An affecting futuristic tale that manages to feel both urgent and timeless.

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THE MAGPIE'S RETURN

A gifted girl finds her life thrown into chaos during a period of societal upheaval in this dystopian literary novel.

Math prodigy Kayla sticks out from the herd. The middle schooler takes high school calculus classes while generally trying to avoid being victimized by her peers. The rest of the country is not much friendlier than her middle school, particularly since the rise of Arthur McNally and his populist, anti-intellectual movement based on exclusionary Christian nationalism. After McNally wins the presidency and Russia and the nations of Asia destroy themselves in a nuclear war, America is forced to undergo “The Great Shut-In” until radiation levels return to normal. During the resulting social unrest, Kayla’s professor father becomes involved in the Movement, a nonviolent protest organization at odds with McNally’s government. Things come to a head when her father is pulled from their house by their neighbors and lynched in the street. Kayla’s mother and uncles are arrested, forcing the teen to go into hiding. After she is betrayed by a friend’s family, Kayla ends up in a school for girls who have lost their families during the government’s purges. Here, Kayla must learn how to keep herself from becoming a victim—and to plan her revenge on those who destroyed her family. Smith’s prose is lyrical and controlled, creating a dystopia that is realistic in its mundane brutality. Here, Kayla witnesses her father’s hanging: “Slater lifts his arm, and the shirtless man yanks the rope. Another man rushes forward and grips the rope, then another. My father rises, an imitation of fight. His hands claw the noose, the spastic kick of his feet, the rope’s wild sway.” The author masterfully depicts America’s crisis through the perspective of one girl even as he shifts the point of view through the novel—first person, second person, third—to highlight major reorientations in Kayla’s life. While there is no shortage of novels offering nightmarish visions of the near American future, this one manages to stand out both in its realism and its resistance to simple moralizations. It’s all the more frightening for it.

An affecting futuristic tale that manages to feel both urgent and timeless.

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-947041-61-5

Page Count: 380

Publisher: Running Wild Press

Review Posted Online: April 30, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2020

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A contemporary hero’s journey, brilliantly told.

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SOLO

The 17-year-old son of a troubled rock star is determined to find his own way in life and love.

On the verge of adulthood, Blade Morrison wants to leave his father’s bad-boy reputation for drug-and-alcohol–induced antics and his sister’s edgy lifestyle behind. The death of his mother 10 years ago left them all without an anchor. Named for the black superhero, Blade shares his family’s connection to music but resents the paparazzi that prevent him from having an open relationship with the girl that he loves. However, there is one secret even Blade is unaware of, and when his sister reveals the truth of his heritage during a bitter fight, Blade is stunned. When he finally gains some measure of equilibrium, he decides to investigate, embarking on a search that will lead him to a small, remote village in Ghana. Along the way, he meets people with a sense of purpose, especially Joy, a young Ghanaian who helps him despite her suspicions of Americans. This rich novel in verse is full of the music that forms its core. In addition to Alexander and co-author Hess’ skilled use of language, references to classic rock songs abound. Secondary characters add texture to the story: does his girlfriend have real feelings for Blade? Is there more to his father than his inability to stay clean and sober? At the center is Blade, fully realized and achingly real in his pain and confusion.

A contemporary hero’s journey, brilliantly told. (Verse fiction. 14-adult)

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-310-76183-9

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Blink

Review Posted Online: May 1, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2017

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A thoughtful and thrilling story of life, death, and meaning.

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SCYTHE

From the Arc of a Scythe series , Vol. 1

Two teens train to be society-sanctioned killers in an otherwise immortal world.

On post-mortal Earth, humans live long (if not particularly passionate) lives without fear of disease, aging, or accidents. Operating independently of the governing AI (called the Thunderhead since it evolved from the cloud), scythes rely on 10 commandments, quotas, and their own moral codes to glean the population. After challenging Hon. Scythe Faraday, 16-year-olds Rowan Damisch and Citra Terranova reluctantly become his apprentices. Subjected to killcraft training, exposed to numerous executions, and discouraged from becoming allies or lovers, the two find themselves engaged in a fatal competition but equally determined to fight corruption and cruelty. The vivid and often violent action unfolds slowly, anchored in complex worldbuilding and propelled by political machinations and existential musings. Scythes’ journal entries accompany Rowan’s and Citra’s dual and dueling narratives, revealing both personal struggles and societal problems. The futuristic post–2042 MidMerican world is both dystopia and utopia, free of fear, unexpected death, and blatant racism—multiracial main characters discuss their diverse ethnic percentages rather than purity—but also lacking creativity, emotion, and purpose. Elegant and elegiac, brooding but imbued with gallows humor, Shusterman’s dark tale thrusts realistic, likable teens into a surreal situation and raises deep philosophic questions.

A thoughtful and thrilling story of life, death, and meaning. (Science fiction. 14 & up)

Pub Date: Nov. 29, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-4424-7242-6

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: July 26, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2016

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