Evocative setting but overwritten prose.

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PENNY HIKE

An abused young teenager deals with his mother’s cancer while making new friends in this YA novel set in Somerville, Mass.

In Richardson’s debut young-adult novel, set in 1980, a 13-year-old boy’s life changes after his mother’s death. Finbar “Fin” O’Connell has been sexually and mentally abused by his uncle Steve ever since he and his mother moved in with him after Fin’s father was convicted of murder. When Fin’s mother develops lung cancer, suffers a stroke and ends up hospitalized, Fin tearfully explains that he doesn’t want to go back to his uncle—and why. His friend’s compassionate father, Mr. Squillante, is happy to take him in, but a police “investigation” (which does not include examining Fin in any way) reveals no evidence of abuse. Still, Fin manages to find a way to live with the Squillantes. New friends and kind adults help the boy handle his changing circumstances. Richardson shows an intimate knowledge of Somerville and its every street corner: The kids play the street game relievio, “where one team would hide and the other team would seek out the hiders and round them up on porches.” The novel lacks subtlety, however, laying everything on thick—teen-boy sarcasm and grossness, Boston accents, moral lessons. The most glaring fault, though, is how easily things work out for Fin. With his mother still on her deathbed, he reflects, “I had some special moments with my mom…and I am stahting to feel grateful for having those memories because they’ll always be in my haht.” Effective consolations on being orphaned include living with the Squillantes (“awesome”), winning girlfriend Penny’s heart, and being the hero of his school’s floor-hockey tournament on the very day of his mother’s wake—which he calls, “the best moment of my life.”

Evocative setting but overwritten prose.

Pub Date: Jan. 31, 2014

ISBN: 978-1494436452

Page Count: 224

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: April 14, 2014

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Many teen novels touch on similar themes, but few do it so memorably.

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ALL THE BRIGHT PLACES

Two struggling teens develop an unlikely relationship in a moving exploration of grief, suicide and young love.

Violet, a writer and member of the popular crowd, has withdrawn from her friends and from school activities since her sister died in a car accident nine months earlier. Finch, known to his classmates as "Theodore Freak," is famously impulsive and eccentric. Following their meeting in the school bell tower, Finch makes it his mission to re-engage Violet with the world, partially through a school project that sends them to offbeat Indiana landmarks and partially through simple persistence. (Violet and Finch live, fortunately for all involved, in the sort of romantic universe where his throwing rocks at her window in the middle of the night comes off more charming than stalker-esque.) The teens alternate narration chapter by chapter, each in a unique and well-realized voice. Finch's self-destructive streak and suicidal impulses are never far from the surface, and the chapters he narrates are interspersed with facts about suicide methods and quotations from Virginia Woolf and poet Cesare Pavese. When the story inevitably turns tragic, a cast of carefully drawn side characters brings to life both the pain of loss and the possibility of moving forward, though some notes of hope are more believable than others.

Many teen novels touch on similar themes, but few do it so memorably. (Fiction. 14 & up)

Pub Date: Jan. 6, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-385-75588-7

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Oct. 1, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2014

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A treat for mystery readers who enjoy being kept in suspense.

A GOOD GIRL'S GUIDE TO MURDER

Everyone believes that Salil Singh killed his girlfriend, Andrea Bell, five years ago—except Pippa Fitz-Amobi.

Pip has known and liked Sal since childhood; he’d supported her when she was being bullied in middle school. For her senior capstone project, Pip researches the disappearance of former Fairview High student Andie, last seen on April 18, 2014, by her younger sister, Becca. The original investigation concluded with most of the evidence pointing to Sal, who was found dead in the woods, apparently by suicide. Andie’s body was never recovered, and Sal was assumed by most to be guilty of abduction and murder. Unable to ignore the gaps in the case, Pip sets out to prove Sal’s innocence, beginning with interviewing his younger brother, Ravi. With his help, Pip digs deeper, unveiling unsavory facts about Andie and the real reason Sal’s friends couldn’t provide him with an alibi. But someone is watching, and Pip may be in more danger than she realizes. Pip’s sleuthing is both impressive and accessible. Online articles about the case and interview transcripts are provided throughout, and Pip’s capstone logs offer insights into her thought processes as new evidence and suspects arise. Jackson’s debut is well-executed and surprises readers with a connective web of interesting characters and motives. Pip and Andie are white, and Sal is of Indian descent.

A treat for mystery readers who enjoy being kept in suspense. (Mystery. 14-18)

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-9636-0

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2019

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