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INKMISTRESS

Filled with fervor but more told than shown and diluted by repetition.

A demigod pines for romance but finds herself responsible for deaths and chaos.

Asra lives alone on a mountain, providing villagers with magic-infused herbal remedies. If she mingles with mortals, they’ll learn she’s a bloodscribe: words written with her blood can change the past or future. Desperate to keep her (secret) mortal lover, Ina, from marrying a boy, Asra uses her bloodscribe power, accidentally (and inevitably) triggering deadly events. Whether she necessarily caused as many deaths as she thinks, she’s consumed by guilt: if she finds Ina, who’s become a vengeful dragon and departed, Asra can rewrite the past. Romantic love is Asra’s primary focus—after Ina, a boy named Hal, also a demigod. Questions of faith also run through the book, both in the form of Asra’s curiosity over which god is her parent and a challenge to the king, which threatens the land’s life-support. Given that Asra’s blood causes magic on contact, readers may wonder whether she menstruates (gods do have children). Dramatic chapter-ending cliffhangers invigorate momentum; ongoing, unnecessary reiteration slows it. Bisexuality in both protagonist and villain is refreshing, though the concluding text explicitly undermines Asra and Ina’s relationship in hindsight. Asra and Ina are white; Hal is dark brown. For richer treatment of bisexuality, passion, and blood power, look to Sarah Fine’s The True Queen (2018).

Filled with fervor but more told than shown and diluted by repetition. (Romance/fantasy. 13-16)

Pub Date: March 6, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-06-243328-2

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Jan. 21, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2018

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THE FIELD GUIDE TO THE NORTH AMERICAN TEENAGER

Despite some missteps, this will appeal to readers who enjoy a fresh and realistic teen voice.

A teenage, not-so-lonely loner endures the wilds of high school in Austin, Texas.

Norris Kaplan, the protagonist of Philippe’s debut novel, is a hypersweaty, uber-snarky black, Haitian, French-Canadian pushing to survive life in his new school. His professor mom’s new tenure-track job transplants Norris mid–school year, and his biting wit and sarcasm are exposed through his cataloging of his new world in a field guide–style burn book. He’s greeted in his new life by an assortment of acquaintances, Liam, who is white and struggling with depression; Maddie, a self-sacrificing white cheerleader with a heart of gold; and Aarti, his Indian-American love interest who offers connection. Norris’ ego, fueled by his insecurities, often gets in the way of meaningful character development. The scenes showcasing his emotional growth are too brief and, despite foreshadowing, the climax falls flat because he still gets incredible personal access to people he’s hurt. A scene where Norris is confronted by his mother for getting drunk and belligerent with a white cop is diluted by his refusal or inability to grasp the severity of the situation and the resultant minor consequences. The humor is spot-on, as is the representation of the black diaspora; the opportunity for broader conversations about other topics is there, however, the uneven buildup of detailed, meaningful exchanges and the glibness of Norris’ voice detract.

Despite some missteps, this will appeal to readers who enjoy a fresh and realistic teen voice. (Fiction. 13-16)

Pub Date: Jan. 8, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-06-282411-0

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Oct. 14, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2018

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OUT OF CHARACTER

Despite the well-meaning warmth, a wearying plod.

Can a 17-year-old with her first girlfriend prevent real-life folks from discovering her online fandoms?

Cass is proudly queer, happily fat, and extremely secretive about being a fan who role-plays on Discord. Back in middle school, she had what she calls a gaming addiction, playing “The Sims” so much her parents had to take the game away. Now, turning to her role-play friends to cope with her fighting parents, she worries that people will judge her for her fannishness and online life. To be fair, her grades are suffering. And sure, maybe she’s missed a college application deadline. Also, her mom has suddenly left Minneapolis and moved to Maine to be with a man she met online. But on the other hand, Cass is finally dating her amazingly cute longtime crush, Taylor. Pansexual Taylor is a gamer, a little bit punk, White like Cass, and so, so great—but she still can’t help comparing her to Rowan, Cass’ online best friend and role-playing ship partner. But Rowan doesn’t want to be a dirty little secret and doesn’t see why Cass can’t be honest about this part of her life. The inevitable train wreck of her lies looms on the horizon for months in an overlong morality play building to the climax that includes tidy resolutions to all the character arcs that are quite heartwarming but, in the case of Cass’ estranged mother, narratively unearned.

Despite the well-meaning warmth, a wearying plod. (Fiction. 13-16)

Pub Date: Feb. 7, 2023

ISBN: 978-0-06-324332-3

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Quill Tree Books/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Nov. 15, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2022

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