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An engaging story of friendship, music, and romance.

Self-doubt has stopped talented high school junior Darren from singing publicly.

Darren’s guidance counselor asks him why he’s no longer in the church choir and school chorus. Despite his excuses, “there’s a singing-sized hole in the middle of the room,” and she can see that. Meanwhile, best friend Justin urges Darren to ask out Delia, his crush who has a popular podcast, or move on. When Darren learns that Delia is holding a contest for a theme song for her podcast, he writes and performs a song declaring his fondness for her. It impresses his friends—and one of them, in hopes of playing matchmaker, submits the recording anonymously without Darren’s permission. When the song goes viral, everyone, and Delia in particular, wants to know who the mystery singer is. Darren’s reasons for avoiding singing are revealed gradually, keeping readers invested. Featuring caring friends and loving family, this story centering Black characters and narrated by Darren is one of normalcy, introspection, growth, and love. It shows a more tender, vulnerable side of Black American teen males that is not portrayed enough in YA literature. Darren ultimately finds his way back to doing what he loves and for all the right reasons. Absorbing, humorous, and honest, the novel ends on a satisfyingly high note.

An engaging story of friendship, music, and romance. (Fiction. 13-17)

Pub Date: May 30, 2023

ISBN: 9780063217553

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Quill Tree Books/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 9, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2023

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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

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From the Lady Janies series

Joan Aiken or Terry Pratchett this ain't, but the lightweight, gleefully anachronistic comedy will entertain with its cast...

Lady Jane Grey's nine days as queen are reimagined as a tongue-in-cheek shape-shifter romance.

Between the reigns of adolescent King Edward VI and his bloodthirsty half sister, Mary I, England was ruled for nine days by doomed Lady Jane, a 16-year-old political pawn—or that's how it went in our world. In the world of this novel, both Edward and Jane have happier endings. Instead of Catholics and Protestants, England is torn between the Eðians, who shape-shift into animals, and the Verities, who loathe them. As in reality, Jane is wed to Gifford (Guildford in history) Dudley, installed as queen, and imprisoned by Mary. However, thisJane and Gifford escape their executions through animal magic. It's inconvenient for the newlyweds' sex life that Gifford spends every dawn to dusk as a horse, but it’s also terribly convenient for frantic escapes from Mary's soldiers. Fourth-wall–breaking and pop-culture references that span from Shakespeare to Game of Thronesshow signs of strain, especially the many references to The Princess Bride(1973). The latter, sometimes layered one atop the other without a break, merely highlight this book’s contrast with the classic's stellar comic timing; perhaps it's for the best that few teen readers will be familiar with either the decades-old film or even older book.

Joan Aiken or Terry Pratchett this ain't, but the lightweight, gleefully anachronistic comedy will entertain with its cast of likable heroes and buffoonish villains (. (Fantasy. 13-17)

Pub Date: June 7, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-06-239174-2

Page Count: 512

Publisher: HarperTeen

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2016

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