- A Flicker of Courage by Deb Caletti
Caletti, Deb A Flicker of Courage. Putnam, 2020 [256p] (Tales of Triumph and Disaster!) Trade ed. ISBN 978-1-9848-1305-3 $13.99 E-book ed. ISBN 978-1-9848-1306-0 $8.99 Reviewed from galleys Ad Gr. 4-6
Poor neglected Henry Every has always envied his neighbor, Apollo Dante, and Apollo's warm family life, and when Apollo's younger brother Rocco is turned into a lizard Henry is determined to help. Joined by their classmates Jo Idár and Pirate Girl, they travel to see Henry's lighthouse-keeper grandfather, who informs the four children that they are spell breakers and that they must face Vlad Luxor, the Horrible Ruler with Magic of the Timeless Province, to save Rocco. Caletti, stalwart author of realistic YA novels, takes a different turn here in this middle-grade fantasy adventure, drawing consciously on familiar tropes of the everyman hero (it's right there in Henry's name) who finds surprising power, the gang of kids who can tackle anything together, and the evil, oppressive leader. The snappy text brings in plenty of smart humor, and thumbnail photographs comically illustrate various textual references. However, there's a lot more talking than actual adventure here, so the story is largely static, and the anti-Trump satire lends an arch tone that further distances readers from the action. Nonetheless, readers who've enjoyed the campy sensibility of Anderson's Pals in Peril tales (Whales on Stilts, BCCB 4/05, etc.) may appreciate the self-aware hijinks.