Compelling snapshots of contemporary family drama and the AIDS epidemic as captured through a teen’s eyes.

SKYSCRAPING

A teenage girl grapples with her family’s growing pains.

Set in early 1990s Manhattan as the AIDS crisis was hitting its peak, Jensen’s semiautobiographical debut novel in verse explores how shifting parental dynamics can affect a household. At the novel’s start, Miranda “Mira” Stewart has always been a dedicated student and engaged daughter, devoted to her academician father and younger sister and struggling to relate to her self-involved artist mother. Her biggest concerns are what theme to choose as she takes the editorial helm of her high school yearbook, how to negotiate the absence of her recently graduated boyfriend, and filling out college applications—all typical senior-year fare. “But the constellation of a family / can shift shape / in seconds.” When Mira discovers her father in a compromising position with his male teaching assistant, both her image of him and her understanding of her parents’ relationship collapse. Mira withdraws from her family and acts out at school, at first unwilling to forgive her parents for having kept a crucial part of their relationship hidden. Throughout, Jensen’s spare free-verse poems and accessible imagery realistically portray the fraught moments of adolescent identity formation with great empathy.

Compelling snapshots of contemporary family drama and the AIDS epidemic as captured through a teen’s eyes. (Historical fiction/verse. 14 & up)

Pub Date: June 2, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-399-16771-3

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Philomel

Review Posted Online: March 3, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2015

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Riveting, brutal and beautifully told.

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WE WERE LIARS

A devastating tale of greed and secrets springs from the summer that tore Cady’s life apart.

Cady Sinclair’s family uses its inherited wealth to ensure that each successive generation is blond, beautiful and powerful. Reunited each summer by the family patriarch on his private island, his three adult daughters and various grandchildren lead charmed, fairy-tale lives (an idea reinforced by the periodic inclusions of Cady’s reworkings of fairy tales to tell the Sinclair family story). But this is no sanitized, modern Disney fairy tale; this is Cinderella with her stepsisters’ slashed heels in bloody glass slippers. Cady’s fairy-tale retellings are dark, as is the personal tragedy that has led to her examination of the skeletons in the Sinclair castle’s closets; its rent turns out to be extracted in personal sacrifices. Brilliantly, Lockhart resists simply crucifying the Sinclairs, which might make the family’s foreshadowed tragedy predictable or even satisfying. Instead, she humanizes them (and their painful contradictions) by including nostalgic images that showcase the love shared among Cady, her two cousins closest in age, and Gat, the Heathcliff-esque figure she has always loved. Though increasingly disenchanted with the Sinclair legacy of self-absorption, the four believe family redemption is possible—if they have the courage to act. Their sincere hopes and foolish naïveté make the teens’ desperate, grand gesture all that much more tragic.

Riveting, brutal and beautifully told. (Fiction. 14 & up)

Pub Date: May 13, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-385-74126-2

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: March 17, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2014

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Poignant and real, beautiful and intense, this story of a girl struggling to define herself is as powerful as Xiomara’s...

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THE POET X

Poetry helps first-generation Dominican-American teen Xiomara Batista come into her own.

Fifteen-year old Xiomara (“See-oh-MAH-ruh,” as she constantly instructs teachers on the first day of school) is used to standing out: she’s tall with “a little too much body for a young girl.” Street harassed by both boys and grown men and just plain harassed by girls, she copes with her fists. In this novel in verse, Acevedo examines the toxicity of the “strong black woman” trope, highlighting the ways Xiomara’s seeming unbreakability doesn’t allow space for her humanity. The only place Xiomara feels like herself and heard is in her poetry—and later with her love interest, Aman (a Trinidadian immigrant who, refreshingly, is a couple inches shorter than her). At church and at home, she’s stifled by her intensely Catholic mother’s rules and fear of sexuality. Her present-but-absent father and even her brother, Twin (yes, her actual twin), are both emotionally unavailable. Though she finds support in a dedicated teacher, in Aman, and in a poetry club and spoken-word competition, it’s Xiomara herself who finally gathers the resources she needs to solve her problems. The happy ending is not a neat one, making it both realistic and satisfying. Themes as diverse as growing up first-generation American, Latinx culture, sizeism, music, burgeoning sexuality, and the power of the written and spoken word are all explored with nuance.

Poignant and real, beautiful and intense, this story of a girl struggling to define herself is as powerful as Xiomara’s name: “one who is ready for war.” (Verse fiction. 14-18)

Pub Date: March 6, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-06-266280-4

Page Count: 368

Publisher: HarperTeen

Review Posted Online: Dec. 21, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2018

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