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 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2008

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What should feel epic and romantic winds up dull and uninspired.

A THOUSAND HEARTBEATS

Star-crossed lovers are on opposing sides of an impending war.

Annika, the princess of Kadier, believes in the love of fairy tales but knows it’s not in her future since her father demanded she marry to secure a political alliance. Not too far from their kingdom, there is a growing army of those who believe Kadier rightfully belonged to their ancestors, and they plan to reclaim it. When stoic, hardened soldier Lennox is given the opportunity to prove himself, he makes a plan to sneak into the kingdom. Neither Annika nor Lennox is prepared for the ways their lives and those of everyone around them will forever be changed upon their meeting. They start as enemies, but their hearts have other ideas, and soon their love is impossible to ignore. This stand-alone fantasy romance shifts between the two protagonists’ points of view, giving readers access to the interior lives of both. Patience is required, as the tale is slow to start; it finds its footing eventually, but readers may find it to be too little, too late. Much of the narrative feels bloated with story yet hollow in characterization and emotional depth. Even moments meant to evoke big emotions, like important deaths or grand romantic gestures, wind up falling flat since there’s not enough substance to give them weight. Characters are assumed White.

What should feel epic and romantic winds up dull and uninspired. (map) (Fantasy. 13-18)

Pub Date: Nov. 29, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-06-266578-2

Page Count: 576

Publisher: HarperTeen

Review Posted Online: Sept. 28, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2022

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Riveting, brutal and beautifully told.

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WE WERE LIARS

A devastating tale of greed and secrets springs from the summer that tore Cady’s life apart.

Cady Sinclair’s family uses its inherited wealth to ensure that each successive generation is blond, beautiful and powerful. Reunited each summer by the family patriarch on his private island, his three adult daughters and various grandchildren lead charmed, fairy-tale lives (an idea reinforced by the periodic inclusions of Cady’s reworkings of fairy tales to tell the Sinclair family story). But this is no sanitized, modern Disney fairy tale; this is Cinderella with her stepsisters’ slashed heels in bloody glass slippers. Cady’s fairy-tale retellings are dark, as is the personal tragedy that has led to her examination of the skeletons in the Sinclair castle’s closets; its rent turns out to be extracted in personal sacrifices. Brilliantly, Lockhart resists simply crucifying the Sinclairs, which might make the family’s foreshadowed tragedy predictable or even satisfying. Instead, she humanizes them (and their painful contradictions) by including nostalgic images that showcase the love shared among Cady, her two cousins closest in age, and Gat, the Heathcliff-esque figure she has always loved. Though increasingly disenchanted with the Sinclair legacy of self-absorption, the four believe family redemption is possible—if they have the courage to act. Their sincere hopes and foolish naïveté make the teens’ desperate, grand gesture all that much more tragic.

Riveting, brutal and beautifully told. (Fiction. 14 & up)

Pub Date: May 13, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-385-74126-2

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: March 17, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2014

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