The contrived plot and one-dimensional, outlandish characters broadly mimic, rather than evoke, the rich 1930s setting.

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GIRL ABOUT TOWN

An over-the-top rags-to-riches story set in 1930s Hollywood.

Lucille O’Malley and her family are just barely scraping by on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. Her father is debilitated by physical and emotional injuries sustained in World War I, so her mother has abandoned a teaching career to launder the delicates of wealthy women. In a far fancier neighborhood across town, Freddie van der Waals is regretting his entire lavish life to date: everything looks right and feels wrong, including his glamorous new fiancee, Violet. When Freddie discovers the shrewd villainy that’s powered his father’s business success, he abandons wealth and ease for a life on the road. The same night, Lucille witnesses an alleyway murder and, for her silence, is granted an opportunity to become a film star. In alternating, coincidence-laden third-person chapters, the renamed Lulu Kelly and Freddie embark on opposite journeys—she toward luxury and success, he toward near starvation—and meet in Los Angeles, their fates intertwining when Lulu becomes the chief suspect in a shooting on a set where Freddie is an extra. This pair of highly self-possessed, thinly developed white teenagers falls in love and solves the mystery, against a backdrop of Hollywood intrigue featuring historical figures like gossip doyenne Louella Parsons and early it girl Clara Bow.

The contrived plot and one-dimensional, outlandish characters broadly mimic, rather than evoke, the rich 1930s setting. (Historical mystery. 12-15)

Pub Date: May 3, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-4814-4787-4

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Atheneum

Review Posted Online: March 2, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2016

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Quietly suspenseful, vividly character-driven, and poignant, with insights into cerebral palsy and the multiple meanings of...

I HAVE NO SECRETS

A nonverbal teen becomes the “real-life password” to solving a terrible crime in this British import.

Sixteen-year-old Jemma has “no secrets of [her] own.” Quadriplegic due to cerebral palsy, she can’t move or speak and depends on her foster parents and her aide, Sarah, for everything from eating to using the bathroom. But people often share their secrets with her. After all, Jemma can never tell—even when Sarah’s sleazy boyfriend, Dan, hints at his involvement in a recent murder just before Sarah goes missing. But when innovative technology offers Jemma a chance to communicate, can she expose Dan’s secret before he silences her? Despite its suspenseful premise, the plot pales against Joelson’s (Girl in the Window, 2018) intimate, unflinching exploration of Jemma’s character; the book’s most powerful tension lies in Jemma’s simple, direct narration of her unrecognized, uncomfortably realistic frustrations and fears, such as patronizing adults who “don’t realize that [she has] a functioning brain” and her worry that her overwhelmed parents will stop fostering. Refreshingly, the author’s detailed depiction of augmentative and alternative communication explores both the joy of self-expression and the physical and mental effort it requires. Jemma’s bond with her chaotic but supportive foster family grounds the story, particularly her touching rapport with her younger foster brother, Finn, who’s autistic and also nonverbal. Most characters appear white.

Quietly suspenseful, vividly character-driven, and poignant, with insights into cerebral palsy and the multiple meanings of “family.” (Suspense. 12-15)

Pub Date: Nov. 5, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-4926-9336-9

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire

Review Posted Online: Aug. 13, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2019

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Though it lacks references or suggestions for further reading, Arn's agonizing story is compelling enough that many readers...

NEVER FALL DOWN

A harrowing tale of survival in the Killing Fields.

The childhood of Arn Chorn-Pond has been captured for young readers before, in Michelle Lord and Shino Arihara's picture book, A Song for Cambodia (2008). McCormick, known for issue-oriented realism, offers a fictionalized retelling of Chorn-Pond's youth for older readers. McCormick's version begins when the Khmer Rouge marches into 11-year-old Arn's Cambodian neighborhood and forces everyone into the country. Arn doesn't understand what the Khmer Rouge stands for; he only knows that over the next several years he and the other children shrink away on a handful of rice a day, while the corpses of adults pile ever higher in the mango grove. Arn does what he must to survive—and, wherever possible, to protect a small pocket of children and adults around him. Arn's chilling history pulls no punches, trusting its readers to cope with the reality of children forced to participate in murder, torture, sexual exploitation and genocide. This gut-wrenching tale is marred only by the author's choice to use broken English for both dialogue and description. Chorn-Pond, in real life, has spoken eloquently (and fluently) on the influence he's gained by learning English; this prose diminishes both his struggle and his story.

Though it lacks references or suggestions for further reading, Arn's agonizing story is compelling enough that many readers will seek out the history themselves. (preface, author's note) (Historical fiction. 12-15)

Pub Date: May 8, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-06-173093-1

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: March 21, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2012

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