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THE SMELL OF OTHER PEOPLE'S HOUSES

The talented author and original subject matter largely counterbalance missteps.

In 1970, a decade after statehood, the difficult lives of four Alaska teens are transformed when their paths intersect.

Growing up poor is tough anywhere; it has its own flavor in Fairbanks. Raised with her younger sister by their grimly religious grandmother, Ruth is isolated and unprotected. For Inupiat Dora, life improves when she’s informally adopted by a kind Athabascan family, but although her violent, alcoholic dad’s in jail, she still feels unsafe. Alyce, whose parents have separated, lives with her mother in Fairbanks, fishing with her dad in summer. She wants to audition for college dance programs and that means staying in Fairbanks, disappointing her dad. Fleeing a troubled home, Hank and his brothers sneak onto a ferry heading south; then one disappears. The Alaskan author depicts places and an era rarely seen in fiction for teens: shopping for winter clothes at the Fairbanks Goodwill, living in a summer fish camp on the Yukon River and on a small fishing boat. All benefit from her journalist’s eye for detail. Though compact, the novel features a large cast of sympathetic characters. At first somber but resonant, the plot eventually veers onto a different course. As the tone shifts to highly upbeat, outcomes feel pat, rewards unearned. The effect is to gloss over and minimize the aftereffects of childhood poverty, fractured families, and domestic trauma.

The talented author and original subject matter largely counterbalance missteps. (Historical fiction. 12-16)

Pub Date: Feb. 23, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-553-49778-6

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Wendy Lamb/Random

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2015

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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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THE GIRL OF FIRE AND THORNS

From the Girl of Fire and Thorns series , Vol. 1

Despite the stale fat-to-curvy pattern, compelling world building with a Southern European, pseudo-Christian feel,...

Adventure drags our heroine all over the map of fantasyland while giving her the opportunity to use her smarts.

Elisa—Princess Lucero-Elisa de Riqueza of Orovalle—has been chosen for Service since the day she was born, when a beam of holy light put a Godstone in her navel. She's a devout reader of holy books and is well-versed in the military strategy text Belleza Guerra, but she has been kept in ignorance of world affairs. With no warning, this fat, self-loathing princess is married off to a distant king and is embroiled in political and spiritual intrigue. War is coming, and perhaps only Elisa's Godstone—and knowledge from the Belleza Guerra—can save them. Elisa uses her untried strategic knowledge to always-good effect. With a character so smart that she doesn't have much to learn, body size is stereotypically substituted for character development. Elisa’s "mountainous" body shrivels away when she spends a month on forced march eating rat, and thus she is a better person. Still, it's wonderfully refreshing to see a heroine using her brain to win a war rather than strapping on a sword and charging into battle.

Despite the stale fat-to-curvy pattern, compelling world building with a Southern European, pseudo-Christian feel, reminiscent of Naomi Kritzer's Fires of the Faithful (2002), keeps this entry fresh. (Fantasy. 12-14)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-06-202648-4

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Greenwillow Books

Review Posted Online: July 19, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2011

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