A magical-realist adventure laced with folk guitar and outcast drifters unpacks the bonds of family—those we are born into...

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DEVIL AND THE BLUEBIRD

Cass and Blue made a deal after their mother died of cancer: they would always talk on Mama’s birthday. Last year there was only a voicemail from Cass, and this year the call didn’t come at all.

Blue, 17, knows she must find her older sister. This urgency drives the white teen to meet the woman in the red dress at a crossroads at midnight and make a deal—her soul in exchange for her sister. But the woman in red is more interested in a gamble than an even trade, so she steals Blue’s voice and sends her off on a surreal all-or-nothing quest in which the rules of the game, and sometimes reality itself, shift and bend. Hoping to find Cass along the way, Blue re-creates the journey that decades ago brought together her mother and Tish, her partner in music and life. Blue meets an assorted cast of characters on her odyssey, all wandering for their own diverse reasons. The woman in red is never far away, compelling Blue to keep moving toward the family secrets she must uncover in order to rediscover the voice that is authentically her own. Mason-Black’s poignant debut novel takes Blue from small-town Maine, “where lesbian musicians were an oddity, and gay kids still suffered at the hands of their peers,” on a tour of America’s marginalized, her mutism eliciting confusion, confessions, and sympathy along the way.

A magical-realist adventure laced with folk guitar and outcast drifters unpacks the bonds of family—those we are born into and those we choose. (Magical realism. 14-17)

Pub Date: May 17, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-4197-2000-0

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Amulet/Abrams

Review Posted Online: March 2, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2016

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An emotionally engaging closer that fumbles in its final moments.

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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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“Cinderella” but with genocide and rebel plots.

ASH PRINCESS

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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