PICTURE THE DEAD

A brooding mystery set during the Civil War, this gripping ghost story of a young woman trapped by the confines of her gender and social standing is not altogether successful in its format. Blending straightforward first-person narration and illustrations fashioned to look like a scrapbook, much of the novel’s impact is drawn from its protagonist Jennie’s beautifully crafted plaintive voice. A tale of lost love, family betrayal and visits from the spirit world, also included is an engaging thread involving a spirit medium who employs photography in his fraudulent craft. Each of the short chapters is paired with Brown’s darkly inked, realistic drawings that mimic the look of photographs, newspaper articles and letters written in the elaborate cursive style of the era. Alas, the repetition of some of the images is too unsubtle in foreshadowing the story’s conclusion. Also, though carefully rendered, the illustrations often interrupt rather than enhance the flow of the work and may seem out of place for older teen readers, who would otherwise be a natural audience for this appealingly gothic work. (Historical fiction. 12 & up)

Pub Date: May 1, 2010

ISBN: 978-1-4022-3712-6

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Black Dog & Leventhal

Review Posted Online: Jan. 14, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2010

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A must-read with a conclusion that will leave readers craving more.

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THESE VIOLENT DELIGHTS

A monster spreads madness through the streets of Shanghai.

It is the autumn of 1926, and Shanghai is poised at the brink of transformation. Foreign powers have carved out portions of the city for themselves; what remains is divided between two feuding gangs, the Chinese Scarlet Gang and the Russian White Flowers. Eighteen-year-old Juliette Cai has returned home from New York City, wreathed in a reputation for ruthlessness and ready to step into her role as heir to the Scarlet Gang. Four years ago, a betrayal by the White Flowers heir, Roma Montagov, a young man of 19, led to the deaths of countless Scarlets, and Juliette is determined to avenge her gang. But when a lethal contagion strikes the city, targeting Scarlets and White Flowers alike, Juliette and Roma grudgingly agree to cooperate on an investigation in order to save their city. The slow-burning romance in this book takes a back seat to the gripping mystery grounded in immersive historical detail. Allusions to Romeo and Juliet are evident in names and specific scenes, but familiar themes of family, loyalty, and identity bear new significance in Gong’s inventive adaptation. Language is a tool wielded deftly by the multilingual characters, who switch easily among English, French, Shanghainese, Russian, and more, with Mandarin as the primary dialect for Chinese phrases. A strong supporting cast that includes a trans girl completes this striking debut.

A must-read with a conclusion that will leave readers craving more. (Historical fantasy. 13-18)

Pub Date: Nov. 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5344-5769-0

Page Count: 464

Publisher: McElderry

Review Posted Online: Aug. 4, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2020

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THE BOOK THIEF

When Death tells a story, you pay attention. Liesel Meminger is a young girl growing up outside of Munich in Nazi Germany, and Death tells her story as “an attempt—a flying jump of an attempt—to prove to me that you, and your human existence, are worth it.” When her foster father helps her learn to read and she discovers the power of words, Liesel begins stealing books from Nazi book burnings and the mayor’s wife’s library. As she becomes a better reader, she becomes a writer, writing a book about her life in such a miserable time. Liesel’s experiences move Death to say, “I am haunted by humans.” How could the human race be “so ugly and so glorious” at the same time? This big, expansive novel is a leisurely working out of fate, of seemingly chance encounters and events that ultimately touch, like dominoes as they collide. The writing is elegant, philosophical and moving. Even at its length, it’s a work to read slowly and savor. Beautiful and important. (Fiction. 12+)

Pub Date: March 14, 2006

ISBN: 0-375-83100-2

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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