An evocative novel that captures the uncertain, unmoored feeling of existing between worlds—culturally, linguistically,...

THE ASTONISHING COLOR OF AFTER

Grief, regret, and loneliness form the backdrop of a family’s life following a suicide, but a path for healing reveals itself in the form of a magical red bird.

Fifteen-year-old Leigh Chen Sanders, daughter of an Irish-American sinologist father and a Taiwanese pianist mother, is in love with her best friend, Axel Moreno. The two have much in common: as well as sharing a passion for art, he is half Filipino and half Puerto Rican and also stands out in their racially homogeneous school. However, a rift has opened between them since their first kiss coincided with the day Leigh’s mother took her own life. Now left alone with a distant, judgmental father, Leigh is directed by a red bird she is convinced is her mother to visit her estranged grandparents in Taiwan. There, she seeks out places that were meaningful to her mother and uncovers long-hidden family secrets. The Taiwanese setting is enticingly portrayed, and the magical realism of the bird spirit offers transportive flashback journeys into the family’s history. The stigma of mental illness and the terrible loneliness of not being accepted form the heart of this emotionally honest tale, but the device of having Leigh express her feelings in terms of color is distracting and adds little to the story.

An evocative novel that captures the uncertain, unmoored feeling of existing between worlds—culturally, linguistically, ethnically, romantically, and existentially—it is also about seeking hope and finding beauty even in one’s darkest hours. (author’s note, resources) (Fiction. 14-18)

Pub Date: March 20, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-316-46399-7

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Dec. 6, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2018

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Riveting, brutal and beautifully told.

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WE WERE LIARS

A devastating tale of greed and secrets springs from the summer that tore Cady’s life apart.

Cady Sinclair’s family uses its inherited wealth to ensure that each successive generation is blond, beautiful and powerful. Reunited each summer by the family patriarch on his private island, his three adult daughters and various grandchildren lead charmed, fairy-tale lives (an idea reinforced by the periodic inclusions of Cady’s reworkings of fairy tales to tell the Sinclair family story). But this is no sanitized, modern Disney fairy tale; this is Cinderella with her stepsisters’ slashed heels in bloody glass slippers. Cady’s fairy-tale retellings are dark, as is the personal tragedy that has led to her examination of the skeletons in the Sinclair castle’s closets; its rent turns out to be extracted in personal sacrifices. Brilliantly, Lockhart resists simply crucifying the Sinclairs, which might make the family’s foreshadowed tragedy predictable or even satisfying. Instead, she humanizes them (and their painful contradictions) by including nostalgic images that showcase the love shared among Cady, her two cousins closest in age, and Gat, the Heathcliff-esque figure she has always loved. Though increasingly disenchanted with the Sinclair legacy of self-absorption, the four believe family redemption is possible—if they have the courage to act. Their sincere hopes and foolish naïveté make the teens’ desperate, grand gesture all that much more tragic.

Riveting, brutal and beautifully told. (Fiction. 14 & up)

Pub Date: May 13, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-385-74126-2

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: March 17, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2014

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An unsettling but easy-to-read blend of social media savvy and gritty gumshoe work.

14 WAYS TO DIE

A teen sleuth tries livestreaming to catch a murderer.

Seventeen-year-old Jessica Simmons lost her mother a decade ago, the first victim of the Magpie Man, a serial killer now on victim No. 13, who has struck in locations around the U.K. Her father’s life is still in shambles and her former friends are long gone, but Jessica’s decided to publicize her tragedy. One of five contestants on YouTube’s “The Eye”—an unscripted, livestreamed reality show—Jessica asks her viewers to help identify the serial killer. But inviting the world into her home and school brings unwanted attention, perhaps even from the Magpie Man, whose body count keeps climbing: Sleuthing-related drama and peril ensue. Jessica’s friends and family are economically rendered yet believable, and Ralph renders grief beautifully and devastatingly, as something that evolves but doesn’t end. As in the story, the bulk of the action occurs when the cameras aren’t rolling, and eventually, the reality show premise and its minimally developed contestants are more a distraction and transparent deus ex machina than an integral part of Jessica’s journey. More intriguing—and with real-life precedents—is the possibility of crowdsourcing a murder investigation. Although the fast-paced finale can’t quite overcome the slow start and overlong middle, the tale reaches a dramatic, satisfactory conclusion. Characters follow a White default.

An unsettling but easy-to-read blend of social media savvy and gritty gumshoe work. (resources, author interview) (Thriller. 14-18)

Pub Date: June 1, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-72823-186-0

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire

Review Posted Online: March 31, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2021

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