A short, catchy indie-rock love song of a book with underlying depth.

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In this YA novel, a high school teen invokes magic when composing a song to impress a girl and must deal with the unfortunate consequences.

Geoff Smith and his dad have recently relocated from hot, sunny Houston to cold, rainy Portland, Oregon. Not only is the weather difficult to adjust to, but Geoff—a budding guitarist and singer-songwriter—must also cope with the separation from his band mates. The only good thing about the move is his new history classmate, Corinne Shelby. When Corinne challenges Geoff to “write me a song that rhymes something with the word ‘film’”—and promises to take him on a date if he succeeds—his heart soars. But no such rhyming word exists. Luckily for Geoff, his dad is a purveyor of arcane objects and books. Geoff uses one of the volumes to conjure an unstoppably catchy tune—one with so relentless an earworm that Corinne won’t care that its rhyming word (GILM!) is invented. The song sweeps through Alder High, turning Geoff into an overnight celebrity. But there are two problems: First, the boy who has been bullying the musician turns out to be Corinne’s brother, Will, and warns Geoff off their date. Second, the GILM! song is subverting people’s vocabularies and replacing words until much of their communication is just monosyllabic variations. With the spell soon set to become irreversible, will Geoff be able to quickly undo the magical damage he’s unleashed? Corley writes from Geoff’s perspective, primarily in the third person, past tense. Geoff is a relatable teen character, given to much self-doubt and overthinking. Indeed, the investigation of his imposter syndrome is one of the book’s strongest features. Throughout, the prose remains clear and assured. The story moves quickly, and while engaging readers with its overt speculative and YA elements (wish fulfillment and teen romance), it sneaks in some lovely character dynamics. Geoff’s only-child relationship with his single-parent dad is quite striking, as is the unfolding revelation, through the teen’s eyes, that Corinne is less an unobtainable ideal and more a real person with her own complexities. That Geoff and Corinne’s romantic involvement ultimately proceeds clearly signals that many of life’s complications come from within. All told, tween and teenage readers should approve.

A short, catchy indie-rock love song of a book with underlying depth.

Pub Date: Feb. 12, 2024

ISBN: 9798989270811

Page Count: 172

Publisher: Electric Fern

Review Posted Online: Dec. 12, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2024


From the Powerless Trilogy series , Vol. 1

A lackluster and sometimes disturbing mishmash of overused tropes.

The Plague has left a population divided between Elites and Ordinaries—those who have powers and those who don’t; now, an Ordinary teen fights for her life.

Paedyn Gray witnessed the king kill her father five years ago, and she’s been thieving and sleeping rough ever since, all while faking Psychic abilities. When she inadvertently saves the life of Prince Kai, she becomes embroiled in the Purging Trials, a competition to commemorate the sickness that killed most of the kingdom’s Ordinaries. Kai’s duties as the future Enforcer include eradicating any remaining Ordinaries, and these Trials are his chance to prove that he’s internalized his brutal training. But Kai can’t help but find Pae’s blue eyes, silver hair, and unabashed attitude enchanting. She likewise struggles to resist his stormy gray eyes, dark hair, and rakish behavior, even as they’re pitted against each other in the Trials and by the king himself. Scenes and concepts that are strongly reminiscent of the Hunger Games fall flat: They aren’t bolstered by the original’s heart or worldbuilding logic that would have justified a few extreme story elements. Illogical leaps and inconsistent characterizations abound, with lighthearted romantic interludes juxtaposed against genocide, child abuse, and sadism. These elements, which are not sufficiently addressed, combined with the use of ableist language, cannot be erased by any amount of romantic banter. Main characters are cued white; the supporting cast has some brown-skinned characters.

A lackluster and sometimes disturbing mishmash of overused tropes. (map) (Fantasy. 14-18)

Pub Date: Nov. 7, 2023

ISBN: 9798987380406

Page Count: 538

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Sept. 9, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2023


From the Blood and Tea series , Vol. 1

Crowd-pleasing fun laced with political fire: a winner.

Bestselling author Faizal returns to the universe of We Hunt the Flame (2019) with a stand-alone duology opener.

Orphaned Arthie, brown-skinned with mauve hair, has created a criminal empire out of sheer pluck despite being Ceylani in Ettenia, where laws favor white people. She pulled legendary pistol Calibore from a stone plinth (though the prophecy that doing so would make her the nation’s leader turned out to be a hoax). She’s also built Spindrift, a teahouse-cum-bloodhouse, where she gathers secrets from wealthy humans and vampires, amassing power and security. Now Arthie has her sights set on vengeance—and the Ram, Ettenia’s masked monarch. When she and Jin, her brother-by-choice (who’s cued East Asian), are drawn into a heist, they assemble a diverse crew of immigrants whose roles riff on genre archetypes. The lush prose pulses with feeling as revelations are dropped and the tension ratchets up, keeping the pages turning as the motley gang plans to infiltrate a vampire society, retrieve a stolen ledger, and double-cross one of the Ram’s guards (who might be planning to double-cross them). Their ultimate goal: taking down the colonizing Ettenians and the exploitative East Jeevant Company. It’s all very exciting right up to the action-packed finale, which promises more conspiracy and (hopefully) justice to come. This compelling read offers interesting commentary on our society while feeling entirely real within the context of its own worldbuilding.

Crowd-pleasing fun laced with political fire: a winner. (map) (Fantasy. 13-18)

Pub Date: Feb. 20, 2024

ISBN: 9780374389406

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Nov. 17, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2023

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