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An originally wrought but flawed exploration of esports.

Competitive gamers seek glory at the regional championship.

Lissa Walker loves the Multiplayer Online Battle Arena game Ancestral in which she and fellow players on Team Phoenix work together in fantasy combat. Her teammates include best friend Ji-Soo, serious Jae-Jin, and newcomer Ray. At the community PlaySpace, run by their mentor, Devon, the gang works on their battle strategies, both in-game and interpersonally. As the regional championship approaches, they face Team Mastermind, a group of alcoholic energy drink–fueled frat boys who employ unscrupulous methods for achieving victory. Bennett’s debut novel is an intriguing look at the culture around esports. Lissa and her friends are older teens and 20-somethings, yet the messaging regarding the importance of teamwork feels reductive and overly insistent; older readers may find this aspect of the book overly saccharine. The diverse group of characters—Ray and Lissa, who are queer, read White by default, Jae-Jin and Ji-Soo are Korean American, and Devon is Black—are sympathetic but tend toward caricature, making for a superficial feel. Gentle romances twine throughout, juxtaposed against the bloody battle scenes. The digital world of Ancestral is fascinatingly rendered, coming across as both novel and recognizable to gamers. The happy ending feels a bit rushed and contrived, but readers will ultimately cheer for this not-quite-underdog team.

An originally wrought but flawed exploration of esports. (Fiction. 14-18)

Pub Date: Jan. 17, 2023

ISBN: 978-1-78108-928-6

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Solaris

Review Posted Online: Oct. 26, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2022

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A heavy read about the harsh realities of tragedy and their effects on those left behind.

In this companion novel to 2013’s If He Had Been With Me, three characters tell their sides of the story.

Finn’s narrative starts three days before his death. He explores the progress of his unrequited love for best friend Autumn up until the day he finally expresses his feelings. Finn’s story ends with his tragic death, which leaves his close friends devastated, unmoored, and uncertain how to go on. Jack’s section follows, offering a heartbreaking look at what it’s like to live with grief. Jack works to overcome the anger he feels toward Sylvie, the girlfriend Finn was breaking up with when he died, and Autumn, the girl he was preparing to build his life around (but whom Jack believed wasn’t good enough for Finn). But when Jack sees how Autumn’s grief matches his own, it changes their understanding of one another. Autumn’s chapters trace her life without Finn as readers follow her struggles with mental health and balancing love and loss. Those who have read the earlier book will better connect with and feel for these characters, particularly since they’ll have a more well-rounded impression of Finn. The pain and anger is well written, and the novel highlights the most troublesome aspects of young adulthood: overconfidence sprinkled with heavy insecurities, fear-fueled decisions, bad communication, and brash judgments. Characters are cued white.

A heavy read about the harsh realities of tragedy and their effects on those left behind. (author’s note, content warning) (Fiction. 14-18)

Pub Date: Feb. 6, 2024

ISBN: 9781728276229

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire

Review Posted Online: Jan. 5, 2024

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2024

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An ode to the children of migrants who have been taken away.

A Mexican American boy takes on heavy responsibilities when his family is torn apart.

Mateo’s life is turned upside down the day U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents show up unsuccessfully seeking his Pa at his New York City bodega. The Garcias live in fear until the day both parents are picked up; his Pa is taken to jail and his Ma to a detention center. The adults around Mateo offer support to him and his 7-year-old sister, Sophie, however, he knows he is now responsible for caring for her and the bodega as well as trying to survive junior year—that is, if he wants to fulfill his dream to enter the drama program at the Tisch School of the Arts and become an actor. Mateo’s relationships with his friends Kimmie and Adam (a potential love interest) also suffer repercussions as he keeps his situation a secret. Kimmie is half Korean (her other half is unspecified) and Adam is Italian American; Mateo feels disconnected from them, less American, and with worries they can’t understand. He talks himself out of choosing a safer course of action, a decision that deepens the story. Mateo’s self-awareness and inner monologue at times make him seem older than 16, and, with significant turmoil in the main plot, some side elements feel underdeveloped. Aleman’s narrative joins the ranks of heart-wrenching stories of migrant families who have been separated.

An ode to the children of migrants who have been taken away. (Fiction. 14-18)

Pub Date: May 4, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-7595-5605-8

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Feb. 22, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2021

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