A smartly plotted examination of the despair that keeps people in their places and the hope that pulls them out of it.

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BLOOD BROTHERS

Two impoverished teens drift along different paths.

Fifteen-year-olds Jakub Kaminsky (white, the son of a Polish-immigrant single father) and Lincoln Bear (a brown-skinned First Nations boy whose family lives off the reservation) are making the best of their small lives. The two friends enjoy going out at night and tagging their neighborhood as Morf and Skar. When Lincoln’s brother Henry returns from prison, Lincoln is slowly pulled into Henry’s gang, the Red Bloodz. Meanwhile, Jakub gets a free ride to the fancy private school across town. As their lives separate for the first time the two boys face different challenges on their own, and the author smartly assays how even the smallest of choices can lead toward destruction and self-sabotage. The cyclical nature of poverty and despair is a running theme here, ever present and honestly portrayed. Lincoln and Jakub are both distinct, fully formed characters who are supported by a cast of characters that bring out different facets of their personalities and also exemplify how different support systems shape perspective and attitude. The novel has very little humor, but it doesn’t dwell in the maudlin either. There’s a journalistic “just the facts” approach here that greatly appeals. This straightforward approach lends legitimacy to the novel’s final act, one that in lesser hands would come off as over-the-top pulp nonsense.

A smartly plotted examination of the despair that keeps people in their places and the hope that pulls them out of it. (Fiction. 14-17)

Pub Date: April 25, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-4597-3746-4

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Dundurn

Review Posted Online: Jan. 17, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2017

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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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Best leave it at maybe so.

YES NO MAYBE SO

Two 17-year-olds from the northern suburbs of Atlanta, Georgia, work together on a campaign for a progressive state senate candidate in an unlikely love story.

Co-authors Albertalli (Leah on the Offbeat, 2018, etc.) and Saeed (Bilal Cooks Daal, 2019, etc.) present Jamie Goldberg, a white Ashkenazi Jewish boy who suffers from being “painfully bad at anything girl-related,” and Maya Rehman, a Pakistani American Muslim girl struggling with her parents’ sudden separation. Former childhood best friends, they find themselves volunteered as a team by their mothers during a Ramadan “campaign iftar.” One canvassing adventure at a time, they grow closer despite Maya’s no-dating policy. Chapters alternate between Maya’s and Jamie’s first-person voices. The endearing, if somewhat clichéd, teens sweetly connect over similarities like divorced parents, and their activism will resonate with many. Jamie is sensitive, clumsy, and insecure; Maya is determined, sassy, a dash spoiled, and she swears freely. The novel covers timeless themes of teen activism and love-conquers-all along with election highs and lows, messy divorces, teen angst, bat mitzvah stress, social media gaffes, right-wing haters, friendship drama, and cultural misunderstandings, but the explicit advocacy at times interferes with an immersive reading experience and the text often feels repetitious. Maya’s mother is hijabi, and while Maya advocates against a hijab ban, she chooses not to wear hijab and actively wrestles with what it means to be an observant Muslim.

Best leave it at maybe so. (Romance. 14-18)

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-293704-9

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Nov. 17, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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