Interesting but befuddled.

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NO SAINTS IN KANSAS

A transplanted Kansas teen tries to make sense of a brutal murder in Brashear’s debut.

Sixteen-year-old Carly narrates the story of a murder that gripped the small Kansas town of Holcomb in 1959, when Herb and Bonnie Clutter, along with their teenage children, Nancy and Kenyon, were killed without obvious motive. Truman Capote would immortalize the subsequent manhunt and trial in his masterpiece In Cold Blood. Brashear chooses to tell the story from the perspective of a presumably fictional white girl who wanted to be—but wasn’t quite—Nancy’s friend. Ex–New Yorker Carly searches for evidence, going so far as to hold a séance at the scene of the crime; she’s interrogated by police and, like everyone else in the town, interviewed by Capote. Kansan Brashear writes smoothly, but her novel is problematic on several fronts. Carly never emerges with a clear motive for her snooping, uncovering nothing of value, and her personal narrative arc seems slight. Worse, modern teens aren’t likely to understand that this is a retelling of a nearly 60-year-old crime story. Without background, Capote and his female friend, Nelle Lee (later author of To Kill a Mockingbird), seem like odd distractions from the main narrative. There’s no author’s note to separate fact from fiction or to inform readers what happened after the trial, and without context the story doesn’t really hold up on its own.

Interesting but befuddled. (map) (Historical fiction. 13-17)

Pub Date: Nov. 14, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-61695-683-7

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Soho Teen

Review Posted Online: Aug. 2, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2017

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Only for readers who are really good at suspending disbelief.

H2O

Grab an umbrella: The latest fictional civilization-ending threat is deadly rain.

Ruby’s having the best night of her life, drunkenly making out with her crush in a hot tub at a party. Suddenly, the host’s parents arrive and, panicking, drag everyone indoors. The radio broadcasts an emergency message about fatal rain. Space bacteria have entered the atmosphere on an asteroid, replicated in the clouds’ moisture and now rain death upon humanity. Just humanity, though—inexplicably, this bacteria’s apparently harmless to plants and other animals. After struggling to live through the first few days—finding uncontaminated water sources is a particular challenge—Ruby decides to travel across the country to find her father. The situation’s horrifying, but what gives the deaths resonance is how sad they are, rather than simply scary (although they are plenty gory). Ruby’s narration is unsophisticated and, especially in the beginning, self-conscious, keeping readers from immersing themselves in the story, much as the strange butterfly graphic that censors curse words does. Additionally, Ruby’s progressively vapid characterization makes her hard to root for. Her biggest redeeming trait’s her love of animals. The novel also has the usual post-apocalyptic tropes—nerdy companion, military of dubious trustworthiness, human threats, a young child to take care of and so forth. The ending is immensely unsatisfying.

Only for readers who are really good at suspending disbelief. (Post-apocalyptic adventure. 14-17)

Pub Date: Oct. 7, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4926-0654-3

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire

Review Posted Online: July 29, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2014

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Though no punches are pulled about the unimaginable atrocity of the death camps, a life-affirming history

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  • Sydney Taylor Book Award Winner

THE LIBRARIAN OF AUSCHWITZ

A teenage girl imprisoned in Auschwitz keeps the secret library of a forbidden school.

Dita Adlerova, 14, is confined in the notorious extermination camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau. Compared to her fellow inmates, Dita’s relatively lucky. The several thousand residents of camp BIIb are inexplicably allowed to keep their own clothing, their hair, and, most importantly, their children. A young man named Fredy Hirsch maintains a school in BIIb, right under the noses of the Nazis. In Fredy’s classroom, Dita discovers something wonderful: a dangerous collection of eight smuggled books. The tale, based on the real life of Dita Polach Kraus and the events of 1944 and 1945, intertwines the stories of several real people: Dita, Fredy, several little-known war heroes, even a grim cameo from Anne and Margot Frank. Holocaust-knowledgeable readers will have suspicions about how many characters will die horribly (spoiler alert: this is Auschwitz). Yet somehow, myriad storylines told by multiple narrators offer compelling narrative tension. Why does BIIb exist? Will Rudi and Alice have a romance? What’s Fredy’s secret? Will Dr. Mengele subject Dita to his grotesque experiments? Dita’s matter-of-fact perspective, set in a slow build from BIIb to the chaotic starvation of the war’s end, both increases the horror and makes it bearable to read.

Though no punches are pulled about the unimaginable atrocity of the death camps, a life-affirming history . (Historical fiction. 13-16)

Pub Date: Oct. 10, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-62779-618-7

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Godwin Books/Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: Aug. 21, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2017

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