Frustratingly ineffectual.

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CHUM

A young teen finagles his way onto a reality TV show.

Thirteen-year-old Los Angeles resident Levi Middleworth is absolutely convinced that great things are in store for him. He's got a Destiny with a capital D—all he has to do is find it. When his impressive swimming skills catch the attention of a talent scout looking to cast a reality show, Levi lies about his age and signs up for Chum TV. The show is set upon a boat traveling along the Pacific coast, and contestants are tasked with finding a small object known as a Chum each day. A player who doesn't find his or her Chum by the end of the day will be tossed overboard in a sort of weird variation on musical chairs. The last player standing wins $1 million. There's an interesting premise here, but unfortunately, the author seems unsure exactly how to exploit it. The novel's tone constantly switches between satire and straight drama, making it difficult for readers to decide whether they should care about the characters aboard the preposterous, increasingly dangerous ship. Muddying the waters further are arguments against fame-based culture and reality TV that seem a decade too late. These complications continue to compound, leaving readers with little to latch on or relate to.

Frustratingly ineffectual. (Fiction. 12-16)

Pub Date: Oct. 10, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-9891253-3-8

Page Count: 242

Publisher: Future House Publishing

Review Posted Online: Aug. 27, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2014

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A lukewarm retelling of “Beauty and the Beast.” (map) (Romance. 12-16)

OF CURSES AND KISSES

Rajkumari Jaya Rao has one goal during her time at St. Rosetta’s International Academy: to take revenge by breaking the heart of English aristocrat Grey Emerson.

Indian princesses Jaya Rao and her sister, Isha, begin their senior and sophomore years, respectively, at St. Rosetta’s near Aspen, Colorado, a school that has a reputation for well-kept secrets. The Emersons and Raos have had a feud for generations over a ruby that once belonged to the Raos and was stolen by the Emersons in the days of British colonialism. Now Jaya has discovered that the Emersons have dragged her little sister into the feud, and she will not rest until she has gotten her revenge. On a mission to break Grey’s heart, Jaya finds to her surprise that there is more to him than she thought. Grey, on the other hand, has lived as a recluse thanks to Jaya’s great-great-grandmother’s curse that makes his family fear he will die at age 18. Seeing Jaya at St. Rosetta’s wearing a shining ruby pendant fills him with terror. The story is told from the perspectives of both Jaya and Grey. Readers will empathize with both of them, although their long internal monologues may cause their attention to waver at times. Grey is white, and there is diversity among the secondary characters.

A lukewarm retelling of “Beauty and the Beast.” (map) (Romance. 12-16)

Pub Date: Feb. 18, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5344-1754-0

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Simon Pulse/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Nov. 19, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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Heartbreaking, historical, and a little bit hopeful.

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SALT TO THE SEA

January 1945: as Russians advance through East Prussia, four teens’ lives converge in hopes of escape.

Returning to the successful formula of her highly lauded debut, Between Shades of Gray (2011), Sepetys combines research (described in extensive backmatter) with well-crafted fiction to bring to life another little-known story: the sinking (from Soviet torpedoes) of the German ship Wilhelm Gustloff. Told in four alternating voices—Lithuanian nurse Joana, Polish Emilia, Prussian forger Florian, and German soldier Alfred—with often contemporary cadences, this stints on neither history nor fiction. The three sympathetic refugees and their motley companions (especially an orphaned boy and an elderly shoemaker) make it clear that while the Gustloff was a German ship full of German civilians and soldiers during World War II, its sinking was still a tragedy. Only Alfred, stationed on the Gustloff, lacks sympathy; almost a caricature, he is self-delusional, unlikable, a Hitler worshiper. As a vehicle for exposition, however, and a reminder of Germany’s role in the war, he serves an invaluable purpose that almost makes up for the mustache-twirling quality of his petty villainy. The inevitability of the ending (including the loss of several characters) doesn’t change its poignancy, and the short chapters and slowly revealed back stories for each character guarantee the pages keep turning.

Heartbreaking, historical, and a little bit hopeful. (author’s note, research and sources, maps) (Historical fiction. 12-16)

Pub Date: Feb. 2, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-399-16030-1

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Philomel

Review Posted Online: Nov. 3, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2015

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