A-OKAY

A compelling depiction of teenage uncertainty.

A middle school boy deals with the trials of growing up.

When a disastrous case of pimples strikes, 13-year-old Floridian Jay starts suffering from a negative body image. On top of that, his school schedule this year separates him from his good friend Brace. Driven to take action, Jay seeks medical solutions for his acne, but with no improvement, his doctor starts him on Accutane. With this harsh new medication come side effects and a restricted diet for Jay to deal with. Meanwhile, at school Jay is feeling abandoned by Brace, and he seeks out new friends in fellow teaching assistant Mark and art classmate Amy even as school bully Aaron does his best to make Jay’s life terrible. Tying these plotlines together is Jay’s journey to find and define himself, from coming to terms with his ace/aro identity to changing up his wardrobe. Jay’s story is genuine and compelling, immersing readers in his world. The art style is uncluttered and keeps key events clear and easy to follow; purple-toned panels indicate flashbacks. Liberal amounts of comedy interspersed with drama make this an enjoyable read, while the ace/aro protagonist and depiction of a teenage boy’s poor self-image keep the otherwise familiar storyline fresh. Jay and his family read as White; there is ethnic diversity in the supporting cast.

A compelling depiction of teenage uncertainty. (author's note) (Fiction. 11-14)

Pub Date: Nov. 2, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-06-303284-2

Page Count: 240

Publisher: HarperAlley

Review Posted Online: Sept. 14, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2021

THE SCHOOL FOR GOOD AND EVIL

From the School for Good and Evil series , Vol. 1

Rich and strange (and kitted out with an eye-catching cover), but stronger in the set pieces than the internal logic.

Chainani works an elaborate sea change akin to Gregory Maguire’s Wicked (1995), though he leaves the waters muddied.

Every four years, two children, one regarded as particularly nice and the other particularly nasty, are snatched from the village of Gavaldon by the shadowy School Master to attend the divided titular school. Those who survive to graduate become major or minor characters in fairy tales. When it happens to sweet, Disney princess–like Sophie and  her friend Agatha, plain of features, sour of disposition and low of self-esteem, they are both horrified to discover that they’ve been dropped not where they expect but at Evil and at Good respectively. Gradually—too gradually, as the author strings out hundreds of pages of Hogwarts-style pranks, classroom mishaps and competitions both academic and romantic—it becomes clear that the placement wasn’t a mistake at all. Growing into their true natures amid revelations and marked physical changes, the two spark escalating rivalry between the wings of the school. This leads up to a vicious climactic fight that sees Good and Evil repeatedly switching sides. At this point, readers are likely to feel suddenly left behind, as, thanks to summary deus ex machina resolutions, everything turns out swell(ish).

Rich and strange (and kitted out with an eye-catching cover), but stronger in the set pieces than the internal logic. (Fantasy. 11-13)

Pub Date: May 14, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-06-210489-2

Page Count: 496

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Feb. 12, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2013

THE LAST EVER AFTER

From the School for Good and Evil series , Vol. 3

Ultimately more than a little full of itself, but well-stocked with big themes, inventively spun fairy-tale tropes, and...

Good has won every fairy-tale contest with Evil for centuries, but a dark sorcerer’s scheme to turn the tables comes to fruition in this ponderous closer.

Broadening conflict swirls around frenemies Agatha and Sophie as the latter joins rejuvenated School Master Rafal, who has dispatched an army of villains from Capt. Hook to various evil stepmothers to take stabs (literally) at changing the ends of their stories. Meanwhile, amid a general slaughter of dwarves and billy goats, Agatha and her rigid but educable true love, Tedros, flee for protection to the League of Thirteen. This turns out to be a company of geriatric versions of characters, from Hansel and Gretel (in wheelchairs) to fat and shrewish Cinderella, led by an enigmatic Merlin. As the tale moves slowly toward climactic battles and choices, Chainani further lightens the load by stuffing it with memes ranging from a magic ring that must be destroyed and a “maleficent” gown for Sophie to this oddly familiar line: “Of all the tales in all the kingdoms in all the Woods, you had to walk into mine.” Rafal’s plan turns out to be an attempt to prove that love can be twisted into an instrument of Evil. Though the proposition eventually founders on the twin rocks of true friendship and family ties, talk of “balance” in the aftermath at least promises to give Evil a fighting chance in future fairy tales. Bruno’s polished vignettes at each chapter’s head and elsewhere add sophisticated visual notes.

Ultimately more than a little full of itself, but well-stocked with big themes, inventively spun fairy-tale tropes, and flashes of hilarity. (Fantasy. 11-13)

Pub Date: July 21, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-06-210495-3

Page Count: 672

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: June 25, 2015

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