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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The Phantom of the Opera served as inspiration, but this wouldn’t last on Broadway.

PHANTOM HEART

Stephanie and her family move into an old mansion rumored to have been put under a curse after a turn-of-the-20th-century rich boy meddled with an Egyptian mummy.

After her young sister complains about strange events, high school student Stephanie befriends Lucas, a geeky, good-looking boy, and meets the other members of SPOoKy, the Scientific Paranormal Organization of Kentucky: Charlotte, Wes, and Patrick. Stephanie learns the history of her new home from Lucas, who attracts her romantic attention, but the usually levelheaded girl is soon drawn to Erik, the handsome phantom who first comes to her in dreams. The story is told in chapters narrated by Stephanie, Lucas, and Zedok, whose identity is initially a source of confusion to Stephanie. Zedok appears wearing different masks, “personified slivers” of his soul, representing states of mind such as Wrath, Madness, and Valor. Meanwhile, until gifted singer Stephanie came along and he could write songs for her, Erik’s dreams were thwarted; he wanted to be a composer but his family expected him to become a doctor. In the gothic horror tradition, Erik’s full background and connection with Zedok are slowly revealed. Romantic dream sequences are lush and swoon-y, but the long, drawn-out battle to end the curse, aided by a celebrity clairvoyant, is tedious, and the constant introduction of Erik’s different personae is confusing. Most characters default to White; Patrick is Black.

The Phantom of the Opera served as inspiration, but this wouldn’t last on Broadway. (Horror. 13-16)

Pub Date: Aug. 17, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-11604-3

Page Count: 528

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 27, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2021

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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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