TYLER JOHNSON WAS HERE

While the author’s toolbox has some room for growth, he effectively dramatizes the human experience and ethical questions...

Coles’ debut takes on the heartbreaking outcomes of a broken system of policing.

Through language that honors the enraging aspects of life in the inner city, readers meet Marvin and Tyler Johnson, twin high school seniors at a crossroads. Narrator Marvin jokes that their family story can feel like the stereotype for black boys. Their father is in jail, and Mama works extra hard to keep the family stable, leaving room for the influence of the streets to creep into their lives. All this is irrelevant when a police officer shoots Tyler dead after he attends a questionable neighborhood party. This is not the first time that Marvin and his friends have witnessed police violence. They’ve seen officers lift firearms at children, slam them to the ground, and verbally abuse them, with no consequences. Deep down, Marvin knows that he cannot become the hate that he senses in the world around him. This family’s struggle to find resolve, peace, and even a twinge of justice is full of life lessons, including this gem inspired by Auntie Nicola, a former cop: “Life is about wading in the rain, in all the storm’s fury…becoming one and the same with the storm—getting angry, getting heated, and being the change you want.” Coles, just 21, pens an immersive and uncompromising look at systemic police violence in the U.S.

While the author’s toolbox has some room for growth, he effectively dramatizes the human experience and ethical questions underpinning today’s Movement for Black Lives. (Fiction. 14-18)

Pub Date: March 20, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-316-44077-6

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Jan. 21, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2018

IF ONLY I HAD TOLD HER

A heavy read about the harsh realities of tragedy and their effects on those left behind.

In this companion novel to 2013’s If He Had Been With Me, three characters tell their sides of the story.

Finn’s narrative starts three days before his death. He explores the progress of his unrequited love for best friend Autumn up until the day he finally expresses his feelings. Finn’s story ends with his tragic death, which leaves his close friends devastated, unmoored, and uncertain how to go on. Jack’s section follows, offering a heartbreaking look at what it’s like to live with grief. Jack works to overcome the anger he feels toward Sylvie, the girlfriend Finn was breaking up with when he died, and Autumn, the girl he was preparing to build his life around (but whom Jack believed wasn’t good enough for Finn). But when Jack sees how Autumn’s grief matches his own, it changes their understanding of one another. Autumn’s chapters trace her life without Finn as readers follow her struggles with mental health and balancing love and loss. Those who have read the earlier book will better connect with and feel for these characters, particularly since they’ll have a more well-rounded impression of Finn. The pain and anger is well written, and the novel highlights the most troublesome aspects of young adulthood: overconfidence sprinkled with heavy insecurities, fear-fueled decisions, bad communication, and brash judgments. Characters are cued white.

A heavy read about the harsh realities of tragedy and their effects on those left behind. (author’s note, content warning) (Fiction. 14-18)

Pub Date: Feb. 6, 2024

ISBN: 9781728276229

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire

Review Posted Online: Jan. 5, 2024

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2024

IF HE HAD BEEN WITH ME

There’s not much plot here, but readers will relish the opportunity to climb inside Autumn’s head.

The finely drawn characters capture readers’ attention in this debut.

Autumn and Phineas, nicknamed Finny, were born a week apart; their mothers are still best friends. Growing up, Autumn and Finny were like peas in a pod despite their differences: Autumn is “quirky and odd,” while Finny is “sweet and shy and everyone like[s] him.” But in eighth grade, Autumn and Finny stop being friends due to an unexpected kiss. They drift apart and find new friends, but their friendship keeps asserting itself at parties, shared holiday gatherings and random encounters. In the summer after graduation, Autumn and Finny reconnect and are finally ready to be more than friends. But on August 8, everything changes, and Autumn has to rely on all her strength to move on. Autumn’s coming-of-age is sensitively chronicled, with a wide range of experiences and events shaping her character. Even secondary characters are well-rounded, with their own histories and motivations.

There’s not much plot here, but readers will relish the opportunity to climb inside Autumn’s head.   (Fiction. 14 & up)

Pub Date: April 1, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-4022-7782-5

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire

Review Posted Online: Feb. 12, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2013

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