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SUGARING OFF

Bracing as a late-winter morning.

As she did with Grit (2017), French embeds a mystery within a coming-of-age tale set against an unromanticized agricultural New England backdrop.

Owl, a 17-year-old White girl, lives on New Hampshire’s remote Waits Mountain, where she helps her uncle tend the family maple-sugar operation. At her tiny K-12 school she endures twice-a-week sessions with Ms. Z, the district’s teacher for the Deaf. Owl’s been partially deaf since she was 7, when her brute of a father hurled her down the stairs—an act that sent him to prison—but she’s more adept at reading lips than signing. Just as the sap begins to run in February, two intrusions threaten Owl’s hard-won serenity: the arrivals of a letter from her father announcing his release and Cody, a neighbor’s troubled, estranged grandson, who’ll help with the sugaring. As ever, French weaves her storylines deftly. Owl finds herself attracted to Cody, whose difficult childhood in the foster system could have been hers but for her aunt and uncle; she also begins to warm to both Ms. Z and even possibly the idea of finding a Deaf community. Owl’s Passamaquoddy aunt’s conflicted relationship with her family of origin and distance from her tribe offers measured counterpoint. By the time a thriller plot kicks in, readers will be thoroughly embedded. Most characters present White; a neighboring Houlton Maliseet family provides thoughtful representation of an Indigenous experience different from Owl’s aunt’s.

Bracing as a late-winter morning. (Fiction. 14-18)

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-64375-270-9

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Algonquin

Review Posted Online: Aug. 30, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2022

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IF HE HAD BEEN WITH ME

There’s not much plot here, but readers will relish the opportunity to climb inside Autumn’s head.

The finely drawn characters capture readers’ attention in this debut.

Autumn and Phineas, nicknamed Finny, were born a week apart; their mothers are still best friends. Growing up, Autumn and Finny were like peas in a pod despite their differences: Autumn is “quirky and odd,” while Finny is “sweet and shy and everyone like[s] him.” But in eighth grade, Autumn and Finny stop being friends due to an unexpected kiss. They drift apart and find new friends, but their friendship keeps asserting itself at parties, shared holiday gatherings and random encounters. In the summer after graduation, Autumn and Finny reconnect and are finally ready to be more than friends. But on August 8, everything changes, and Autumn has to rely on all her strength to move on. Autumn’s coming-of-age is sensitively chronicled, with a wide range of experiences and events shaping her character. Even secondary characters are well-rounded, with their own histories and motivations.

There’s not much plot here, but readers will relish the opportunity to climb inside Autumn’s head.   (Fiction. 14 & up)

Pub Date: April 1, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-4022-7782-5

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire

Review Posted Online: Feb. 12, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2013

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IF ONLY I HAD TOLD HER

A heavy read about the harsh realities of tragedy and their effects on those left behind.

In this companion novel to 2013’s If He Had Been With Me, three characters tell their sides of the story.

Finn’s narrative starts three days before his death. He explores the progress of his unrequited love for best friend Autumn up until the day he finally expresses his feelings. Finn’s story ends with his tragic death, which leaves his close friends devastated, unmoored, and uncertain how to go on. Jack’s section follows, offering a heartbreaking look at what it’s like to live with grief. Jack works to overcome the anger he feels toward Sylvie, the girlfriend Finn was breaking up with when he died, and Autumn, the girl he was preparing to build his life around (but whom Jack believed wasn’t good enough for Finn). But when Jack sees how Autumn’s grief matches his own, it changes their understanding of one another. Autumn’s chapters trace her life without Finn as readers follow her struggles with mental health and balancing love and loss. Those who have read the earlier book will better connect with and feel for these characters, particularly since they’ll have a more well-rounded impression of Finn. The pain and anger is well written, and the novel highlights the most troublesome aspects of young adulthood: overconfidence sprinkled with heavy insecurities, fear-fueled decisions, bad communication, and brash judgments. Characters are cued white.

A heavy read about the harsh realities of tragedy and their effects on those left behind. (author’s note, content warning) (Fiction. 14-18)

Pub Date: Feb. 6, 2024

ISBN: 9781728276229

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire

Review Posted Online: Jan. 5, 2024

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2024

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