Expect good things from this new voice in teen fiction.

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15 DAYS WITHOUT A HEAD

A teenager holds his crumbling family life together in this finely crafted debut that strikes a delicate balance between humor and pathos.

Most evenings, 15-year-old Laurence and his brother Jay tread lightly around the “force-field of cigarette smoke and booze, with our mum inside” that dominates their roach-infested flat. When his depressed, overworked mother disappears, Laurence protects 6-year-old Jay from his suspicion that she’s not coming back. He knows better than to seek adult help, and for two weeks, living on toast, they manage to avoid their nosy next-door neighbor, Nelly. Laurence hopes that winning a radio trivia contest will solve their problems. With Jay at his side pretending to be Scooby-Doo, he pieces together clues to their mother’s whereabouts. A growing sense of urgency permeates the book, effectively shown in a chapter-heading countdown from “Whensday” and “Blursday” to “Tattersday” and “Doomsday.” This is countered by Laurence’s delightful new friend, Mina, who sees through Laurence’s often-hilarious actions. She gently cajoles him to tell her what’s happening when he’s ready, and with her steady presence, she helps him to see reasons not to give up on his mother. There are no quick fixes or easy answers in a novel in which it’s a given that life together is better than life apart, no matter how dysfunctional that life is.

Expect good things from this new voice in teen fiction. (Fiction. 12 & up)

Pub Date: May 8, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-7387-3642-6

Page Count: 312

Publisher: Flux

Review Posted Online: March 17, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2013

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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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Awardworthy. Soul-stirring. A must-read.

PUNCHING THE AIR

Reviving a friendship that goes back almost 20 years, Zoboi writes with Exonerated Five member Salaam, exploring racial tensions, criminal injustice, and radical hope for a new day.

Ava DuVernay’s critically acclaimed When They See Us tells the story of Salaam’s wrongful conviction as a boy, a story that found its way back into the national conversation when, after nearly 7 years in prison, DNA evidence cleared his name. Although it highlights many of the same unjust systemic problems Salaam faced, this story is not a biographical rendering of his experiences. Rather, Zoboi offers readers her brilliance and precision within this novel in verse that centers on the fictional account of 16-year-old Amal Shahid. He’s an art student and poet whose life dramatically shifts after he is accused of assaulting a White boy one intense night, drawing out serious questions around the treatment of Black youth and the harsh limitations of America’s investment in punitive forms of justice. The writing allows many readers to see their internal voices affirmed as it uplifts street slang, Muslim faith, and hip-hop cadences, showcasing poetry’s power in language rarely seen in YA literature. The physical forms of the first-person poems add depth to the text, providing a necessary calling-in to issues central to the national discourse in reimagining our relationship to police and prisons. Readers will ask: Where do we go from here?

Awardworthy. Soul-stirring. A must-read. (Verse novel. 12-18)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-299648-0

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: July 3, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2020

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