BIG MOUTH & UGLY GIRL

A seasoned pro from the world of adult literature turns her keen observer’s eye to young-adult realism, with notable success. Big Mouth is Matt Donaghy, and when the reader first meets him, he is being led from class under police escort, having been overheard in the cafeteria threatening to blow up the school. Ugly Girl is Ursula Riggs, athletic and alienated, and she is the only student who understands instantly that the terrorism accusations against Matt are wholly baseless and is willing to act to clear him. Thus begins a friendship that develops as Matt sinks further and further into depression with the realization that his friends were all too willing to abandon him and as Ursula allows herself to relinquish the safe distance she’s always kept. Oates effectively evokes the culture of high school, where association is everything and rumor almost always preferable to truth. By beginning the tale with Matt’s accusation, she leaves herself room for a leisurely exploration of the personal and social repercussions on the kids, on the school, and on the families. The narrative moves back and forth from third person to first person as it tells Matt’s and Ursula’s stories, respectively. Ursula herself is an effectively drawn character, a girl who feels such a need to defend herself from the world of conformity that she has created an alter-ego she refers to in the third person: “I wiped at my eyes, annoyed that they were wet. It must’ve been caused by the March wind off the river for Ugly Girl doesn’t cry.” If Matt isn’t quite so effectively presented by comparison and if some of the secondary characters are so underdeveloped as to be stock, the story itself and the way it unfolds is compelling enough to override these details. Honest and penetrating. (Fiction. YA)

Pub Date: May 1, 2002

ISBN: 0-06-623756-4

Page Count: 272

Publisher: HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2002

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There’s not much plot here, but readers will relish the opportunity to climb inside Autumn’s head.

IF HE HAD BEEN WITH ME

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. 13, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2013

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This gripping page-turner will keep readers guessing until the final twist.

SHE'S GONE

Seventeen-year-old Hunter Gifford has no memories of the car accident he was in the night of the homecoming dance with Chloe Summers, his now-missing girlfriend.

In the small southern Kentucky city of Bentley, comments on social media condemn Hunter as responsible for Chloe’s disappearance. When he attends the community vigil for her, Chloe’s mother publicly accuses Hunter of obstructing the investigation. Hunter’s own mom died when he was 15 and his sister, Olivia, was 12. Their dad has awkwardly attempted to pull his weight as a solo parent, and Hunter has stepped in and nurtured Livvy. Small but mighty Livvy is an ardent defender of her brother and is fiercely in love with her girlfriend, Gabriela. To make things worse, childhood friend Daniel informs Hunter that he’s making a true-crime documentary about Chloe. Hunter is upset, especially since it makes him look like a prime suspect, and a subsequent dramatic event draws more attention to the video. Hunter and Chloe met in creative writing club, and he knew she kept a journal—but it’s missing. Enter the sleuthing team of Hunter, Livvy, and Gabriela, who hatch a plan to find it. The dynamics between Hunter and Livvy and Livvy and Gabriela are endearing and will charm readers, who will root for them to solve the well-executed mystery. Main characters default to White; Gabriela is Mexican American.

This gripping page-turner will keep readers guessing until the final twist. (Thriller. 14-18)

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-72825-420-3

Page Count: 360

Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire

Review Posted Online: Aug. 31, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2022

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