An empowering new voice transforms kif-kif—same old, same old—into kiffer, something to be crazy about.

Guène’s smart, upbeat debut shows a North African teenager finding the inner grit to withstand pervasive racism in a hardscrabble Parisian suburb.

Fifteen-year-old Doria lives with her illiterate mother in a crummy, rundown housing project. They have been at the mercy of nosy social workers since Doria’s father left them to return to Morocco six months before. The Beard, as she calls him, wanted a son (“for his pride, his reputation, the family honor, and I’m sure lots of other stupid reasons”), and her mother couldn’t have any more children. At the moment, his abandoned family’s mektoub (destiny) seems to consist of getting along on welfare and secondhand clothing. Doria barely scrapes by at school, where apathetic teachers dish out unengaging work. Mom cleans rooms at the dreary Formula 1 Motel, answering to the generic ethnic name of Fatma even though her real name is Yasmina. Doria can only talk to two people: Mme Burlaud, the school-mandated psychologist she sees every Monday, and Hamoudi, an out-of-work young man who smokes spliff and deals drugs but has a caring, protective way with the girl. She and her mother also occasionally visit an Algerian friend they call Aunt Zohra—a “real woman,” according to Doria, because she is “strong” and can even deal with her husband spending six months each year back in the old country with a second wife. Despite her gloomy prospects, Doria refuses to be bitter and even finds some redeeming qualities in “lame-o” Nabil, who comes over to help with her civics homework. Slowly, things begin to change: Her mother leaves the motel after a strike and begins taking classes in English; Hamoudi falls in love with a single-mom tenant. And as for Doria, her luck might be lousy, but she’s determined that her fate won’t be.

An empowering new voice transforms kif-kif—same old, same old—into kiffer, something to be crazy about.

Pub Date: July 3, 2006

ISBN: 0-15-603048-9

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Harvest/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2006


Aspiring filmmaker/first-novelist Chbosky adds an upbeat ending to a tale of teenaged angst—the right combination of realism and uplift to allow it on high school reading lists, though some might object to the sexuality, drinking, and dope-smoking. More sophisticated readers might object to the rip-off of Salinger, though Chbosky pays homage by having his protagonist read Catcher in the Rye. Like Holden, Charlie oozes sincerity, rails against celebrity phoniness, and feels an extraliterary bond with his favorite writers (Harper Lee, Fitzgerald, Kerouac, Ayn Rand, etc.). But Charlie’s no rich kid: the third child in a middle-class family, he attends public school in western Pennsylvania, has an older brother who plays football at Penn State, and an older sister who worries about boys a lot. An epistolary novel addressed to an anonymous “friend,” Charlie’s letters cover his first year in high school, a time haunted by the recent suicide of his best friend. Always quick to shed tears, Charlie also feels guilty about the death of his Aunt Helen, a troubled woman who lived with Charlie’s family at the time of her fatal car wreck. Though he begins as a friendless observer, Charlie is soon pals with seniors Patrick and Sam (for Samantha), stepsiblings who include Charlie in their circle, where he smokes pot for the first time, drops acid, and falls madly in love with the inaccessible Sam. His first relationship ends miserably because Charlie remains compulsively honest, though he proves a loyal friend (to Patrick when he’s gay-bashed) and brother (when his sister needs an abortion). Depressed when all his friends prepare for college, Charlie has a catatonic breakdown, which resolves itself neatly and reveals a long-repressed truth about Aunt Helen. A plain-written narrative suggesting that passivity, and thinking too much, lead to confusion and anxiety. Perhaps the folks at (co-publisher) MTV see the synergy here with Daria or any number of videos by the sensitive singer-songwriters they feature.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 1999

ISBN: 0-671-02734-4

Page Count: 256

Publisher: MTV Books/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 1999


The format of this taut and moving drama forcefully regulates the pacing; breathless, edge-of-the-seat courtroom scenes...

In a riveting novel from Myers (At Her Majesty’s Request, 1999, etc.), a teenager who dreams of being a filmmaker writes the story of his trial for felony murder in the form of a movie script, with journal entries after each day’s action.

Steve is accused of being an accomplice in the robbery and murder of a drug store owner. As he goes through his trial, returning each night to a prison where most nights he can hear other inmates being beaten and raped, he reviews the events leading to this point in his life. Although Steve is eventually acquitted, Myers leaves it up to readers to decide for themselves on his protagonist’s guilt or innocence.

The format of this taut and moving drama forcefully regulates the pacing; breathless, edge-of-the-seat courtroom scenes written entirely in dialogue alternate with thoughtful, introspective journal entries that offer a sense of Steve’s terror and confusion, and that deftly demonstrate Myers’s point: the road from innocence to trouble is comprised of small, almost invisible steps, each involving an experience in which a “positive moral decision” was not made. (Fiction. 12-14)

Pub Date: May 31, 1999

ISBN: 0-06-028077-8

Page Count: 280

Publisher: HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1999

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