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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A disturbing, suspenseful coming-of-age story about power, corruption, and the choices we make both for ourselves and the...

I, CLAUDIA

The last thing Claudia McCarthy wanted was power—that is, until she had some.

After years of being teased for her limp and her speech impediment, Claudia enters her new high school, Imperial Day Academy, with only one goal in mind: to be as invisible as possible. That is, until her mortal enemy, the powerful Honor Council member Livia Drusus, orders her to run for Student Senate, thereby thrusting Claudia into the spotlight. Against all odds, Claudia wins her election and, after uncovering a financial scandal within the current Senate, becomes vice president. As Claudia becomes more and more powerful, she begins to question the motivations of everyone around her—including her own. This retelling of the novel I, Claudius (1934) is a gripping political thriller told through a complex narrator whose facility for coldhearted political calculation is exceeded only by her capacity for self-doubt. Claudia is white, and the story features a diverse set of characters who are neither immune to the impact of nor entirely defined by their race, queerness, or physical ability. This narratorial approach is particularly refreshing when it comes to Claudia: Most notably, unlike the majority of disabled characters in young adult fiction, Claudia falls in (reciprocated) love with a popular, nondisabled student.

A disturbing, suspenseful coming-of-age story about power, corruption, and the choices we make both for ourselves and the ones we love. (Thriller. 16-adult)

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5124-4846-7

Page Count: 424

Publisher: Carolrhoda

Review Posted Online: May 28, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2018

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A tool for discussing the challenges of childhood in a conflict zone.

WHY NO GOODBYE?

A Rohingya boy copes with abandonment.

When his family flees the violence affecting their village in Myanmar, 13-year-old Jabair is left behind (the reason why is never clarified). Hungry, exhausted, and dispirited, he is so furious with his mother (his father has died) that he refuses to read the letters she sends from the refugee camp where she now lives with his siblings. A local man nominally watches over him, teaching him how to read and write. Jabair clings to life, filled with rage about his abandonment, until he meets Zahura, a 14-year-old girl whose past is just as haunted as his own. But when Jabair’s mother invites him to join her in Thailand, he must choose between abandoning his friend and reuniting with his family. Written in verse, Laskin’s (Ronit & Jamil, 2017, etc.) book is a quick read that does not shy away from the cruel cost of war. The story is gut wrenching, and the small cast of characters is layered and endearing. Unfortunately, the text at times falls flat, lacking lyricism and a sense of interiority that could truly make the words shine. Furthermore, while the book generally addresses life in a conflict zone, it does not contain enough specific sensory details to create a deep sense of place. Explicit references to sexual violence may be triggering for some.

A tool for discussing the challenges of childhood in a conflict zone. (Verse novel. 16-adult)

Pub Date: Nov. 5, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-948585-06-4

Page Count: 180

Publisher: Leapfrog

Review Posted Online: Aug. 13, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2019

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