A lovely, moving novel with a bittersweet conclusion.

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PLAYING A PART

A boy raised by his parents in a Moscow puppet theater faces the ugliness of homophobia as one of the actors, who is gay, decides to leave Russia for the Netherlands in order to escape it.

Grisha is bereft to hear that his friend and mentor, Sam, will be leaving. At the same time, his friend Sashok, who prides herself on flouting gender stereotypes, tells him that she will be having heart surgery, and the longstanding puppet master at the theater, Lyolik, is ousted to make way for someone new. Grisha is an earnest, even sweet-natured, narrator, rendering particularly ugly the harassment he faces from his peers and from his cruel grandfather, who routinely calls Sam a “queer” and Grisha himself a “sissy.” It also makes Grisha’s age elusive. The language he uses at times seems very young, as when he imagines retaliating against a boy at school “right in his smiling bully face,” though the issues he faces suggest a worldliness hinting at a somewhat older teen. This is a minor quibble, however, as readers will be engrossed by the plot hatched by Grisha and Sashok to get Lyolik back and moved by the story’s themes and the rich, image-laden language: “The theater starts murmuring, speaking, tramping, and rustling.”

A lovely, moving novel with a bittersweet conclusion. (Fiction. 12-18)

Pub Date: March 31, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-545-72607-8

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Levine/Scholastic

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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An earnest examination of mental health in sports.

GEESE ARE NEVER SWANS

Sixteen-year-old Gus Bennett lives in the shadow of his older brother, Danny, a former Olympic swimming hopeful who recently died by suicide.

Gus does not have an easy home life: He has a strained relationship with his mother, a single parent who’s still struggling after Danny’s death; and his older sister, Darien, has a drug addiction and abandoned her now 18-month-old child to the care of their mother. But Gus hopes to train with Coach Marks, the renowned trainer who worked with his brother. He even sneaks into the country club to get access to the pool, willing to do whatever it takes to succeed. He has his eye on qualifying for the national team and seems poised for success, but he soon experiences a downward spiral and engages in reckless behavior. Although the side characters are underdeveloped, Gus’ first-person narration carries the story along smoothly. Conceptualized by the late Academy Award–winning basketball player Bryant and written by Clark, this emotional novel contains lyrical prose that beautifully captures the energy of swimming and short chapters that will keep readers engaged. Physical descriptions are limited, suggesting a white default, but naming conventions suggest some diversity among the swim team members.

An earnest examination of mental health in sports. (resources) (Fiction. 12-18)

Pub Date: July 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-949520-05-7

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Granity Studios

Review Posted Online: June 1, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2020

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This story is necessary. This story is important.

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THE HATE U GIVE

Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter is a black girl and an expert at navigating the two worlds she exists in: one at Garden Heights, her black neighborhood, and the other at Williamson Prep, her suburban, mostly white high school.

Walking the line between the two becomes immensely harder when Starr is present at the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend, Khalil, by a white police officer. Khalil was unarmed. Khalil’s death becomes national news, where he’s called a thug and possible drug dealer and gangbanger. His death becomes justified in the eyes of many, including one of Starr’s best friends at school. The police’s lackadaisical attitude sparks anger and then protests in the community, turning it into a war zone. Questions remain about what happened in the moments leading to Khalil’s death, and the only witness is Starr, who must now decide what to say or do, if anything. Thomas cuts to the heart of the matter for Starr and for so many like her, laying bare the systemic racism that undergirds her world, and she does so honestly and inescapably, balancing heartbreak and humor. With smooth but powerful prose delivered in Starr’s natural, emphatic voice, finely nuanced characters, and intricate and realistic relationship dynamics, this novel will have readers rooting for Starr and opening their hearts to her friends and family.

This story is necessary. This story is important. (Fiction. 14-adult)

Pub Date: Feb. 28, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-06-249853-3

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Dec. 6, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2016

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