It’s a minor quibble, though, next to the author’s strong suit: a cast of vivid, sympathetic characters whose fate matters...

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THIS IS WHAT HAPPY LOOKS LIKE

A typo misdirects teen film star Graham’s email to Ellie in Henley, Maine, launching an intense epistolary friendship that rapidly becomes an anchor for each.

Keeping his identity secret from Ellie frees Graham to be the pre-celebrity self he’s felt disappearing. Anonymity allows Ellie to safely share private dreams and worries (like how to pay for the prestigious but expensive Harvard poetry workshop that’s accepted her), though not the secrets her family life rests on. Spending his star capital recklessly, Graham insists on Henley as a film location. Their relationship intensifies when they meet in person. Confident yet lonely, Graham pursues more-conflicted Ellie. For Graham—isolated by fame, adrift in a world where image trumps authenticity—Ellie’s a lifeline connecting him to what’s real. But as their attraction grows, so does the threat his fame poses to Ellie, tasked with protecting family secrets. Utterly convincing, Graham and Ellie lend credibility to the otherwise far-fetched setup. Smith’s work, occupying the zone between literary and commercial fiction, occasionally has an airbrushed feel, avoiding life’s messier realities. (Graham and Ellie’s chaste behavior seems at odds with their passionate longing, for instance.)

 It’s a minor quibble, though, next to the author’s strong suit: a cast of vivid, sympathetic characters whose fate matters to readers and keeps them turning the pages. (Fiction. 13 & up)

Pub Date: April 2, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-316-21282-3

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Poppy/Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Feb. 13, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2013

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Many teen novels touch on similar themes, but few do it so memorably.

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ALL THE BRIGHT PLACES

Two struggling teens develop an unlikely relationship in a moving exploration of grief, suicide and young love.

Violet, a writer and member of the popular crowd, has withdrawn from her friends and from school activities since her sister died in a car accident nine months earlier. Finch, known to his classmates as "Theodore Freak," is famously impulsive and eccentric. Following their meeting in the school bell tower, Finch makes it his mission to re-engage Violet with the world, partially through a school project that sends them to offbeat Indiana landmarks and partially through simple persistence. (Violet and Finch live, fortunately for all involved, in the sort of romantic universe where his throwing rocks at her window in the middle of the night comes off more charming than stalker-esque.) The teens alternate narration chapter by chapter, each in a unique and well-realized voice. Finch's self-destructive streak and suicidal impulses are never far from the surface, and the chapters he narrates are interspersed with facts about suicide methods and quotations from Virginia Woolf and poet Cesare Pavese. When the story inevitably turns tragic, a cast of carefully drawn side characters brings to life both the pain of loss and the possibility of moving forward, though some notes of hope are more believable than others.

Many teen novels touch on similar themes, but few do it so memorably. (Fiction. 14 & up)

Pub Date: Jan. 6, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-385-75588-7

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Oct. 1, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2014

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An emotionally engaging closer that fumbles in its final moments.

ALWAYS AND FOREVER, LARA JEAN

From the To All the Boys I've Loved Before series , Vol. 3

Lara Jean prepares for college and a wedding.

Korean-American Lara Jean is finally settled into a nice, complication-free relationship with her white boyfriend, Peter. But things don’t stay simple for long. When college acceptance letters roll in, Peter and Lara Jean discover they’re heading in different directions. As the two discuss the long-distance thing, Lara Jean’s widower father is making a major commitment: marrying the neighbor lady he’s been dating. The whirlwind of a wedding, college visits, prom, and the last few months of senior year provides an excellent backdrop for this final book about Lara Jean. The characters ping from event to event with emotions always at the forefront. Han further develops her cast, pushing them to new maturity and leaving few stones unturned. There’s only one problem here, and it’s what’s always held this series back from true greatness: Peter. Despite Han’s best efforts to flesh out Peter with abandonment issues and a crummy dad, he remains little more than a handsome jock. Frankly, Lara Jean and Peter may have cute teen chemistry, but Han's nuanced characterizations have often helped to subvert typical teen love-story tropes. This knowing subversion is frustratingly absent from the novel's denouement.

An emotionally engaging closer that fumbles in its final moments. (Romance. 14-17)

Pub Date: May 2, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-4814-3048-7

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: March 29, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2017

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