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Five YA Books That Break All the Rules

In the end, it’s more liberating than oppressive, with bits of humor and a jubilant pageant takeover by beauty rebels to...

DUMPLIN'

From the Dumplin' series , Vol. 1

In a small Texas town, a confident fat girl confronts new challenges to her self-esteem.

At age 16, Willowdean—her mother calls her Dumplin’—has a good sense of herself. She’s uninterested in Mom’s raison d’être, the Clover City Miss Teen Blue Bonnet Pageant, which annually takes over the town and Will’s own house. Mom won once and now runs the pageant, dieting to fit her old dress and pressuring Will to diet too. Will doesn’t. She mourns her beloved aunt Lucy, a second parent to her who died six months ago, and simmers with pleasure over a new, hot, sort-of-boyfriend. However, his touch makes Will panic with newfound insecurity. She loses him, loses her old best friend, gains new social-outsider buddies (a familiar trope)—and finds triumph somewhere amid Dolly Parton, drag queens, breaking pageant rules, and repairing relationships. The text refreshingly asserts that thinness is no requirement for doing and deserving good things, that weight loss isn’t a cure-all, and that dieting doesn’t work anyway. The plot arc, amazingly, avoids the all-too-common pitfall of having its fat protagonist lose weight. Unfortunately, Murphy loses her step and undermines her main point in the mournful, cringeworthy details of Lucy’s death and life, which are blamed on extreme fatness rather than unfairness.

In the end, it’s more liberating than oppressive, with bits of humor and a jubilant pageant takeover by beauty rebels to crown this unusual book about a fat character. (Fiction. 13-16)

Pub Date: Sept. 15, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-06-232718-5

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 12, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2015

With appeal to cynics and romantics alike, this profound exploration of life and love tempers harsh realities with the...

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THE SUN IS ALSO A STAR

Natasha and Daniel meet, get existential, and fall in love during 12 intense hours in New York City.

Natasha believes in science and facts, things she can quantify. Fact: undocumented immigrants in the U.S., her family is being deported to Jamaica in a matter of hours. Daniel’s a poet who believes in love, something that can’t be explained. Fact: his parents, Korean immigrants, expect him to attend an Ivy League school and become an M.D. When Natasha and Daniel meet, Natasha’s understandably distracted—and doesn’t want to be distracted by Daniel. Daniel feels what in Japanese is called koi no yokan, “the feeling when you meet someone that you’re going to fall in love with them.” The narrative alternates between the pair, their first-person accounts punctuated by musings that include compelling character histories. Daniel—sure they’re meant to be—is determined to get Natasha to fall in love with him (using a scientific list). Meanwhile, Natasha desperately attempts to forestall her family’s deportation and, despite herself, begins to fall for sweet, disarmingly earnest Daniel. This could be a sappy, saccharine story of love conquering all, but Yoon’s lush prose chronicles an authentic romance that’s also a meditation on family, immigration, and fate.

With appeal to cynics and romantics alike, this profound exploration of life and love tempers harsh realities with the beauty of hope in a way that is both deeply moving and satisfying. (Fiction. 14 & up)

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-553-49668-0

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: Aug. 2, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2016

Austen, Wilde, and Indiana Jones converge in this deliciously anachronistic bonbon.

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THE GENTLEMAN'S GUIDE TO VICE AND VIRTUE

From the Montague Siblings series , Vol. 1

An 18th-century Grand Tour goes exquisitely wrong.

