Well intended but desperately unsuccessful.

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A LITTLE BIT LANGSTON

There’s something to be said about an undiluted message.

Demcak drops readers directly into the first-person perspective of James Kerr, a 14-year-old white gay boy with an undefined learning disability living in Los Angeles. Under last-minute pressure to finish an English class assignment, he writes a fully visualized poem thanks to the otherworldly hand of fictional Harlem Renaissance writer Montgomery Langston (whose equally fictional “An Undreamed Dream” is an appalling pastiche of “Harlem (Dream Deferred)”). When James does this again—and on the principal’s desk while under a trance—James finds out that he has both a gift or two and a half sister, a teenage Korean girl named Lumen, thanks to shared extraterrestrial DNA contained at Paragon Academy, a “school” that is a front for the U.S. government. In all of this, James falls mutually in love with his only friend, Paul Schmitz, a 15-year-old mixed-race Filipino/white neighbor and fellow ninth-grader whose father tries to “toughen up” through weightlifting, controlling contact between James and Paul, and homophobia-based physical abuse. They even become genetically manipulated cousins while remaining lovers. This book really wants to take its place in the marginalized-will-lead-us genre, as popularized by The Matrix and the X-Men franchises. But when that positive message is delivered with acceptance of taboos and negative stereotypes—such as mixed-race people’s “magical exoticism” and Magical Negroes using their supernatural powers to solely aid white protagonists—the message gets lost.

Well intended but desperately unsuccessful. (Paranormal romance. 14-17)

Pub Date: Dec. 1, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-63476-272-4

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Harmony Ink

Review Posted Online: Aug. 31, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2015

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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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Packed to the brim with intrigue and the promise of a third installment.

LADY SMOKE

From the Ash Princess series , Vol. 2

A rebel queen fans the sparks of revolution.

Picking up immediately after the events of Ash Princess (2018), Sebastian’s expansive sequel finds young Queen Theodosia—her title newly reclaimed—fleeing her country and throne. With her people still enslaved, Theo will need allies and an army to free them, and her aunt, the fierce and manipulative pirate Dragonsbane, insists that the only way to acquire either is if Theo marries—something no queen has ever done in Astrea’s history. Wracked by nightmares, guilt, and fear that she is losing herself (and more), Theo balks but, with few options open to her, grudgingly agrees to meet with suitors at a grand invitational hosted by the king of the opulent Sta’Crivero. Readers looking for further immersion and expansion of Theo’s world will not be disappointed here. The narrative suffers marginally from lengthy details picked up and soon put back down with no real service to plot or character development, but Theo’s first-person narration remains enthralling with emotional immediacy as she learns more and more about her world and the people (and cruelty) within it. Vengeance, political corruption, and mystery are the main drivers, and questions of trauma, empathy, and sacrifice hold the reigns as Theo grapples with emergent magic, inconvenient romances, and the crushing weight of her choices as a leader.

Packed to the brim with intrigue and the promise of a third installment. (maps) (Fantasy. 14-17)

Pub Date: Feb. 5, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6710-5

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: Dec. 19, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2019

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