Alex Wise vs. the end of the world

Terry J. Benton-Walker

Book - 2023

Twelve-year-old Alex leads the charge against the forces of evil as he tries to stop the Four Horsemen from taking over the world.

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Subjects
Genres
Fantasy fiction
Children's stories
Novels
Published
New York : Labyrinth Road [2023]
Language
English
Main Author
Terry J. Benton-Walker (author)
Edition
First edition
Physical Description
408 pages ; 22 cm
Audience
Ages 8-12.
Grades 4-6.
ISBN
9780593564295
9780593564318
9780593564301
Contents unavailable.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

A Black 12-year-old's family trip is derailed by the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse in this action-packed series starter by Benton-Walker (The Blood Debts). Now that his bestie is vacationing elsewhere for the summer, Los Angeleno Alex Wise is more determined than ever to win back his former friend, who ditched him for a new pal at the beginning of the school year. Alex's mother has other plans for, though: along with his younger sister Mags, Alex is setting sail on a cruise with his father, whom the siblings haven't seen since their parents divorced two years ago. Alex tries to make the most of his time at sea, but the relaxing cruise is plagued by Mags's insistence that there's a Shadow Man aboard the ship. When she's taken by the Shadow Man and possessed by the spirit of Death, Alex endeavors to save her. But with the spirits of Famine, Pestilence, and War by her side, he has his work cut out for him. This adventurous tale--propelled by a hero whose reluctance drips from his first-person narration--weaves themes of standing up for oneself in their personal life with high-octane sequences that culminate in a satisfyingly earnest first installment. Ages 8--12. Agent: Patrice Caldwell, New Leaf Literary. (Sept.)

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by School Library Journal Review

Gr 4--7--What to do when the four horsemen of the apocalypse rise, and Death takes over the body of your nine-year-old little sister? Alex Wise will need to gather all his inner strength, accept himself, and assemble a horsemen-fighting super squad in this fast-paced, comedic fantasy. It's the beginning of summer break, and Alex has one goal: to win back his former best friend, Sky, the only person he ever came out to. Unfortunately, Alex's mother has other plans: shipping him and his sister, Mags, off on a cruise with their father and his sparkly new family, including a teenaged son who is rugged and athletic--seemingly everything that Alex is not. However, when Mags is kidnapped by a mysterious shadow man and then possessed, Alex doesn't hesitate to throw himself fully into danger after her. Thankfully, Alex has his supportive BFF Loren by his side and is soon accompanied by Liam, a lonely and troubled demigod who grew up with the horsemen. After Alex is chosen by Orin, a nonbinary god of empathy, as their vessel, he and his new team of heroes must master their powers to save Mags. A central quest that embraces empathy and understanding as superpowers, featuring nearly all Black and brown characters, is refreshing; many teachers or parents will appreciate this book's central message of trauma recovery and self-acceptance. Additionally, the lack of profanity, gore, or even intense peril make this a perfect choice for younger readers, particularly those looking for queer stories. VERDICT With nonstop action that is always thrilling but never too scary, this fantasy is perfect for younger readers who are fans of Rick Riordan or Kwame Mbalia.--Catherine Cote

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Review by Kirkus Book Review

Twelve-year-old Alex Wise already knew this would be the worst summer ever--he just didn't think it would also be his last. When Mags, his little sister who shares his "dark brown eyes, chestnut skin, and full lips," gets hurt while under his care, Alex's mom sends them to their dad's for the summer. This sucks for two reasons: Alex's dad has a new family, and Alex is being haunted by Shadow Man, a presence he can't shake. When Shadow Man abducts Mags, Alex is thrown into a chaotic journey to save his sister and the world, pitted against four murderous Horsemen set on starting an apocalypse. Along the way Alex gets possessed by Orin, a god who is asexual and nonbinary, and is joined in his fight by Loren, his queer BFF, and Liam, a mysterious, magical, teenage guardian. Benton-Walker presents Alex's inner conflicts over being gay and feeling abandoned by people with such understanding, concern, and affirmation that it's easy to root for him. However, because the story jumps around without clear transitions, readers rarely get chances to breathe and appreciate the thoughtful queer representation and predominantly Black cast. Even though the writing is compelling, the choppy chapters often build up to plot twists that make the story feel less cohesive instead of providing strong threads to follow through to the end. A wild, roving, but disjointed ride to the end of the world and beyond. (author's note) (Fantasy. 9-13) Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

