A Midwestern gothic family saga that will hook readers—or scare them away.

SCOWLER

A meteor shower forms the backdrop for a teen boy's Donnie Darko–like nightmare in 1981 small-town Iowa.

Haunted by his past, 19-year-old Ry Burke strives to survive on a slowly deteriorating Midwestern farm with his mother and his precocious sister. Nine years before, Ry took a baseball bat and bashed in the face of his aggressive, abusive father, Marvin, after he discovered his dad had sewn his mother’s naked body into the sheets of their bed. His subsequent ordeals are grisly and bloody. He's aided by three totemic objects that he calls the Unnamed Three: a blue teddy bear named Mr. Furrington, a statuette of Jesus Christ, and an antique wooden doll with sunken eyes and metal insides that he calls Scowler. All three make a timely return to the Burke household on the eve of a meteor shower to defeat his father, who has broken out of prison and threatens their family once again. Weird? Yes. Compelling? Mostly. Kraus' latest will challenge both readers' patience and their ability to suspend disbelief as they follow Ry through the harrowing evening and following few days. The plot walks the line between believable and over-the-top, and the devoted—sometimes distractingly so—attention to detail may thrill critics but underwhelm teens.

A Midwestern gothic family saga that will hook readers—or scare them away. (Horror. 14 & up)

Pub Date: March 13, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-385-74309-9

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: Jan. 28, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2013

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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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Thoughtful and entertaining.

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BETTER TOGETHER

Estranged sisters plan a scheme à la The Parent Trap but are met with an unexpected twist.

Eighteen-year-old Siri Maza from New Jersey is mired in anger and uncertainty after an injury cuts short her burgeoning ballet career. At her mother’s insistence, she agrees to attend a wellness retreat in Colorado—and crashes into a barely remembered long-lost sister she’s been told was an imaginary friend. After bombing spectacularly onstage, 20-year-old Los Angeles comedian Jamie Federov is happy to escape to the Rediscover Yourself retreat, even if it is one of several conditions set by her father upon her moving back home. Jamie’s shocked when she encounters the younger sister she hasn’t seen since their parents split up 14 years ago. Spotting an opportunity for comedic inspiration, Jamie hatches a plot for the two to temporarily swap places and confront their parents. Only when they’re on their respective flights home do they realize that they’ve been transformed to look like one another. The relative ease with which various characters accept the magical element strains belief, but the sisters’ growth over the course of the story is convincing and satisfying. With help from their love interests, Pakistani Zarar and Filipina Dawn—both of whom are well developed and endearing—Jamie and Siri, who are White, confront their individual flaws and strengths and learn to accept the work inherent to healthy familial relationships.

Thoughtful and entertaining. (Fiction. 14-18)

Pub Date: June 1, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-250-76006-7

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Wednesday Books

Review Posted Online: April 30, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2021

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