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Books in Brief: Turtles All the Way Down by John Green, Nutcracker Mice by Kristin Kladstrup, Robinson by Peter Sis

Turtles All the Way Down by John Green; Dutton, 286 pages ($19.99) Ages 12 and up.

John Green, YA superstar author of critically acclaimed "The Fault in Our Stars" (which the Washington Post called a "tough, touching valentine to the human spirit"), offers his most personal novel yet in this compelling new novel told from the perspective of a 16-year-old girl grappling with the same mental illness that has affected him since childhood.

The novel revolves around the mystery of what happened to eccentric fugitive billionaire Russell Pickett, who disappeared from his rivershore mansion in Indianapolis without a word to his adolescent sons, Davis and Noah. Aza Holmes, who knows Davis from "Sad Camp" they attended years before after his mother and her father died, reluctantly agrees to help her friend Daisy investigate, in hopes of getting the $100,000 reward.

Aza finds herself possibly falling in love with Davis, but her obsessive fear of germs, most particularly of Clostridium difficile or C. diff infections, keeps getting in the way. ("Admittedly, I have some anxiety problems, but I would argue it isn't irrational to be concerned about the fact that you are a skin-encased bacterial colony.")

Green's novel is part detective novel, part romance and most of all, a heart-rending yet inspiring portrayal of Aza's personal battle to be a good daughter, a good person and a good friend while trying to find her way past the obsessive thought spirals always waiting to consume her.


Nutcracker Mice by Kristin Kladstrup, illustrated by Brett Helquist; Candlewick Press, 319 pages ($17.99) Ages 8 to 12.

This clever, utterly enchanting novel is a delectable holiday treat, set just before Christmas in 1892 at the Mariinsky Theater in St. Petersburg, Russia, where the ballet company is preparing for the debut of Tchaikovsky's "The Nutcracker."

The mice of the Mariinsky, who have their own ballet company, are outraged that mice are the villains of the tale and decide to rewrite it for their own simultaneous performance under the floorboards. The only human who has a clue what the mice are up to is a young girl named Irina, whose parents work at the theater. She catches a glimpse of mouse ballerina Esmeralda and resolves to protect the mice from the deadly traps placed by the new theater custodian.

Kladstrup has crafted a marvelous plot and colorful characters, a humorous and dead-on depiction of mouse-style ballet (Esmeralda is constantly being scolded for failing to properly control her tail) and a wonderful setting of 1890s St. Petersburg, as experienced by mice, with its back alleys, bakeries, the wonders of Nevsky Prospect and the nooks and crannies of the Mariinsky. Tchaikovsky himself has a pivotal cameo. Helquist's illustrations are marvelous.

Robinson by Peter Sis; Scholastic Press ($17.99) Ages 4 to 8.

Acclaimed author-illustrator Peter Sis takes an embarrassing incident from his childhood, when his mother talked him into dressing up as Robinson Crusoe for a school costume competition, and imagines the boy drifting off into a Crusoe adventure alone on an island, transforming humiliation into a wondrous journey of imagination and empowerment. His distinctive illustrations perfectly suit the dreamlike nature of the journey and the boy's time alone on the island. Sis has produced wondrous books before - of Galileo, of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, of his childhood behind the Iron Curtain - but this may be his most accessible yet for his target audience.


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