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

READ REVIEW

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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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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Slow off the mark and gratuitously violent but cooking with (nerve) gas by the end.

THE TRIGGER MECHANISM

From the Camp Valor series , Vol. 2

With help from a reclusive billionaire, teen supersoldiers tackle a cyberterrorist in this sequel to Camp Valor (2018).

The main suspense comes from wondering when the chases and firefights are finally going to start. Traumatized by the discovery that he’s been duped into mowing down a crowd of real pedestrians in what he thought was a virtual truck, online gamer Jalen Rose is recruited by Valorian agent and co-protagonist Wyatt to join him in an unauthorized mission to find the instigator, Encyte. There are suspects aplenty. Their patron, tech tycoon John Darsie, points them toward one possibility: his own employee Julie Chen, a brilliant (not to mention “tough and a little boyish, but cute”) 14-year-old gamer and software designer. Despite a series of cyber exploits, including a high-casualty riot fueled by pheromones, there are so many distracting subplots—notably the hunt for a traitor from the first volume, the arrival of a government official who orders the camp shut down because she can’t see the value of a cadre of secretly trained child warriors (go figure), and a developing relationship between Jalen and Julie—that the pedal doesn’t really hit the metal until some time after the real villain makes a tardy first entrance. Jalen is African American and Wyatt is white.

Slow off the mark and gratuitously violent but cooking with (nerve) gas by the end. (Paramilitary thriller. 12-16)

Pub Date: Feb. 11, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-08825-3

Page Count: 384

Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin

Review Posted Online: Nov. 10, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2019

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