A potentially fascinating coming-of-age story that sadly misses its mark.

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THE EXENE CHRONICLES

When her best friend, Ryan, goes missing, 14-year-old Lia struggles to figure out who she is without her other half.

In a tiny California town, Lia and Ryan are outcasts: Ryan was one of the first girls in their class to go through puberty, and Lia is one of a handful of black kids. In middle school, the two bonded over their mutual love of Exene, a powerful female punk rocker. For years, they have been inseparable—until Ryan falls in love with 19-year-old Neil and disappears, leaving Lia in a sexist, racist town that she’s not sure she can survive alone. Despite the promising premise, the treatment of oppression lacks subtlety, focusing on shocking incidents and ignoring the myriad ways racism, sexism, and classism affect everyday lives. Debut novelist Collins frequently reduces complex motivations to single, unconvincing incidents: Ryan’s brother, for example, becomes a white supremacist after a black boy humiliates him in a fistfight rather than because of his family’s declining class status, which would have been a fascinating (and highly relevant) motivation to explore. This is particularly disappointing since the text does have glimmers of poetry and real insight—as, for example, when Lia’s father hopes that the person responsible for his daughter’s friend’s disappearance is not black. In addition, the prose is clunky and verbose, making the pace feel slower than it is.

A potentially fascinating coming-of-age story that sadly misses its mark. (Fiction. 14-18)

Pub Date: Sept. 25, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-948559-05-8

Page Count: 262

Publisher: Brain Mill Press

Review Posted Online: July 17, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2018

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A searing portrayal of a teen navigating her dysfunctional family that leaves readers hopeful.

A LIFE, REDEFINED

From the Rowan Slone series , Vol. 1

Rowan Slone’s future looks promising, offering a much-needed escape from her small town in Appalachia.

But with new secrets revealed about her family and past, she must move forward or risk being pulled back into the very darkness she is trying to escape. A junior in high school, Rowan is on track to graduate and go to college, and she dreams of eventually becoming a veterinarian. The death of her baby brother 7 years ago sent her into a spiral of self-harm, but she managed to stop cutting herself a few years ago. Things start to look up when she is paired with her longtime crush, Mike Anderson, for their biology project. There are hints of a budding romance between the two, and Mike even asks her to prom. However, life at home takes a turn for the worse, and Rowan finds herself reaching for a razor. With everything she has suffered, readers will find themselves cheering for Rowan, hoping she makes it through. Meyer (The Reformation of Marli Meade, 2018, etc.) astutely captures the horrors of self-harm and domestic violence. However, the story would have benefited from more character development of the protagonist’s family and other secondary characters. All main characters are assumed to be white; Rowan’s father’s racism is explored to some degree.

A searing portrayal of a teen navigating her dysfunctional family that leaves readers hopeful. (Fiction. 14-18)

Pub Date: March 12, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-64397-012-7

Page Count: 200

Publisher: BHC Press

Review Posted Online: Dec. 21, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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A clever, feel-good opening to a fantasy series with a tenacious heroine.

Girls Can't Be Knights

From the Spirit Knights series , Vol. 1

The start of a new YA series features a teen orphan and a protective brotherhood of Spirit Knights.

Fifteen-year-old Claire Terdan lives in a group foster home in Portland, Oregon. Six years ago, her family died in a house fire, and her only dependable friend since has been a boy her age named Drew. One day in school, after she punches a bully who mocks her, the principal suspends her for a day. She sneaks out of school and into town only to be accosted by several cats and dogs. Meanwhile, at the nearby Oregon Historical Society, a man named Justin arrives on his white horse, Tariel. He’s there, dressed in his green Spirit Knight armor, to borrow (some might say steal) an antique hat that has sentimental meaning to his mentor, Kurt. When he meets Claire, he offers her a ride home. Telling Justin she doesn’t have one, Claire ends up with him in Vancouver, Washington, at his family’s farm. There she meets his wife and two young daughters and eventually learns about the Palace, a magical, dormitory-style structure where Spirit Knights—a brotherhood that protects the world from ghostly, vengeful Phasms—dwell. Justin isn’t sure why Claire seems familiar until he learns that she’s the daughter of a dead Knight named Mark. French (Superheroes in Denim, 2016, etc.) establishes a crafty new fantasy series with a light smattering of genre fixtures, including talking animals, an enchanted pendant, and the firmly held belief that “Girls can’t be Knights.” Most of the narrative drama comes from grounded conflicts that teens should relate to, like Claire’s attraction to the older Justin and the lousy conditions of the “sanitized prison” that is her group home. Later scenes in which a detective named Avery physically assaults Claire are not for the faint-hearted. The upside for the tale’s heroine is that Justin and his family turn out to be perfect for her; despite early misgivings about them, she decides to “admire the example they set and be grateful for it.” The story should provide a heartwarming boost to anyone in a tough situation.

A clever, feel-good opening to a fantasy series with a tenacious heroine.

Pub Date: June 3, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-68063-030-5

Page Count: 246

Publisher: Myrddin Publishing Group

Review Posted Online: July 27, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2016

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