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FROM BRICK & DARKNESS

A bold page-turner that interrogates the notion of winning one’s heart’s desire.

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A dangerous supernatural being starts granting a teen’s deepest wishes in Sullivan’s debut YA fantasy.

In St. Louis, Missouri, Baxter “Bax” Allen is a sophomore at Truman High School. His parents split up 13 years ago, and he lives with his mother, Sara, who supports them with two jobs. He also suffers from episodes in which stress causes him to faint. One night, on his way back from his best friend Jason Franklin’s house, Bax meets a stranger who insists that Bax give Greg, the teen’s estranged father, a gaudy ring with a purple gem. Bax accepts it even though he doesn’t know where his dad is. The next day, as Bax and Jason examine the ring, a short, monkeylike being with white fur appears and asks to be of service. This is Janni, a low-level djinn; it obeys Bax’s wishes, but its powers have limits—for example, it can’t change people in any way. Later, Ashley Bryant, Bax’s brainy neighbor, asks Bax to have Janni spy on her parents. Eventually, Bax dreams of getting everything he wants—financial stability, his parents reunited, and the attention of his crush, Scarlet Lane. However, a more powerful entity may cause Bax to regret his desires. Sullivan presents several familiar ingredients of YA adventures, including a nerdy, underdog protagonist and threatening bullies, but it’s the djinn that truly makes this fantasy shine. Janni provides a fertile source of humor, as when it tries to help with the dishes; it’s also noted that the djinn smells like burnt hair whenever traveling via magic. There’s discussion of how a more powerful djinn could improve the world by, for example, curing cancer, which sounds a note of seriousness to the narrative. Later, well-executed twists ratchet up the horror: “He yelled but only heard the shrill grinding of metal. Then, in a split second, he heard nothing at all.” Bax’s supporting cast is well developed—especially Ashley, who begins the tale as a social outcast. Sullivan provides a tight finale, although fans will surely crave more.

A bold page-turner that interrogates the notion of winning one’s heart’s desire.

Pub Date: May 16, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-5092-4008-1

Page Count: 362

Publisher: Wild Rose Press

Review Posted Online: April 19, 2022

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POWERLESS

From the Powerless Trilogy series , Vol. 1

A lackluster and sometimes disturbing mishmash of overused tropes.

The Plague has left a population divided between Elites and Ordinaries—those who have powers and those who don’t; now, an Ordinary teen fights for her life.

Paedyn Gray witnessed the king kill her father five years ago, and she’s been thieving and sleeping rough ever since, all while faking Psychic abilities. When she inadvertently saves the life of Prince Kai, she becomes embroiled in the Purging Trials, a competition to commemorate the sickness that killed most of the kingdom’s Ordinaries. Kai’s duties as the future Enforcer include eradicating any remaining Ordinaries, and these Trials are his chance to prove that he’s internalized his brutal training. But Kai can’t help but find Pae’s blue eyes, silver hair, and unabashed attitude enchanting. She likewise struggles to resist his stormy gray eyes, dark hair, and rakish behavior, even as they’re pitted against each other in the Trials and by the king himself. Scenes and concepts that are strongly reminiscent of the Hunger Games fall flat: They aren’t bolstered by the original’s heart or worldbuilding logic that would have justified a few extreme story elements. Illogical leaps and inconsistent characterizations abound, with lighthearted romantic interludes juxtaposed against genocide, child abuse, and sadism. These elements, which are not sufficiently addressed, combined with the use of ableist language, cannot be erased by any amount of romantic banter. Main characters are cued white; the supporting cast has some brown-skinned characters.

A lackluster and sometimes disturbing mishmash of overused tropes. (map) (Fantasy. 14-18)

Pub Date: Nov. 7, 2023

ISBN: 9798987380406

Page Count: 538

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Sept. 9, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2023

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IF ONLY I HAD TOLD HER

A heavy read about the harsh realities of tragedy and their effects on those left behind.

In this companion novel to 2013’s If He Had Been With Me, three characters tell their sides of the story.

Finn’s narrative starts three days before his death. He explores the progress of his unrequited love for best friend Autumn up until the day he finally expresses his feelings. Finn’s story ends with his tragic death, which leaves his close friends devastated, unmoored, and uncertain how to go on. Jack’s section follows, offering a heartbreaking look at what it’s like to live with grief. Jack works to overcome the anger he feels toward Sylvie, the girlfriend Finn was breaking up with when he died, and Autumn, the girl he was preparing to build his life around (but whom Jack believed wasn’t good enough for Finn). But when Jack sees how Autumn’s grief matches his own, it changes their understanding of one another. Autumn’s chapters trace her life without Finn as readers follow her struggles with mental health and balancing love and loss. Those who have read the earlier book will better connect with and feel for these characters, particularly since they’ll have a more well-rounded impression of Finn. The pain and anger is well written, and the novel highlights the most troublesome aspects of young adulthood: overconfidence sprinkled with heavy insecurities, fear-fueled decisions, bad communication, and brash judgments. Characters are cued white.

A heavy read about the harsh realities of tragedy and their effects on those left behind. (author’s note, content warning) (Fiction. 14-18)

Pub Date: Feb. 6, 2024

ISBN: 9781728276229

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire

Review Posted Online: Jan. 5, 2024

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2024

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