ALMA'S LOYALTY

From the Sassy Saints series , Vol. 2

Although Pajalić bravely deals with some serious adolescent issues, the book lacks an original angle on teen drama.

In Pajalić’s high school YA drama, a Bosnian girl in Australia attends a new school where she tries to befriend the sister she didn’t know she had.

Alma Omerović experiences the “most traumatic day” of her 15 years of life—she learns that her father, Esad, had a daughter no one in the family knew about (including Esad himself). In an effort to get to know this daughter, Sabiha, Esad moves the family from Hobart to Melbourne and enrolls Alma in the same school as his estranged daughter. Sabiha grew up under the assumption that Esad had abandoned her and her mother, and she spurns his affections as well as Alma’s attempts to establish a sibling bond with her. Alma slowly makes some headway into Sabiha’s group of friends—they call themselves the “Sassy Saints,” a coinage typical of author Pajalić’s thoroughly predictable montage of adolescent tropes. Alma laments her lonely experience as the outsider: “Every day was like walking underwater and fighting to get to the surface for a breath. There were currents and undertows and I constantly wished that I’d been able to stay in my old school and avoid the drama.” Meanwhile, Alma begins a romantic relationship with older student Alex Payne, a smooth talker with a “sparkling smile” who is either a sweet boyfriend or an exploitive scoundrel. The author hits all the big issues of adolescent life—religious bigotry and racism, sexual identity, the perils of sexting, and the pressure to cross the threshold from virginity into sexual maturity. It’s hard to ignore the feeling of a checklist being diligently completed here. Yet the author does perceptively capture the sneaking suspicion among teens that their adult superiors are monstrously hypocritical, a revelation encountered as a betrayal. Still, much of the book is a rehash of familiar themes, lacking freshness and vivacity.

Although Pajalić bravely deals with some serious adolescent issues, the book lacks an original angle on teen drama.

Pub Date: Oct. 22, 2022

ISBN: 9781922871176

Page Count: 236

Publisher: Pishukin Press

Review Posted Online: Jan. 9, 2023

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

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DIVINE RIVALS

Ideal for readers seeking perspectives on war, with a heavy dash of romance and touch of fantasy.

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  • New York Times Bestseller

A war between gods plays havoc with mortals and their everyday lives.

In a time of typewriters and steam engines, Iris Winnow awaits word from her older brother, who has enlisted on the side of Enva the Skyward goddess. Alcohol abuse led to her mother’s losing her job, and Iris has dropped out of school and found work utilizing her writing skills at the Oath Gazette. Hiding the stress of her home issues behind a brave face, Iris competes for valuable assignments that may one day earn her the coveted columnist position. Her rival for the job is handsome and wealthy Roman Kitt, whose prose entrances her so much she avoids reading his articles. At home, she writes cathartic letters to her brother, never posting them but instead placing them in her wardrobe, where they vanish overnight. One day Iris receives a reply, which, along with other events, pushes her to make dramatic life decisions. Magic plays a quiet role in this story, and readers may for a time forget there is anything supernatural going on. This is more of a wartime tale of broken families, inspired youths, and higher powers using people as pawns. It flirts with clichéd tropes but also takes some startling turns. Main characters are assumed White; same-sex marriages and gender equality at the warfront appear to be the norm in this world.

Ideal for readers seeking perspectives on war, with a heavy dash of romance and touch of fantasy. (Fantasy. 14-18)

Pub Date: April 4, 2023

ISBN: 978-1-250-85743-9

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Wednesday Books

Review Posted Online: Jan. 11, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2023

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