1 The Beginning of the End I can't believe I survived sixth grade. This entire year almost blew the gauge on the Suckage Meter. But I made it out in one piece (barely), and now I'm going to use summer break to set my world back in order--­or I'm at least going to try my best. Kids pour down the sidewalks outside Palm Vista Middle, flooding the air with shouts and laughter, energy renewed by the official start of summer vacation. My best friend and I stroll alongside each other at a slower pace than usual, drinking in the drastic shift in atmosphere. No mountains of homework, no waking up early to get to school on time--­summer break has finally arrived in Palm Vista, California. I don't remember ever liking this place. The last truly exciting thing to happen here was when the highway strip mall got a GameStop and a Cold Stone in the same month. Last summer, I emailed Guinness World Records to nominate Palm Vista as Most Boring Town in US History. They never wrote me back. There's not much to do here unless you'd enjoy an arcade with prehistoric machines that eat quarters like popcorn or a movie theater with musty, creaky seats and stale candy. My hometown sits smack-­dab between San Diego and Los Angeles. Two places I'd rather be any day--­but my preference would not be San Diego. I have zero desire to be near Dad or his "new family." I slide my backpack around and peek inside the front pocket. The small white envelope is still safe and sound. I know, I know: carrying these tickets around is pointless. The concert's a week away, and I still haven't mustered the courage to ask Sky to go with me. But keeping the tickets close helps me hold on to the hope that he and I might become friends again. "I think I'll commit to full-­on rebellion and loc my hair," Loren Blakewell announces as she loops both thumbs through the straps of her camo backpack, the front of which she's suffocated with colorful enamel pins. She's wearing cuffed olive-­green overalls, and her hair is pulled back into a giant pouf, held in place by a black-­and-­green ribbon that, of course, matches her sneakers. "It's my hair. I should be able to do what I want with it." "You're absolutely right." I zip closed the pocket of my backpack and swing it around to my back. "But if you upset your mom, she'll lock you in solitary for the rest of summer." Loren groans and kicks a rock, sending it skittering down the cracked sidewalk. She must be angry to risk scuffing her Jordans. I think she'd look great with locs, but her mom told her that hairstyle wasn't "appropriate for a young lady"--­and Loren got her phone taken away for a week for calling her mom a troglodyte. That week also rated pretty high on the Suckage Meter, because I'd grown accustomed to having Loren's usual upbeat mood to distract me from what'd happened between me and Sky. "Soooo . . ." Loren drags out the word, making my gut flinch preemptively. "Speaking of summer break, there's something I have to tell you." "What's up?" I try to sound unconcerned despite my stomach revving up to full-­on Cirque du Soleil. "I'm going to LA for break." She winces as if she's the one hurt by the reveal. I still smile. "I finally convinced Mom to let me go to Muay Thai camp." Loren became obsessed with Muay Thai three years ago, when she started taking lessons at the YMCA. At first, her mom refused to let her take the class, but Loren went on a hunger strike and Mrs. Blakewell caved by day two. Muay Thai camp means a lot to Loren, so I'm def happy she's getting to go. But my heart also sinks into a pit of sludge, because I realize my best friend's going to be gone our entire summer break. And that means the only other "friend" I'll have to hang out with is Sky. Except he and I aren't exactly friends right now. I swallow the lump of anxiety in my throat as I elbow my bestie playfully. "That's great, Lo." "You aren't mad?" she asks. Mad? Nah! Decimated? Only a little. "I'm going to miss you terribly," I say with an exaggerated sigh, "but I suppose I'll find a way to survive." Now my mission to fix things with Sky has just become dire; otherwise I'm doomed to spend the entire summer with only the company of my irritating human barnacle of a little sister--­who had better be waiting at her school's pickup zone like she's supposed to be. The last time she wandered off (yeah, she's a repeat offender), mesmerized by her tablet, it took twenty whole