An overlong but reasonably effective dystopian thriller.

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OVERWORLD

From the Nova Project series , Vol. 1

A teen gamer plays for his life.

Miguel Anderson is dying. And so is Earth. In this dystopian future the planet is coming undone, and society distracts itself with virtual-reality games. Winning these games earns players rewards, and Miguel is saving up for a new heart to replace his own malfunctioning one. His favorite game is “Chimera.” When its maker announces a new game and seeks out beta testers, Miguel is chosen to work with a team to conquer the game’s 12 levels. Trevayne milks the VR scenes for all they’re worth, crafting elaborate action sequences and a dread-filled mood. Some of it works, but the trouble with setting most of a book in a computer is the constant reminder that none of the threats are real; the attempt to posit the idea that death in a game leads to real-life death doesn’t really get traction. The second half of the novel pivots into a conspiracy thriller when Miguel becomes aware he and his teammates are being manipulated by the godlike game makers, which ratchets up the tension nicely. The novel is overlong, losing its way in the middle, which is essentially just about a person playing a video game, but the final chapters and explosive finale even things out. Race is not mentioned, but naming conventions that mix ethnicities suggest a fairly blended society.

An overlong but reasonably effective dystopian thriller. (Science fiction. 14-17)

Pub Date: Sept. 13, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-06-240876-1

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Greenwillow Books

Review Posted Online: July 20, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2016

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An emotionally engaging closer that fumbles in its final moments.

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ALWAYS AND FOREVER, LARA JEAN

From the To All the Boys I've Loved Before series , Vol. 3

Lara Jean prepares for college and a wedding.

Korean-American Lara Jean is finally settled into a nice, complication-free relationship with her white boyfriend, Peter. But things don’t stay simple for long. When college acceptance letters roll in, Peter and Lara Jean discover they’re heading in different directions. As the two discuss the long-distance thing, Lara Jean’s widower father is making a major commitment: marrying the neighbor lady he’s been dating. The whirlwind of a wedding, college visits, prom, and the last few months of senior year provides an excellent backdrop for this final book about Lara Jean. The characters ping from event to event with emotions always at the forefront. Han further develops her cast, pushing them to new maturity and leaving few stones unturned. There’s only one problem here, and it’s what’s always held this series back from true greatness: Peter. Despite Han’s best efforts to flesh out Peter with abandonment issues and a crummy dad, he remains little more than a handsome jock. Frankly, Lara Jean and Peter may have cute teen chemistry, but Han's nuanced characterizations have often helped to subvert typical teen love-story tropes. This knowing subversion is frustratingly absent from the novel's denouement.

An emotionally engaging closer that fumbles in its final moments. (Romance. 14-17)

Pub Date: May 2, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-4814-3048-7

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: March 29, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2017

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“Cinderella” but with genocide and rebel plots.

ASH PRINCESS

From the Ash Princess series , Vol. 1

The daughter of a murdered queen plots to take back what is hers.

With her country seized and her mother, the Fire Queen of Astrea, murdered by invaders when she was only 6 years old, Theodosia has been a prisoner for 10 years, stripped of her crown, her people enslaved. Theo (renamed Thora by her captors) is at the mercy of the Kaiser—the fearsome ruler of the Kalovaxians—enduring his malicious whims in order to survive. But when the Kaiser forces Theo to execute her own father, survival is no longer good enough, and she finally takes up the mantle of queen to lead her people’s rise to resistance in a land saturated in elemental magic. Debut author Sebastian has invigorated some well-worn fantasy tropes (a displaced heir, an underground rebellion, and a love triangle that muddies the distinctions between enemies and allies), delivering a narrative that crackles with political intrigue, powerful and debilitating magic, and the violent mechanisms of colonization even as it leaves sequel-primed gaps. Some details—like Theo’s crisis of identity and Hamletian indecision—work well to submerge readers in a turbulent and enthralling plot; others, like racialized descriptions that fall short of actual representation (Atreans are dark-haired and olive-skinned, Kalovaxians are blond and pale-skinned) and the use of magic-induced madness for narrative shock and awe feel lazy and distracting among more nuanced elements.

“Cinderella” but with genocide and rebel plots. (Fantasy. 14-17)

Pub Date: April 24, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6706-8

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: April 3, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2018

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