An earnest, entertaining tale of adolescence and fantasy fandom.

TOMMY AND THE ORDER OF COSMIC CHAMPIONS

A young boy in 1980s Ohio embarks on a harrowing journey of self-discovery in Rapino and Grate’s middle-grade coming-of-age novel.

It’s 1988, and it’s 11-year-old Tommy Grant’s last summer before entering junior high. It turns out to be a memorable season for all the wrong reasons, though, as his incessantly feuding parents mull over divorce and his best friend dumps him. Things don’t get better during the new school year, as bullies target him and he becomes a social outcast. Tommy takes solace in his fandom of Order of Cosmic Champions, a canceled animated SF TV series that lives on in comic books and action figures. He also pins his hopes on a contest in which a winning design for a new OoCC character could score him a college scholarship and the chance to see his design made into a toy. The eventual results of this competition lead him to a rash decision: to secretly travel to Brooklyn, New York, alone to convince a stranger to make a dream come true. Along with the inherent dangers of hitchhiking, the imaginative 12-year-old faces inner demons that manifest as menacing OoCC villains, including Mechani-Ghoul, the rather vicious robotic character that he created. He’ll have to fight off these baddies if he wants any shot at reaching his destination. Meanwhile, back in Ohio, Miranda Vitalis, a new girl in school who’s taken a shine to oblivious Tommy, is worried about him. As she hunts for clues to where he’s gone, she may have to confront his parents, who’ve all but ignored their now-runaway child.

The fantasy sequences in Rapino and Grate’s story revel in ambiguity. Readers may wonder if these battles are just playing out in Tommy’s head or if they’re somehow real, which the narrative hints is possible. Although these sequences are exhilarating, the novel is at its best when it centers on real-world troubles. Tommy’s father, for example, is losing a struggle with alcohol addiction, and some readers may find the accounts of bullying difficult to read. Likable, intelligent Miranda is a welcome reprieve from this darkness, and she has more in common with Tommy than either of them initially realizes. The authors root the story in familiar popular culture; the cartoon and toy line, for instance, have more than a passing resemblance to He-Man and the Masters of the Universe. The villains sport such names as Skullagar and EyeSpy, and Tommy’s own dazzling (and terrifying) bad guy has a metal claw and an arm that’s a giant cleaver. Likewise, references to popular films, video games, and classic ’80s tech, such as VHS tapes and the Sony Walkman, often appear. The authors’ prose colorfully details everything from fantastical clashes to Tommy’s breakfast: “The pancakes were as fluffy as cartoon clouds, and the maple syrup with tiny puddles of melting butter was ambrosia.” The lively story, however, never loses sight of its main theme, as Tommy grows up and learns that one can’t always fight change.

An earnest, entertaining tale of adolescence and fantasy fandom.

Pub Date: Oct. 18, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-62634-966-7

Page Count: 392

Publisher: Greenleaf Book Group Press

Review Posted Online: May 24, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: tomorrow

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Engrossing, contemplative, and as heart-wrenching as the title promises.

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THEY BOTH DIE AT THE END

What would you do with one day left to live?

In an alternate present, a company named Death-Cast calls Deckers—people who will die within the coming day—to inform them of their impending deaths, though not how they will happen. The End Day call comes for two teenagers living in New York City: Puerto Rican Mateo and bisexual Cuban-American foster kid Rufus. Rufus needs company after a violent act puts cops on his tail and lands his friends in jail; Mateo wants someone to push him past his comfort zone after a lifetime of playing it safe. The two meet through Last Friend, an app that connects lonely Deckers (one of many ways in which Death-Cast influences social media). Mateo and Rufus set out to seize the day together in their final hours, during which their deepening friendship blossoms into something more. Present-tense chapters, short and time-stamped, primarily feature the protagonists’ distinctive first-person narrations. Fleeting third-person chapters give windows into the lives of other characters they encounter, underscoring how even a tiny action can change the course of someone else’s life. It’s another standout from Silvera (History Is All You Left Me, 2017, etc.), who here grapples gracefully with heavy questions about death and the meaning of a life well-lived.

Engrossing, contemplative, and as heart-wrenching as the title promises. (Speculative fiction. 13-adult).

Pub Date: Sept. 5, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-06-245779-0

Page Count: 384

Publisher: HarperTeen

Review Posted Online: June 5, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2017

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This grittily provocative debut explores the horrors of self-harm and the healing power of artistic expression.

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GIRL IN PIECES

After surviving a suicide attempt, a fragile teen isn't sure she can endure without cutting herself.

Seventeen-year-old Charlie Davis, a white girl living on the margins, thinks she has little reason to live: her father drowned himself; her bereft and abusive mother kicked her out; her best friend, Ellis, is nearly brain dead after cutting too deeply; and she's gone through unspeakable experiences living on the street. After spending time in treatment with other young women like her—who cut, burn, poke, and otherwise hurt themselves—Charlie is released and takes a bus from the Twin Cities to Tucson to be closer to Mikey, a boy she "like-likes" but who had pined for Ellis instead. But things don't go as planned in the Arizona desert, because sweet Mikey just wants to be friends. Feeling rejected, Charlie, an artist, is drawn into a destructive new relationship with her sexy older co-worker, a "semifamous" local musician who's obviously a junkie alcoholic. Through intense, diarylike chapters chronicling Charlie's journey, the author captures the brutal and heartbreaking way "girls who write their pain on their bodies" scar and mar themselves, either succumbing or surviving. Like most issue books, this is not an easy read, but it's poignant and transcendent as Charlie breaks more and more before piecing herself back together.

This grittily provocative debut explores the horrors of self-harm and the healing power of artistic expression. (author’s note) (Fiction. 14 & up)

Pub Date: Aug. 30, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-101-93471-5

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: May 4, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2016

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