Depending on taste, either a heartbreaking evocation of feels or endless slog of misery.

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THE BOY WHO STEALS HOUSES

A bleak, poignant story about families: those you’re born with, those you find, and those you try to steal.

Sammy Lou, only 15, and his autistic older brother, Avery, are homeless, scraping by on Avery’s precarious earnings and whatever Sammy can steal. Until he breaks into the De Lainey house, the polar opposite of empty: one dad, seven kids, and all their friends. Sammy hides in the effervescent chaos, aided by the gorgeous, ferocious, talented Moxie…until his past catches up with him. Australian author Drews leans hard on the pathos, burdening undersized Sammy (cued as white) with a runaway mother, a brutal criminal father, an abusive aunt, constant hunger, illness, and injury; but also an explosively violent temper and toxic co-dependency with Avery. Lush prose with distracting lapses into idiosyncratic formatting reveals a lonely, self-loathing teen yearning to belong. Avery is a complicated foil; his autism presents matter-of-factly, neither blamed for nor excusing his poor choices. Other characters are less well drawn; Moxie, with her olive skin and frizzy “chocolate hair,” may have her own goals but serves mostly as a vehicle for Sammy’s dreams; her brothers exist to be charmingly quirky; and every adult (except the improbably saintly De Lainey father) is cruel, exploitative, or at best indifferent. The downward spiral of Sam’s bad decisions accelerates until only a metaphorical fairy godparent can provide a barely hopeful resolution.

Depending on taste, either a heartbreaking evocation of feels or endless slog of misery. (Fiction. 12-18)

Pub Date: June 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-4083-4992-2

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Orchard/Hachette UK

Review Posted Online: March 11, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020

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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Violet, a writer and member of the popular crowd, has withdrawn from her friends and from school activities since her sister died in a car accident nine months earlier.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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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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