An infectious coming-of-age story about a self-effacing but gifted young man trying to discover his place in the world.

Twelve Feet Down

A debut YA novel chronicles a teenager’s crusade to construct a refuge.

It’s been a rough year for Joe McKinnon. In a car accident, Joe lost both his father and his leg. But now Joe is taking the building skills that he absorbed from his dad to raise his own hideaway—a hidden, underground condo—in the woods near his home and without his mother’s knowledge. While Joe wants to handle this project all by himself, he nevertheless recruits his father’s friend Fred Fergussen, who lines up the supplies for him and makes suggestions. An on-site accident soon endangers the project, adding to the guilt that Joe feels about lying to his mother so he can get out of the house to work on his condo. But before long, the teen’s elderly neighbor Mr. Pruitt and Tin Man, a roofer friend of his father, are in on the secret, with Joe’s grudging acquiescence: “Anyone who wants to build a condo in the woods, come on down! Just push the one-legged kid aside.” The project gets delayed because of other developments in his life: a possible girlfriend, a speech he fears giving, a friend’s injury, a fatal car accident. Despite the tragedies that are never too far away, the protagonist’s intelligence and his willingness to trust pay off during some difficult moments. In Joe, Penteros has created a vivid character who bears the cares of the world on his shoulders, which is why others are willing to assist him. In this effective tale, they see all the good in Joe, even if he can’t often see it in himself. Told in Joe’s voice, Penteros’ spare narrative reflects an average teen’s life, with the character often giving too much weight to mundane events, slowing down the story. But the fully developed protagonist skillfully handles some obstacles that life throws into his path. And along the way, Joe emerges from tumultuous times with the help of friends he didn’t know he had and a sympathetic mother he too often tried to push away.

An infectious coming-of-age story about a self-effacing but gifted young man trying to discover his place in the world.

Pub Date: Oct. 24, 2016


Page Count: 301

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 30, 2016

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Aspiring filmmaker/first-novelist Chbosky adds an upbeat ending to a tale of teenaged angst—the right combination of realism and uplift to allow it on high school reading lists, though some might object to the sexuality, drinking, and dope-smoking. More sophisticated readers might object to the rip-off of Salinger, though Chbosky pays homage by having his protagonist read Catcher in the Rye. Like Holden, Charlie oozes sincerity, rails against celebrity phoniness, and feels an extraliterary bond with his favorite writers (Harper Lee, Fitzgerald, Kerouac, Ayn Rand, etc.). But Charlie’s no rich kid: the third child in a middle-class family, he attends public school in western Pennsylvania, has an older brother who plays football at Penn State, and an older sister who worries about boys a lot. An epistolary novel addressed to an anonymous “friend,” Charlie’s letters cover his first year in high school, a time haunted by the recent suicide of his best friend. Always quick to shed tears, Charlie also feels guilty about the death of his Aunt Helen, a troubled woman who lived with Charlie’s family at the time of her fatal car wreck. Though he begins as a friendless observer, Charlie is soon pals with seniors Patrick and Sam (for Samantha), stepsiblings who include Charlie in their circle, where he smokes pot for the first time, drops acid, and falls madly in love with the inaccessible Sam. His first relationship ends miserably because Charlie remains compulsively honest, though he proves a loyal friend (to Patrick when he’s gay-bashed) and brother (when his sister needs an abortion). Depressed when all his friends prepare for college, Charlie has a catatonic breakdown, which resolves itself neatly and reveals a long-repressed truth about Aunt Helen. A plain-written narrative suggesting that passivity, and thinking too much, lead to confusion and anxiety. Perhaps the folks at (co-publisher) MTV see the synergy here with Daria or any number of videos by the sensitive singer-songwriters they feature.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 1999

ISBN: 0-671-02734-4

Page Count: 256

Publisher: MTV Books/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 1999

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A thrilling romance that could use more even pacing.


For the second time in her life, Leo must choose between her family and true love.

Nineteen-year-old Princess Leonie Kolburg’s royal family is bankrupt. In order to salvage the fortune they accrued before humans fled the frozen Earth 170 years ago, Leonie’s father is forcing her to participate in the Valg Season, an elaborate set of matchmaking events held to facilitate the marriages of rich and royal teens. Leo grudgingly joins in even though she has other ideas: She’s invented a water filtration system that, if patented, could provide a steady income—that is if Leo’s calculating Aunt Freja, the Captain of the ship hosting the festivities, stops blocking her at every turn. Just as Leo is about to give up hope, her long-lost love, Elliot, suddenly appears onboard three years after Leo’s family forced her to break off their engagement. Donne (Brightly Burning, 2018) returns to space, this time examining the fascinatingly twisted world of the rich and famous. Leo and her peers are nuanced, deeply felt, and diverse in terms of sexuality but not race, which may be a function of the realities of wealth and power. The plot is fast paced although somewhat uneven: Most of the action resolves in the last quarter of the book, which makes the resolutions to drawn-out conflicts feel rushed.

A thrilling romance that could use more even pacing. (Science fiction. 16-adult)

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-328-94894-6

Page Count: 400

Publisher: HMH Books

Review Posted Online: Nov. 10, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2019

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