An absorbing and poignant YA dystopian fantasy with a convincing heroine.

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All Good Children

A teenager works through her emotional turmoil while waiting to become a sacrificial offering to aliens in this sci-fi melodrama.

In the near future, Earth has been conquered by 9-foot-tall, telepathic, flying vulture-demons who swoop down and eviscerate people with their razor-sharp talons and beaks—neither bullets nor bird shot nor nuclear bombs slow them down. They call themselves the Over, in honor of the Übermensch figure lionized by the philosopher Nietzsche. The Over impose a peace treaty, allowing humans to run their own affairs as long as they deliver a yearly quota of teens to the demons’ “Summer Program.” This sleep-away/death camp features canoes and cabins but also armed guards, mean counselors, numbers instead of names, and mind-numbing group therapy/brainwashing sessions. It culminates with campers being assigned to 1) getting eaten by the Over, 2) getting impregnated by other teens many times and then getting eaten, or 3) becoming a “seed” in the parasitic Over reproductive cycle. Dragooned into the program, 14-year-old rebel Jordan Fontaine continues her habitual, sarcastic defiance of authority, flinging wisecracks at officious counselors; subtly fencing with Heaven Omalis, a beautiful, sympathetic human Liaison working for the Over; carving her name into her flesh; and finally making contact with a Resistance leader who wants her to undertake a mission against the feathered Overlords. “They’re winning because they are smarter, and they are smarter because we’ve let them dumb us down,” the leader says. Ingram (Eat Your Heart Out, 2015, etc.) gives a nightmarish twist to the familiar YA formula of teenagers facing martyrdom by an oppressive society. The Over, who mainly glare balefully at people, are a distant, ominous presence in a novel that is mostly about human relationships roiled by their demands. The atmosphere of adolescent angst develops around fraught conversations, from Jordan’s anguished exchanges with her parents to her sullen mouthing off in group therapy; the result feels like a mashup of The Hunger Games, “The Lottery,” Girl, Interrupted, and Auschwitz, with malevolent buzzards thrown in. It’s also a lesbian story: Jordan gravitates toward a first girl-love with a cabin mate but melts down when Heaven starts sexually teasing her. Heaven, meanwhile, has her own affair with mysterious stripper Marla Matheson. Jordan is a believable girl in an impossible situation; despite the pulpy elements, Ingram gives her story a realism and emotional depth that make the reader care about her protagonist’s fate.

An absorbing and poignant YA dystopian fantasy with a convincing heroine.

Pub Date: May 13, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-59021-589-0

Page Count: 202

Publisher: Lethe Press

Review Posted Online: May 23, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2016

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A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

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DEVOLUTION

Are we not men? We are—well, ask Bigfoot, as Brooks does in this delightful yarn, following on his bestseller World War Z (2006).

A zombie apocalypse is one thing. A volcanic eruption is quite another, for, as the journalist who does a framing voice-over narration for Brooks’ latest puts it, when Mount Rainier popped its cork, “it was the psychological aspect, the hyperbole-fueled hysteria that had ended up killing the most people.” Maybe, but the sasquatches whom the volcano displaced contributed to the statistics, too, if only out of self-defense. Brooks places the epicenter of the Bigfoot war in a high-tech hideaway populated by the kind of people you might find in a Jurassic Park franchise: the schmo who doesn’t know how to do much of anything but tries anyway, the well-intentioned bleeding heart, the know-it-all intellectual who turns out to know the wrong things, the immigrant with a tough backstory and an instinct for survival. Indeed, the novel does double duty as a survival manual, packed full of good advice—for instance, try not to get wounded, for “injury turns you from a giver to a taker. Taking up our resources, our time to care for you.” Brooks presents a case for making room for Bigfoot in the world while peppering his narrative with timely social criticism about bad behavior on the human side of the conflict: The explosion of Rainier might have been better forecast had the president not slashed the budget of the U.S. Geological Survey, leading to “immediate suspension of the National Volcano Early Warning System,” and there’s always someone around looking to monetize the natural disaster and the sasquatch-y onslaught that follows. Brooks is a pro at building suspense even if it plays out in some rather spectacularly yucky episodes, one involving a short spear that takes its name from “the sucking sound of pulling it out of the dead man’s heart and lungs.” Grossness aside, it puts you right there on the scene.

A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

Pub Date: June 16, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-2678-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Del Rey/Ballantine

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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Combine Straub's usual warmth and insight with the fun of time travel and you have a winner.

THIS TIME TOMORROW

A woman who's been drifting through life wakes up the morning after her 40th birthday to discover that she's just turned 16 again.

Alice Stern wouldn't say she's unhappy. She lives in a studio apartment in Brooklyn; has a job in the admissions office of the Upper West Side private school she attended as a kid; still hangs out with Sam, her childhood best friend; and has a great relationship with her father, Leonard, the famous author of a time-travel novel, Time Brothers. Alice's mother left her and Leonard when Alice was a kid, and father and daughter formed a tight, loving unit along with their freakishly long-lived cat, Ursula. But now Leonard is in a coma, and as she visits him in the hospital every day, Alice is forced to reckon with her life. After a drunken birthday evening with Sam, Alice returns to her childhood house on Pomander Walk, a one-block-long gated street running between two avenues on the UWS—but when she wakes up the next morning, she hears Leonard in the kitchen and finds herself heading off to SAT tutoring and preparing for her 16th birthday party that night. Straub's novel has echoes of Thornton Wilder's play Our Town: Every prosaic detail of her earlier life is almost unbearably poignant to Alice, and the chance to spend time with her father is priceless. As she moves through her day, she tries to figure out how to get back to her life as a 40-year-old and whether there's anything she can do in the past to improve her future—and save her father's life. As always, Straub creates characters who feel fully alive, exploring the subtleties of their thoughts, feelings, and relationships. It's hard to say more without giving away the delightful surprises of the book's second half, but be assured that Straub's time-travel shenanigans are up there with Kate Atkinson's Life After Life and the TV show Russian Doll.

Combine Straub's usual warmth and insight with the fun of time travel and you have a winner.

Pub Date: May 17, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-525-53900-1

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: April 13, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2022

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