THE AGONY OF BUN O'KEEFE

Bun O’Keefe will settle comfortably at home in readers’ hearts.

In 1986, a Newfoundland teen learns that family isn’t always the one you’re born into—sometimes it’s the one that takes you in.

Bun O’Keefe has grown up isolated in a run-down house with her mother, a 300-pound hoarder, who has deprived Bun of love, care, conversation, and education. When Bun’s mother tells her to get out, the literal-minded 14-year-old white girl goes to St. John’s, where she meets a close-knit group of disillusioned young adults. There’s Busker Boy, a Sheshatshiu Innu street performer; Big Eyes, a lapsed Catholic, white good girl who can’t bring herself to swear; Chef, a talented, white culinary student; and Cher/Chris, a white drag queen. The found family of four takes Bun in, feeds and clothes her, and teaches her what it means to be loved and supported. Although Bun is 14, she possesses the endearing naiveté and honesty of a child, but her first-person narration isn’t sappy or immature. She’s self-taught, courtesy of the many books and video tapes her mother has brought home, and her point of reference for the world is the 1978 documentary The Agony of Jimmy Quinlan, about an alcoholic on the streets of Montreal. Smith’s talent lies in deftly handling numerous heavy topics: suicide, sexual abuse, neglect, AIDS, homophobia, transphobia, and racism, without making them feel forced or gratuitous—they’re facts of life.

Bun O’Keefe will settle comfortably at home in readers’ hearts. (Historical fiction. 13-17)

Pub Date: Sept. 5, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-14-319865-9

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Penguin Teen

Review Posted Online: June 13, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2017

THE FIELD GUIDE TO THE NORTH AMERICAN TEENAGER

Despite some missteps, this will appeal to readers who enjoy a fresh and realistic teen voice.

A teenage, not-so-lonely loner endures the wilds of high school in Austin, Texas.

Norris Kaplan, the protagonist of Philippe’s debut novel, is a hypersweaty, uber-snarky black, Haitian, French-Canadian pushing to survive life in his new school. His professor mom’s new tenure-track job transplants Norris mid–school year, and his biting wit and sarcasm are exposed through his cataloging of his new world in a field guide–style burn book. He’s greeted in his new life by an assortment of acquaintances, Liam, who is white and struggling with depression; Maddie, a self-sacrificing white cheerleader with a heart of gold; and Aarti, his Indian-American love interest who offers connection. Norris’ ego, fueled by his insecurities, often gets in the way of meaningful character development. The scenes showcasing his emotional growth are too brief and, despite foreshadowing, the climax falls flat because he still gets incredible personal access to people he’s hurt. A scene where Norris is confronted by his mother for getting drunk and belligerent with a white cop is diluted by his refusal or inability to grasp the severity of the situation and the resultant minor consequences. The humor is spot-on, as is the representation of the black diaspora; the opportunity for broader conversations about other topics is there, however, the uneven buildup of detailed, meaningful exchanges and the glibness of Norris’ voice detract.

Despite some missteps, this will appeal to readers who enjoy a fresh and realistic teen voice. (Fiction. 13-16)

Pub Date: Jan. 8, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-06-282411-0

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Oct. 14, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2018

OUT OF CHARACTER

Despite the well-meaning warmth, a wearying plod.

Can a 17-year-old with her first girlfriend prevent real-life folks from discovering her online fandoms?

Cass is proudly queer, happily fat, and extremely secretive about being a fan who role-plays on Discord. Back in middle school, she had what she calls a gaming addiction, playing “The Sims” so much her parents had to take the game away. Now, turning to her role-play friends to cope with her fighting parents, she worries that people will judge her for her fannishness and online life. To be fair, her grades are suffering. And sure, maybe she’s missed a college application deadline. Also, her mom has suddenly left Minneapolis and moved to Maine to be with a man she met online. But on the other hand, Cass is finally dating her amazingly cute longtime crush, Taylor. Pansexual Taylor is a gamer, a little bit punk, White like Cass, and so, so great—but she still can’t help comparing her to Rowan, Cass’ online best friend and role-playing ship partner. But Rowan doesn’t want to be a dirty little secret and doesn’t see why Cass can’t be honest about this part of her life. The inevitable train wreck of her lies looms on the horizon for months in an overlong morality play building to the climax that includes tidy resolutions to all the character arcs that are quite heartwarming but, in the case of Cass’ estranged mother, narratively unearned.

Despite the well-meaning warmth, a wearying plod. (Fiction. 13-16)

Pub Date: Feb. 7, 2023

ISBN: 978-0-06-324332-3

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Quill Tree Books/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Nov. 15, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2022

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