An unbalanced but still effective tear-jerker.

MR. 60%

A high school drug dealer learns some harsh truths.

Matt Nolan has been doing the bare minimum to get by in school, and he’s close to graduating with a grade average just above the state-mandated 60 percent. The only reason Matt shows up to school is to sling drugs to the teenage client pool that other drug dealers can’t get to. The vice principal has plenty of circumstantial evidence against Matt and is frothing at the mouth to catch him red-handed, but the authorities don’t know that Matt is using the proceeds to take care of his beloved uncle. Jack took Matt in when Matt had nowhere to go, and the pair lives in a cramped trailer while Jack slowly dies of cancer. The author weaves a desperate tale filled with money problems, emotional baggage, and a compelling central character. Unfortunately the peripheral characters are fairly thin. Uncle Jack is a kindhearted, proud guy and not much else. Amanda, the plus-sized pariah who befriends Matt, is a voice of support that stretches credulity. These thin characters and the cartoonishly evil vice principal conflict harshly with the author’s exploration of Matt’s isolationist complex. The novel is well-structured, moving quickly between beats but not rushing. This is a laser-focused book, interested in exploring fear and grief regardless of other shortcomings; casting his characters as white ensures that this focus remains fixed.

An unbalanced but still effective tear-jerker. (Fiction. 14-17)

Pub Date: Aug. 22, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-553-53466-5

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: May 1, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2017

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An emotionally engaging closer that fumbles in its final moments.

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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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Breezy, silly, unremarkable fun.

THE LIFE BELOW

From the Final Six series , Vol. 2

This sequel to The Final Six (2018) raises the stakes for its spacefaring teen astronauts.

Naomi Ardalan and the other Final Six are on their journey to colonize Jupiter’s moon Europa, leading the way for humans to eventually leave a dying Earth. Naomi is the only one in the group who knows that the leaders of the International Space Training Camp are keeping the truth from them, and it is down to her to discover whether there is alien life on Europa before they land. Back on Earth, and unbeknownst to the crew, left-behind recruit Leo Danieli works with genius doctor Greta Wagner to launch a solo mission to intercept and join Naomi’s ship in order to bring them news that not only is there definitely life on Europa, but they are set to land in its most dangerous zone. As the two missions and alternating narratives converge, the unthinkable happens—and everything changes. Fast-paced and plot-driven, the novel decidedly veers into science fiction horror territory with plenty of scares that readers willing to suspend disbelief and embrace the teenagers-in-space setup are likely to enjoy. The syrupy romance between Leo and Naomi continues, and a new layer is added to the story with a frustratingly too-brief examination of colonization and first contact. Naomi is Iranian American, Leo is Italian, and the human cast is international.

Breezy, silly, unremarkable fun. (Science fiction horror. 14-17)

Pub Date: Feb. 18, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-265897-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: HarperTeen

Review Posted Online: Jan. 23, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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