A quick and entertaining novel full of hijinks and sports that may be just what reluctant readers are after.

SIGNS

Baseball and bullies rule in a comedic YA novel populated by everyday and eccentric kids.

The middle school students of this country town have a common problem, and that problem’s name is Billy Murdock. Reluctant hero Gale Wickers would like to steer clear of Billy, which looks possible until Gale’s father signs him up for Little League, and Billy Murdock is on the team. Billy is pretty sinister for a kid: He whacks dead birds with a bat, makes unnerving jokes about Gale’s mother and has strange moments of composure in organized sport. Gale’s character would benefit from some of the full development bestowed upon Billy, as Gale never finds the necessary charisma most beloved YA characters possess. But with a wide cast of freaks and geeks—the nerdy Denny, the tall tomboy Wendy, the bonnet-donning Mennonite Bekah—Gale has enough friends to outwit Billy, who quits one team for another, leading to a classic showdown on the baseball diamond. Smith’s writing occasionally caters to the grosser interests of teens, with references to vomit, chewing tobacco, poop, jock straps and female anatomy. At least the boob jokes are countered by the presence of teammates Wendy and Bekah, girls who know themselves and their baseball. The most dynamic characters come from Smith's effort to include underrepresented teens into the mix, as the deaf Alex and spiritual Bekah bring the team together. Lacking, though, is the romantic tension of a crush Gale speaks of but never acts on, a sort of place marker for the real crushes that color most adolescences. The novel maintains a terrific pace, the plot speeding through a hilarious baseball season, tightly wound by the question of what stunt Billy will try and pull next. But this pacing is also a downside; Smith’s lack of time on spent on Gale and the other characters makes them less memorable.

A quick and entertaining novel full of hijinks and sports that may be just what reluctant readers are after.

Pub Date: March 22, 2012

ISBN: 9781466227101

Page Count: 190

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: July 10, 2012

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Engrossing, contemplative, and as heart-wrenching as the title promises.

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THEY BOTH DIE AT THE END

What would you do with one day left to live?

In an alternate present, a company named Death-Cast calls Deckers—people who will die within the coming day—to inform them of their impending deaths, though not how they will happen. The End Day call comes for two teenagers living in New York City: Puerto Rican Mateo and bisexual Cuban-American foster kid Rufus. Rufus needs company after a violent act puts cops on his tail and lands his friends in jail; Mateo wants someone to push him past his comfort zone after a lifetime of playing it safe. The two meet through Last Friend, an app that connects lonely Deckers (one of many ways in which Death-Cast influences social media). Mateo and Rufus set out to seize the day together in their final hours, during which their deepening friendship blossoms into something more. Present-tense chapters, short and time-stamped, primarily feature the protagonists’ distinctive first-person narrations. Fleeting third-person chapters give windows into the lives of other characters they encounter, underscoring how even a tiny action can change the course of someone else’s life. It’s another standout from Silvera (History Is All You Left Me, 2017, etc.), who here grapples gracefully with heavy questions about death and the meaning of a life well-lived.

Engrossing, contemplative, and as heart-wrenching as the title promises. (Speculative fiction. 13-adult).

Pub Date: Sept. 5, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-06-245779-0

Page Count: 384

Publisher: HarperTeen

Review Posted Online: June 5, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2017

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This grittily provocative debut explores the horrors of self-harm and the healing power of artistic expression.

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GIRL IN PIECES

After surviving a suicide attempt, a fragile teen isn't sure she can endure without cutting herself.

Seventeen-year-old Charlie Davis, a white girl living on the margins, thinks she has little reason to live: her father drowned himself; her bereft and abusive mother kicked her out; her best friend, Ellis, is nearly brain dead after cutting too deeply; and she's gone through unspeakable experiences living on the street. After spending time in treatment with other young women like her—who cut, burn, poke, and otherwise hurt themselves—Charlie is released and takes a bus from the Twin Cities to Tucson to be closer to Mikey, a boy she "like-likes" but who had pined for Ellis instead. But things don't go as planned in the Arizona desert, because sweet Mikey just wants to be friends. Feeling rejected, Charlie, an artist, is drawn into a destructive new relationship with her sexy older co-worker, a "semifamous" local musician who's obviously a junkie alcoholic. Through intense, diarylike chapters chronicling Charlie's journey, the author captures the brutal and heartbreaking way "girls who write their pain on their bodies" scar and mar themselves, either succumbing or surviving. Like most issue books, this is not an easy read, but it's poignant and transcendent as Charlie breaks more and more before piecing herself back together.

This grittily provocative debut explores the horrors of self-harm and the healing power of artistic expression. (author’s note) (Fiction. 14 & up)

Pub Date: Aug. 30, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-101-93471-5

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: May 4, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2016

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