INTO THE HEARTLESS WOOD

Diverting.

In Tarian, a magical forest fights the kings’ railroads and telegraphs, and a young man is caught in the crossfire.

Owen, 17, raises his sister and keeps house by day while maintaining star charts for the king by night. Across the wall that edges his garden, the Gwydden, the power in the woods who has turned eight birches into her humanoid tree-siren daughters, steals souls and has her daughters kill in scenes reminiscent of a literary horror novel. Owen’s present-tense, first-person narration alternates with the jagged, vaguely poetic narration of Seren, the Gwydden’s youngest daughter, who no longer wants to kill for her mother. Centered on the relationship between Owen and the tree siren, this is a story with limited space for secondary characters, although an intriguing background mythos reveals itself through Owen’s and Seren’s stories. The emphasis on souls—evil feeds on them, the tree siren longs for one, and their importance, along with hearts, anchors much of the magic—lends a Christian moral code to an otherwise firmly fantastical setting that has a Welsh flavor. Familiar motifs, such as wilderness versus technology, a witch versus a king, and star-crossed lovers, placed in unfamiliar settings ensure that this dark romantic fantasy fulfills expectations without becoming formulaic. Owen is White in a world with some racial diversity and no prejudice.

Diverting. (Romantic fantasy. 12-18)

Pub Date: Jan. 12, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-64567-170-1

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Page Street

Review Posted Online: Oct. 11, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2020

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

IF HE HAD BEEN WITH ME

There’s not much plot here, but readers will relish the opportunity to climb inside Autumn’s head.

The finely drawn characters capture readers’ attention in this debut.

Autumn and Phineas, nicknamed Finny, were born a week apart; their mothers are still best friends. Growing up, Autumn and Finny were like peas in a pod despite their differences: Autumn is “quirky and odd,” while Finny is “sweet and shy and everyone like[s] him.” But in eighth grade, Autumn and Finny stop being friends due to an unexpected kiss. They drift apart and find new friends, but their friendship keeps asserting itself at parties, shared holiday gatherings and random encounters. In the summer after graduation, Autumn and Finny reconnect and are finally ready to be more than friends. But on August 8, everything changes, and Autumn has to rely on all her strength to move on. Autumn’s coming-of-age is sensitively chronicled, with a wide range of experiences and events shaping her character. Even secondary characters are well-rounded, with their own histories and motivations.

There’s not much plot here, but readers will relish the opportunity to climb inside Autumn’s head.   (Fiction. 14 & up)

Pub Date: April 1, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-4022-7782-5

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire

Review Posted Online: Feb. 12, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2013

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