JERK, CALIFORNIA

Like its Tourette Syndrome–afflicted protagonist, this novel lacks grace. Sam lives with his mother, his baby half brother and his stepfather, an abusive man with OCD who hates Sam’s dead father so much that he changed Sam’s name. With no prospects after graduation, Sam takes a job with “Coot,” a local oddball who knew Sam’s dad and quickly becomes Sam’s best friend (as well as his connection to beautiful Naomi) before dropping dead and leaving Sam his farm and a quest. Sam, now reverted to Jack and accompanied by Naomi, follows the quest and discovers his parents’ Mennonite past and the windmills his father built. Quirky characters who barely rise above caricatures, clunky dialogue and inconsistent voice and a pregnant leading-lady round out the tale. Cluttered plot and issues galore, with a too-easy resolution and a rickety back story (why did no one ever mention to Sam that his dad was not a boozing two-timer?) undermine the potentially interesting premise. Hardly worth the effort. (reading-group questions; author interview, not seen) (Fiction. 13 & up)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-14-241203-9

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Speak/Penguin

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2008

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

INDIVISIBLE

An ode to the children of migrants who have been taken away.

A Mexican American boy takes on heavy responsibilities when his family is torn apart.

Mateo’s life is turned upside down the day U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents show up unsuccessfully seeking his Pa at his New York City bodega. The Garcias live in fear until the day both parents are picked up; his Pa is taken to jail and his Ma to a detention center. The adults around Mateo offer support to him and his 7-year-old sister, Sophie, however, he knows he is now responsible for caring for her and the bodega as well as trying to survive junior year—that is, if he wants to fulfill his dream to enter the drama program at the Tisch School of the Arts and become an actor. Mateo’s relationships with his friends Kimmie and Adam (a potential love interest) also suffer repercussions as he keeps his situation a secret. Kimmie is half Korean (her other half is unspecified) and Adam is Italian American; Mateo feels disconnected from them, less American, and with worries they can’t understand. He talks himself out of choosing a safer course of action, a decision that deepens the story. Mateo’s self-awareness and inner monologue at times make him seem older than 16, and, with significant turmoil in the main plot, some side elements feel underdeveloped. Aleman’s narrative joins the ranks of heart-wrenching stories of migrant families who have been separated.

An ode to the children of migrants who have been taken away. (Fiction. 14-18)

Pub Date: May 4, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-7595-5605-8

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Feb. 22, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2021

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