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PAST PERFECT LIFE

Family melodrama in theory, genuine identity crisis in execution.

When you realize your life is a lie fabricated by your dad, the daunting task of facing college applications suddenly loses its severity.

Ally Smith lives a financially humble but socially rich life with her single dad in a small Wisconsin town. She’s an unofficial member of the Gleason clan (the first family of Valley Falls) and an official top-notch student vying for college scholarships. But those application essay questions are the worst—particularly the one about a significant life event. Ugh. As a dorky, predictable creature of habit routinely indulging in Taco Tuesdays and Football Sundays with her dad, there’s nothing blockbuster about her life’s lovely little cadence. A red alert shatters Ally’s same-old existence when her social security number on a college application is revealed to be falsified. Confusion evolves to anger as she learns that her father has kept a life-shattering secret from her—and the changes that follow force Ally to leave behind everything she knows. This novel takes the self-identity trope and intensifies its scope, layering in the mature navigation of family relationships. An honest pace, salt-of-the-earth protagonist, and sympathetic, well-rounded characters keep the conflict from being hyperbolic even though Ally’s story becomes national news. Ally, friends, and family are presumably white.

Family melodrama in theory, genuine identity crisis in execution. (Fiction. 14-18)

Pub Date: July 9, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-5476-0092-2

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: April 6, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2019

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IF ONLY I HAD TOLD HER

A heavy read about the harsh realities of tragedy and their effects on those left behind.

In this companion novel to 2013’s If He Had Been With Me, three characters tell their sides of the story.

Finn’s narrative starts three days before his death. He explores the progress of his unrequited love for best friend Autumn up until the day he finally expresses his feelings. Finn’s story ends with his tragic death, which leaves his close friends devastated, unmoored, and uncertain how to go on. Jack’s section follows, offering a heartbreaking look at what it’s like to live with grief. Jack works to overcome the anger he feels toward Sylvie, the girlfriend Finn was breaking up with when he died, and Autumn, the girl he was preparing to build his life around (but whom Jack believed wasn’t good enough for Finn). But when Jack sees how Autumn’s grief matches his own, it changes their understanding of one another. Autumn’s chapters trace her life without Finn as readers follow her struggles with mental health and balancing love and loss. Those who have read the earlier book will better connect with and feel for these characters, particularly since they’ll have a more well-rounded impression of Finn. The pain and anger is well written, and the novel highlights the most troublesome aspects of young adulthood: overconfidence sprinkled with heavy insecurities, fear-fueled decisions, bad communication, and brash judgments. Characters are cued white.

A heavy read about the harsh realities of tragedy and their effects on those left behind. (author’s note, content warning) (Fiction. 14-18)

Pub Date: Feb. 6, 2024

ISBN: 9781728276229

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire

Review Posted Online: Jan. 5, 2024

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2024

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DIVINE RIVALS

Ideal for readers seeking perspectives on war, with a heavy dash of romance and touch of fantasy.

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A war between gods plays havoc with mortals and their everyday lives.

In a time of typewriters and steam engines, Iris Winnow awaits word from her older brother, who has enlisted on the side of Enva the Skyward goddess. Alcohol abuse led to her mother’s losing her job, and Iris has dropped out of school and found work utilizing her writing skills at the Oath Gazette. Hiding the stress of her home issues behind a brave face, Iris competes for valuable assignments that may one day earn her the coveted columnist position. Her rival for the job is handsome and wealthy Roman Kitt, whose prose entrances her so much she avoids reading his articles. At home, she writes cathartic letters to her brother, never posting them but instead placing them in her wardrobe, where they vanish overnight. One day Iris receives a reply, which, along with other events, pushes her to make dramatic life decisions. Magic plays a quiet role in this story, and readers may for a time forget there is anything supernatural going on. This is more of a wartime tale of broken families, inspired youths, and higher powers using people as pawns. It flirts with clichéd tropes but also takes some startling turns. Main characters are assumed White; same-sex marriages and gender equality at the warfront appear to be the norm in this world.

Ideal for readers seeking perspectives on war, with a heavy dash of romance and touch of fantasy. (Fantasy. 14-18)

Pub Date: April 4, 2023

ISBN: 978-1-250-85743-9

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Wednesday Books

Review Posted Online: Jan. 11, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2023

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