minutes of frantic searching before Loren and I found her curled up on a bench near the playground, reading. The last thing I need right now is Mom grounding me on the first day of summer break because Mags got lost on my watch. Loren and I pass a strip of shops where some of our classmates hang out; then we turn the corner toward the elementary school, leaving the ruckus of the main road behind for the deserted side street. This part of the neighborhood is silent except for the soft shuffle of our sneakers on the pavement. The back of my neck prickles . . . like someone's watching me. I look over my shoulder, but we're alone. Weird. I shrug the feeling off, but something snaps across the street, like a twig breaking underfoot. Either Loren doesn't hear, or she ignores it as she ambles beside me, deep in thought, likely planning how to kick off hair-­pocalypse with her mom this summer. Across the street is a row of paneled cottages with plain, reasonable front lawns, drenched in the shadows of the mature trees lording over the sidewalk. The windows of every house are dark, as if the entire neighborhood's already left for vacation. Creepy. I start to turn away, but something catches my eye. It looks like someone's shadow disappearing behind the trunk of one of the wide, slanted trees whose roots have broken up the surrounding sidewalk. I stop and crane my neck to see if anyone's hiding behind the tree. No one's there. But I could've sworn--­ "Umm . . . did you forget how to walk, goober?" Loren, a few strides ahead of me, doubles back, looking confused. "I thought I saw something," I mutter. "What?" she asks, concerned now. Before I can answer, the sound of Sky's laugh snatches my attention. He's a block behind us, walking alongside his new bestie. Sky's shoulder-­length sandy-­brown hair is up in a pony­tail, and the sun has flushed the freckly strip of skin beneath his forest-­green eyes and across the bridge of his nose. He's wearing a faded San Diego Padres tee--­the baseball team his dad, the famous Judas Hollowell, pitched for before he retired last year. "Nothing," I tell Loren. "Let's go." She shrugs, and we continue toward the elementary school. I glance back at Sky, who's so engrossed in his friend that he hasn't noticed me walking ahead of him. It wouldn't bother me so much if his new bestie were literally anyone other than Larry Adams, one of the evil villains in the story of my life. The sight of them together tightens my chest like someone's twisting it with a rusty crank. I met Sky at the library at the start of summer break last year. His family had just moved to Palm Vista from San Diego, and his parents had forced him and Blu, his ten-­year-­old brother, to sign up for the summer reading club. While Loren's mom dragged their family around the country on an educational agony--­uh, I mean vacation--­Sky and I hung out a lot. Played video games. Listened to music. Watched TV. Talked for hours. And on the last day of summer break, I told him my deepest, darkest, scariest secret--­the one Loren doesn't even know. Then the next morning at school, Sky met Larry, and our friendship was obliterated before the homeroom bell rang. I've wondered all year if telling Sky my secret was a mistake, if doing it right before Larry accosted him that morning was what made Sky change his mind about being friends with someone like me, someone I thought he was too. I need to know the truth. I look back again. This time, Sky meets my gaze--­but Loren jabs me with her elbow, stealing back my attention. "Are you listening to me?" she asks. "Why are you being so weird all of a sudden?" "I'm not," I say, fighting the urge to look again. "Speaking of weird," she says before I can snap back, "there was this creepy influencer dude from LA on TV this morning raving about horsemen and the end of the world. Dad made me turn it off while we were eating breakfast. Have you heard anything about it?" I shake my head, though I'd welcome the end of the world if it would get me far, far away from Palm Vista and Larry Adams. "Well," I say as we walk through the gates of Palm Vista Elementary, "I highly doubt it, but if these horsemen are real, I think it's super rude of them to end the world now, after we've suffered through a whole school year." Excerpted from Alex Wise vs. the End of the World by Terry J. Benton-Walker All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.