BITTER

A compact, urgent, and divine novel.

A teenager wrestles with hope and revolution at a boarding school for gifted artists.

Seventeen-year-old Bitter has finally found a home at Eucalyptus, which is run by the enigmatic Miss Virtue. Her best friend, Blessing, helps keep Bitter’s dark, curly hair shaved. Behind the brick walls of Eucalyptus they are safe from the bullets and anxiety-inducing protests ringing through the air in the trouble-torn city of Lucille. But the walls aren’t enough when Bitter starts to engage with the community of activists and citizens whose lives are ravaged by monsters. Eventually, her righteous anger births art that threatens to consume everyone with a fire that must be quelled or embraced. Emezi packs this novel with timely tension as characters struggle with knowing when and how to act in the face of unjustifiable state violence, among other societal atrocities. They acknowledge the reality of burnout for even the most stalwart resistance fighters and affirm that rest and physical nourishment are critical. Conversations about the impact of figurehead leadership show the importance of the collective as a driving force: “Leaders are dangerous. One person is weak; the people are strong.” The story introduces a space where queer characters from myriad faith traditions receive love and support from peers and adults in a world that is not perfect but in which the people strive to create space for radical inclusion.

A compact, urgent, and divine novel. (Fiction. 14-18)

Pub Date: Feb. 15, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-593-30903-2

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Nov. 29, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2021

IF ONLY I HAD TOLD HER

A heavy read about the harsh realities of tragedy and their effects on those left behind.

In this companion novel to 2013’s If He Had Been With Me, three characters tell their sides of the story.

Finn’s narrative starts three days before his death. He explores the progress of his unrequited love for best friend Autumn up until the day he finally expresses his feelings. Finn’s story ends with his tragic death, which leaves his close friends devastated, unmoored, and uncertain how to go on. Jack’s section follows, offering a heartbreaking look at what it’s like to live with grief. Jack works to overcome the anger he feels toward Sylvie, the girlfriend Finn was breaking up with when he died, and Autumn, the girl he was preparing to build his life around (but whom Jack believed wasn’t good enough for Finn). But when Jack sees how Autumn’s grief matches his own, it changes their understanding of one another. Autumn’s chapters trace her life without Finn as readers follow her struggles with mental health and balancing love and loss. Those who have read the earlier book will better connect with and feel for these characters, particularly since they’ll have a more well-rounded impression of Finn. The pain and anger is well written, and the novel highlights the most troublesome aspects of young adulthood: overconfidence sprinkled with heavy insecurities, fear-fueled decisions, bad communication, and brash judgments. Characters are cued white.

A heavy read about the harsh realities of tragedy and their effects on those left behind. (author’s note, content warning) (Fiction. 14-18)

Pub Date: Feb. 6, 2024

ISBN: 9781728276229

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire

Review Posted Online: Jan. 5, 2024

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2024

IF HE HAD BEEN WITH ME

There’s not much plot here, but readers will relish the opportunity to climb inside Autumn’s head.

The finely drawn characters capture readers’ attention in this debut.

Autumn and Phineas, nicknamed Finny, were born a week apart; their mothers are still best friends. Growing up, Autumn and Finny were like peas in a pod despite their differences: Autumn is “quirky and odd,” while Finny is “sweet and shy and everyone like[s] him.” But in eighth grade, Autumn and Finny stop being friends due to an unexpected kiss. They drift apart and find new friends, but their friendship keeps asserting itself at parties, shared holiday gatherings and random encounters. In the summer after graduation, Autumn and Finny reconnect and are finally ready to be more than friends. But on August 8, everything changes, and Autumn has to rely on all her strength to move on. Autumn’s coming-of-age is sensitively chronicled, with a wide range of experiences and events shaping her character. Even secondary characters are well-rounded, with their own histories and motivations.

There’s not much plot here, but readers will relish the opportunity to climb inside Autumn’s head.   (Fiction. 14 & up)

Pub Date: April 1, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-4022-7782-5

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire

Review Posted Online: Feb. 12, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2013

Close Quickview