Opportunistic, paint-by-numbers hackwork.

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SKY KEY

From the Endgame series , Vol. 2

Endgame continues as the Players hunt for the Sky Key.

The Earth Key has been discovered (The Calling, 2014), and two more keys are out there waiting to be found. Sarah and Jago have the Earth Key in their possession and have formed an uneasy alliance based on a mix of lust and trust. But Sarah still mourns the death of her Nebraskan boyfriend, Christopher, whom she was forced to kill in the closing chapters of the previous volume, a factor that strongly clouds her judgment. While Jago and Sarah hunt down the Sky Key, other Players hunt them. Meanwhile, the world is becoming aware of Endgame's existence as a giant asteroid approaches Earth and causes widespread panic. The stakes couldn't be higher, but it all feels superficial, resulting in a very long 459 pages. There's globe-trotting and a culturally diverse cast of characters, but the authors do little to explore the scenery or to color the characters. The Players sound very much alike, droning on about destiny and tough choices. The narrative structure is shaky, flipping quickly among players and locales and juggling goals with scant attention to artistry or pacing. It feels all too much like a satire of dystopian teen lit crafted with little understanding of the genre beyond its surface conventions; worst of all, it doesn’t seem to care.

Opportunistic, paint-by-numbers hackwork. (Adventure. 12-16)

Pub Date: Oct. 6, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-06-233261-5

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Aug. 26, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2015

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Heartbreaking, historical, and a little bit hopeful.

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SALT TO THE SEA

January 1945: as Russians advance through East Prussia, four teens’ lives converge in hopes of escape.

Returning to the successful formula of her highly lauded debut, Between Shades of Gray (2011), Sepetys combines research (described in extensive backmatter) with well-crafted fiction to bring to life another little-known story: the sinking (from Soviet torpedoes) of the German ship Wilhelm Gustloff. Told in four alternating voices—Lithuanian nurse Joana, Polish Emilia, Prussian forger Florian, and German soldier Alfred—with often contemporary cadences, this stints on neither history nor fiction. The three sympathetic refugees and their motley companions (especially an orphaned boy and an elderly shoemaker) make it clear that while the Gustloff was a German ship full of German civilians and soldiers during World War II, its sinking was still a tragedy. Only Alfred, stationed on the Gustloff, lacks sympathy; almost a caricature, he is self-delusional, unlikable, a Hitler worshiper. As a vehicle for exposition, however, and a reminder of Germany’s role in the war, he serves an invaluable purpose that almost makes up for the mustache-twirling quality of his petty villainy. The inevitability of the ending (including the loss of several characters) doesn’t change its poignancy, and the short chapters and slowly revealed back stories for each character guarantee the pages keep turning.

Heartbreaking, historical, and a little bit hopeful. (author’s note, research and sources, maps) (Historical fiction. 12-16)

Pub Date: Feb. 2, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-399-16030-1

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Philomel

Review Posted Online: Nov. 3, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2015

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This is no didactic near-future warning of present evils, but a cinematic adventure featuring endearing, compelling heroes

LEGEND

From the Legend series , Vol. 1

A gripping thriller in dystopic future Los Angeles.

Fifteen-year-olds June and Day live completely different lives in the glorious Republic. June is rich and brilliant, the only candidate ever to get a perfect score in the Trials, and is destined for a glowing career in the military. She looks forward to the day when she can join up and fight the Republic’s treacherous enemies east of the Dakotas. Day, on the other hand, is an anonymous street rat, a slum child who failed his own Trial. He's also the Republic's most wanted criminal, prone to stealing from the rich and giving to the poor. When tragedies strike both their families, the two brilliant teens are thrown into direct opposition. In alternating first-person narratives, Day and June experience coming-of-age adventures in the midst of spying, theft and daredevil combat. Their voices are distinct and richly drawn, from Day’s self-deprecating affection for others to June's Holmesian attention to detail. All the flavor of a post-apocalyptic setting—plagues, class warfare, maniacal soldiers—escalates to greater complexity while leaving space for further worldbuilding in the sequel.

This is no didactic near-future warning of present evils, but a cinematic adventure featuring endearing, compelling heroes . (Science fiction. 12-14)

Pub Date: Nov. 29, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-399-25675-2

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: April 8, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2011

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