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THE DRAGONS CLUB

Sharp, tender, carefully crafted; highly recommended for both strong and striving readers.

As her sister’s addiction worsens, Faith learns hard lessons about boundaries while finding strength and companionship through talk therapy.

When cancer took their father, Faith and Emma Navarro’s mother started working a lot more. Faith is a talented violinist attending a special arts school on a scholarship, but while she was practicing, older sister Emma was partying and is now struggling with a meth addiction. Faith tries to take care of Emma, but missing too much school lands her in the Dragons Club Teen-Speak Support Group. Participation is mandatory for her to remain enrolled. Though Emma is worsening, Faith begins to feel less alone and invisible as she develops the detachment and boundaries she needs. The sessions are therapeutic even for readers; calm, wise teacher Mr. Padilla, or Boots to the kids, threads coping mechanisms, comfort, and advice organically into the dialogue. Razor-thin verse spotlights a quick chain of moments, never landing too long in one place or lingering on the pain, though Emma’s situation is portrayed realistically and with clarity. Faith’s on-page struggles with anxiety are also no less powerful for their brevity. Any reader who loves a person with an addiction will feel seen, and others will gain much in terms of insight and perspective. Faith’s family and Boots read Latine.

Sharp, tender, carefully crafted; highly recommended for both strong and striving readers. (Verse novel. 12-18)

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-978596-03-0

Page Count: 200

Publisher: West 44 Books

Review Posted Online: Sept. 13, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2022

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IF HE HAD BEEN WITH ME

There’s not much plot here, but readers will relish the opportunity to climb inside Autumn’s head.

The finely drawn characters capture readers’ attention in this debut.

Autumn and Phineas, nicknamed Finny, were born a week apart; their mothers are still best friends. Growing up, Autumn and Finny were like peas in a pod despite their differences: Autumn is “quirky and odd,” while Finny is “sweet and shy and everyone like[s] him.” But in eighth grade, Autumn and Finny stop being friends due to an unexpected kiss. They drift apart and find new friends, but their friendship keeps asserting itself at parties, shared holiday gatherings and random encounters. In the summer after graduation, Autumn and Finny reconnect and are finally ready to be more than friends. But on August 8, everything changes, and Autumn has to rely on all her strength to move on. Autumn’s coming-of-age is sensitively chronicled, with a wide range of experiences and events shaping her character. Even secondary characters are well-rounded, with their own histories and motivations.

There’s not much plot here, but readers will relish the opportunity to climb inside Autumn’s head.   (Fiction. 14 & up)

Pub Date: April 1, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-4022-7782-5

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire

Review Posted Online: Feb. 12, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2013

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IF ONLY I HAD TOLD HER

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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