Likable, well-rounded characters keep readers turning pages.


Oscar learns that life is a lot more complicated than frying donuts thanks to an unlikely romance, confronting the past, and dealing with heartache.

Desperate to be done with school in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, Oscar is a determined senior with plans to one day operate the family’s Swedish food truck business and maybe even open his own cafe. When presented with an unusual opportunity to use his culinary skills to help prevent cafeteria food waste, he forms an unlikely friendship with academic all-star Lou. Though he resists at first, she becomes an integral part of Oscar’s life both in school and on the truck. The main characters are complex and well drawn, especially the wise and irresistible Farfar, Oscar’s Swedish paternal grandfather. Swedish-born Oscar has lived with Farfar since the age of 4, arriving in America after his father died; his mother had already left the family by then. Reck handles a grandfather-grandson conversation about condoms and consent with a deft hand, although the book contains mainly just PG–rated kissing scenes. He also addresses contemporary social justice activism, substance abuse, and Farfar’s coming-out story. Told in Oscar’s first-person voice, the plot drags a little, but a romance resolved and a moving show of support from friends-turned-family compensate. The inclusion of Swedish cultural elements is refreshing and adds interest. Most of the cast is presumed White.

Likable, well-rounded characters keep readers turning pages. (Fiction. 14-17)

Pub Date: June 8, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-5247-1611-0

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: April 8, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2021

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Full of drama, emotional turmoil, and high stakes.


From the Aurelian Cycle series , Vol. 1

What happens to the world after the dust from a revolution has settled?

Friends Annie and Lee were children from very different circles when Atreus killed Lee’s father, dragonlord Leon Stormscourge, ending the uprising on the bloodiest day in Callipolis’ history. For too long the dragonriders held all the power while their people starved and lived in fear. Nine years later, a new generation of dragonriders is emerging, children selected and trained on merit, not bloodlines. Their dragons are finally mature enough for them to compete for Firstrider, a position of power that can give Lee back a small part of what his family lost. However, not only is Lee competing against Annie, but rumors are circulating that some of the royal family have survived and have dragons of their own. Everyone will have to make a choice: Restore the old regime, support the First Protector and the new caste system he created, or look for a new way, no matter what the cost. From the beginning, this book pulls readers in with political intrigue and action. What keeps them invested, however, are the complex relationships between many cast members. Choices are complex, and the consequences for all could be deadly. The world is well fleshed out and believable. Annie and Lee are light skinned; secondary characters are diverse, and race is a nonissue in this world.

Full of drama, emotional turmoil, and high stakes. (author’s note) (Fantasy.14-17)

Pub Date: Oct. 15, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-51821-1

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: July 24, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2019

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Several yards short of a touchdown.


A transgender boy starting over at a new school falls hard for a popular cheerleader with a reputation to protect in this debut.

On the first day of senior year, transgender boy Pony locks eyes with cisgender cheerleader Georgia. They both have pasts they want to leave behind. No one at Hillcrest High knows that Pony is transgender, and he intends to keep it that way. Georgia’s last boyfriend shook her trust in boys, and now she’s determined to forget him. As mutual attraction draws them together, Pony and Georgia must decide what they are willing to risk for a relationship. Pony’s best friend, Max, who is also transgender, disapproves of Pony’s choice to live stealth; this disagreement leads to serious conflict in their relationship. Meanwhile, Georgia and Pony behave as if Pony’s trans identity was a secret he was lying to her about rather than private information for him to share of his own volition. The characters only arrive at a hopeful resolution after Pony pays high physical and emotional prices. McSmith places repeated emphasis on the born-in-the-wrong-body narrative when the characters discuss trans identities. Whiteness is situated as the norm, and all main characters are white.

Several yards short of a touchdown. (Fiction. 14-17)

Pub Date: May 26, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-294317-0

Page Count: 368

Publisher: HarperTeen

Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2020

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