A fun, amusing tale about the beautiful torment of young hearts and hormones at play.

The Improbable Rise of Paco Jones

A poor, persecuted eighth-grade boy falls for a popular girl in a posh school.

Carrillo (Americano Abroad, 2012, etc.) evokes the wonder and confusion of first love in his debut YA novel. The hero is the eponymous Paco Jones, a biracial kid with a good heart but few friends. He’s recently transferred from his old junior high to a preppy private school, and because he’s the most impoverished kid in attendance, he soon finds himself the least popular. It doesn’t help that he sports “a big nose, an unflattering birthmark on my neck, pigeon-toed feet and hairy arms,” all of them fodder for teasing. He’s jeered at during lunch, called Drug Dealer and Paco Taco, and otherwise hounded by “the rumor mill; the gossipers; the two-faced cheaters who’d do anything to get ahead or get popular.” So what hope is there for him when he falls for Naomi Fox, a popular girl already involved with a popular guy? By charm and by chance, Paco becomes friends with both Naomi and her boyfriend, Trent Oden. But that only leads to more problems when Trent drafts Paco to be his Cyrano de Bergerac, choosing gifts for Naomi and writing Trent’s love letters. Carrillo remembers the tortures of eighth grade well and re-creates them with competence. Any reader who’s been young and in love should feel a vicarious thrill when Naomi friends Paco on Facebook or casually shares her number. Readers should also fret for Paco as he gets his hopes up (“If I said the wrong thing it could be over….What could be over?!”). Eight-grade readers should nod in recognition, though a few may find the story arc predictable, at least until a clever twist appears toward the end. Students with different backgrounds from their classmates may especially identify with Paco, an outsider in a strange place, shy but wise, his own heart a secret. But all readers should find plenty here to make them smile.

A fun, amusing tale about the beautiful torment of young hearts and hormones at play.

Pub Date: March 26, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-5194-9119-0

Page Count: 126

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: March 7, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2016

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THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER

Aspiring filmmaker/first-novelist Chbosky adds an upbeat ending to a tale of teenaged angst—the right combination of realism and uplift to allow it on high school reading lists, though some might object to the sexuality, drinking, and dope-smoking. More sophisticated readers might object to the rip-off of Salinger, though Chbosky pays homage by having his protagonist read Catcher in the Rye. Like Holden, Charlie oozes sincerity, rails against celebrity phoniness, and feels an extraliterary bond with his favorite writers (Harper Lee, Fitzgerald, Kerouac, Ayn Rand, etc.). But Charlie’s no rich kid: the third child in a middle-class family, he attends public school in western Pennsylvania, has an older brother who plays football at Penn State, and an older sister who worries about boys a lot. An epistolary novel addressed to an anonymous “friend,” Charlie’s letters cover his first year in high school, a time haunted by the recent suicide of his best friend. Always quick to shed tears, Charlie also feels guilty about the death of his Aunt Helen, a troubled woman who lived with Charlie’s family at the time of her fatal car wreck. Though he begins as a friendless observer, Charlie is soon pals with seniors Patrick and Sam (for Samantha), stepsiblings who include Charlie in their circle, where he smokes pot for the first time, drops acid, and falls madly in love with the inaccessible Sam. His first relationship ends miserably because Charlie remains compulsively honest, though he proves a loyal friend (to Patrick when he’s gay-bashed) and brother (when his sister needs an abortion). Depressed when all his friends prepare for college, Charlie has a catatonic breakdown, which resolves itself neatly and reveals a long-repressed truth about Aunt Helen. A plain-written narrative suggesting that passivity, and thinking too much, lead to confusion and anxiety. Perhaps the folks at (co-publisher) MTV see the synergy here with Daria or any number of videos by the sensitive singer-songwriters they feature.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 1999

ISBN: 0-671-02734-4

Page Count: 256

Publisher: MTV/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 1999

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A celebratory song of the sea.

THE HIGHEST TIDE

A shrimpy 13-year-old with a super-sized passion for marine life comes of age during a summer of discovery on the tidal flats of Puget Sound.

Miles O’Malley—Squid Boy to his friends—doesn’t mind being short. It’s other things that keep him awake at night, like his parents’ talk of divorce and his increasingly lustful thoughts about the girl next door. Mostly, though, it’s the ocean’s siren call that steals his sleep. During one of his moonlit kayak excursions, Miles comes across the rarest sighting ever documented in the northern Pacific: the last gasp of a Giant Squid. Scientists are stunned. The media descend. As Miles continues to stumble across other oddball findings, including two invasive species that threaten the eco-balance of Puget Sound, a nearby new-age cult’s interest in Miles prompts a headline in USA Today: Kid Messiah? Soon tourists are flocking to the tidal flats, crushing crustaceans underfoot and painting their bodies with black mud. Dodging disingenuous journalists, deluded disciples and the death-throes of his parents’ marriage, Miles tries to recapture some semblance of normality. He reads up on the G-spot and the Kama Sutra to keep pace with his pals’ bull sessions about sex (hilariously contributing “advanced” details that gross the other boys out). But Miles’s aquatic observations cannot be undone, and as summer draws to a close, inhabitants of Puget Sound prepare for a national blitzkrieg of media and scientific attention and the highest tide in 40 years, all of which threatens everything Miles holds dear. On land, the rickety plot could have used some shoring up. Miles is just too resourceful for the reader to believe his happiness—or that of those he loves—is ever at stake. But when Miles is on the water, Lynch’s first novel becomes a stunning light show, both literal, during phosphorescent plankton blooms, and metaphorical, in the poetic fireworks Lynch’s prose sets off as he describes his clearly beloved Puget Sound.

A celebratory song of the sea.

Pub Date: Sept. 8, 2005

ISBN: 1-58234-605-4

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2005

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