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LETTERS TO THE LOST

Lacks any real substance.

Kemmerer’s dual-narrative romance ponders the path of fate versus blazing one’s own trail.

Juliet’s photographer mother died several months ago, and every week since, she’s been writing letters to her mother and leaving them at her graveside. Declan, the local bad boy, is sentenced to community service as a cemetery caretaker for drunkenly crashing his incarcerated father’s truck. When Declan replies anonymously to one of Juliet’s letters, Juliet writes back, and the two begin an exchange about fate and free will. The two inevitably meet in person, not knowing they have been revealing their deepest secrets to each other via pen and paper. During their in-person interactions, Juliet is attracted to this potentially violent outcast and “intense” but vulnerable soul, and he’s extremely rude to her, a behavior that moderates as pages turn but is not fully corrected. Sadly, Juliet lets him make her feel shame and guilt for the things she says. In his letters and, eventually, emails to her, he invalidates her feelings, causing her to second-guess herself, all of this unfurling in chapters that alternate narration. Despite the tragedies in their lives, neither teen is sympathetic; they possess too much self-pity and anger and act accordingly, and as a result they are unlikable. Both principals are white; Declan’s community-service supervisor is Latino, and his white best friend’s adoptive parents are black, and one main secondary character is Asian.

Lacks any real substance. (Fiction. 13-17)

Pub Date: April 4, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-68119-008-2

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: Jan. 31, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2017

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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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MY LADY JANE

From the Lady Janies series

Joan Aiken or Terry Pratchett this ain't, but the lightweight, gleefully anachronistic comedy will entertain with its cast...

Lady Jane Grey's nine days as queen are reimagined as a tongue-in-cheek shape-shifter romance.

Between the reigns of adolescent King Edward VI and his bloodthirsty half sister, Mary I, England was ruled for nine days by doomed Lady Jane, a 16-year-old political pawn—or that's how it went in our world. In the world of this novel, both Edward and Jane have happier endings. Instead of Catholics and Protestants, England is torn between the Eðians, who shape-shift into animals, and the Verities, who loathe them. As in reality, Jane is wed to Gifford (Guildford in history) Dudley, installed as queen, and imprisoned by Mary. However, thisJane and Gifford escape their executions through animal magic. It's inconvenient for the newlyweds' sex life that Gifford spends every dawn to dusk as a horse, but it’s also terribly convenient for frantic escapes from Mary's soldiers. Fourth-wall–breaking and pop-culture references that span from Shakespeare to Game of Thronesshow signs of strain, especially the many references to The Princess Bride(1973). The latter, sometimes layered one atop the other without a break, merely highlight this book’s contrast with the classic's stellar comic timing; perhaps it's for the best that few teen readers will be familiar with either the decades-old film or even older book.

Joan Aiken or Terry Pratchett this ain't, but the lightweight, gleefully anachronistic comedy will entertain with its cast of likable heroes and buffoonish villains (. (Fantasy. 13-17)

Pub Date: June 7, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-06-239174-2

Page Count: 512

Publisher: HarperTeen

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2016

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