Eighteen-year-old white viscount Henry “Monty” Montague is as known for his dashing looks as his penchant for booze—and boys. Before his abusive father grooms him to run the estate, he and his mixed-race best friend, Percy, orphan son of a British colonist and a Barbadian woman, are sent on a yearlong Grand Tour—after which he and Percy will likely be separated forever. Adding insult, their Tour begins under the proviso that, after Monty’s sister is delivered to school in Marseille, Monty will remain on the sober straight and narrow or else risk loss of title and fortune. Monty wastes no time in demolishing this agreement in Paris when he gets hammered, offends Percy, insults a duke, ends up naked at Versailles, and steals an objet from the palace in a fit of childish rage. The theft ignites an adventure that illuminates a side of life the trio wouldn’t have otherwise seen. Issues of same-sex romance walk in stride with those of race as Monty and Percy find their footing amorously, sexually, and socially. Their realized attraction could mean imprisonment or death, and their relationship is often misconstrued as lord and valet due to Percy’s brown skin. The book’s exquisite, bygone meter and vernacular sit comfortably on a contemporary shelf. And the friction of racism, tyrannical entitled politicians, and misguided disapproval of homosexuality also have a relevance rooted in current culture’s xeno- and homophobia.

Austen, Wilde, and Indiana Jones converge in this deliciously anachronistic bonbon. (Historical fiction. 12-18)

Pub Date: June 20, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-06-238280-1

Page Count: 528

Publisher: Katherine Tegen/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: March 6, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2017

A dystopian world that is all too real and that has much to say about our own.

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THE MARROW THIEVES

In an apocalyptic future Canada, Indigenous people have been forced to live on the run to avoid capture by the Recruiters, government military agents who kidnap Indians and confine them to facilities called “schools.”

Orphan Frenchie (Métis) is rescued from the Recruiters by Miigwans (Anishnaabe) along with a small band of other Indians from different nations, most young and each with a tragic story. Miigwans leads the group north to find others, holding on to the belief of safety in numbers. Five years later, Frenchie is now 16, and the bonded travelers have protected one another, strengthened by their loyalty and will to persevere as a people. They must stay forever on alert, just a breath away from capture by the Recruiters or by other Indians who act as their agents. Miigwans reveals that the government has been kidnapping Indians to extract their bone marrow, scientists believing that the key to restoring dreaming to white people is found within their DNA. Frenchie later learns that the truth is even more horrifying. The landscape of North America has been completely altered by climate change, rising oceans having eliminated coastlines and the Great Lakes having been destroyed by pollution and busted oil pipelines. Though the presence of the women in the story is downplayed, Miigwans is a true hero; in him Dimaline creates a character of tremendous emotional depth and tenderness, connecting readers with the complexity and compassion of Indigenous people.

A dystopian world that is all too real and that has much to say about our own. (Science fiction. 14-adult)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-77086-486-3

Page Count: 180

Publisher: DCB

Review Posted Online: July 2, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2017

Exquisite, heartbreaking, unforgettable—and, ultimately, uplifting.

PICTURE US IN THE LIGHT

Family, art, love, duty, and longing collide in this painfully beautiful paean to the universal human need for connection.

Cupertino, California, high school senior Danny Cheng has a tight circle of friends, adoring parents, and a full scholarship to his dream school, the Rhode Island School of Design. But lurking just beneath the surface are secrets and tensions that threaten to tear apart everything he holds dear. Closeted Danny has kept hidden his longtime attraction to his best friend, Harry Wong, who is in a serious relationship with Danny’s close friend Regina Chan. Some of his parents’ oddities also turn out to be more than just eccentricity; they are hiding something dark from their past. Danny knows he had an older sister who died in China, but little beyond that. He stumbles across a mysterious file of papers, but his parents refuse to explain. Meanwhile, some in Danny’s circle of school friends are struggling with demons of their own. Gilbert paints a vivid portrait of a largely Asian-American community, diverse in terms of socio-economic status, ethnicity, and religious faith. While the topics dealt with may be heavy, the book is suffused with the warmth of the characters’ love for one another. Imperfect in their human frailty and noble in their desire to do the best they can, they are universally recognizable and sympathetic.

Exquisite, heartbreaking, unforgettable—and, ultimately, uplifting. (Fiction. 14-adult)

Pub Date: April 10, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-4847-2602-0

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Disney-Hyperion

Review Posted Online: Feb. 20, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2018

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