A dark idea for a YA story, executed deftly and with feeling.

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BY A CHARM & A CURSE

In Questell’s debut YA novel, a teenage girl has her first kiss and becomes trapped by a traveling carnival’s magical spell.

While her mother is conducting research in Guatemala, young Emma has been sent to Claremore, Oklahoma, to live with her father. She’s lost and lonely, and during a night out at Le Grand’s Carnival Fantastic, she kisses a boy for the first time. But as soon as their lips touch, she knows that she’s made a mistake—not least of all because the boy then pushes her from the top of a Ferris wheel. As a result, Emma takes on his curse, becoming a sort of marionette—alive but without a heartbeat. Now she must travel with the carnival until she can lure someone into taking her place, as the boy did. Emma’s only solace is the apprentice carpenter, Benjamin, who, in his own way, is also a prisoner to the carnival. It soon becomes apparent that the carnival carries a charm as well as a curse—specifically, no one can die within the carnival grounds. Ben’s mother, it turns out, brought him there to be safe. But although he loves his mom and his circus family, he also longs to live his own life, and so he’s saving up money to run away. In just a few weeks, he’ll be free—but after he meets Emma, romance blossoms. As Questell tells her story of Emma’s incarceration in Le Grand’s Carnival Fantastic, she captures much of the numb wonder and tumbling uncertainty of teenage existence. As a metaphor for first love, the carnival serves quite brilliantly, and the scenario will resonate with YA and new-adult readers. The switching between Emma’s and Ben’s increasingly interwoven stories also ensures that neither the young woman’s nor the young man’s point of view is especially favored. Overall, the author has crafted a compelling book with clear prose and depth of characterization. The carnival is a living, breathing conglomerate of real people with evolving stories that belie clichéd notions of good and bad. As Emma and Ben draw closer together, momentum builds and the pages fly by.

A dark idea for a YA story, executed deftly and with feeling.

Pub Date: Feb. 6, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-63375-900-8

Page Count: 300

Publisher: Entangled Teen

Review Posted Online: Jan. 2, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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A love letter to fans who will forgive (and even revel in) its excesses and indulgences.

MIDNIGHT SUN

From the Twilight series , Vol. 5

A long-awaited Twilight (2005) companion novel told from vampire Edward’s point of view.

Edward Cullen, a 104-year-old vampire (and eternal 17-year-old), finds his world turned upside down when new girl Bella Swan’s addictive scent drives a primal hunger, launching the classic story of vampire-meets-girl, vampire-wants-to-eat-girl, vampire-falls-in-love-with-girl. Edward’s broody inner monologue allows readers to follow every beat of his falling in love. The glacial pace and already familiar plot points mean that instead of surprise twists, characterization reigns. Meyer doesn’t shy away from making Edward far less sympathetic than Bella’s view of him (and his mind reading confirms that Bella’s view of him isn’t universal). Bella benefits from being seen without the curtain of self-deprecation from the original book, as Edward analyzes her every action for clues to her personality. The deeper, richer characterization of the leads comes at the expense of the secondary cast, who (with a few exceptions) alternate primarily along gender lines, between dimwitted buffoons and jealous mean girls. Once the vampiric threat from James’ storyline kicks off, vampire maneuvering and strategizing show off the interplay of the Cullens’ powers in a fresh way. After the action of the climax starts in earnest, though, it leans more into summary and monologue to get to the well-known ending. Aside from the Quileutes and the occasional background character, the cast defaults to White.

A love letter to fans who will forgive (and even revel in) its excesses and indulgences. (Paranormal romance. 12-adult)

Pub Date: Aug. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-316-70704-6

Page Count: 672

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Aug. 8, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2020

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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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