A memorable / and innovative story / of one wrenching year.

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DEATH COMING UP THE HILL

Seventeen-year-old Ashe Douglas records the events of 1968 in a novel in haiku.

Ashe was born on May 17, 1951, and is a senior in high school during the year he decides to describe in haiku, liking the tidiness of the three-line, 17-syllable form. The year is 1968, when more soldiers died in the Vietnam War than in any other year. Ashe decides not only to write haiku, but to dedicate a syllable to each soldier killed—976 haiku equals 16,592 syllables equals the number of soldiers killed in 1968. An entire story “contained by a syllable count.” Not only is that asking a lot of its diminutive form, but so much happened in 1968: the war, race riots, the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy, let alone Ashe’s family life, which resembles a war zone. Haiku stanzas just can’t contain it all, being ill equipped for the depth or context necessary for a rich historical novel. But what transcends contrivance and gimmickry is Ashe’s voice, and haiku are well-suited to carry that. With newspaper headlines, death tolls, and overwhelming world, national and domestic events in the background, one boy’s clear and earnest voice records his life: “I’ll / write what needs to be / remembered and leave it to / you to fill in the gaps.”

A memorable / and innovative story / of one wrenching year. (historical note, author’s note) (Historical fiction/poetry. 12-16)

Pub Date: Oct. 7, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-544-30215-0

Page Count: 208

Publisher: HMH Books

Review Posted Online: July 16, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2014

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Skip this uninspired entry into the world of medieval love and court intrigue.

THE BETROTHED

From the Betrothed series , Vol. 1

In an imagined setting evoking medieval England, King Jameson of Coroa pursues Hollis Brite.

The independent teenager makes Jameson laugh, but she lacks the education and demeanor people expect in a queen. Her friend Delia Grace has more knowledge of history and languages but is shunned due to her illegitimate birth. Hollis gets caught up in a whirl of social activity, especially following an Isolten royal visit. There has been bad blood between the two countries, not fully explained here, and when an exiled Isolten family also comes to court, Jameson generously allows them to stay. Hollis relies on the family to teach her about Isolten customs and secretly falls in love with Silas, the oldest son, even though a relationship with him would mean relinquishing Jameson and the throne. When Hollis learns of political machinations that will affect her future in ways that she abhors, she faces a difficult decision. Romance readers will enjoy the usual descriptions of dresses, jewelry, young love, and discreet kisses, although many characters remain cardboard figures. While the violent climax may be upsetting, the book ends on a hopeful note. Themes related to immigration and young women’s taking charge of their lives don’t quite lift this awkwardly written volume above other royal romances. There are prejudicial references to Romani people, and whiteness is situated as the norm.

Skip this uninspired entry into the world of medieval love and court intrigue. (Historical romance. 13-16)

Pub Date: May 5, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-229163-9

Page Count: 320

Publisher: HarperTeen

Review Posted Online: Feb. 5, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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Heartbreaking, historical, and a little bit hopeful.

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SALT TO THE SEA

January 1945: as Russians advance through East Prussia, four teens’ lives converge in hopes of escape.

Returning to the successful formula of her highly lauded debut, Between Shades of Gray (2011), Sepetys combines research (described in extensive backmatter) with well-crafted fiction to bring to life another little-known story: the sinking (from Soviet torpedoes) of the German ship Wilhelm Gustloff. Told in four alternating voices—Lithuanian nurse Joana, Polish Emilia, Prussian forger Florian, and German soldier Alfred—with often contemporary cadences, this stints on neither history nor fiction. The three sympathetic refugees and their motley companions (especially an orphaned boy and an elderly shoemaker) make it clear that while the Gustloff was a German ship full of German civilians and soldiers during World War II, its sinking was still a tragedy. Only Alfred, stationed on the Gustloff, lacks sympathy; almost a caricature, he is self-delusional, unlikable, a Hitler worshiper. As a vehicle for exposition, however, and a reminder of Germany’s role in the war, he serves an invaluable purpose that almost makes up for the mustache-twirling quality of his petty villainy. The inevitability of the ending (including the loss of several characters) doesn’t change its poignancy, and the short chapters and slowly revealed back stories for each character guarantee the pages keep turning.

Heartbreaking, historical, and a little bit hopeful. (author’s note, research and sources, maps) (Historical fiction. 12-16)

Pub Date: Feb. 2, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-399-16030-1

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Philomel

Review Posted Online: Nov. 3, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2015

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