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Books in Brief: You Were Never Here, Diary of a Wimpy Kid the Deep End, I Dream of Popo, Instant Karma

Books in Brief: You Were Never Here, Diary of a Wimpy Kid the Deep End, I Dream of Popo, Instant Karma

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You Were Never Here by Kathleen Peacock; HarperTeen, 400 pages ($17.99) Ages 13 to 17.


A feisty heroine trying to negotiate complicated situations with family and friends is front and center in this richly atmospheric, well-crafted thriller. 

After a disastrous falling out with her best friend in New York, 17-year-old Mary Catherine "Cat" Montgomery is sent for the summer to stay with her aunt in Montgomery Falls, a small town in Canada where her family owned the now-closed textile mill.

Cat has a unique psychic gift, but it's a gift that brings her pain and makes it hard for her to get close to anyone. She is shocked upon arriving in Montgomery Falls to see "missing" posters for Riley Fraser, a high school senior who lives next-door to her aunt, was once a close friend and has been missing for months.

Aunt Jet rents rooms in the ancestral Montgomery home, and Cat starts hanging out with an 18-year-old boarder named Aidan, watching horror movies with him and his movie-buff friends. She starts investigating Riley's disappearance with the help of his older brother Noah; Riley was obsessive compulsive, always mapping the woods and keeping lists of things he found. Could a special St. Anthony's medal, found at a crime scene, be connected to his disappearance?

Peacock ramps up the suspense with numerous clever plot twists until the climactic and surprising reveal at the end. The ruined mill, with its dangerous tunnels, is a terrific backdrop for some of the action. "Cat," with her negative body image about her weight and her past history of fraught personal relationships, makes an interesting protagonist.


Diary of a Wimpy Kid, the Deep End by Jeff Kinney; Amulet Books, 217 pages ($14.99) Ages 8 to 12.


Greg Heffley and his family have been living in his grandma's basement for two months when they decide to hit the road for an adventure in his uncle's camper in this amusing 15th installment in Jeff Kinney's blockbuster Wimpy Kid series.

The claustrophobic confines of a family of five living in grandma's basement seem to echo current quarantine conditions with everyone stuck at home. But the cross-country adventure brings on the over-the-top, manic silliness (complete with Kinney's trademark cartoons) of other "Wimpy Kid" books as the Heffleys find themselves at an RV park that's something of a nightmare, with skunks and juvenile delinquents and eventually, a flood.


I Dream of Popo by Livia Blackburne, illustrated by Julia Kuo; Roaring Brook Press ($18.99) 

The author, who was born in Taiwan and moved to Albuquerque, N.M., when she was five, offers a tender, emotionally resonant tale of a girl who must say goodbye to Popo, her beloved grandmother, when her family emigrates from Taiwan to the United States in this lovely picture book illustrated by a Taiwanese-American artist.

As a tiny girl she walked with Popo in the park, her grandmother cuddled her close, pushed her on the swings, fried up New Year's cakes, showed her where on the globe she was moving. With lyrical language ("The airplane thrums like the biggest cat I've ever seen") and Kuo's detailed, evocative illustrations, Blackburne vividly depicts the adjustment a small child makes in moving to a new place, with a once central relationship relegated to phone calls and rare visits. When she returns to Taiwan, everything seems smaller, and the girl  is sad to realize she has lost the ease of the language that she spoke with her grandmother ("words are hard to catch, like fish in a deep well").

Both author and illustrator include extensive notes about their family history and connections to Taiwan at the end.


Instant Karma by Marissa Meyer; Feiwel and Friends, 400 pages ($18.99) Ages 12 and up. 

A girl discovers the power to inflict instant karma on anyone she notices misbehaving - only to find the universe has something surprising in store for her – in this entertaining enemies-to-friends romantic comedy from the author of excellent fantasy series "The Lunar Chronicles."

Prudence (named by her vinyl-loving parents for Beatles tune "Dear Prudence") is a tightly-wound overachiever who can't abide the sloppy, tardy ways of her lab partner, Quint (named for the shark hunter in "Jaws"). When their joint final project gets a C, the teacher allows them to do it over on the condition that they actually work together. Prudence is surprised to discover that Quint has hidden depths: he is often late to school because he spends hours volunteering at the sea animal rescue center his mother operates. He is also a very gifted wildlife photographer.

Meyer has crafted a uniquely unsympathetic love interest in Prudence, but the gradual humanizing of Prudence through her rescue work with animals makes the romance more credible. Save this one for the beach next summer.

Jean Westmoore

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Reviewer of children's books for the Buffalo News and retired after 36 years at The News, working as a copy editor, assistant city editor, feature writer, youth section editor and digital content editor.

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