An enjoyable teen fantasy involving a school for telepathy.

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DICKENSEN ACADEMY

A debut YA novel tells the story of a boarding school with a strange secret.

High school freshman Autumn Mattison is surprised to gain acceptance to the elite Dickensen Academy, a boarding school focused on the creative arts in a remote area of the Cascade Mountains. (It’s so remote her cellphone doesn’t have reception.) Autumn writes fiction and has a small internet following, but she never thought she could make it into such a competitive school. She’s excited to finally give her work more attention—and to get out from under the thumb of her controlling father, who wants her to become a doctor. Dickensen seems like a dream. She quickly makes friends, including her roommate, Aditi Singh, and the handsome Ben, whom Autumn takes a particular liking to. But there are undeniably strange aspects of the school. Right before accepting, Autumn had a preternatural dream about walking around campus—one that accurately showed her things that she hadn’t yet seen. It turns out other students had similar dreams that helped convince them to attend the school. In addition, the upperclassmen are oddly exclusive when it comes to freshmen, who are barred from certain areas of campus. Autumn overhears a group of sophomores discussing being sent “outside the fence”—a phrase she assumes refers to the electrical fence that rings the school’s grounds—though she isn’t sure what it means. Then comes an assembly where the principal reveals why these particular students were accepted to the school: for their ability to receive dreams created by an outside party. “You are our next class of dream-makers,” Principal Locke tells them. Will life at boarding school be complicated by 200 teenagers being taught telepathy? Autumn and her friends are about to find out. Grabowski writes in an engaging prose that summons Autumn’s excitement and anxiety while also deftly building the tensions surrounding the school’s mysteries: “After dinner I tried to call home, but the phone lines were down. The internet too….A sophomore informed me it was a frequent occurrence. Dickensen’s official position stated powerful gusts of wind coming through the mountain range caused unreliable service.” Autumn and her fellow students are well-developed and likable, and their interpersonal dynamics drive the plot in a way that feels effortless. The fantasy aspect of the novel is more muted than in other similarly premised works, which will likely please some readers and disappoint others. The major reveal of the school’s true purpose comes earlier than readers will expect, and it removes a lot of the mystery from the rest of the story. Even so, the dream-making process—and Autumn’s successes and failures with it—provides a surprisingly apt metaphor for the concerns and desires of a teen. Rather than skating on the otherworldliness of the premise, Grabowski digs toward some relatable truths that her young readers will likely appreciate. She also avoids some of the more predictable tropes of the genre. Whether it’s a stand-alone or the first installment of a series, the book manages to satisfy and succeed.

An enjoyable teen fantasy involving a school for telepathy.

Pub Date: Sept. 12, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5092-2123-3

Page Count: 348

Publisher: The Wild Rose Press, Inc.

Review Posted Online: Sept. 5, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2018

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A touching family drama that effectively explores the negative impact of stress on fragile relationships.

A WEEK AT THE SHORE

A middle-aged woman returns to her childhood home to care for her ailing father, confronting many painful secrets from her past.

When Mallory Aldiss gets a call from a long-ago boyfriend telling her that her elderly father has been gallivanting around town with a gun in his hand, Mallory decides it’s time to return to the small Rhode Island town that she’s been avoiding for more than a decade. Mallory’s precocious 13-year-old daughter, Joy, is thrilled that she'll get to meet her grandfather at long last, and an aunt, too, and she'll finally see the place where her mother grew up. When they arrive in Bay Bluff, it’s barely a few hours before Mallory bumps into her old flame, Jack, the only man she’s ever really loved. Gone is the rebellious young person she remembers, and in his place stands a compassionate, accomplished adult. As they try to reconnect, Mallory realizes that the same obstacle that pushed them apart decades earlier is still standing in their way: Jack blames Mallory’s father for his mother’s death. No one knows exactly how Jack’s mother died, but Jack thinks a love affair between her and Mallory’s father had something to do with it. As Jack and Mallory chase down answers, Mallory also tries to repair her rocky relationships with her two sisters and determine why her father has always been so hard on her. Told entirely from Mallory’s perspective, the novel has a haunting, nostalgic quality. Despite the complex and overlapping layers to the history of Bay Bluff and its inhabitants, the book at times trudges too slowly through Mallory’s meanderings down Memory Lane. Even so, Delinsky sometimes manages to pick up the pace, and in those moments the beauty and nuance of this complicated family tale shine through. Readers who don’t mind skimming past details that do little to advance the plot may find that the juicier nuggets and realistically rendered human connections are worth the effort.

A touching family drama that effectively explores the negative impact of stress on fragile relationships.

Pub Date: May 19, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-11951-3

Page Count: 416

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: March 2, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2020

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A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

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THE GIVER OF STARS

Women become horseback librarians in 1930s Kentucky and face challenges from the landscape, the weather, and the men around them.

Alice thought marrying attractive American Bennett Van Cleve would be her ticket out of her stifling life in England. But when she and Bennett settle in Baileyville, Kentucky, she realizes that her life consists of nothing more than staying in their giant house all day and getting yelled at by his unpleasant father, who owns a coal mine. She’s just about to resign herself to a life of boredom when an opportunity presents itself in the form of a traveling horseback library—an initiative from Eleanor Roosevelt meant to counteract the devastating effects of the Depression by focusing on literacy and learning. Much to the dismay of her husband and father-in-law, Alice signs up and soon learns the ropes from the library’s leader, Margery. Margery doesn’t care what anyone thinks of her, rejects marriage, and would rather be on horseback than in a kitchen. And even though all this makes Margery a town pariah, Alice quickly grows to like her. Along with several other women (including one black woman, Sophia, whose employment causes controversy in a town that doesn’t believe black and white people should be allowed to use the same library), Margery and Alice supply magazines, Bible stories, and copies of books like Little Women to the largely poor residents who live in remote areas. Alice spends long days in terrible weather on horseback, but she finally feels happy in her new life in Kentucky, even as her marriage to Bennett is failing. But her powerful father-in-law doesn’t care for Alice’s job or Margery’s lifestyle, and he’ll stop at nothing to shut their library down. Basing her novel on the true story of the Pack Horse Library Project established by the Works Progress Administration in the 1930s, Moyes (Still Me, 2018, etc.) brings an often forgotten slice of history to life. She writes about Kentucky with lush descriptions of the landscape and tender respect for the townspeople, most of whom are poor, uneducated, and grateful for the chance to learn. Although Alice and Margery both have their own romances, the true power of the story is in the bonds between the women of the library. They may have different backgrounds, but their commitment to helping the people of Baileyville brings them together.

A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

Pub Date: Oct. 8, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-399-56248-8

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2019

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