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Book Brief: Kids Like Us by Hilary Reyl, The Real McCoys by Matthew Swanson and Robbi Behr


Kids Like Us by Hilary Reyl; Farrar Straus Giroux, 279 pages ($17.99) Ages 12 and up.

From the author of 2013 adult novel "Lessons in French" comes a love story like no other, set in summer in France and told in the unforgettable voice of a 16-year-old boy on the autism spectrum.  Martin, son of a French father and American mother, has always attended a small school with other autistic kids at home in Los Angeles but his mother signs him up for the summer session at the local high school in a small French town while she directs a movie filming at a historic castle.

Martin has always had the love and support of his parents and older sister Elisabeth but has never really been exposed to neurotypical kids, and the experience is at once terrifying and thrilling, as he becomes intrigued with a classmate he thinks of as Gilberte Swann, a character from his favorite book, Marcel Proust's "Search, Swann's Way."  In explaining his fixation on the novel, Martin notes how "affinity therapy" helps break from an imaginary world to the outside: "Kids like us watch our shows and imitate what we see and hear. We do this until it starts to connect with something inside of us. Then we can start to express ourselves."

Martin is a handsome, athletic boy who “could almost pass for nothing more than quirky.” Unlike Layla and his other classmates in L.A., Martin  likes touching people.  He believes he is making friends at the French school and falling in love with Gilberte (whose real name is Alice) until he is insulted by a French friend's social media post, an incident which seems to confirm Layla's warning that his new friends are only "moths," drawn to Martin by his movie-director mother's celebrity.

Through Martin's voice, Reyl vividly creates the bubble he lives in, the difficulty he has with pronouns (saying "you" when he means "I") and the daunting challenge of moving out of himself to understand and empathize with others.  Among the cast of memorable characters are Alice herself, the French cook Bernadette who stubbornly refuses to pit the cherries for her clafouti, Elisabeth's kindly boyfriend Arthur and a villainous sort Martin refers to as "Asparagus Man."

With its vivid descriptions of the gorgeous setting, the small French town with its swimming pool and bakery, the lovely cottage the family is renting and the mouthwatering descriptions of French baked goods and cuisine, the book is almost as good as a trip to France. Reyl has written a poignant, lovely, unforgettable coming-of-age novel, a love story to rival even "The Fault In Our Stars."

The Real McCoys by Matthew Swanson, illusrated by Robbi Behr. Imprint, 336 pages ($16.99) Ages 8 to 12.
Matthew Swanson and Robbi Behr, the husband-wife creators of picture books “Everywhere,” “Wonder” and “Babies Ruin Everything,” offer a rollicking mix of text and cartoons in this amusing tale of fourth-grade detective Moxie McCoy, who sets out to solve the mystery of who stole Eddie the Owl mascot at Tiddlywhump Elementary School. Moxie sadly misses her former detective partner who has moved away and is busy interviewing possibilities for a new best-friend candidate even as she looks for clues and falsely accuses one classmate after another, until her bookish, boring little brother Milton offers his surprisingly valuable observations in the case.
- Jean Westmoore


Red Again by Barbara Lehman, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt ($16.99) Ages 4 to 7.

A boy finds a book at the side of the road, and the book draws him into another world where someone finds another red book, in this imaginative wordless companion to her 2005 Caldecott Honor winning "The Red Book."

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