A fresh, smart, inventive, and altogether impressive debut.

FIRST & THEN

YouTube personality Mills (aka vlogger Elmify) debuts with a novel that mixes football and romance.

Senior Devon Tennyson assumes college is next but isn’t so clear on why. Her longtime friend and crush, Cas Kincaid, isn’t interested in her romantically, alas. While she is part of his football crew, Devon has other friends who are as individual, though not as average, as she is. The wide-ranging cast provides background to Devon’s struggles with her future, exemplified by her boring college essay. Add in the long-delayed and -dreaded phys-ed requirement to make her unhappiness complete. It’s mostly freshmen except for Devon and an All-American football player and transfer student, Ezra. Also in the class is Foster, a freshman and a cousin who recently joined her household after his mother asked her parents to take him on full-time. Devon’s clearly not impressed with his irrepressible presence and knowing observations. However, her protective instincts go on high alert when socially inept and scrawny Foster’s great ability to kick a football is discovered by Ezra. When Ezra takes Foster under his wing, Devon isn’t sure if it’s a setup or real, given Ezra’s low popularity quotient. With sporadic references to Jane Austen’s famous characters and wickedly inventive language, Mills closely observes the social milieu of an American high school obsessed with our favorite sport and makes readers care what happens.

A fresh, smart, inventive, and altogether impressive debut. (Romance. 11-16)

Pub Date: Oct. 13, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-62779-235-6

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: July 15, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2015

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Intertwined spectral and real worlds deliver double the thrills.

HOLDING SMOKE

Leaving his actual body behind in prison, Smoke can move through the world as a ghost in this fantastic yet real portrait of a survivor seeking answers.

John “Smoke” Conlan has survived a brutal beating from his father, a murder conviction, and prison life. His uncanny ability evidently triggered by the beating, Smoke exists inside and outside the fictional Greater Denver Youth Offender Rehabilitation Center (unrealistically represented as a maximum security prison). Smoke keeps his physical body protected on the inside thanks to the balance of favors earned outside his body. On one such errand, he discovers that a young waitress at a seedy dive can actually see him. Smoke’s vivid present-tense narration is filtered according to his concerns. He insists that he is innocent of killing his favorite teacher but guilty of killing a fellow student in self-defense, keeping readers teetering between a belief that the punishment is justified and cheering Smoke on to fight for freedom. The narrative’s romance is chaste, and it tempers the intensity brought to the story by the threats of guards, fellow inmates, and outside criminals. Though the complex plot is based on an impossible premise, readers will be flipping the pages, watching the diverse cast (Smoke is white) race toward the climax.

Intertwined spectral and real worlds deliver double the thrills. (Paranormal suspense. 11-16)

Pub Date: May 3, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-4847-2597-9

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Hyperion

Review Posted Online: Feb. 2, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2016

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Fast-moving and intriguing though inconsistent on multiple fronts.

NYXIA

From the Nyxia Triad series , Vol. 1

Kids endure rigorous competition aboard a spaceship.

When Babel Communications invites 10 teens to participate in “the most serious space exploration known to mankind,” Emmett signs on. Surely it’s the jackpot: they’ll each receive $50,000 every month for life, and Emmett’s mother will get a kidney transplant, otherwise impossible for poor people. They head through space toward the planet Eden, where they’ll mine a substance called nyxia, “the new black gold.” En route, the corporation forces them into brutal competition with one another—fighting, running through violent virtual reality racecourses, and manipulating nyxia, which can become almost anything. It even forms language-translating facemasks, allowing Emmett, a black boy from Detroit, to communicate with competitors from other countries. Emmett's initial understanding of his own blackness may throw readers off, but a black protagonist in outer space is welcome. Awkward moments in the smattering of black vernacular are rare. Textual descriptions can be scanty; however, copious action and a reality TV atmosphere (the scoreboard shows regularly) make the pace flow. Emmett’s first-person voice is immediate and innocent: he realizes that Babel’s ruthless and coldblooded but doesn’t apply that to his understanding of what’s really going on. Readers will guess more than he does, though most confirmation waits for the next installment—this ends on a cliffhanger.

Fast-moving and intriguing though inconsistent on multiple fronts. (Science fiction. 12-16)

Pub Date: Sept. 12, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-399-55679-1

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: July 15, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2017

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