From the Children of the Revolution series , Vol. 1

Sharp characterization and vibrant prose enliven this futuristic tale.

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A teen in a dystopian world seeks vengeance against powerful, murderous officials who control the precious water in this novel.

Sixteen-year-old Merit lives in the Protectorate with her medic father, Eben. The walled area consists of six Regions surrounding the Great Lakes, which now contain much of the devastated world’s fresh water. The governing Galt Corporation, or the Hive, regulates the water and, therefore, the people. Any individual the Hive deems unsuitable is subject to severance, which is a bullet train ride to the land outside the Protectorate known as the Outlier. This includes Merit’s mother, Serafina, who’s been gone a year. When the teen’s Region, Illiana, experiences a longer-than-usual water outage, she and Eben share their stash of bottled water with others. But it’s soon clear that the outage is part of the Hive’s deadly plan for an entire District in Illiana. The Hive wants to use Eben’s skills elsewhere, but that would mean leaving Merit behind for severance or worse. So Eben helps Merit flee with the hopes that they will reunite later. The Hive’s security force, the goliaths, manage to track her as she hides in the wilderness. Merit fortunately encounters a man who can teach her how to be a hunter—how to shoot and kill the goliaths trying to murder her. But taking them out won’t satiate Merit’s thirst for revenge. For that, she heads to Chicago to find “the man who turned off the water” along with the individual who gave the order.

Zienty’s worldbuilding begets a riveting, albeit frightening, future realm. The peril, for one, is unquestionable, as the tale begins in the midst of a four-year drought. Similarly, the totalitarian Hive is a formidable force, with an unsavory Illiana official named Tanner the most discernible representative. The Hive aims for control in myriad ways, such as requiring hormone adjustments to ensure most citizens’ androgyny and outlawing books. The author avoids congesting the narrative with details by hinting at causal events. For example, it’s “Year 80,” with little indication as to which catastrophes prompted the implementation of Year Zero or how they may have affected other countries. Plot progression slows considerably in the latter half, as Merit’s goal of retribution remains the driving force. Nevertheless, the story moves at a steady beat as she faces goliaths and ultimately makes a number of allies. This tale is certainly not lighthearted fare; Merit is unmistakably distraught over her decision to employ lethal means, and more than one likable character meets a sad, violent end. Zienty beautifies the story with sublime writing, including Merit’s time in the wilderness: “Gnarled faces jut from the rock wall, brows caught in perpetual furrow, mouth drawn in eternal frowns, like a cluster of giant men frozen in a spell cast by some sorceress of stone, a sister to the Gorgon Medusa.” Despite a thoroughly gratifying conclusion, there are quite a few things left unresolved or unexplained—perfect fodder for a potential sequel.

Sharp characterization and vibrant prose enliven this futuristic tale. (maps, acknowledgements, about the author)

Pub Date: May 1, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-73368-810-9

Page Count: 426

Publisher: Self

Review Posted Online: April 5, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2020


Despite some missteps, this will appeal to readers who enjoy a fresh and realistic teen voice.

A teenage, not-so-lonely loner endures the wilds of high school in Austin, Texas.

Norris Kaplan, the protagonist of Philippe’s debut novel, is a hypersweaty, uber-snarky black, Haitian, French-Canadian pushing to survive life in his new school. His professor mom’s new tenure-track job transplants Norris mid–school year, and his biting wit and sarcasm are exposed through his cataloging of his new world in a field guide–style burn book. He’s greeted in his new life by an assortment of acquaintances, Liam, who is white and struggling with depression; Maddie, a self-sacrificing white cheerleader with a heart of gold; and Aarti, his Indian-American love interest who offers connection. Norris’ ego, fueled by his insecurities, often gets in the way of meaningful character development. The scenes showcasing his emotional growth are too brief and, despite foreshadowing, the climax falls flat because he still gets incredible personal access to people he’s hurt. A scene where Norris is confronted by his mother for getting drunk and belligerent with a white cop is diluted by his refusal or inability to grasp the severity of the situation and the resultant minor consequences. The humor is spot-on, as is the representation of the black diaspora; the opportunity for broader conversations about other topics is there, however, the uneven buildup of detailed, meaningful exchanges and the glibness of Norris’ voice detract.

Despite some missteps, this will appeal to readers who enjoy a fresh and realistic teen voice. (Fiction. 13-16)

Pub Date: Jan. 8, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-06-282411-0

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Oct. 14, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2018


Though it lacks references or suggestions for further reading, Arn's agonizing story is compelling enough that many readers...

A harrowing tale of survival in the Killing Fields.

The childhood of Arn Chorn-Pond has been captured for young readers before, in Michelle Lord and Shino Arihara's picture book, A Song for Cambodia (2008). McCormick, known for issue-oriented realism, offers a fictionalized retelling of Chorn-Pond's youth for older readers. McCormick's version begins when the Khmer Rouge marches into 11-year-old Arn's Cambodian neighborhood and forces everyone into the country. Arn doesn't understand what the Khmer Rouge stands for; he only knows that over the next several years he and the other children shrink away on a handful of rice a day, while the corpses of adults pile ever higher in the mango grove. Arn does what he must to survive—and, wherever possible, to protect a small pocket of children and adults around him. Arn's chilling history pulls no punches, trusting its readers to cope with the reality of children forced to participate in murder, torture, sexual exploitation and genocide. This gut-wrenching tale is marred only by the author's choice to use broken English for both dialogue and description. Chorn-Pond, in real life, has spoken eloquently (and fluently) on the influence he's gained by learning English; this prose diminishes both his struggle and his story.

Though it lacks references or suggestions for further reading, Arn's agonizing story is compelling enough that many readers will seek out the history themselves. (preface, author's note) (Historical fiction. 12-15)

Pub Date: May 8, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-06-173093-1

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: March 20, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2012

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