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The Parker inheritance
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  New York Times Review

READING A MIDDLE-GRADE NOVEL Can feel like opening Pandora's box. Devastating storms. Racial injustice. Violence, divorce, bullying, class conflict, depression, displacement, illness, grief, homophobia, abandonment, isolation, money worries and suicide attempts. That swarm of afflictions - all of them released from these four new books - might seem extreme, but the world doesn't always spare children. The students of Parkland, Fla., know this well. In my daughters' school, children are mourning a beloved first grader who died from complications of the flu. Her friends are 5,6,7 - too young to face such grief, we think helplessly, except that suddenly they must. Fiction gives children a chance to encounter loss gently, on the page, and to see how different characters find their way forward. Some measure of a book's success, then, might be how deftly it explores that pain - and what small winged creatures it might offer young readers alongside it, in the form of solace, courage, strength, patience, pride, resistance and hope. Or maybe even secret treasure? In Varian Johnson's THE PARKER INHERITANCE (Scholastic, 331 pp., $16.99; ages 8 to 12), 12year-old Candice Miller faces "a horrible summer" away from her friends and her father in Atlanta. After her parents' divorce, she and her mother have decamped to her grandmother's house in South Carolina, where Candice learns that her grandmother, who died two years before, was at the center of a city scandal, digging up tennis courts in search of buried treasure. This is the first hint that Candice won't be as bored as she imagines with nothing but library books, an iPod with her father's "ancient" music, and the kid across the street for company: a year younger, "a book snob" and a boy. Johnson has written a powerful novel for readers who, like Candice, "love a good mystery." Candice finds a letter with a clue to a $40 million treasure and a tantalizing note in her grandmother's handwriting. Brandon, the boy across the street, reveals himself asa worthy ally with troubles of his own. They uncover a history of racial violence in the city of Lambert, including acts of vengeance against those who attacked an African-American family in 1957 and those who stood by and did nothing. I love that "The Parker Inheritance" presents compelling arguments against doing nothing - and that Johnson's characters move through a range of responses to racism, a powerful way to enlarge conversations about injustice. The premise of the mastermind who contrived a treasure hunt sometimes strains credulity, but Johnson writes about the long shadows of the past with such ambition that any reader with a taste for mystery will appreciate the puzzle Candice and Brandon must solve. (One wonderful touch: They make headway when they discover clues based on the classic middle-grade mystery "The Westing Game.") Their adventure is also a quest for dignity and justice and a journey to understand each other. In a novel marked by scenes of pain and rage, their friendship, genuine and sustaining, is a great achievement. Friendship is at the heart of Vera Brosgol's latest graphic novel, be prepared (First Second, 244 pp., $16.99; ages 8 to 12). A catastrophic birthday sleepover persuades 8-year-old Vera, who left Russia at 5, that she will never "fit in with the American kids." But Vera is a comeback kid. With charming optimism, she lobbies her mother to let her spend the summer the way her well-off classmates do: at sleepaway camp. Best of all, it's "Russian camp," for immigrants, where Vera is bound to find her tribe. Her little brother is dragged along to become a reluctant wolf pup: collateral camp damage. Because camp is not what Vera imagined. Excessive marching, wild animals, kitchen duty, a looming scout test, nighttime raids, an evil-smelling latrine and 14year-old bunkmates, both named Sasha, with no time for small girls who don't wear bras. Vera must speak and sing in Russian, bathe in a creek, attend Orthodox services in a downpour. Even her brother the wolf pup ignores her. Still, she doesn't give up. "Camp is O.K.," she writes home gamely, requesting bug spray while reporting that she has no friends yet. "Be Prepared" is a complete delight, from the first sly jokes about the American Girl-ish doll Complicity to Brosgol's evocative artwork, which ranges from droll to wistful to outright lovely. Vera is a heroine for the ages, enduring day after lonely, buggy day without losing her spirit, compassion or love of beauty. Her sincerity is a beacon in the darkest latrine. Her triumphs are subtle and richly deserved. And her struggles are an eloquent reminder that even without outright tragedy, childhood is filled with challenges, cruelties and opportunities for courage. Ivy Aberdeen is another girl of spirit, living with her parents, twin baby brothers and older sister, Layla, in the family home in rural Georgia - until a tornado rips their house away. That's just the beginning of Ashley Herring Blake's middle-grade debut, IVY ABERDEEN 'S LETTER TO THE WORLD (Little, Brown, 307 pp., $17.99; ages 8 to 12). The title alludes to Emily Dickinson's poem addressing a world "that never wrote to me," raising questions about what we withhold from the people closest to us. In the aftermath of the storm, 12-yearold Ivy's best comfort comes from drawing, until she befriends June. Same-sex attraction is rare in middle-grade fiction, so it's gratifying to see the full arc of their relationship as Ivy's feelings move beyond simple friendship. Blake captures all the exhilaration of a first crush without shying away from Ivy's confusion and her worries about acceptance. Blake is adept at revealing how powerfully a misunderstanding can lodge in a child's mind, and Ivy's (mistaken) assumption about how her sister might react to her feelings for a girl adds another layer of tension to a family in crisis. The sisters' relationship is one of the great rewards of this novel that includes a large and vivid cast of secondary characters, who give the story its sense of abundant texture. Set in St. Thomas, Kheryn Callender's debut, HURRICANE CHILD (Scholastic, 211 pp., $16.99; ages 8 to 12), introduces 12-year-old Caroline, who faces storms of her own. Her schoolmates bully her. Her teacher torments her. Her mother disappeared over a year before, and the postcards have stopped coming. A girl turns up, claiming to be Caroline's sister. Her father does not explain. And Caroline sees spirits without knowing what they intend. Caroline is a lively girl who hops off a shared taxi without paying and turns back to grin at the irate driver. But her predicament is bleak. She escapes to the schoolyard only to meet "a half circle" of girls who pelt her with rocks. Caroline's principal offers a dash of warmth and understanding. But adult support is threadbare; her mother is gone and her father "has enough to worry about already." At first, this novel seems to be about self-reliance, and the kind of anger that can help brace a person in terrible circumstances. Caroline, we learn early, won't "cry after a bum smacking." But she is innately loving, as memories of her mother make clear. Her friendship with a classmate, Kalinda, brings the first sign that Caroline's future may brighten. Their connection is intense, but it's only after encountering tourists from a cruise ship - two white women holding hands - that Caroline realizes she "would like to hold Kalinda's hand too." This scene, delicate and straightforward, bears the twin revelations that Caroline is falling for Kalinda, and that Kalinda regards same-sex couples as wrong. Their journey toward understanding is harrowing but rewarding, because of all the dangers in this novel - from hurricanes to hauntings - the greatest by far is isolation. When Caroline risks heartbreak and scorn to tell Kalinda how she feels, most readers will understand why. They will also know why Caroline embarks on a perilous search for her mother. The stakes are high, the revelations are serious and Callender doesn't sugarcoat. But readers who face troubles of their own may recognize Caroline's fierce resolve: Others may be "fine with letting go of people they love," but she is not. It's not a soft or gentle vision; these are not circumstances anyone wants children to face. But Caroline's insistence on love, no matter what, might be just what young readers need to see. NALINI JONES is the author of the story collection "What You Call Winter." She teaches writing at Columbia University.

