, and an evident commitment to emotional exploration, growth and development.

  • Plot: This novel is well-plotted and contains plenty of adventure; however, the story would be strengthened greatly by incorporating the element of surprise. The details describing the setting are appreciated, but the plot can be slowed by the exposition describing the action.

    Prose: The storyline would benefit from consistency with one perspective, rather than shifting POVs. Additionally, more research into time-appropriate details and dialogue might make this world more believable to readers.

    Originality: This book takes place in a well-crafted world, and the plot would be improved by pulling on more unique magical and mythological elements.

    Character Development: The main character has strong instincts that shine through their self-doubt. As this self-doubt fades, the reader sees growth and confidence begin to reshape the protagonist, making them more likable and relatable.