A reminder of the decrepitude of parental bigotry in an insubstantial, candy-coated narrative.



An acidic gay teen succumbs to a sappy love story, subsequently grappling with an unfurling lie for the greater good.

Seventeen-year-old Marley of Winston-Salem, North Carolina, is without purpose. His grades are subpar, hereditary creativity has skipped a generation, and he has no particular talent beyond snark. Enter: Christopher, a beautiful, blond, sleek, and gay (finally!) additive to amend Marley’s homosexuality from theoretical to practicing. One tiny hitch…Christopher’s father is an infamously rich, right-wing, bigoted televangelist with a distinct anti-gay agenda. Though Marley is a contemporary teenager, his voice could easily be transferred to a campy narrative starring a middle-aged, martini-swilling, South Beach–er. The underlying tragedy and resulting lie that envelop Marley evolve as chapters alternate from documented past time stamps to “Now.” Though there is a tragic component to this largely white love story (as well as a firm reminder of the ways despicable, closed-minded parents and general bigotry can adversely affect LBGTQIA youth—i.e. conversion camps), the narrative is on the fluffy side. The presence of conflict is without question. But the ease with which Marley meets Christopher, falls in love, and surmounts said conflict—all in 225 pages—defies credulity. In fact, it’s Christopher on the periphery who faces more domestic adversity (albeit with blond hair, white skin, and millions of dollars) than Marley.

A reminder of the decrepitude of parental bigotry in an insubstantial, candy-coated narrative. (Fiction. 13-17)

Pub Date: Oct. 31, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-338-11840-7

Page Count: 240

Publisher: PUSH/Scholastic

Review Posted Online: July 17, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2017

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“Cinderella” but with genocide and rebel plots.


From the Ash Princess series , Vol. 1

The daughter of a murdered queen plots to take back what is hers.

With her country seized and her mother, the Fire Queen of Astrea, murdered by invaders when she was only 6 years old, Theodosia has been a prisoner for 10 years, stripped of her crown, her people enslaved. Theo (renamed Thora by her captors) is at the mercy of the Kaiser—the fearsome ruler of the Kalovaxians—enduring his malicious whims in order to survive. But when the Kaiser forces Theo to execute her own father, survival is no longer good enough, and she finally takes up the mantle of queen to lead her people’s rise to resistance in a land saturated in elemental magic. Debut author Sebastian has invigorated some well-worn fantasy tropes (a displaced heir, an underground rebellion, and a love triangle that muddies the distinctions between enemies and allies), delivering a narrative that crackles with political intrigue, powerful and debilitating magic, and the violent mechanisms of colonization even as it leaves sequel-primed gaps. Some details—like Theo’s crisis of identity and Hamletian indecision—work well to submerge readers in a turbulent and enthralling plot; others, like racialized descriptions that fall short of actual representation (Atreans are dark-haired and olive-skinned, Kalovaxians are blond and pale-skinned) and the use of magic-induced madness for narrative shock and awe feel lazy and distracting among more nuanced elements.

“Cinderella” but with genocide and rebel plots. (Fantasy. 14-17)

Pub Date: April 24, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6706-8

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: April 3, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2018

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Packed to the brim with intrigue and the promise of a third installment.


From the Ash Princess series , Vol. 2

A rebel queen fans the sparks of revolution.

Picking up immediately after the events of Ash Princess (2018), Sebastian’s expansive sequel finds young Queen Theodosia—her title newly reclaimed—fleeing her country and throne. With her people still enslaved, Theo will need allies and an army to free them, and her aunt, the fierce and manipulative pirate Dragonsbane, insists that the only way to acquire either is if Theo marries—something no queen has ever done in Astrea’s history. Wracked by nightmares, guilt, and fear that she is losing herself (and more), Theo balks but, with few options open to her, grudgingly agrees to meet with suitors at a grand invitational hosted by the king of the opulent Sta’Crivero. Readers looking for further immersion and expansion of Theo’s world will not be disappointed here. The narrative suffers marginally from lengthy details picked up and soon put back down with no real service to plot or character development, but Theo’s first-person narration remains enthralling with emotional immediacy as she learns more and more about her world and the people (and cruelty) within it. Vengeance, political corruption, and mystery are the main drivers, and questions of trauma, empathy, and sacrifice hold the reigns as Theo grapples with emergent magic, inconvenient romances, and the crushing weight of her choices as a leader.

Packed to the brim with intrigue and the promise of a third installment. (maps) (Fantasy. 14-17)

Pub Date: Feb. 5, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6710-5

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: Dec. 19, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2019

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