A new take on a timeless theme—it gets better.

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FIFTEEN POINT NINE

A Canadian teen copes with bullying and instability at home and discovers life-affirming friendship in Dobbie’s YA debut.

The daily indignities and tortures of social exile shape a woefully recognizable high school experience far more even than classes or prom. Add to the vile bullying at school an unstable, neglectful mother, who uses alcohol and hoarding as emotional crutches, at home, and you get Aggie Murphy’s life. Dejected and exhausted, at the mercy of her popular tormenters and her spiraling mother, Aggie comes up with a plan to record and reveal her bullies’ depravity to everyone, and she invites other outcasts to join her in her revenge. But when a fellow outcast escapes her own torment by suicide, Aggie’s coping becomes increasingly desperate and destructive as the stakes rise higher and higher. Dobbie offers a glimpse into the paradoxical bubble of normalcy that can be built around everyday suffering, until of course the bubble bursts. The deftly handled complexities of mental illness, trauma, and self-harm provide a complicated emotional landscape, enrichened by characters’ resilience and humor. Heavy-handed representation of adult imperfections nonetheless paired with the directive to “tell an adult” chips away at authenticity, moving uncomfortably close to victim-blaming; likewise, a troubling framing of fatness and weight loss detract from overall affirming characterization. All characters are assumed white, with the result that racially motivated bullying does not appear.

A new take on a timeless theme—it gets better. (Fiction. 13-17)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-77086-523-5

Page Count: 240

Publisher: DCB

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2018

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An emotionally engaging closer that fumbles in its final moments.

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ALWAYS AND FOREVER, LARA JEAN

From the To All the Boys I've Loved Before series , Vol. 3

Lara Jean prepares for college and a wedding.

Korean-American Lara Jean is finally settled into a nice, complication-free relationship with her white boyfriend, Peter. But things don’t stay simple for long. When college acceptance letters roll in, Peter and Lara Jean discover they’re heading in different directions. As the two discuss the long-distance thing, Lara Jean’s widower father is making a major commitment: marrying the neighbor lady he’s been dating. The whirlwind of a wedding, college visits, prom, and the last few months of senior year provides an excellent backdrop for this final book about Lara Jean. The characters ping from event to event with emotions always at the forefront. Han further develops her cast, pushing them to new maturity and leaving few stones unturned. There’s only one problem here, and it’s what’s always held this series back from true greatness: Peter. Despite Han’s best efforts to flesh out Peter with abandonment issues and a crummy dad, he remains little more than a handsome jock. Frankly, Lara Jean and Peter may have cute teen chemistry, but Han's nuanced characterizations have often helped to subvert typical teen love-story tropes. This knowing subversion is frustratingly absent from the novel's denouement.

An emotionally engaging closer that fumbles in its final moments. (Romance. 14-17)

Pub Date: May 2, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-4814-3048-7

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: March 29, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2017

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Skip this uninspired entry into the world of medieval love and court intrigue.

THE BETROTHED

From the Betrothed series , Vol. 1

In an imagined setting evoking medieval England, King Jameson of Coroa pursues Hollis Brite.

The independent teenager makes Jameson laugh, but she lacks the education and demeanor people expect in a queen. Her friend Delia Grace has more knowledge of history and languages but is shunned due to her illegitimate birth. Hollis gets caught up in a whirl of social activity, especially following an Isolten royal visit. There has been bad blood between the two countries, not fully explained here, and when an exiled Isolten family also comes to court, Jameson generously allows them to stay. Hollis relies on the family to teach her about Isolten customs and secretly falls in love with Silas, the oldest son, even though a relationship with him would mean relinquishing Jameson and the throne. When Hollis learns of political machinations that will affect her future in ways that she abhors, she faces a difficult decision. Romance readers will enjoy the usual descriptions of dresses, jewelry, young love, and discreet kisses, although many characters remain cardboard figures. While the violent climax may be upsetting, the book ends on a hopeful note. Themes related to immigration and young women’s taking charge of their lives don’t quite lift this awkwardly written volume above other royal romances. There are prejudicial references to Romani people, and whiteness is situated as the norm.

Skip this uninspired entry into the world of medieval love and court intrigue. (Historical romance. 13-16)

Pub Date: May 5, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-229163-9

Page Count: 320

Publisher: HarperTeen

Review Posted Online: Feb. 5, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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