New Starred Review for Houdini from School Library Journal

School Library Journal, Starred Review

Providence, RI, is the rundown hometown of John Smith, Jr., 13, nicknamed Houdini by his friends Lucky and Jorge. Hoping to make some money, Houdini undertakes writing an “authentic” kid’s book about life in the neighborhood, featuring his buddies; his hardworking parents; and his admired older brother, Franklin, a Marine serving in Iraq. Rounding out the diverse cast of local characters are Angel, a narcoleptic bully; Gregory Gregory, a power-hungry city councilman; and Old Man Jackson, a memorable and complex one-armed Vietnam vet with a pit bull called Da Nang. Houdini and friends start a leaf-raking business, which is halted when Lucky’s leg is badly injured in an act of sabotage. When another suspicious act imperils Da Nang’s life, Angel, the likely perpetrator, is defended by Lucky, who knows too well the realities of his harsh home life. Franklin is briefly reported MIA, then returns home with an arm wound and damaged spirit. The Smiths’ handling of Franklin’s military service is portrayed with nuance and dignity. More burdens come when Houdini’s father is laid off from his job. Franklin then organizes his father, Houdini, and others from the neighborhood to fix Old Man Jackson’s shabby house, which Councilman Gregory had been maneuvering to tear down. Humorous Top-10 lists on various topics are interspersed within the well-paced plot, and ample coverage, including a reading list, is given to the life and work of the great Harry Houdini, as a sense of hope and possibility renews this hard-luck community. Pair this fine upbeat novel with Barbara Kerley’s Greetings from Planet Earth (Scholastic, 2007)

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