The talented author and original subject matter largely counterbalance missteps.

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THE SMELL OF OTHER PEOPLE'S HOUSES

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. 3, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2015

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Skip this uninspired entry into the world of medieval love and court intrigue.

THE BETROTHED

From the Betrothed series , Vol. 1

In an imagined setting evoking medieval England, King Jameson of Coroa pursues Hollis Brite.

The independent teenager makes Jameson laugh, but she lacks the education and demeanor people expect in a queen. Her friend Delia Grace has more knowledge of history and languages but is shunned due to her illegitimate birth. Hollis gets caught up in a whirl of social activity, especially following an Isolten royal visit. There has been bad blood between the two countries, not fully explained here, and when an exiled Isolten family also comes to court, Jameson generously allows them to stay. Hollis relies on the family to teach her about Isolten customs and secretly falls in love with Silas, the oldest son, even though a relationship with him would mean relinquishing Jameson and the throne. When Hollis learns of political machinations that will affect her future in ways that she abhors, she faces a difficult decision. Romance readers will enjoy the usual descriptions of dresses, jewelry, young love, and discreet kisses, although many characters remain cardboard figures. While the violent climax may be upsetting, the book ends on a hopeful note. Themes related to immigration and young women’s taking charge of their lives don’t quite lift this awkwardly written volume above other royal romances. There are prejudicial references to Romani people, and whiteness is situated as the norm.

Skip this uninspired entry into the world of medieval love and court intrigue. (Historical romance. 13-16)

Pub Date: May 5, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-229163-9

Page Count: 320

Publisher: HarperTeen

Review Posted Online: Feb. 5, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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Heartbreaking, historical, and a little bit hopeful.

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SALT TO THE SEA

January 1945: as Russians advance through East Prussia, four teens’ lives converge in hopes of escape.

Returning to the successful formula of her highly lauded debut, Between Shades of Gray (2011), Sepetys combines research (described in extensive backmatter) with well-crafted fiction to bring to life another little-known story: the sinking (from Soviet torpedoes) of the German ship Wilhelm Gustloff. Told in four alternating voices—Lithuanian nurse Joana, Polish Emilia, Prussian forger Florian, and German soldier Alfred—with often contemporary cadences, this stints on neither history nor fiction. The three sympathetic refugees and their motley companions (especially an orphaned boy and an elderly shoemaker) make it clear that while the Gustloff was a German ship full of German civilians and soldiers during World War II, its sinking was still a tragedy. Only Alfred, stationed on the Gustloff, lacks sympathy; almost a caricature, he is self-delusional, unlikable, a Hitler worshiper. As a vehicle for exposition, however, and a reminder of Germany’s role in the war, he serves an invaluable purpose that almost makes up for the mustache-twirling quality of his petty villainy. The inevitability of the ending (including the loss of several characters) doesn’t change its poignancy, and the short chapters and slowly revealed back stories for each character guarantee the pages keep turning.

Heartbreaking, historical, and a little bit hopeful. (author’s note, research and sources, maps) (Historical fiction. 12-16)

Pub Date: Feb. 2, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-399-16030-1

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Philomel

Review Posted Online: Nov. 3, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2015

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