Reviews of the 2023 Newbery Medal Winners


by Amina Luqman-Dawson
Intermediate, Middle School    Little, Brown    416 pp.    g
2/22    978-0-316-05661-8    $16.99
e-book ed.  978-0-316-05674-8    $9.99

Many accounts of the Underground Railroad mention that enslaved Blacks would stick close to swamps as they made their way North, as the topography proved problematic for slave catchers. A lesser-known fact is that from the 1700s through the Civil War, hundreds of African Americans remained in the swamp and established thriving communities. One such area, the Great Dismal Swamp, serves as the inspiration for Luqman-Dawson’s engrossing, ­multi-­perspective debut novel. Twelve-year-old Homer is on the run with his seven-year-old sister, their mother having turned back to save his friend, Anna. Homer has no idea how to survive in the swamp; the answer arrives in ­Suleman, a Black man with knowledge of both the swamp and the surrounding plantations. Suleman leads them to Freewater, an established community with a whole generation of children who have only known freedom. Homer makes the hard choice to go back to his old plantation (accompanied by his new friends) to free his mother, but she and Anna have their own plans for freedom, supported by an unexpected source: Nora, the youngest daughter of the plantation owner. When they all converge on the night of a ­wedding, sacrifices from each of them bring the story to an explosive and cathartic conclusion. Every chapter begins with a character’s name and records their journey, successfully developing a multidimensional cast. The author’s note contains a brief history of these communities formed by both ­Indigenous and self-emancipated Black people. EBONI NJOKU

From the May/June 2022 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.


Honor Books

Iveliz Explains It AllIveliz Explains It All
by Andrea Beatriz Arango
Middle School    Random    272 pp.    g
9/22    978-0-593-56397-7    $16.99
Library ed.  978-0-593-56398-4    $19.99
e-book ed.  978-0-593-56399-1    $9.99

“I’m tired of being that girl / who’s different / who’s special / who went through a ‘hard time’ / and basically messed up her home.” Seventh grader Iveliz writes in her new journal about her goals: trying to stay out of trouble at school; making a new friend; and ­acclimating to living with her abuelita, Mimi, who, having been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, has moved from Puerto Rico to be with Iveliz’s family. In spite of her efforts, Iveliz still struggles: her mom keeps getting called to the principal’s office; a makeover date with a new friend turns complicated; and her idea to grow a garden with Mimi doesn’t go as planned (gandules don’t grow well in Maryland). She is not sure how to get her life under control, or whether Dr. Turnip and Dr. ­Carrot, her garden-vegetable “therapists,” can actually help. Iveliz’s voice is relatable and strong. Her spare journal entries are in English with a fair amount of Spanish naturally integrated into her musings to create an authentic depiction of a Puerto Rican family and a young girl’s personal issues. This verse novel (with occasional interspersed art by Alyssa Bermudez) deals convincingly with grief, mental health, and middle-school bullies; twelve-year-old Iveliz’s first-person account amplifies the need for finding one’s voice and asking for help at any age. An author’s note lists mental health resources for young people. ALICIA K. LONG

From the September/October 2022 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.


The Last MapmakerThe Last Mapmaker
by Christina Soontornvat
Intermediate, Middle School    Candlewick    368 pp.    g
4/22    978-1-5362-0495-7    $17.99
e-book ed.  978-1-5362-2466-5    $17.99

Following Newbery honoree A Wish in the Dark (rev. 5/20), this is another middle-grade fantasy from acclaimed author Soontornvat. Sai comes from the humblest of humble beginnings but manages to fake it as assistant to Paiyoon Wongyai, Master Mapmaker of the Kingdom of Mangkon. Her exquisite skills with pen and ink are second only to Paiyoon’s, perhaps even surpassing his as he ages. When Paiyoon is commissioned to chart the course of a royal ship en route through dangerous, mythical seas, he takes Sai with him. Deception, treachery, and temptation await her — quite apart from violent storms, sea dragons, and a beleaguered stowaway for whom she feels responsible. Shipwreck and revelation come together, as Sai and the stowaway fend for themselves on the shores of a fabled continent. Class structure, imperial greed, and environmental ravages underpin the narrative arc of this fantastical adventure story, resonating with our own contemporary issues. At the same time, Soontornvat’s Thai-inspired culture and geography provide a vivid backdrop. With emphasis on an intricate plot and quick, accessible prose, Soontornvat provides plenty of excitement while bringing questions of expansionism and decolonization to young readers. DEIRDRE F. BAKER

From the March/April 2022 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.


Maizy Chen’s Last Chance
by Lisa Yee
Intermediate, Middle School    Random    288 pp.    g
2/22    978-1-9848-3025-8    $16.99
Library ed.  978-1-9848-3026-5    $19.99
e-book ed.  978-1-9848-3028-9    $9.99

Eleven-year-old Maizy and her mother leave fast-paced Los Angeles to spend the summer in languorous Last Chance, Minnesota. Oma and Opa, Maizy’s grandparents, own Golden Palace, the only Chinese restaurant in the area. Although she finds life in the Midwest boring at first, Maizy begins to make friends and connect more deeply with her family. As she spends time with her sick grandfather, Maizy learns about the history of those who came before her — in particular, her great-great-grandfather Lucky, whose fascinating life story is told in interspersed flashbacks. As Maizy learns about Lucky’s struggles against racism, she also confronts microaggressions and hate crimes that still plague Last Chance. Told through the eyes of a spirited and likable protagonist, the story explores evergreen issues of immigration, intergenerational trauma, and the many dark aspects of U.S. history alongside Lucky’s adventures with “sailing ships, outlaws, and a gold mountain.” Through this captivating story of the Chen family legacy, Yee (Millicent Min, Girl Genius, rev. 9/03; The Kidney Hypothetical, rev. 5/15) makes the personal political, and prompts readers to consider what it means to be American. GABI K. HUESCA

From the January/February 2022 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.


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