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

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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Smoothly continuing intrigues from earlier novels, this installment tantalizes with tension and drama.

RIVALS

From the Ivy series , Vol. 3

Callie may be established in Harvard's culture and social scene, but can she keep it up?

Things are finally going Callie's way. She has a great boyfriend, is COMPing—effectively a training audition—for the Harvard Crimson (under a COMP director who, unlike Lexi during Callie's try-out for Fifteen Minutes, doesn't hate her), has restored relative peace with her roommates and has full membership in her social society, the Hasty Pudding. But being happily with Clint isn't enough to squash Callie's jealousy when ex-crush Gregory starts dating a transfer student. And while Harvard Crimson managing editor Grace Lee also seems to have some past bad blood with Lexi, Lexi's history as Clint's friend keeps rearing its ugly head, leaving Callie suspicious. Additionally, Grace introduces a new Web feature for the Crimson, The FlyBy blog, which starts with a bang through anonymous posts by "The Ivy Insider" that reveal dirty secrets from the exclusive social clubs. And being on the other end of the punch proceedings—determining whom to invite to prospective member functions for the Hasty Pudding—gives Callie her own look at some of the society's nastiness. Overall, Callie is so overwhelmed that she misses big problem signs—unrelated to her—in close friends, and even some of her own non-romantic troubles. The resulting cliffhanger has the highest stakes yet.

Smoothly continuing intrigues from earlier novels, this installment tantalizes with tension and drama. (Fiction. 16 & up)

Pub Date: March 1, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-06-196049-9

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Greenwillow Books

Review Posted Online: Feb. 5, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2012

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An author deftly mines his own experiences as a teacher to create diverse and relatable characters facing their first year...

NINTH GRADE BLUES

Four ninth-graders navigate demanding teachers, family conflicts, and new relationships in a debut novel for young teens.

It’s the first day of school for four ninth-graders. Introvert Luke dreads it. Cocky athlete Marcus can’t wait to make his mark in a football game. Well-to-do Elly and hardworking Mia are eager to excel. The lives of the teens intersect in first period Honors English, and as the year progresses, all four narrate their own journeys through the highs and lows of teachers, family, friendships, and dates. Elly, a white girl, fears that she’ll never have a boyfriend because she thinks she’s “chubby.” When a first, clandestine date ends in a sloppy kiss, she worries she’ll never find real romance. Luke, also white, has internalized the low expectations of those who see only his poverty and dysfunctional family. His English teacher recognizes his potential; a science instructor makes him a target of ridicule. (Ingram, a high school English teacher, doesn’t sugarcoat the fact that some instructors don’t belong in the profession.) Black teen Marcus, from a well-off family, is used to being admired on and off the football field and doesn’t understand why his self-absorption is a turnoff. Mia, a second-generation Mexican-American, has faced prejudice and is determined to prove “I belong here.” A sweetly blossoming relationship between Luke, whose father is a bigot, and Mia, whose dad distrusts whites, seems destined to make them the Romeo and Juliet of the group. Ingram approaches this territory with a knowing and sympathetic eye, giving each teen an authentic voice expressed in a lively flow of alternating, journal-style chapters. (At one point Marcus muses: “I can’t believe Joshua’s attitude, it’s like he’s given up on pro football. It seems like everybody I was around last week had a negative attitude.”) For gritty content, readers should look elsewhere—no sex, drugs, or binge-drinking here. But these teens’ everyday interactions, doubts, and triumphs ring true, and readers should want to find out what happens to them next in Ingram’s upcoming second novel, Tenth Grade Angst.

An author deftly mines his own experiences as a teacher to create diverse and relatable characters facing their first year in high school.

Pub Date: Sept. 15, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-944962-34-0

Page Count: 236

Publisher: Secant Publishing

Review Posted Online: Sept. 28, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2017

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