A fresh and exciting debut.



From the Shadow Skye series , Vol. 1

Deft characterization and an original protagonist elevate a fantasy set in quasi-medieval Scotland.

Fifteen-year-old Agatha, who has a Down syndrome–like disability, is proud to be a Hawk, charged with watching the seas of Skye for danger, despite some in her clan calling her “retarch,” stupid, and useless. Jaime has always been friendly toward her, even while dismissing himself as weak and worthless. When their people are enslaved by brutal raiders from Norveg, Agatha and Jaime must summon all their individual strengths. This page-turning adventure is rich in atmosphere while dripping with grisly violence; untranslated dialogue inspired by Scottish Gaelic and Old Norse adds extra flavor. Jaime and Agatha alternate narration, each distinctive voice unreliable in its own way: Jamie’s cautious, anxiety-riddled account cannot conceal his courage and compassion; Agatha’s simple words convey passion, loyalty, and cleverness. Other characters display less depth—the Viking-ish marauders especially are shallow villains. While the disability superpower trope is never overtly invoked, the only explicit magic is Agatha’s gift of communication with animals and a severely traumatized woman’s power to command spirits, which may trouble some. Nevertheless, most readers will race to the triumphant conclusion and shiver at dark hints of possible sequels. The few physical descriptions seem to point to an all-white cast; there is one same-sex relationship.

A fresh and exciting debut. (note about languages) (Fantasy. 12-16)

Pub Date: Jan. 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5362-0718-7

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Walker US/Candlewick

Review Posted Online: Oct. 13, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2019

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Heartbreaking, historical, and a little bit hopeful.

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January 1945: as Russians advance through East Prussia, four teens’ lives converge in hopes of escape.

Returning to the successful formula of her highly lauded debut, Between Shades of Gray (2011), Sepetys combines research (described in extensive backmatter) with well-crafted fiction to bring to life another little-known story: the sinking (from Soviet torpedoes) of the German ship Wilhelm Gustloff. Told in four alternating voices—Lithuanian nurse Joana, Polish Emilia, Prussian forger Florian, and German soldier Alfred—with often contemporary cadences, this stints on neither history nor fiction. The three sympathetic refugees and their motley companions (especially an orphaned boy and an elderly shoemaker) make it clear that while the Gustloff was a German ship full of German civilians and soldiers during World War II, its sinking was still a tragedy. Only Alfred, stationed on the Gustloff, lacks sympathy; almost a caricature, he is self-delusional, unlikable, a Hitler worshiper. As a vehicle for exposition, however, and a reminder of Germany’s role in the war, he serves an invaluable purpose that almost makes up for the mustache-twirling quality of his petty villainy. The inevitability of the ending (including the loss of several characters) doesn’t change its poignancy, and the short chapters and slowly revealed back stories for each character guarantee the pages keep turning.

Heartbreaking, historical, and a little bit hopeful. (author’s note, research and sources, maps) (Historical fiction. 12-16)

Pub Date: Feb. 2, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-399-16030-1

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Philomel

Review Posted Online: Nov. 3, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2015

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This is no didactic near-future warning of present evils, but a cinematic adventure featuring endearing, compelling heroes


From the Legend series , Vol. 1

A gripping thriller in dystopic future Los Angeles.

Fifteen-year-olds June and Day live completely different lives in the glorious Republic. June is rich and brilliant, the only candidate ever to get a perfect score in the Trials, and is destined for a glowing career in the military. She looks forward to the day when she can join up and fight the Republic’s treacherous enemies east of the Dakotas. Day, on the other hand, is an anonymous street rat, a slum child who failed his own Trial. He's also the Republic's most wanted criminal, prone to stealing from the rich and giving to the poor. When tragedies strike both their families, the two brilliant teens are thrown into direct opposition. In alternating first-person narratives, Day and June experience coming-of-age adventures in the midst of spying, theft and daredevil combat. Their voices are distinct and richly drawn, from Day’s self-deprecating affection for others to June's Holmesian attention to detail. All the flavor of a post-apocalyptic setting—plagues, class warfare, maniacal soldiers—escalates to greater complexity while leaving space for further worldbuilding in the sequel.

This is no didactic near-future warning of present evils, but a cinematic adventure featuring endearing, compelling heroes . (Science fiction. 12-14)

Pub Date: Nov. 29, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-399-25675-2

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: April 8, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2011

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