Atmospheric writing and a premise that’s as fresh as newly turned earth can’t compensate for an overcrowded plot, making...

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THE GRAVE KEEPERS

Gothic surrealism as everlasting as a ghost’s kiss blends with coming-of-age angst for the modern age.

Byrne introduces readers to a world in which entering one’s own grave is a rite of passage for 13-year-olds on par with Sweet 16 parties and graduation celebrations. Each year, newly teenage kids eagerly await receiving the keys to their very own personal graves. In fact, “a person’s grave was a window to her innermost thoughts. To go into another person’s grave was like eavesdropping on someone praying—it was beyond improper; it was flat out wrong.” The Windhams, a white family of grave keepers, live in upstate New York. High school junior Athena spends all her free time in her grave, but younger sister Laurel hasn’t embraced the ritual, much to the chagrin of her overprotective parents. It’s an eerie concept with just enough curiousness to make a person want to know more. Byrne’s masterful presentation of minute details makes the whole ritual world feel so real readers will want to Google it. But while the story is as layered as any cemetery worth its salt, it also juggles multiple storylines, including: the death of a sibling and the loss of a child; home schooling vs. traditional school; suffocating loneliness and a missing child. The result is a congested plot and obtuse characters.

Atmospheric writing and a premise that’s as fresh as newly turned earth can’t compensate for an overcrowded plot, making this a good effort but a challenging read. (Fiction. 12-16)

Pub Date: Sept. 12, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-06-248475-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: HarperTeen

Review Posted Online: July 17, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2017

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Skip this uninspired entry into the world of medieval love and court intrigue.

THE BETROTHED

From the Betrothed series , Vol. 1

In an imagined setting evoking medieval England, King Jameson of Coroa pursues Hollis Brite.

The independent teenager makes Jameson laugh, but she lacks the education and demeanor people expect in a queen. Her friend Delia Grace has more knowledge of history and languages but is shunned due to her illegitimate birth. Hollis gets caught up in a whirl of social activity, especially following an Isolten royal visit. There has been bad blood between the two countries, not fully explained here, and when an exiled Isolten family also comes to court, Jameson generously allows them to stay. Hollis relies on the family to teach her about Isolten customs and secretly falls in love with Silas, the oldest son, even though a relationship with him would mean relinquishing Jameson and the throne. When Hollis learns of political machinations that will affect her future in ways that she abhors, she faces a difficult decision. Romance readers will enjoy the usual descriptions of dresses, jewelry, young love, and discreet kisses, although many characters remain cardboard figures. While the violent climax may be upsetting, the book ends on a hopeful note. Themes related to immigration and young women’s taking charge of their lives don’t quite lift this awkwardly written volume above other royal romances. There are prejudicial references to Romani people, and whiteness is situated as the norm.

Skip this uninspired entry into the world of medieval love and court intrigue. (Historical romance. 13-16)

Pub Date: May 5, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-229163-9

Page Count: 320

Publisher: HarperTeen

Review Posted Online: Feb. 5, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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Heartbreaking, historical, and a little bit hopeful.

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SALT TO THE SEA

January 1945: as Russians advance through East Prussia, four teens’ lives converge in hopes of escape.

Returning to the successful formula of her highly lauded debut, Between Shades of Gray (2011), Sepetys combines research (described in extensive backmatter) with well-crafted fiction to bring to life another little-known story: the sinking (from Soviet torpedoes) of the German ship Wilhelm Gustloff. Told in four alternating voices—Lithuanian nurse Joana, Polish Emilia, Prussian forger Florian, and German soldier Alfred—with often contemporary cadences, this stints on neither history nor fiction. The three sympathetic refugees and their motley companions (especially an orphaned boy and an elderly shoemaker) make it clear that while the Gustloff was a German ship full of German civilians and soldiers during World War II, its sinking was still a tragedy. Only Alfred, stationed on the Gustloff, lacks sympathy; almost a caricature, he is self-delusional, unlikable, a Hitler worshiper. As a vehicle for exposition, however, and a reminder of Germany’s role in the war, he serves an invaluable purpose that almost makes up for the mustache-twirling quality of his petty villainy. The inevitability of the ending (including the loss of several characters) doesn’t change its poignancy, and the short chapters and slowly revealed back stories for each character guarantee the pages keep turning.

Heartbreaking, historical, and a little bit hopeful. (author’s note, research and sources, maps) (Historical fiction. 12-16)

Pub Date: Feb. 2, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-399-16030-1

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Philomel

Review Posted Online: Nov. 3, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2015

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