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A decent descent into the mad world of an imagined film studio with plenty of gory details to delight creature-feature and...

A legally emancipated teen confronts derelict family dynamics, hoping for closure from a terrible childhood at a B-movie studio: Cue zombies and killer cauliflower.

Some kids come from broken homes. Seventeen-year-old Dario Heyward comes from Moldavia, a broken horror film studio. The mere thought of his peculiar 30-something brother, institutionalized mother, and abusive director father gives him hives. Despite this dermal aversion, he returns home for the live (yes, live) burial of 91-year-old dad. When the will names Dario as studio chief, he is forced to consider delaying Harvard while he evaluates his family legacy. Heavy-handed in its dark flourishes, Dario’s first-person narrative avoids being lachrymose and lands somewhere both self-aware of the surrounding silliness and respectful in matters of mental illness and abuse. Moldavia is resplendent with wonderfully wacky details, characters and settings, but the gothic gets rococo-heavy with the weight of so many references to both real and imagined films and know-it-all filmmaking insights. Most characters are presumed white, but there is a diversity in age and socio-economic status. The number of Dario’s conflicts gets clunky: past demons, long-lost mother, loss of innocence, dealing with an abuser, fearing mental illness, sibling rivalry, finding one’s footing in the family business, academic aspirations, and burgeoning love.

A decent descent into the mad world of an imagined film studio with plenty of gory details to delight creature-feature and horror movie buffs. (Fiction. 13-17)

Pub Date: July 24, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-06-266565-2

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: April 2, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2018

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Despite some missteps, this will appeal to readers who enjoy a fresh and realistic teen voice.

A teenage, not-so-lonely loner endures the wilds of high school in Austin, Texas.

Norris Kaplan, the protagonist of Philippe’s debut novel, is a hypersweaty, uber-snarky black, Haitian, French-Canadian pushing to survive life in his new school. His professor mom’s new tenure-track job transplants Norris mid–school year, and his biting wit and sarcasm are exposed through his cataloging of his new world in a field guide–style burn book. He’s greeted in his new life by an assortment of acquaintances, Liam, who is white and struggling with depression; Maddie, a self-sacrificing white cheerleader with a heart of gold; and Aarti, his Indian-American love interest who offers connection. Norris’ ego, fueled by his insecurities, often gets in the way of meaningful character development. The scenes showcasing his emotional growth are too brief and, despite foreshadowing, the climax falls flat because he still gets incredible personal access to people he’s hurt. A scene where Norris is confronted by his mother for getting drunk and belligerent with a white cop is diluted by his refusal or inability to grasp the severity of the situation and the resultant minor consequences. The humor is spot-on, as is the representation of the black diaspora; the opportunity for broader conversations about other topics is there, however, the uneven buildup of detailed, meaningful exchanges and the glibness of Norris’ voice detract.

Despite some missteps, this will appeal to readers who enjoy a fresh and realistic teen voice. (Fiction. 13-16)

Pub Date: Jan. 8, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-06-282411-0

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Oct. 14, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2018

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From the Ember in the Ashes series , Vol. 1

Bound to be popular.

A suddenly trendy trope—conflict and romance between members of conquering and enslaved races—enlivened by fantasy elements loosely drawn from Arabic tradition (another trend!).

In an original, well-constructed fantasy world (barring some lazy naming), the Scholars have lived under Martial rule for 500 years, downtrodden and in many cases enslaved. Scholar Laia has spent a lifetime hiding her connection to the Resistance—her parents were its leaders—but when her grandparents are killed and her brother’s captured by Masks, the eerie, silver-faced elite soldiers of the Martial Empire, Laia must go undercover as a slave to the terrifying Commandant of Blackcliff Military Academy, where Martials are trained for battle. Meanwhile, Elias, the Commandant’s not-at-all-beloved son, wants to run away from Blackcliff, until he is named an Aspirant for the throne by the mysterious red-eyed Augurs. Predictably, action, intrigue, bloodshed and some pounding pulses follow; there’s betrayal and a potential love triangle or two as well. Sometimes-lackluster prose and a slight overreliance on certain kinds of sexual violence as a threat only slightly diminish the appeal created by familiar (but not predictable) characters and a truly engaging if not fully fleshed-out fantasy world.

Bound to be popular. (Fantasy. 13 & up)

Pub Date: April 28, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-59514-803-2

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Razorbill/Penguin

Review Posted Online: Jan. 9, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2015

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