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From the The Pizza Chronicles series , Vol. 1

A kindhearted protagonist anchors this sweet and contemporary coming-of-age story.

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A teenager navigates a new school and his feelings of being different in this YA novel.

Fourteen-year-old RV (“Short for ‘Arvydas,’ ” he explains. “I’m not a camper or anything”) Aleksandravičius is starting a new chapter: his freshman year at Boston Latin School. But RV has a hard time fitting in with the other kids, and his unique heritage does not help. RV and his parents are “Liths,” or “of Lithuanian Extraction,” and even though they sacrificed a lot to come to the United States, they are still uneasy with the American identity. RV tries not to worry too much about his parents’ increasing fights as he makes friends and learns which bullies to avoid, but he is quite preoccupied by something even bigger. No matter how much he prays to God and throws himself into a flirtatious friendship with a girl named Carole Higginbottom, RV has already admitted to himself that he might be gay. He can’t help but compare himself to the flamboyant Latin teacher Mr. Aniso, and nothing matches the electricity he feels when a handsome jock named Bobby Marshall notices him. RV wishes life could be as easy and enjoyable as eating pizza at his favorite restaurant, Joe’s Pizza, but with the help of his new friends, RV is starting to figure out how to handle the scary and confusing things life throws his way. Roamer molds the entire book to resemble a personal journal, fully fleshing out RV’s voice and insecurities as he experiences first kisses or troubles at home. Overall, RV remains a lovable, relatable narrator. (Although his pedagogical asides explaining words like irony or cretin do feel forced.) The book succeeds most at offering a lighthearted take on intersectionality as RV realizes how his experience as a first-generation American is both similar and different to that of Bobby, an African American, and is a testament to today’s gay youth. Yet even in a progressive school with a gay/straight alliance, homophobia exists and smart kids like RV still feel like outsiders.

A kindhearted protagonist anchors this sweet and contemporary coming-of-age story.

Pub Date: April 27, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-951880-67-5

Page Count: 219

Publisher: NineStar Press

Review Posted Online: Aug. 31, 2020

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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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An ode to the children of migrants who have been taken away.

A Mexican American boy takes on heavy responsibilities when his family is torn apart.

Mateo’s life is turned upside down the day U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents show up unsuccessfully seeking his Pa at his New York City bodega. The Garcias live in fear until the day both parents are picked up; his Pa is taken to jail and his Ma to a detention center. The adults around Mateo offer support to him and his 7-year-old sister, Sophie, however, he knows he is now responsible for caring for her and the bodega as well as trying to survive junior year—that is, if he wants to fulfill his dream to enter the drama program at the Tisch School of the Arts and become an actor. Mateo’s relationships with his friends Kimmie and Adam (a potential love interest) also suffer repercussions as he keeps his situation a secret. Kimmie is half Korean (her other half is unspecified) and Adam is Italian American; Mateo feels disconnected from them, less American, and with worries they can’t understand. He talks himself out of choosing a safer course of action, a decision that deepens the story. Mateo’s self-awareness and inner monologue at times make him seem older than 16, and, with significant turmoil in the main plot, some side elements feel underdeveloped. Aleman’s narrative joins the ranks of heart-wrenching stories of migrant families who have been separated.

An ode to the children of migrants who have been taken away. (Fiction. 14-18)

Pub Date: May 4, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-7595-5605-8

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Feb. 22, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2021

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