A dry mystery, an interracial relationship, and a quiet struggle against provincial tyranny make for a choppy-but-promising...

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OUR BROTHERS AT THE BOTTOM OF THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA

Three teenagers in a New Jersey resort town bond over death and petty corruption.

Both Rachel and Ethan, seen through interwoven chapters, have recently lost brothers. Ethan's dead brother, Jason, gets to narrate his story through year-old journal fragments interspersed throughout the novel. Rachel's own dead brother, Curtis, is a silent cipher, a lost child with Down syndrome viewed only through Rachel's memories of caregiving, never treated as an individual with thoughts or hopes of his own. The deaths of both boys are somehow connected to Happy World, a boardwalk amusement park that dominates their hometown. Curtis died in an accident seemingly of his own fault, half a year before ocean-hating Jason drowned off the edge of the jetty. Now, six months later, slacker Rachel just wants to make sense of her life. Her quest introduces her not just to Ethan, but to Leonard, the former park employee who's taken the fall for Curtis' accident. A seemingly standard coming-of-age arc is touched by unsolved mysteries, for Happy World's owner is disturbingly interested in Rachel's friendship with the two boys. Spare storytelling focuses on the tiny details of Rachel and Ethan's world rather than emotional resonance, leaving enough unspoken that it's sometimes difficult to follow the timeline of events.

A dry mystery, an interracial relationship, and a quiet struggle against provincial tyranny make for a choppy-but-promising debut . (Fiction. 14-16)

Pub Date: June 9, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-62779-050-5

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: March 11, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2015

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Overall, a solid debut.

THE HEARTBEATS OF WING JONES

In 1995 Atlanta, a mixed-race girl finds a way to stand out on her own terms.

Wing and her brother, Marcus, attract attention because they're half Chinese, half black. While Marcus is a football hero, Wing suffers bullying from a mean girl and secretly pines for Aaron, Marcus' best friend, a black boy. Everything changes when Marcus, while driving drunk, kills two people and falls into a coma. Wing feels completely alone; neither her mother nor her grandmothers, LaoLao and Granny Dee, seem to know what to do. So Wing starts running in secret, prodded by her imaginary dragon and lioness, which she has not seen since her father died. She feels free when she runs, as though she can outrun all her mixed emotions. When Aaron finds out, he encourages Wing, and they grow closer even as the situation at home worsens. A running sponsorship could save her family—but in trying to chase that sponsorship, will Wing lose the one thing that makes her feel free? The choice of time period feels unjustified—this story could have been equally true in 2016—and the device of the dragon and lioness feels forced. Nevertheless, Wing's sense of isolation is well-captured, and her grief and confusion are raw and moving.

Overall, a solid debut. (Historical fiction. 14-16)

Pub Date: March 14, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-399-55502-2

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: Dec. 6, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2016

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An ambitious failure.

LAST NIGHT AT THE CIRCLE CINEMA

Three best friends spend the night before graduation in a run-down movie house.

Bertucci, Olivia, and Codman have been best friends all through high school, and on the eve of their graduation, the trio agrees to spend their final hours as high school students locked in the recently boarded-up Circle Cinema. In these few hours, truths are revealed, hearts are torn open, and futures are decided upon. These ambitions ultimately sink the novel. The enterprise is burdened with overthought dialogue, clumsy metaphors, and what comes across as a desperate desire to be seen as adult. The novel switches narrative perspective from teen to teen at the beginning of every chapter, but the device is unsuccessful: these characters all sound and think the same. These attributes almost make the book work as thematic commentary on the nature of teenage friendship, but unfortunately it doesn’t go much beyond the obvious observation that teens tend to think like their friends and are desperate to escape childhood. Throw in a half-baked love triangle and an apparent attempt to ape John Green and David Levithan's "Schrodinger's cat" metaphor from Will Grayson, Will Grayson (2010)—a metaphor that even that book barely pulled off—and you have a book that has all the hallmarks of a smart, sensitive book for teens but without the necessary nuance or emotional excitement.

An ambitious failure. (Fiction. 14-16)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-4677-7489-5

Page Count: 200

Publisher: Carolrhoda Lab

Review Posted Online: May 12, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2015

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