An author deftly mines his own experiences as a teacher to create diverse and relatable characters facing their first year...

NINTH GRADE BLUES

Four ninth-graders navigate demanding teachers, family conflicts, and new relationships in a debut novel for young teens.

It’s the first day of school for four ninth-graders. Introvert Luke dreads it. Cocky athlete Marcus can’t wait to make his mark in a football game. Well-to-do Elly and hardworking Mia are eager to excel. The lives of the teens intersect in first period Honors English, and as the year progresses, all four narrate their own journeys through the highs and lows of teachers, family, friendships, and dates. Elly, a white girl, fears that she’ll never have a boyfriend because she thinks she’s “chubby.” When a first, clandestine date ends in a sloppy kiss, she worries she’ll never find real romance. Luke, also white, has internalized the low expectations of those who see only his poverty and dysfunctional family. His English teacher recognizes his potential; a science instructor makes him a target of ridicule. (Ingram, a high school English teacher, doesn’t sugarcoat the fact that some instructors don’t belong in the profession.) Black teen Marcus, from a well-off family, is used to being admired on and off the football field and doesn’t understand why his self-absorption is a turnoff. Mia, a second-generation Mexican-American, has faced prejudice and is determined to prove “I belong here.” A sweetly blossoming relationship between Luke, whose father is a bigot, and Mia, whose dad distrusts whites, seems destined to make them the Romeo and Juliet of the group. Ingram approaches this territory with a knowing and sympathetic eye, giving each teen an authentic voice expressed in a lively flow of alternating, journal-style chapters. (At one point Marcus muses: “I can’t believe Joshua’s attitude, it’s like he’s given up on pro football. It seems like everybody I was around last week had a negative attitude.”) For gritty content, readers should look elsewhere—no sex, drugs, or binge-drinking here. But these teens’ everyday interactions, doubts, and triumphs ring true, and readers should want to find out what happens to them next in Ingram’s upcoming second novel, Tenth Grade Angst.

An author deftly mines his own experiences as a teacher to create diverse and relatable characters facing their first year in high school.

Pub Date: Sept. 15, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-944962-34-0

Page Count: 236

Publisher: Secant Publishing

Review Posted Online: Sept. 28, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2017

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Exciting concept; underwhelming execution.

THE DARK TIDE

Once a year in the city-island of Caldella, the powerful Witch Queen leaves her Water Palace to find her true love, whom she must drown to appease the dark tide of the ever hungry ocean.

Thomas Lin is the only boy who’s ever escaped—by convincing the last Witch Queen to drown herself instead. Ever since then, her sister, Eva, who is the new Witch Queen, has been unable to appease the dark tide—she’s felt nothing for the boys she’s sacrificed. When Thomas is chosen a second time, Lina, a town girl with a crush, decides to rescue Thomas from the Water Palace and volunteer as sacrifice to make sure both Thomas and her own brother stay safe. As Lina and Eva spend more time together, they realize that they have a surprising amount in common: their love for their siblings, their desperation to change the sacrificial system, and their desire for one another. The close third-person narration is focalized alternately through Lina and Eva, and although Lina’s perspective provides greater depth, the narrative voice for each is removed, with more telling than showing. Characters are racially ambiguous but often implied through skin tone to be nonwhite. Diverse sexualities and gender expressions are also implied, but heteroromanticism is disappointingly the default.

Exciting concept; underwhelming execution. (Fantasy. 16-18)

Pub Date: Aug. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-7282-0998-2

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire

Review Posted Online: March 11, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020

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Few chills and even less logic.

BENT HEAVENS

Can Liv put the pieces of her life back together after her father’s mental breakdown?

In rural Bloughton, Iowa, Liv takes solace in the cross country team and the idea that she will be off to college before too long. Three years ago, her father, the high school’s former English and drama teacher, vanished only to return naked and talking about alien abduction. He disappeared for good eight months later. Liv and her friend Doug check the elaborate traps her father built in the woods during those eight months every Sunday. The teacher who replaced him decides to stage the same musical that was her father’s swan song, and after getting in trouble for an outburst over her insensitivity, Liv decides to destroy the traps…but discovers that one has caught an alien. After hiding the horrifying creature in her father’s shed, they discover it has her father’s compass. In anger, Liv attacks the beast and then she and Doug torture it repeatedly as revenge for her missing father…but the alien is not what they perceive him to be, and as the truth is revealed, the horror mounts. Kraus’ (Blood Sugar, 2019, etc.) newest horror fantasy (there is no science here) might inspire more anger than horror as the protagonists respond to otherness with violence. Outrage will likely be followed by laughter at the stagy, manipulative, over-the-top conclusion. Most characters seem to be white.

Few chills and even less logic. (Horror. 16-adult)

Pub Date: Feb. 25, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-15167-4

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: Nov. 19, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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