A crackerjack idea hobbled by weak characters and the author’s heavy hand.

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THE TRUTH

A teen hostage is forced to recount his battle with a home invader.

Chris is just an ordinary kid stuck in an extraordinary situation. Eight days ago an intruder found his way into Chris' home, and Chris shot him dead. Now the intruder's brother, Derek, has Chris held hostage, demanding an honest account of the fateful night and threatening to cut off a few fingers if Chris dares to lie. It's a great, flashy premise, but Johnston comes very close to squandering it. Chris is focused solely on protecting his younger brother after their father died a few years ago and their mother grew distant. It's solid motivation, but it's the only characterization Chris gets, and that one note gets old all too fast. Derek isn't much better; his most interesting attribute provides a dark mirror image of Chris, as he is haunted by his failure to protect his own brother when it counted. The author makes this mirror very explicit, which undercuts the resonance. The most problematic element of the book comes in the very end in the form of Derek's haunting, brutalized past, a pitch-black element that doesn't fit the pulpy tone of the rest of the novel. Even in a book with the threat of torture and gunplay, this darkness is one step too far.

A crackerjack idea hobbled by weak characters and the author’s heavy hand. (Thriller. 12-16)

Pub Date: Feb. 2, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-4926-2320-5

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire

Review Posted Online: Nov. 17, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2015

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For readers in need of a happy ending but not much else.

ALL THIS TIME

A modern-day fairy tale about two teenagers suffering from loss who find healing in one another.

Despite the ups and downs in their relationship, Kyle and Kimberly have always made up, and Kyle looks forward to attending college together after graduation. But on the night they should be celebrating, Kimberly confesses that she has committed to a different college and breaks up with him. As they argue, their car crashes, and Kyle later wakes up in the hospital and learns that Kimberly is dead. In his grief, Kyle blames himself for her death. He struggles to leave his bed most days, ignores calls from his and Kimberly’s best friend, Sam, and has visions of Kimberly and life before the accident. One day, while visiting Kimberly’s grave, he meets Marley, a girl who likes telling stories and is mourning the death of her twin sister. Predictably, their natural affinity for one another evolves into romance. It is unfortunate that Kyle essentially moves from one romantic relationship to another on his journey to better understanding himself and his co-dependence on those closest to him, although his gradual development into a more considerate person redeems him. The pacing remains even until the critical plot disruption, resulting in the rest of the story feeling disjointed and rushed. All characters are White.

For readers in need of a happy ending but not much else. (Fiction. 12-16)

Pub Date: Sept. 29, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5344-6634-0

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: July 8, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2020

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A mystery/thriller that’s equal parts heartfelt and shocking.

TEEN KILLERS CLUB

An accused murderer is thrust into an assassin training program.

Seventeen-year-old Signal Deere is serving hard time after a hazy night with her former best friend, Rose, which ended with Rose’s body in her lap, an emotional trial, and the media moniker the “Girl from Hell.” After her caseworker, Dave, assures Signal there’s no way she’ll get a successful appeal, he offers her an alternative: being shipped off to a mysterious camp and enrolled in a top-secret government training program unofficially known as the Teen Killers Club. There, Signal and other adolescent Class A felons (the most dangerous kind) undergo various drills—among them, dismembering fake corpses and dissolving flesh in acid—in preparation for eventually being used as assassins against government targets. The teens have been injected with a device remotely controlled by their trainers that will kill them if they attempt to escape the camp or otherwise disobey orders. As Signal nurses an attraction to sensitive tattooed Javier and fights her feelings for handsome sociopath Erik, she begins to piece together what really happened that night with Rose. Sparks crafts a page-turner with a disturbingly unusual premise, snappy dialogue, and characters that go deeper than their heinous crimes. Signal and Erik are assumed White; love interest Javier is cued as Latinx, and there is some diversity in the supporting cast.

A mystery/thriller that’s equal parts heartfelt and shocking. (Thriller. 15-adult)

Pub Date: Nov. 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-64385-229-4

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Crooked Lane

Review Posted Online: Sept. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2020

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A timely and well-paced story of personal discovery.

DISPLACEMENT

Time travel brings a girl closer to someone she’s never known.

Sixteen-year-old Kiku, who is Japanese and white, only knows bits and pieces of her family history. While on a trip with her mother to San Francisco from their Seattle home, they search for her grandmother’s childhood home. While waiting for her mother, who goes inside to explore the mall now standing there, a mysterious fog envelops Kiku and displaces her to a theater in the past where a girl is playing the violin. The gifted musician is Ernestina Teranishi, who Kiku later confirms is her late grandmother. To Kiku’s dismay, the fog continues to transport her, eventually dropping her down next door to Ernestina’s family in a World War II Japanese American internment camp. The clean illustrations in soothing browns and blues convey the characters’ intense emotions. Hughes takes inspiration from her own family’s story, deftly balancing complicated national history with explorations of cultural dislocation and biracial identity. As Kiku processes her experiences, Hughes draws parallels to President Donald Trump’s Muslim ban and the incarceration of migrant children. The emotional connection between Kiku and her grandmother is underdeveloped; despite their being neighbors, Ernestina appears briefly and feels elusive to both Kiku and readers up to the very end. Despite some loose ends, readers will gain insights to the Japanese American incarceration and feel called to activism.

A timely and well-paced story of personal discovery. (photographs, author’s note, glossary, further reading) (Graphic historical fantasy. 12-16)

Pub Date: Aug. 18, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-19353-7

Page Count: 288

Publisher: First Second

Review Posted Online: May 17, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2020

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