AMERICA

It’s hard to imagine what America has going for him. Abandoned at birth by a crack-addicted mother, abandoned again by the white family who wanted a white baby, he has found intermittent happiness with his guardian, Mrs. Harper, and her half-brother Browning. But these periods of stability are threatened, first by the birth mother who reclaims him only to abandon him yet again and then by Browning himself, who slowly turns from protector to victimizer, and who injures America almost beyond bearing. The reader first meets America at age 15, in a residential psychiatric program for youth after he has attempted suicide. As he embarks on his umpteenth course of therapy, the narrative takes the reader back and forth between “then” and “now,” laying out in clinical, brutal detail how it is that America became the broken boy that he is, and then how he slowly comes back to life. It’s a heartbreaking story, softened only slightly by the human connections he manages to make, almost despite himself: his older brother Brooklyn, a drug addict like their mother; Lisa, a girl from his Special Ed class; Ty, the drug dealer who reads to him; and above all, Dr. B., the therapist who helps America restore his soul. America narrates his story in the present tense, lacing his speech liberally with street language; his attitude is endearing in its candor: “Food here sucks,” he tells Dr. B. “Just because I’m crazy doesn’t mean I have to eat shit.” Frank (Life Is Funny, 2000) creates perfectly both America at five, unsure of anything except the hope that if he is bad enough, his mother will send him back to Mrs. Harper and the belligerent adolescent convinced that the world has nothing to offer him. A wrenching tour de force despite America’s overly symbolic name, it is a work of sublime humanity. (Fiction. YA)

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-689-84729-7

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Richard Jackson/Atheneum

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2001

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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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This grittily provocative debut explores the horrors of self-harm and the healing power of artistic expression.

GIRL IN PIECES

After surviving a suicide attempt, a fragile teen isn't sure she can endure without cutting herself.

Seventeen-year-old Charlie Davis, a white girl living on the margins, thinks she has little reason to live: her father drowned himself; her bereft and abusive mother kicked her out; her best friend, Ellis, is nearly brain dead after cutting too deeply; and she's gone through unspeakable experiences living on the street. After spending time in treatment with other young women like her—who cut, burn, poke, and otherwise hurt themselves—Charlie is released and takes a bus from the Twin Cities to Tucson to be closer to Mikey, a boy she "like-likes" but who had pined for Ellis instead. But things don't go as planned in the Arizona desert, because sweet Mikey just wants to be friends. Feeling rejected, Charlie, an artist, is drawn into a destructive new relationship with her sexy older co-worker, a "semifamous" local musician who's obviously a junkie alcoholic. Through intense, diarylike chapters chronicling Charlie's journey, the author captures the brutal and heartbreaking way "girls who write their pain on their bodies" scar and mar themselves, either succumbing or surviving. Like most issue books, this is not an easy read, but it's poignant and transcendent as Charlie breaks more and more before piecing herself back together.

This grittily provocative debut explores the horrors of self-harm and the healing power of artistic expression. (author’s note) (Fiction. 14 & up)

Pub Date: Aug. 30, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-101-93471-5

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: May 4, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2016

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