Readers are advised to stick to the original.

SASS & SERENDIPITY

Billed as a retelling of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility but reading more like “sisters on the verge of a nervous breakdown,” this potentially buoyant comic novel sinks under the weight of its unwieldy high concept.

Dad’s departure, leaving Mom to cope on a small salary without child support, turned Gabby, 17, into a grumpily dutiful misanthrope who’s given up on love. She helps at home, works a miserable job and studies hard, then vents her frustrations on her irresponsible sister and faithful, torch-bearing Mule. Hiding a secret, Gabby repeatedly rejects overtures from handsome, wealthy Prentiss, who’s gone out of his way to help her family. At the other pole of emotional dysfunction, immature and self-centered Daphne, 15, carries her fantasies of finding true love with a boy she’s barely met to scary extremes. Ziegler’s affectionate portrait of small-town Texas life and sharply observed secondary characters, such as Sheri who “always gave compliments as if she were complaining,” bring the story to intermittent life. With their intense emotions permanently set to 11, though, the exasperating sisters have little in common with Elinor and Marianne. Austen’s attention, humor and insight weren’t given to deep emotions in themselves, but to how we govern them—and what happens when we don’t.

Readers are advised to stick to the original. (Fiction. 12 & up)

Pub Date: July 12, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-385-73898-9

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2011

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Riveting, brutal and beautifully told.

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WE WERE LIARS

A devastating tale of greed and secrets springs from the summer that tore Cady’s life apart.

Cady Sinclair’s family uses its inherited wealth to ensure that each successive generation is blond, beautiful and powerful. Reunited each summer by the family patriarch on his private island, his three adult daughters and various grandchildren lead charmed, fairy-tale lives (an idea reinforced by the periodic inclusions of Cady’s reworkings of fairy tales to tell the Sinclair family story). But this is no sanitized, modern Disney fairy tale; this is Cinderella with her stepsisters’ slashed heels in bloody glass slippers. Cady’s fairy-tale retellings are dark, as is the personal tragedy that has led to her examination of the skeletons in the Sinclair castle’s closets; its rent turns out to be extracted in personal sacrifices. Brilliantly, Lockhart resists simply crucifying the Sinclairs, which might make the family’s foreshadowed tragedy predictable or even satisfying. Instead, she humanizes them (and their painful contradictions) by including nostalgic images that showcase the love shared among Cady, her two cousins closest in age, and Gat, the Heathcliff-esque figure she has always loved. Though increasingly disenchanted with the Sinclair legacy of self-absorption, the four believe family redemption is possible—if they have the courage to act. Their sincere hopes and foolish naïveté make the teens’ desperate, grand gesture all that much more tragic.

Riveting, brutal and beautifully told. (Fiction. 14 & up)

Pub Date: May 13, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-385-74126-2

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: March 17, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2014

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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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