An initially fresh, original narrative swamped by tired tropes and conventional resolution. Pity.

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DRAMA QUEENS IN THE HOUSE

Jessie’s world revolves around the Minnesota theater company her parents co-founded, so she’s considerably shaken up when she surprises her dad, Mark, in a passionate embrace with Brad, the company’s costumer.

Mark, who’s black, moves out, the theater goes on, and Jessie adapts to her reconfigured family. Less resilient, her mother, Una, who’s white, dives into an affair with the company’s other co-founder. Her dad’s family excepted, Jessie’s world is white. (Jessie, 15 and a high school graduate, belongs to the burgeoning biracial-genius category.) Sensing her gifts lie in writing and directing, Jessie breaks with tradition and enrolls in a writing workshop instead of helping with theater summer school. Sexual orientation, coming out and celebrating progress toward marriage equality are central to plot and theme; characters are explicitly gay, straight or, like Jessie herself, undecided Then in a puzzling development that feels borrowed from another narrative, race, until now carrying little emotional or thematic weight, replaces sexual orientation as the catalyst for her development. Sexual orientation gets savvy, sensitive treatment, but the presentation of race is clumsy and simplistic. Previously effervescent and self-confident, Jessie now struggles with a self-limiting belief, racially nuanced, that she can’t dance. Since readers know Jessie has no ambitions to act or dance, why does it matter?

An initially fresh, original narrative swamped by tired tropes and conventional resolution. Pity. (Fiction. 12-16)

Pub Date: March 25, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-59643-735-7

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Roaring Brook

Review Posted Online: Dec. 18, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2014

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Skip this uninspired entry into the world of medieval love and court intrigue.

THE BETROTHED

From the Betrothed series , Vol. 1

In an imagined setting evoking medieval England, King Jameson of Coroa pursues Hollis Brite.

The independent teenager makes Jameson laugh, but she lacks the education and demeanor people expect in a queen. Her friend Delia Grace has more knowledge of history and languages but is shunned due to her illegitimate birth. Hollis gets caught up in a whirl of social activity, especially following an Isolten royal visit. There has been bad blood between the two countries, not fully explained here, and when an exiled Isolten family also comes to court, Jameson generously allows them to stay. Hollis relies on the family to teach her about Isolten customs and secretly falls in love with Silas, the oldest son, even though a relationship with him would mean relinquishing Jameson and the throne. When Hollis learns of political machinations that will affect her future in ways that she abhors, she faces a difficult decision. Romance readers will enjoy the usual descriptions of dresses, jewelry, young love, and discreet kisses, although many characters remain cardboard figures. While the violent climax may be upsetting, the book ends on a hopeful note. Themes related to immigration and young women’s taking charge of their lives don’t quite lift this awkwardly written volume above other royal romances. There are prejudicial references to Romani people, and whiteness is situated as the norm.

Skip this uninspired entry into the world of medieval love and court intrigue. (Historical romance. 13-16)

Pub Date: May 5, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-229163-9

Page Count: 320

Publisher: HarperTeen

Review Posted Online: Feb. 5, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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Heartbreaking, historical, and a little bit hopeful.

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SALT TO THE SEA

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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