  Booklist Review

From the author of The Great Greene Heist (2014) comes the exciting adventure of two kids searching for a hidden treasure. Candice's summer has been the worst, until she finds a letter in her grandma's attic that led to her grandma being driven out of their town of Lambert, South Carolina. The letter offers clues about the untold history of a young African American woman named Siobhan Washington and about a secret game of tennis. Candice teams up with Brandon, the boy next door, and dives into the hidden history of Lambert to finish what her grandma started. Following each new discovery, Johnson reveals a key moment in the past that uncovers a secret love and a great injustice. While Candice works through her parents' divorce and moving, Brandon deals with being bullied by a boy from school. The mystery offers them a way to seek justice for Candice's grandma, but it also helps them deal with their own struggles. A dazzling and emotional read that deals with serious topics such as bullying, racism, and divorce.--Konkel, Elizabeth Copyright 2018 Booklist

  Kirkus Review

Summer is off to a terrible start for 12-year old African-American Candice Miller. Six months after her parents' divorce, Candice and her mother leave Atlanta to spend the summer in Lambert, South Carolina, at her grandmother's old house. When her grandmother Abigail passed two years ago, in 2015, Candice and her mother struggled to move on. Now, without any friends, a computer, cellphone, or her grandmother, Candice suffers immense loneliness and boredom. When she starts rummaging through the attic and stumbles upon a box of her grandmother's belongings, she discovers an old letter that details a mysterious fortune buried in Lambert and that asks Abigail to find the treasure. After Candice befriends the shy, bookish African-American kid next door, 11-year-old Brandon Jones, the pair set off investigating the clues. Each new revelation uncovers a long history of racism and tension in the small town and how one family threatened the black/white status quo. Johnson's latest novel holds racism firmly in the light. Candice and Brandon discover the joys and terrors of the reality of being African-American in the 1950s. Without sugarcoating facts or dousing it in post-racial varnish, the narrative lets the children absorb and reflect on their shared history. The town of Lambert brims with intrigue, keeping readers entranced until the very last page.A candid and powerful reckoning of history. (Historical mystery. 8-12) Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
A Boston Globe / Horn Book Honor winner * Four Starred Reviews * Over Ten Best-of-Year Lists<br> <br> "Powerful.... Johnson writes about the long shadows of the past with such ambition that any reader with a taste for mystery will appreciate the puzzle Candice and Brandon must solve." -- The New York Times Book Review <br> <br> A Coretta Scott King Author Honor and Boston Globe / Horn Book Honor winner! <br> <br> "Powerful.... Johnson writes about the long shadows of the past with such ambition that any reader with a taste for mystery will appreciate the puzzle Candice and Brandon must solve." -- The New York Times Book Review <br> <br> When Candice finds a letter in an old attic in Lambert, South Carolina, she isn't sure she should read it. It's addressed to her grandmother, who left the town in shame. But the letter describes a young woman. An injustice that happened decades ago. A mystery enfolding its writer. And the fortune that awaits the person who solves the puzzle.<br> <br> So with the help of Brandon, the quiet boy across the street, she begins to decipher the clues. The challenge will lead them deep into Lambert's history, full of ugly deeds, forgotten heroes, and one great love; and deeper into their own families, with their own unspoken secrets. Can they find the fortune and fulfill the letter's promise before the answers slip into the past yet again?
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