Intriguing concept, but it's hard to believe in all of the magic.

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WONDERLAND

After her mother's death from cancer, Destiny is sent to the tiny South Carolina island of Avalon Cove to live with her uncle and his partner.

She is immediately befriended by Tasha and Topher, the town misfits, and the pair nearly as immediately take her to Wonderland, a run-down house with magic inside. Adrianna Marveaux, the house's owner, tells the three teens that each has a choice to make, then invites them to a dinner party that will be “a chance to come face-to-face with [their] true love.” Each teen gets only a short time with the otherworldly match Adrianna has made for them, and each responds with nearly identical, over-the-top euphoria (“We started to dance, swaying to the aching piano music Juliet played with the longing she now felt for Tasha”). So forceful is the book's insistence upon choosing true love that Destiny's ultimate decision is never in doubt, which takes away much of the story's dramatic potential. When Destiny considers choosing to bring her mother back instead of opting for true love, Adrianna’s response—essentially, that after Destiny's father broke her heart, her mother is better off dead—comes across as jarringly harsh. A subplot involving Destiny's uncle and his failing magic business resolves slightly too quickly, though there are plenty of warm moments between Destiny and her new family.

Intriguing concept, but it's hard to believe in all of the magic. (Fantasy. 12-16)

Pub Date: Feb. 11, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-60282-788-2

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Bold Strokes Books

Review Posted Online: Dec. 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2013

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Heartbreaking, historical, and a little bit hopeful.

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SALT TO THE SEA

January 1945: as Russians advance through East Prussia, four teens’ lives converge in hopes of escape.

Returning to the successful formula of her highly lauded debut, Between Shades of Gray (2011), Sepetys combines research (described in extensive backmatter) with well-crafted fiction to bring to life another little-known story: the sinking (from Soviet torpedoes) of the German ship Wilhelm Gustloff. Told in four alternating voices—Lithuanian nurse Joana, Polish Emilia, Prussian forger Florian, and German soldier Alfred—with often contemporary cadences, this stints on neither history nor fiction. The three sympathetic refugees and their motley companions (especially an orphaned boy and an elderly shoemaker) make it clear that while the Gustloff was a German ship full of German civilians and soldiers during World War II, its sinking was still a tragedy. Only Alfred, stationed on the Gustloff, lacks sympathy; almost a caricature, he is self-delusional, unlikable, a Hitler worshiper. As a vehicle for exposition, however, and a reminder of Germany’s role in the war, he serves an invaluable purpose that almost makes up for the mustache-twirling quality of his petty villainy. The inevitability of the ending (including the loss of several characters) doesn’t change its poignancy, and the short chapters and slowly revealed back stories for each character guarantee the pages keep turning.

Heartbreaking, historical, and a little bit hopeful. (author’s note, research and sources, maps) (Historical fiction. 12-16)

Pub Date: Feb. 2, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-399-16030-1

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Philomel

Review Posted Online: Nov. 3, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2015

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This is no didactic near-future warning of present evils, but a cinematic adventure featuring endearing, compelling heroes

LEGEND

From the Legend series , Vol. 1

A gripping thriller in dystopic future Los Angeles.

Fifteen-year-olds June and Day live completely different lives in the glorious Republic. June is rich and brilliant, the only candidate ever to get a perfect score in the Trials, and is destined for a glowing career in the military. She looks forward to the day when she can join up and fight the Republic’s treacherous enemies east of the Dakotas. Day, on the other hand, is an anonymous street rat, a slum child who failed his own Trial. He's also the Republic's most wanted criminal, prone to stealing from the rich and giving to the poor. When tragedies strike both their families, the two brilliant teens are thrown into direct opposition. In alternating first-person narratives, Day and June experience coming-of-age adventures in the midst of spying, theft and daredevil combat. Their voices are distinct and richly drawn, from Day’s self-deprecating affection for others to June's Holmesian attention to detail. All the flavor of a post-apocalyptic setting—plagues, class warfare, maniacal soldiers—escalates to greater complexity while leaving space for further worldbuilding in the sequel.

This is no didactic near-future warning of present evils, but a cinematic adventure featuring endearing, compelling heroes . (Science fiction. 12-14)

Pub Date: Nov. 29, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-399-25675-2

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: April 8, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2011

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