Harsh and relentless, a tough but worthy read.

KNOCKOUT GAMES

New girl Erica falls in with the wrong crowd in an exploration of racial tension in St. Louis.

In the wake of her parents’ separation, Erica finds herself in a new city and new school. After showing off her skills with the camera her estranged father gave as a parting gift, Erica wins the attention of a boxing club called the TKOs and the affection of their leader, Kalvin. The TKOs play the horrific “Knockout Game,” in which kids assault total strangers with a single punch for no reason other than the adrenaline rush. Erica is enamored by the TKOs and their worldview, but as things get real, Erica makes moves to get out. The results are thrilling. At every fork in the road, Erica makes the wrong decision, but surprisingly, this only makes her more endearing. The book’s second half, detailing Erica’s struggles to escape the TKOs and Kalvin’s tightening grip, is even stronger than the beginning; it’s where the author’s meaty ideas and exciting action sequences blend together perfectly. Kalvin may seem like every parent’s worst nightmare for their daughter, but the author draws him with a complexity that helps illustrate the larger themes being explored. Neri’s main concern is the “post-racial” urban landscape, raising many talking points while letting readers come to their own conclusions.

Harsh and relentless, a tough but worthy read. (Fiction. 12-16)

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4677-3269-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Carolrhoda Lab

Review Posted Online: May 12, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2014

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Will both entertain and encourage reflection.

CINDERELLA IS DEAD

In Mersailles, “Cinderella” is more than just a fairy tale: It’s the basis for a harsh monarch’s throttlehold on his kingdom.

Sophia is turning 16, the age at which young women must attend King Manford’s annual ball, at which they are scrutinized by and married off to male attendees. Any young woman who has not been claimed after her third ball is destined to spend the rest of her days engaged in hard labor. But being chosen can be its own curse in a society where domestic violence is common. Sophia is a beautiful Black girl in love with dark-haired Erin, one of her best friends. While racial diversity is a natural part of this world, the same acceptance does not exist for those who defy rigid gender norms: Anything other than heterosexual desire is strictly forbidden, and while Sophia wishes to escape as a couple, Erin is too fearful. After fleeing the ball, Sophia stumbles across Cinderella’s mausoleum, hidden in the woods. There she meets rebellious Constance, an attractive young red-haired woman with a very personal motivation for sabotaging the monarchy. As the two grew closer—and sparks fly—they discover secrets that could end Manford’s cruel reign. This promising debut deals with themes around rebellion and empowerment as well as the toll that rejecting the status quo can take on relationships. The atmospheric setting is a particular strength, and the twists and turns will keep readers in suspense.

Will both entertain and encourage reflection. (Fantasy. 12-16)

Pub Date: July 7, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5476-0387-9

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: April 27, 2021

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An emotionally engaging and draining debut.

OUR CHEMICAL HEARTS

Two teenagers suffer through their first heartbreak.

Henry Page has spent his high school years with his nose to the grindstone, avoiding romantic relationships and focusing on becoming the editor of the school paper. At the start of his senior year Henry is offered the job, but there’s a catch: transfer student Grace Town is offered the gig as well, making the two white teens co-editors. Sparks fly as Henry works with the aloof, unkempt new girl, who walks with a cane. As Henry and Grace grow closer, Henry falls deeper for her even as he learns just how broken she is. In her debut, Sutherland mixes her love story with equal parts hope and ominous dread. There is never any doubt that this couple is marching toward romantic oblivion, but it’s an effectively drawn journey. The characters speak with a John Green–esque voice, but they are never overbearingly precocious. Narrator Henry’s a smartly rendered character, a decent kid who has goals and works hard to achieve them. His new goal is Grace’s affection, and the unstoppable force meeting the immovable object that is Grace’s emotional unavailability provides the novel some of its sharpest moments. When the walls tumble down, the connection between the two is clearly an unhealthy one, and the author pulls no punches, devastating Henry, Grace, and readers in equal measure.

An emotionally engaging and draining debut. (Fiction. 12-16)

Pub Date: Oct. 4, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-399-54656-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: July 20, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2016

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