An engrossing page-turner that bites off a bit more than it can chew.

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THICKER THAN WATER

A lonely teen is the only suspect in his mother's murder.

Thomas Bellweather's mother was happily remarried for just 10 days before she was found dead in her bed. Now Tom is stuck in a town he barely knows with an awkward stepdad, a cop, and a police force breathing down his neck. At his mother's funeral he is befriended by Charlotte Rooker, a girl with a dad and three brothers that all happen to be cops. Charlotte believes in Tom's innocence, but a series of misadventures puts Tom in deeper and deeper trouble. Kemmerer spends the first two-thirds of the novel perfectly painting a small town with big fears. The author also sprinkles in just the right amount of teen lust and whodunit misdirects. The book’s problems start when the narrative shifts gears into paranormal hokum, a disappointment when the author was building up such a great head of steam. Kemmerer is able to stick the landing, but only barely. A lot of exposition is thrown in at the last minute to make everything click into place, and the author's hands are felt far more than in the first two acts, which are effortless by comparison. The novel leaves a few small things unanswered, and a return to this world would not be unwelcome, particularly now that all the heavy lifting regarding empaths and Tom's shadowy father is out of the way.

An engrossing page-turner that bites off a bit more than it can chew. (Paranormal thriller. 14-18)

Pub Date: Dec. 29, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-7582-9441-8

Page Count: 322

Publisher: Kensington

Review Posted Online: Nov. 3, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2015

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An emotionally engaging closer that fumbles in its final moments.

ALWAYS AND FOREVER, LARA JEAN

From the To All the Boys I've Loved Before series , Vol. 3

Lara Jean prepares for college and a wedding.

Korean-American Lara Jean is finally settled into a nice, complication-free relationship with her white boyfriend, Peter. But things don’t stay simple for long. When college acceptance letters roll in, Peter and Lara Jean discover they’re heading in different directions. As the two discuss the long-distance thing, Lara Jean’s widower father is making a major commitment: marrying the neighbor lady he’s been dating. The whirlwind of a wedding, college visits, prom, and the last few months of senior year provides an excellent backdrop for this final book about Lara Jean. The characters ping from event to event with emotions always at the forefront. Han further develops her cast, pushing them to new maturity and leaving few stones unturned. There’s only one problem here, and it’s what’s always held this series back from true greatness: Peter. Despite Han’s best efforts to flesh out Peter with abandonment issues and a crummy dad, he remains little more than a handsome jock. Frankly, Lara Jean and Peter may have cute teen chemistry, but Han's nuanced characterizations have often helped to subvert typical teen love-story tropes. This knowing subversion is frustratingly absent from the novel's denouement.

An emotionally engaging closer that fumbles in its final moments. (Romance. 14-17)

Pub Date: May 2, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-4814-3048-7

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: March 29, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2017

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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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