Exceptional.

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UNBECOMING

Three generations of a family wrestle with secrets.

Katie knew nothing of a grandmother. But suddenly here one is, because the grandmother’s boyfriend just died and his emergency contact was Katie’s mother, Caroline. Caroline, enraged, wants to leave her mother, Mary, with social services, but despite Mary’s dementia, Mary’s sent home with them, to squish into the three-bedroom flat with Mum, Katie, and Katie’s younger brother. Mum’s smotheringly protective of her kids and now of Mary too, though coldly, without sympathy. Pain and worry seethe from events long-past—Mary’s unwed teen pregnancy and the unknowing Caroline’s tumultuous childhood as the supposed daughter of Mary’s sister—and current: Katie’s fear of admitting that she likes girls. Mary’s always been a glamorous, fiery sparkplug. She broke free from the repressive social mores of white 1950s England. But she’s had heartbreaking losses too, some of which torment her with their emotional pain even after dementia has stolen their details. Katie and Mary walk daily to a cafe, seeking something Mary always forgets but finding, instead, a waitress who ignites Katie’s own fire. The writing, fluidly moving between both Katie’s and Mary’s third-person perspectives, is a wonder. Downham keenly weaves together musings, revelations, confrontations, and poignancy. Her prose gets right down inside human fragility, tenderness, fury, gusto, and strength—leaving sweet, sharp images that are impossible to forget.

Exceptional. (Fiction. 14 & up)

Pub Date: Feb. 23, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-545-90717-0

Page Count: 384

Publisher: David Fickling/Scholastic

Review Posted Online: Nov. 3, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2015

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This story is necessary. This story is important.

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THE HATE U GIVE

Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter is a black girl and an expert at navigating the two worlds she exists in: one at Garden Heights, her black neighborhood, and the other at Williamson Prep, her suburban, mostly white high school.

Walking the line between the two becomes immensely harder when Starr is present at the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend, Khalil, by a white police officer. Khalil was unarmed. Khalil’s death becomes national news, where he’s called a thug and possible drug dealer and gangbanger. His death becomes justified in the eyes of many, including one of Starr’s best friends at school. The police’s lackadaisical attitude sparks anger and then protests in the community, turning it into a war zone. Questions remain about what happened in the moments leading to Khalil’s death, and the only witness is Starr, who must now decide what to say or do, if anything. Thomas cuts to the heart of the matter for Starr and for so many like her, laying bare the systemic racism that undergirds her world, and she does so honestly and inescapably, balancing heartbreak and humor. With smooth but powerful prose delivered in Starr’s natural, emphatic voice, finely nuanced characters, and intricate and realistic relationship dynamics, this novel will have readers rooting for Starr and opening their hearts to her friends and family.

This story is necessary. This story is important. (Fiction. 14-adult)

Pub Date: Feb. 28, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-06-249853-3

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Dec. 6, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2016

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An unpolished grab bag of incidents that tries to make a point about racial inequality.

I'M NOT DYING WITH YOU TONIGHT

Two teenage girls—Lena and Campbell—come together following a football game night gone wrong.

Campbell, who is white and new to Atlanta, now attends the school where Lena, who is black, is a queen bee. At a game between McPherson High and their rival, a racist slur leads to fights, and shots are fired. The unlikely pair are thrown together as they try to escape the dangers on campus only to find things are even more perilous on the outside; a police blockade forces them to walk through a dangerous neighborhood toward home. En route, a peaceful protest turns into rioting, and the presence of police sets off a clash with protestors with gruesome consequences. The book attempts to tackle racial injustice in America by offering two contrasting viewpoints via narrators of different races. However, it portrays black characters as violent and criminal and the white ones as excusably ignorant and subtly racist, seemingly redeemed by moments when they pause to consider their privileges and biases. Unresolved story arcs, underdeveloped characters, and a jumpy plot that tries to pack too much into too small a space leave the story lacking. This is not a story of friendship but of how trauma can forge a bond—albeit a weak and questionable one—if only for a night.

An unpolished grab bag of incidents that tries to make a point about racial inequality. (Fiction. 15-adult)

Pub Date: Aug. 6, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-4926-7889-2

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire

Review Posted Online: May 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2019

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