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UNDER THE RADAR

A quiet tale of a young man learning to speak his truth.

A restrained rural coming-of-age and coming-out story.

Clark’s novel positions Alberta high school senior, wrestler, and farm kid Gunnar as determined to keep his gay identity private until he graduates. The story balances Gunnar’s self-awareness with concerns over what and who he has to lose, worried as he is that he has nothing in common with the out-and-proud crowd. Armed with a wardrobe update, things change when Gunnar protects an openly gay friend and assumptions about his sexuality swarm. His actions get him barred from sports and kicked out of P.E. Gunnar suspects homophobia is to blame, but he adapts to his new school cooking classes, takes a job with local gay farmers, and focuses on broadening his horizons and being himself. When Gunnar comes out to a friend, he faces some social ostracism but also benefits from gay role models, savvy teachers, and a supportive family. The slow pacing of this rural drama borders on flat, but Gunnar’s brooding inner narrative dovetails nicely with descriptions of the landscape and horseback riding. Unlike Gunnar’s cooking skills, nothing quite reaches a boil, but what the story lacks in tension is made up for in nuanced attention to interpersonal dynamics. Gunnar’s family members are Canadians of Icelandic descent, and most characters are white.

A quiet tale of a young man learning to speak his truth. (Fiction. 14-18)

Pub Date: April 28, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-77086-566-2

Page Count: 272

Publisher: DCB

Review Posted Online: March 24, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2020

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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

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IF ONLY I HAD TOLD HER

A heavy read about the harsh realities of tragedy and their effects on those left behind.

In this companion novel to 2013’s If He Had Been With Me, three characters tell their sides of the story.

Finn’s narrative starts three days before his death. He explores the progress of his unrequited love for best friend Autumn up until the day he finally expresses his feelings. Finn’s story ends with his tragic death, which leaves his close friends devastated, unmoored, and uncertain how to go on. Jack’s section follows, offering a heartbreaking look at what it’s like to live with grief. Jack works to overcome the anger he feels toward Sylvie, the girlfriend Finn was breaking up with when he died, and Autumn, the girl he was preparing to build his life around (but whom Jack believed wasn’t good enough for Finn). But when Jack sees how Autumn’s grief matches his own, it changes their understanding of one another. Autumn’s chapters trace her life without Finn as readers follow her struggles with mental health and balancing love and loss. Those who have read the earlier book will better connect with and feel for these characters, particularly since they’ll have a more well-rounded impression of Finn. The pain and anger is well written, and the novel highlights the most troublesome aspects of young adulthood: overconfidence sprinkled with heavy insecurities, fear-fueled decisions, bad communication, and brash judgments. Characters are cued white.

A heavy read about the harsh realities of tragedy and their effects on those left behind. (author’s note, content warning) (Fiction. 14-18)

Pub Date: Feb. 6, 2024

ISBN: 9781728276229

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire

Review Posted Online: Jan. 5, 2024

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2024

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