Like the work of Diane Arbus, whose photographs play a central role here: bleak yet life-affirming.

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YOUNG MAN WITH CAMERA

A young street photographer with burn scars on his face is terrorized by brutal, manipulative bullies.

The narrator introduces himself simply as T—. "I don't like to write out my name," he explains with characteristic eloquence, simplicity, and wisdom, "because I know someone will come along and twist a normal name into something not-normal." Readers learn immediately why T— takes such a self-effacing defensive stance: charismatic Ryan, along with his sycophantic henchmen, targets T— relentlessly. Ryan's favorite tactic is causing destruction and making sure T— takes the fall, using his own charm and others' prejudice against T—'s appearance to full advantage. T— gets a brief moment of triumph when Lucy, a homeless woman he has befriended, thwarts Ryan and his stooges' attempt to harass her and embarrasses them in the process. Ryan's revenge, however, is vicious and disturbing, with violent consequences for both Lucy and a friend's dog. This is not a story in which truth prevails. The hope here lies instead in T—'s photographs, stark, expressive black-and-white portraits that appear interspersed with the text and add depth (though a layer of snow on a bicycle looks a bit too perfect to be real, and Lucy's clothes are strikingly clean).

Like the work of Diane Arbus, whose photographs play a central role here: bleak yet life-affirming. (Fiction. 12-16)

Pub Date: Sept. 29, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-545-54131-2

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Levine/Scholastic

Review Posted Online: June 16, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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For readers in need of a happy ending but not much else.

ALL THIS TIME

A modern-day fairy tale about two teenagers suffering from loss who find healing in one another.

Despite the ups and downs in their relationship, Kyle and Kimberly have always made up, and Kyle looks forward to attending college together after graduation. But on the night they should be celebrating, Kimberly confesses that she has committed to a different college and breaks up with him. As they argue, their car crashes, and Kyle later wakes up in the hospital and learns that Kimberly is dead. In his grief, Kyle blames himself for her death. He struggles to leave his bed most days, ignores calls from his and Kimberly’s best friend, Sam, and has visions of Kimberly and life before the accident. One day, while visiting Kimberly’s grave, he meets Marley, a girl who likes telling stories and is mourning the death of her twin sister. Predictably, their natural affinity for one another evolves into romance. It is unfortunate that Kyle essentially moves from one romantic relationship to another on his journey to better understanding himself and his co-dependence on those closest to him, although his gradual development into a more considerate person redeems him. The pacing remains even until the critical plot disruption, resulting in the rest of the story feeling disjointed and rushed. All characters are White.

For readers in need of a happy ending but not much else. (Fiction. 12-16)

Pub Date: Sept. 29, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5344-6634-0

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: July 8, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 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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