Insightful and compassionate storytelling.

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THE NUMBER 7

In this fresh take on a familiar paradigm, a sensitive teen inherits a well-kept family secret touching on Sweden’s role in World War II that’s profoundly affected her family.

It’s been five years since their mother died, but Louisa and her older sister, Greta, like their dad, still haven’t healed. Greta’s miserable, but Louisa approves their father’s decision, prompted by his own mother’s death, to move the family to his childhood home in Pennsylvania. Long estranged from his parents, he’s a proponent of never looking back. Louisa begins to wonder: Who was her dad as a child? What made him the man he is now? More than ready for change, Louisa enjoys school, especially photography class, and basks in unaccustomed attention from two boys. She’d be content to float along on the sparkling present but for the calls on the old, disconnected rotary phone in the attic that anchor her to the past. Each time she answers, a voice begins to relay a chapter, drawn from the well of vanished family history, in the life of her father’s father in Sweden. He and his twin brother were barely adults when war broke out and increasingly troubled by Sweden’s compromised neutrality. Subplots and an awkward, occult plot device briefly distract, but Louisa and her taut, fragile connection to a rarely explored past hold readers’ interest.

Insightful and compassionate storytelling. (Historical fantasy. 12-16)

Pub Date: Dec. 5, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4405-8306-3

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Merit Press

Review Posted Online: Oct. 1, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2014

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Heartbreaking, historical, and a little bit hopeful.

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SALT TO THE SEA

January 1945: as Russians advance through East Prussia, four teens’ lives converge in hopes of escape.

Returning to the successful formula of her highly lauded debut, Between Shades of Gray (2011), Sepetys combines research (described in extensive backmatter) with well-crafted fiction to bring to life another little-known story: the sinking (from Soviet torpedoes) of the German ship Wilhelm Gustloff. Told in four alternating voices—Lithuanian nurse Joana, Polish Emilia, Prussian forger Florian, and German soldier Alfred—with often contemporary cadences, this stints on neither history nor fiction. The three sympathetic refugees and their motley companions (especially an orphaned boy and an elderly shoemaker) make it clear that while the Gustloff was a German ship full of German civilians and soldiers during World War II, its sinking was still a tragedy. Only Alfred, stationed on the Gustloff, lacks sympathy; almost a caricature, he is self-delusional, unlikable, a Hitler worshiper. As a vehicle for exposition, however, and a reminder of Germany’s role in the war, he serves an invaluable purpose that almost makes up for the mustache-twirling quality of his petty villainy. The inevitability of the ending (including the loss of several characters) doesn’t change its poignancy, and the short chapters and slowly revealed back stories for each character guarantee the pages keep turning.

Heartbreaking, historical, and a little bit hopeful. (author’s note, research and sources, maps) (Historical fiction. 12-16)

Pub Date: Feb. 2, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-399-16030-1

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Philomel

Review Posted Online: Nov. 3, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2015

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For readers in need of a happy ending but not much else.

ALL THIS TIME

A modern-day fairy tale about two teenagers suffering from loss who find healing in one another.

Despite the ups and downs in their relationship, Kyle and Kimberly have always made up, and Kyle looks forward to attending college together after graduation. But on the night they should be celebrating, Kimberly confesses that she has committed to a different college and breaks up with him. As they argue, their car crashes, and Kyle later wakes up in the hospital and learns that Kimberly is dead. In his grief, Kyle blames himself for her death. He struggles to leave his bed most days, ignores calls from his and Kimberly’s best friend, Sam, and has visions of Kimberly and life before the accident. One day, while visiting Kimberly’s grave, he meets Marley, a girl who likes telling stories and is mourning the death of her twin sister. Predictably, their natural affinity for one another evolves into romance. It is unfortunate that Kyle essentially moves from one romantic relationship to another on his journey to better understanding himself and his co-dependence on those closest to him, although his gradual development into a more considerate person redeems him. The pacing remains even until the critical plot disruption, resulting in the rest of the story feeling disjointed and rushed. All characters are White.

For readers in need of a happy ending but not much else. (Fiction. 12-16)

Pub Date: Sept. 29, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5344-6634-0

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: July 8, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2020

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