At times heavy-handed, but the author's enthusiasm shines through. (Dystopia. 12-17)

THE ELEVENTH PLAGUE

Hirsch's debut explores the creation of a new civilization out of post-apocalyptic ruin.

Teenage salvager Stephen Quinn has heard stories about what America was like before collapsing due to a war with China and a virulent influenza. His paranoid grandfather keeps their family alive through harsh rules. After Stephen's grandfather dies, Stephen's father abandons their isolationism and is critically injured rescuing captives from slavers. Stephen lets go of his reluctance to trust strangers and accepts help from a scouting party. The scouts' town, Settler's Landing, attempts to recapture an idealized American past, complete with cookouts and baseball games. But Settler's Landing is no utopia, thanks to Caleb Henry, the token rich villain, and his stereotypical bully of a son, Will, who is convinced Stephen's a spy from nearby Fort Leonard. Will's usual target, wild Chinese girl Jenny, bonds with Stephen over their shared outcast status, while her adopted brother Jackson pulls him into youth sports, and teacher Mr. Tuttle encourages his intellectual growth. Stephen and Jenny inadvertently set off a chain of impulsive actions that jeopardize more than just Settler's Landing. Stephen's underlying internal conflict about the clash between social obligations and personal survival ties the first-person narration together and physically manifests in the climax.

At times heavy-handed, but the author's enthusiasm shines through. (Dystopia. 12-17)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-545-29014-2

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2011

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Bound to be popular.

AN EMBER IN THE ASHES

From the Ember in the Ashes series , Vol. 1

A suddenly trendy trope—conflict and romance between members of conquering and enslaved races—enlivened by fantasy elements loosely drawn from Arabic tradition (another trend!).

In an original, well-constructed fantasy world (barring some lazy naming), the Scholars have lived under Martial rule for 500 years, downtrodden and in many cases enslaved. Scholar Laia has spent a lifetime hiding her connection to the Resistance—her parents were its leaders—but when her grandparents are killed and her brother’s captured by Masks, the eerie, silver-faced elite soldiers of the Martial Empire, Laia must go undercover as a slave to the terrifying Commandant of Blackcliff Military Academy, where Martials are trained for battle. Meanwhile, Elias, the Commandant’s not-at-all-beloved son, wants to run away from Blackcliff, until he is named an Aspirant for the throne by the mysterious red-eyed Augurs. Predictably, action, intrigue, bloodshed and some pounding pulses follow; there’s betrayal and a potential love triangle or two as well. Sometimes-lackluster prose and a slight overreliance on certain kinds of sexual violence as a threat only slightly diminish the appeal created by familiar (but not predictable) characters and a truly engaging if not fully fleshed-out fantasy world.

Bound to be popular. (Fantasy. 13 & up)

Pub Date: April 28, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-59514-803-2

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Razorbill/Penguin

Review Posted Online: Jan. 10, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 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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