A haunting and honest depiction of adversity and triumph that reveals America’s continuing struggle to give equal...

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DREAMS ON FIRE

America’s systemic race and class problems are viscerally rendered in this evocative account of a black teenage girl’s coming-of-age in a novel for reluctant readers.

Shanequa’s life is one of constant heartbreaking struggle. Her father is in jail for second-degree murder, and her mother, depressed by the loss of her husband, succumbs to drugs and abandons her children, leaving Shanequa and her younger sister, LaKecia, to be raised by their grandmother. Yearning for a better life, Shanequa works her way into the prestigious Bidwell Academy for Girls, where she must strive to move forward while dealing with the ghosts from her past. Told in a series of short narrative poems, Shanequa’s struggles, dreams, and fears come alive on the page as she grapples with shame at being poor in a rich world and the indignities of being black and exoticized in a predominantly white educational environment. Taylor (Street Pharmacist, 2016, etc.) nicely employs the story’s framework to turn the protagonist into a shrewdly observational character with a unique voice by giving the readers small glimpses into her thoughts. Descriptions of the two sisters reveal that the darker-skinned Shanequa feels ugly in comparison to her lighter sibling, and casual discussion of various students’ cellphones underscores the class disparities at her school.

A haunting and honest depiction of adversity and triumph that reveals America’s continuing struggle to give equal opportunities to all. (Verse novel. 15-18)

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5383-8248-6

Page Count: 202

Publisher: West 44 Books

Review Posted Online: Aug. 20, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2018

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Only marginally intriguing.

REDEMPTION PREP

In a remote part of Utah, in a “temple of excellence,” the best of the best are recruited to nurture their talents.

Redemption Preparatory is a cross between the Vatican and a top-secret research facility: The school is rooted in Christian ideology (but very few students are Christian), Mass is compulsory, cameras capture everything, and “maintenance” workers carry Tasers. When talented poet Emma disappears, three students, distrusting of the school administration, launch their own investigation. Brilliant chemist Neesha believes Emma has run away to avoid taking the heat for the duo’s illegal drug enterprise. Her boyfriend, an athlete called Aiden, naturally wants to find her. Evan, a chess prodigy who relies on patterns and has difficulty processing social signals, believes he knows Emma better than anyone. While the school is an insidious character on its own and the big reveal is slightly psychologically disturbing, Evan’s positioning as a tragic hero with an uncertain fate—which is connected to his stalking of Emma (even before her disappearance)—is far more unsettling. The ’90s setting provides the backdrop for tongue-in-cheek technological references but doesn’t do anything for the plot. Student testimonials and voice-to-text transcripts punctuate the three-way third-person narration that alternates among Neesha, Evan, and Aiden. Emma, Aiden, and Evan are assumed to be white; Neesha is Indian. Students are from all over the world, including Asia and the Middle East.

Only marginally intriguing. (Mystery. 15-18)

Pub Date: April 14, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-266203-3

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Katherine Tegen/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Jan. 19, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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This sophomoric sophomore effort reads like a rough draft for a screenplay…which it may well be.

STRUCK BY LIGHTNING

High school senior Carson Phillips will get into Northwestern and be the youngest freelance journalist published in all the major outlets, and he’s not above blackmail to get there.

Although he’s single-handedly kept the Clover High Chronicle in print and the Writing Club functioning (by teaching the journalism class, one of many credulity-stretching details) for years, Carson is worried that he won’t get into his dream school. The acceptance letter will be his ticket out of the backward town of Clover which, like high school, is peopled by Carson’s intellectual inferiors. When his counselor suggests he edit and submit a literary magazine with his application, Carson and his dim, plagiaristic sidekick Malerie hatch a scheme to blackmail a chunk of the student body into submitting work. Colfer’s joyless and amateurish satire is little more than a series of scenes that seem to be created as vehicles for lame and often clichéd one-liners. Once Carson’s bullied his classmates (stereotypes one and all) into writing for him, he develops a soul and dispenses Dr. Phil–worthy advice to his victims—and he’s confused when they don’t thank him. Carson is so unlikable, so groundlessly conceited that when lightning literally does strike, readers who’ve made it that far may well applaud.

This sophomoric sophomore effort reads like a rough draft for a screenplay…which it may well be. (Fiction. 15-17)

Pub Date: Nov. 20, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-316-23295-1

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Oct. 10, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2012

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