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An often engaging narrative about coping with anxiety with an optimistic outlook, despite a few flaws.

Awards & Accolades

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
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Jahn’s latest YA novel follows a high school junior on her summer break who struggles with germaphobia in Manhattan during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Phoebe Benson isn’t a typical 16-year-old; she’s not worried about what people think of her, or even about extending her curfew. Instead, she’s scared of accidentally endangering her kid brother with Covid-19––so scared, in fact, that she’s nearly completely isolated herself. Phoebe’s anxiety has made it so that she hasn’t touched anyone in two years—not even members of her family. Although she’s seen several therapists, her anxiety hasn’t greatly lessened, and her parents don’t know how to deal with her. Still, she manages to take a pottery class and hold down a part-time job at independent bookstore Dust Jackets. But when she hears the beautiful sound of a violin in the subway station on her way to work one day––and the young man playing the instrument smiles at her––she’s tempted to move outside her cozy quarantine bubble. Phoebe’s best friend, Walter, the 64-year-old owner of Dust Jackets, lost his wife in a tragic accident years before and also has problems with anxiety. So when he encourages Phoebe to read a new book about living with anxious thoughts, she takes on the challenge. Jahn navigates the romance and social-commentary aspects of her book expertly, and the work offers strong attention to detail, a well-paced plot, and intriguing major characters. But although the author delivers fine dialogue, her teenage characters read young, and her innocent depiction of high school, although suitable for younger teens and tweens, may not entice older teenagers. Side players also don’t receive very deep characterization, independent from Phoebe’s own arc, which is a missed opportunity to dive into how friends and family can help those with mental illness.

An often engaging narrative about coping with anxiety with an optimistic outlook, despite a few flaws.

Pub Date: June 15, 2021


Page Count: 271

Publisher: BermLord

Review Posted Online: April 8, 2021

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Despite some missteps, this will appeal to readers who enjoy a fresh and realistic teen voice.

A teenage, not-so-lonely loner endures the wilds of high school in Austin, Texas.

Norris Kaplan, the protagonist of Philippe’s debut novel, is a hypersweaty, uber-snarky black, Haitian, French-Canadian pushing to survive life in his new school. His professor mom’s new tenure-track job transplants Norris mid–school year, and his biting wit and sarcasm are exposed through his cataloging of his new world in a field guide–style burn book. He’s greeted in his new life by an assortment of acquaintances, Liam, who is white and struggling with depression; Maddie, a self-sacrificing white cheerleader with a heart of gold; and Aarti, his Indian-American love interest who offers connection. Norris’ ego, fueled by his insecurities, often gets in the way of meaningful character development. The scenes showcasing his emotional growth are too brief and, despite foreshadowing, the climax falls flat because he still gets incredible personal access to people he’s hurt. A scene where Norris is confronted by his mother for getting drunk and belligerent with a white cop is diluted by his refusal or inability to grasp the severity of the situation and the resultant minor consequences. The humor is spot-on, as is the representation of the black diaspora; the opportunity for broader conversations about other topics is there, however, the uneven buildup of detailed, meaningful exchanges and the glibness of Norris’ voice detract.

Despite some missteps, this will appeal to readers who enjoy a fresh and realistic teen voice. (Fiction. 13-16)

Pub Date: Jan. 8, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-06-282411-0

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Oct. 14, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2018

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A smart, timely outing.

Two teens connect through a mysterious podcast in this sophomore effort by British author Oseman (Solitaire, 2015).

Frances Janvier is a 17-year-old British-Ethiopian head girl who is so driven to get into Cambridge that she mostly forgoes friendships for schoolwork. Her only self-indulgence is listening to and creating fan art for the podcast Universe City, “a…show about a suit-wearing student detective looking for a way to escape a sci-fi, monster-infested university.” Aled Last is a quiet white boy who identifies as “partly asexual.” When Frances discovers that Aled is the secret creator of Universe City, the two embark on a passionate, platonic relationship based on their joint love of pop culture. Their bond is complicated by Aled’s controlling mother and by Frances’ previous crush on Aled’s twin sister, Carys, who ran away last year and disappeared. When Aled’s identity is accidently leaked to the Universe City fandom, he severs his relationship with Frances, leaving her questioning her Cambridge goals and determined to win back his affection, no matter what the cost. Frances’ narration is keenly intelligent; she takes mordant pleasure in using an Indian friend’s ID to get into a club despite the fact they look nothing alike: “Gotta love white people.” Though the social-media–suffused plot occasionally lags, the main characters’ realistic relationship accurately depicts current issues of gender, race, and class.

A smart, timely outing. (Fiction. 12-16)

Pub Date: March 28, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-06-233571-5

Page Count: 496

Publisher: HarperTeen

Review Posted Online: Jan. 16, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2017

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