Packed with overexplained life lessons, this book is an earnest attempt to do too much.

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THE NEXT TO LAST MISTAKE

In Jahn’s (Beyond the Sanctified, 2017, etc.) latest, a teenage farm girl’s move to the East Coast teaches her about friendship, diversity, love, and herself.

Tess is deeply attached to her Iowa life, particularly her best friend, Zander, the family farm, and their cows. Finances force a difficult decision to sell the farm; her dad is re-enlisting in the Army to help in Syria. Tess is anxious about moving to North Carolina and starting over socially; even in her small Iowa school, she’s found it difficult to connect with people. The sheer size of her new high school is overwhelming, but Leonetta, a black girl assigned to help Tess (who is white) find her way around, quickly befriends her. Their bond grows to include Summer, who is white, and Alice, who is black. Being part of a group of supportive, caring friends is a new and wonderful experience for Tess. Tess is shocked and dismayed to witness the injustices her black friends face on a regular basis, and there are moments when she makes insensitive and uninformed remarks. These potentially impactful scenes—it seems Tess experiences a revelation every day—are ruined by explicit analysis, melodrama, lack of tension, or predictability. As the characters lack depth, major plot revelations fall flat as well.

Packed with overexplained life lessons, this book is an earnest attempt to do too much. (Fiction. 14-17)

Pub Date: March 19, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-61153-264-7

Page Count: 286

Publisher: Light Messages

Review Posted Online: Dec. 19, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2019

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An emotionally engaging closer that fumbles in its final moments.

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ALWAYS AND FOREVER, LARA JEAN

From the To All the Boys I've Loved Before series , Vol. 3

Lara Jean prepares for college and a wedding.

Korean-American Lara Jean is finally settled into a nice, complication-free relationship with her white boyfriend, Peter. But things don’t stay simple for long. When college acceptance letters roll in, Peter and Lara Jean discover they’re heading in different directions. As the two discuss the long-distance thing, Lara Jean’s widower father is making a major commitment: marrying the neighbor lady he’s been dating. The whirlwind of a wedding, college visits, prom, and the last few months of senior year provides an excellent backdrop for this final book about Lara Jean. The characters ping from event to event with emotions always at the forefront. Han further develops her cast, pushing them to new maturity and leaving few stones unturned. There’s only one problem here, and it’s what’s always held this series back from true greatness: Peter. Despite Han’s best efforts to flesh out Peter with abandonment issues and a crummy dad, he remains little more than a handsome jock. Frankly, Lara Jean and Peter may have cute teen chemistry, but Han's nuanced characterizations have often helped to subvert typical teen love-story tropes. This knowing subversion is frustratingly absent from the novel's denouement.

An emotionally engaging closer that fumbles in its final moments. (Romance. 14-17)

Pub Date: May 2, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-4814-3048-7

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: March 29, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2017

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Breezy, silly, unremarkable fun.

THE LIFE BELOW

From the Final Six series , Vol. 2

This sequel to The Final Six (2018) raises the stakes for its spacefaring teen astronauts.

Naomi Ardalan and the other Final Six are on their journey to colonize Jupiter’s moon Europa, leading the way for humans to eventually leave a dying Earth. Naomi is the only one in the group who knows that the leaders of the International Space Training Camp are keeping the truth from them, and it is down to her to discover whether there is alien life on Europa before they land. Back on Earth, and unbeknownst to the crew, left-behind recruit Leo Danieli works with genius doctor Greta Wagner to launch a solo mission to intercept and join Naomi’s ship in order to bring them news that not only is there definitely life on Europa, but they are set to land in its most dangerous zone. As the two missions and alternating narratives converge, the unthinkable happens—and everything changes. Fast-paced and plot-driven, the novel decidedly veers into science fiction horror territory with plenty of scares that readers willing to suspend disbelief and embrace the teenagers-in-space setup are likely to enjoy. The syrupy romance between Leo and Naomi continues, and a new layer is added to the story with a frustratingly too-brief examination of colonization and first contact. Naomi is Iranian American, Leo is Italian, and the human cast is international.

Breezy, silly, unremarkable fun. (Science fiction horror. 14-17)

Pub Date: Feb. 18, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-265897-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: HarperTeen

Review Posted Online: Jan. 23, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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