Intense, unrelenting, and inspiring.

WE ARE THE ASHES, WE ARE THE FIRE

The brazen younger daughter in a family scorched by tragedy examines the ashes of the aftermath.

Em Morales is closely bonded to her older sister, Nor. When Nor is violently raped at a frat party, Em goes hard for #JusticeforNor—most significantly by convincing Nor to take her case to trial rather than accept a plea deal. A jury finds the defendant guilty on multiple counts, but a judge releases him based on time served, leaving the entire Morales family devasted. After Em makes friends with witty theater and medieval history nerd Jess (who uses they/them pronouns), she begins writing a fictionalized verse account of the life of Marguerite de Bressieux, a 15th-century noblewoman-turned-knight who avenged the horrific deaths and rapes of her family, adorned by Jess’ illustrations inspired by illuminated manuscripts. McCullough has created an absorbing firecracker of a young woman who bleeds rage and grief as she wrestles with transcending not only her sister’s trauma, but society’s general malevolence toward women. The effect is engrossing, especially as Marguerite’s and Em’s stories become intertwined. With a focus on those who surround victims, McCullough underscores the importance of collective healing. Kobabe’s illustrations elicit the medieval era, but the delicate, rounded lines do not match the grit of Em’s words. Em and Nor are biracial, with a presumably White mom and Guatemalan immigrant dad.

Intense, unrelenting, and inspiring. (author's note) (Fiction. 14-18)

Pub Date: Feb. 9, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-525-55605-3

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Dutton

Review Posted Online: Nov. 24, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2020

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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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This grittily provocative debut explores the horrors of self-harm and the healing power of artistic expression.

GIRL IN PIECES

After surviving a suicide attempt, a fragile teen isn't sure she can endure without cutting herself.

Seventeen-year-old Charlie Davis, a white girl living on the margins, thinks she has little reason to live: her father drowned himself; her bereft and abusive mother kicked her out; her best friend, Ellis, is nearly brain dead after cutting too deeply; and she's gone through unspeakable experiences living on the street. After spending time in treatment with other young women like her—who cut, burn, poke, and otherwise hurt themselves—Charlie is released and takes a bus from the Twin Cities to Tucson to be closer to Mikey, a boy she "like-likes" but who had pined for Ellis instead. But things don't go as planned in the Arizona desert, because sweet Mikey just wants to be friends. Feeling rejected, Charlie, an artist, is drawn into a destructive new relationship with her sexy older co-worker, a "semifamous" local musician who's obviously a junkie alcoholic. Through intense, diarylike chapters chronicling Charlie's journey, the author captures the brutal and heartbreaking way "girls who write their pain on their bodies" scar and mar themselves, either succumbing or surviving. Like most issue books, this is not an easy read, but it's poignant and transcendent as Charlie breaks more and more before piecing herself back together.

This grittily provocative debut explores the horrors of self-harm and the healing power of artistic expression. (author’s note) (Fiction. 14 & up)

Pub Date: Aug. 30, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-101-93471-5

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: May 4, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2016

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