FACE

Looks may not be everything, but few high-school students would deny that physical appearance is connected to self-esteem and social standing. Zephaniah (Refugee Boy, p. 814) explores this theme wherein Martin, a good-looking, confident youngster, is burned and facially disfigured during a car crash. After a prolonged, somewhat tedious setup that introduces Martin and his world and then delineates his hospital stay, Zephaniah gets to the meat of his story—how Martin’s altered face affects his feelings about himself and his relationships with others. Martin proves to be a champion survivor, attending classes as soon as he’s physically able, then joining and becoming the captain of the school gymnastics team. A devastating experience—he’s surrounded by group of younger kids who viciously taunt him about his looks—temporarily drives Martin off the team and back to the safety of his room. But he soon finds the courage to soldier on, leading his team in a freestyle gymnastic routine of his own devise. By showing up and competing at the tournament, he learns that, “It’s not the winning that matters . . . it’s the being here.” It’s a strong idea, but the story, which is set in Britain, never feels like it’s plumbed the depths of the situation fully. The exposition is stilted, Martin’s adjustment is too easy, and the author, by over-explaining how Martin feels and what he’s learned, doesn’t allow the reader to experience his situation viscerally. Nonetheless, a worthy subject that should give kids plenty to think about. (Fiction. 10+)

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2002

ISBN: 1-58234-774-3

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2002

IF ONLY I HAD TOLD HER

A heavy read about the harsh realities of tragedy and their effects on those left behind.

In this companion novel to 2013’s If He Had Been With Me, three characters tell their sides of the story.

Finn’s narrative starts three days before his death. He explores the progress of his unrequited love for best friend Autumn up until the day he finally expresses his feelings. Finn’s story ends with his tragic death, which leaves his close friends devastated, unmoored, and uncertain how to go on. Jack’s section follows, offering a heartbreaking look at what it’s like to live with grief. Jack works to overcome the anger he feels toward Sylvie, the girlfriend Finn was breaking up with when he died, and Autumn, the girl he was preparing to build his life around (but whom Jack believed wasn’t good enough for Finn). But when Jack sees how Autumn’s grief matches his own, it changes their understanding of one another. Autumn’s chapters trace her life without Finn as readers follow her struggles with mental health and balancing love and loss. Those who have read the earlier book will better connect with and feel for these characters, particularly since they’ll have a more well-rounded impression of Finn. The pain and anger is well written, and the novel highlights the most troublesome aspects of young adulthood: overconfidence sprinkled with heavy insecurities, fear-fueled decisions, bad communication, and brash judgments. Characters are cued white.

A heavy read about the harsh realities of tragedy and their effects on those left behind. (author’s note, content warning) (Fiction. 14-18)

Pub Date: Feb. 6, 2024

ISBN: 9781728276229

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire

Review Posted Online: Jan. 5, 2024

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2024

IF HE HAD BEEN WITH ME

There’s not much plot here, but readers will relish the opportunity to climb inside Autumn’s head.

The finely drawn characters capture readers’ attention in this debut.

Autumn and Phineas, nicknamed Finny, were born a week apart; their mothers are still best friends. Growing up, Autumn and Finny were like peas in a pod despite their differences: Autumn is “quirky and odd,” while Finny is “sweet and shy and everyone like[s] him.” But in eighth grade, Autumn and Finny stop being friends due to an unexpected kiss. They drift apart and find new friends, but their friendship keeps asserting itself at parties, shared holiday gatherings and random encounters. In the summer after graduation, Autumn and Finny reconnect and are finally ready to be more than friends. But on August 8, everything changes, and Autumn has to rely on all her strength to move on. Autumn’s coming-of-age is sensitively chronicled, with a wide range of experiences and events shaping her character. Even secondary characters are well-rounded, with their own histories and motivations.

There’s not much plot here, but readers will relish the opportunity to climb inside Autumn’s head.   (Fiction. 14 & up)

Pub Date: April 1, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-4022-7782-5

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire

Review Posted Online: Feb. 12, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2013

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