An impressive first installment with a remarkable, series-worthy hero.

DARK DAYS

An extraordinary teen girl may be the chosen one to halt an imminent war in this launch of a prospective YA fantasy series.

Maya Dempsey plans to compete in the Cluiche, an annual event in the Leigheasan sect, one of four sects in the land of Sori. Though females take part in a trivia contest, the physical competitions, from archery to jousting, are traditionally male only. Maya, however, is more than capable in these and other skills. Leigheasan can control elements, but they are prohibited from doing so during certain Cluiche contests. But when a fellow contestant uses a fire element against Maya, she retaliates with her own. Not only was Maya unaware she could control elements, she also didn’t know that she could wield all four—a singular trait among her people. Some suspect she’s the chosen one to “rebalance” power in Sori. Indeed, the goddess Nantosuelta has granted Maya various powers, and there are more on the way. Maya soon uncovers a plan to provoke war among the sects, which include the werewolflike Galenvargs, the vampirish Veirlintus, and the merely human Duines. Though she’s increasing her potent supernatural abilities and weapons, Maya is up against a formidable opponent. This shadowy villain, who goes by Dullahan, practices “the forbidden,” which entails imprisoning souls. Meanwhile, signs of a potential war include the missing shipments of the Veirlintus’ and the Galenvargs’ food supply (i.e., the blood of Duine prisoners). Maya tries to warn people of impending conflict and defend them whenever possible, soon realizing that Dullahan isn’t the greatest menace.

As this is an opening installment, Saur spends numerous pages worldbuilding. Much of the focus is on the Leigheasan, who are akin to witches. Maya’s friends Willum MacLeoid, a Galenvarg, and Jeremias Barraclough, a Veirlintu, provide insight into their respective sects. There are hints of the series’ larger narrative, namely that, unknown to many in Sori, additional realms and myriad other sects exist. Gaelic terms, Celtic mythology, and other, more esoteric ideas are folded into the mix. Fortunately, there’s a glossary, and the author supplies context when needed. Maya, meanwhile, is a superb protagonist. She often seems ambivalent: She’s protective of many people but also disturbingly unfazed when she kills. This duality is a consistent theme for the character, who must continually choose to deploy her powers for either good or bad. Descriptions are simple but effective; a few characters appear as mere “ghostly figure[s],” which, particularly in the case of Dullahan, can be unnerving. Saur engages readers with the anticipation of looming war as well as Maya’s burgeoning abilities, which she progressively discovers. As there’s considerably more to learn about Sori, its people, and the powerful teenager, fans of this novel will surely crave a sequel.

An impressive first installment with a remarkable, series-worthy hero. (author’s note, glossary, author bio)

Pub Date: Oct. 30, 2020

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 278

Publisher: Koehler Books

Review Posted Online: Aug. 11, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2020

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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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