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2012 NBA Finalists reviews

Goblin Secrets
by William Alexander
Intermediate    McElderry    226 pp.
3/12     978-1-4424-2726-6     $16.99
reviewed in the fall 2012 Horn Book Guide
Theater is outlawed for the humans of Zombay. But when orphan Rownie flees witch Graba’s custody, he joins a performance troupe of goblins he hopes can help locate his brother (who disappeared after illegally acting); the goblins hope Rownie can prevent catastrophe from befalling the city. Rownie’s journey is obscured by too many fantastical elements, but the setting is imaginative. RANDY RIBAY


Out of Reach
by Carrie Arcos
High School    Simon Pulse    251 pp.
10/12    978-1-4424-4053-1    $16.99
reviewed in the spring 2013 Horn Book Guide
Almost-seventeen-year-old Rachel travels to San Diego to search for her missing brother, a meth addict; as the day unfolds, she confronts the dangers and destructiveness of drug abuse. The glacial pace allows for flashbacks, detailed descriptions, and musings on relationships, family, choice, God, etc., but will challenge readers to stay engaged; the anti-drug message is delivered with a heavy and rather naïve hand. MARTHA V. PARRAVANO


Never Fall Down
by Patricia McCormick
High School    Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins    222 pp.
5/12    978-0-06-173093-1    $17.99
Library ed. 978-0-06-173094-8    $18.89    g
Reviewed 5/12
Arn knows that if he ever falls down, he will be killed — shot, bayoneted, struck with an ax, or taken “someplace [he] can rest” by the Khmer Rouge. He’s watched soldiers lead away countless others in the work camp, and they never return. “But the dirt pile, it get bigger all the time. Bigger and worse smell. Like rot…That pile, now it’s like mountain.” Drawing on hundreds of hours of interviews with Arn  Chorn-Pond, who was eleven in 1975 when the Khmer Rouge gained control of Cambodia, McCormick creates an unflinching, riveting portrait of genocide as seen through a boy’s eyes. Written in realistically halting English, the narrative might be unreadable if not for Arn’s brash, resilient personality. Even before the regime change, he is scrappy, cutting school to sell ice cream on the streets and then using his earnings to gamble. His cheekiness and shrewd survival skills keep him from succumbing to despair in the camps. What’s more, he becomes a motivating force for fellow prisoners such as Mek, the music teacher enlisted to teach the boys how to play patriotic songs on traditional instruments. Having watched his wife and children die, Mek wants to die, too, but Arn won’t let him. “I hit this guy with my fist. ‘Okay if you die!’ I say. ‘But what about us? You don’t teach us to play, we die too. Us kid. Like your kid die, we will die also.'” The “happy  ending” — adoption by an American family after the war — is compromised until he can figure out how to deal with the hate in his heart: “Hate for the people who kill my family, hate for the people who kill my friend, hate for myself.” And so he tells his story. And so McCormick’s novel is one that needs to be read. CHRISTINE M. HEPPERMANN


by Eliot Schrefer
Middle School, High School    Scholastic    264 pp.
11/12    978-0-545-47001-8    $17.99
e-book ed.  978-0-545-47001-8    $17.99
Reviewed 1/13
Schrefer packs a wealth of incident — too much, perhaps — into a compelling survival story set in contemporary conflict-ridden Congo. When narrator Sophie, fourteen, arrives for her yearly visit to her Congolese mother’s animal sanctuary, she becomes attached to a rescued baby bonobo she names Otto — so much so that when the political situation destabilizes dangerously and she’s scheduled to be airlifted back to Miami, she can’t leave him behind. In one of the novel’s early dramatic moments, she jumps out of the armored United Nations airport van and flees into the sanctuary’s thirty-acre bonobo enclosure with Otto, thereby escaping the fate of all the other humans (Sophie’s mother is conveniently away at a wildlife preserve on a remote island), who are at that moment massacred by rebel soldiers. But before readers can settle in to this story line — can Sophie survive in the jungle amongst sometimes-hostile adult bonobos? — the author hustles her out of the sanctuary, and she and Otto embark on a harrowing journey through the war-torn countryside to find her mother. Sophie fights off illness, leeches, a drunken boy warlord, and yet another UN evacuation threat to get to her mother, all the while putting Otto’s welfare before her own. What pulls the reader through the shifts in plot and focus are the strength and immediacy of Sophie’s voice and the palpable connection between her and Otto; as well, the novel may provoke readers to think about a wide range of issues, from the value of human versus animal lives, to the causes and effects of war, to the nature of love. MARTHA V. PARRAVANO


Bomb: The Race to Build ― and Steal ― the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon
by Steve Sheinkin
Middle School, High School    Flash Point/Roaring Brook 
   266 pp.
9/12    978-1-59643-487-5    $19.99
Reviewed 11/12
While comprehensive in his synthesis of the political, historical, and scientific aspects of the creation of the first nuclear weapon, Sheinkin focuses his account with an extremely alluring angle: the spies. The book opens in 1950 with the confession of Harry Gold — but to what? And thus we flash back to Robert Oppenheimer in the dark 1930s, as he and readers are handed another question by the author: “But how was a theoretical physicist supposed to save the world?” Oppenheimer’s realization that an atomic bomb could be created to use against Nazi Germany is coupled with the knowledge that the Germans must be working from the same premise, and the Soviets are close behind. We periodically return to Gold’s ever-deepening betrayals as well as other acts of espionage, most excitingly the two stealth attacks on occupied Norway’s Vemork power plant, where the Germans were manufacturing heavy water to use in their own nuclear program. As he did in the 2011 Boston Globe–Horn Book Award winner The Notorious Benedict Arnold (rev. 1/11), Sheinkin here maintains the pace of a thriller without betraying history (source notes and an annotated bibliography are exemplary) or skipping over the science; photo galleries introducing each section help readers organize the events and players. Writing with journalistic immediacy, the author eschews editorializing up through the chilling last lines: “It’s a story with no end in sight. And, like it or not, you’re in it.” Index. ROGER SUTTON

The judges were: Judith Ortiz Cofer, Susan Cooper, Daniel Ehrenhaft, Gary D. Schmidt (chair), Marly Youmans. The National Book Awards will be presented on November 14, 2012.

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