A sympathetic protagonist and abundance of historical details mitigate this novel’s shortcomings.



A historical YA novel set in 1977 Tehran.

Alkofer’s debut describes events leading up to the Iranian Revolution from the point of view of a young American. Just before the start of her freshman year of high school, Lizzie McCall’s family moves to Tehran, Iran. Her father’s job as a defense contractor has brought them to the Middle Eastern city. Lizzie is determined to do well in school both academically and athletically in order to get into Yale. She also seems determined to live the life of a normal teenager. In an apartment building filled with Westerners and attending Tehran American High School, she’s somewhat sheltered from the way of life of average Iranians. However, through people like their housekeeper and the young man who serves as the apartment building’s maintenance man, Lizzie is exposed to some of the issues affecting Iranians in 1977. Meanwhile, thanks to the shared phone line in their building, she’s busy playing spy and listening in to the mysterious conversations of their Israeli-American neighbor. When violence erupts in the city, Lizzie’s whole life changes as the city she had enjoyed living in becomes frightening and dangerous. The book is a mixture of descriptions of ordinary teenage events, such as going on dates and hanging out with friends, and sometimes exciting events outlining Lizzie’s attempts at espionage or the historical changes taking place in the city. The novel, framed by Lizzie looking back on the events from later in life, tends to sag with long-winded passages such as, “Miss O’Connell is my French teacher and also the soccer coach. I met her the first week we moved here. She coaches the Pars Club swim team, and her husband is the tennis pro. Caroline took a few lessons from him.” Despite this, the book speeds along and realistically describes the events—some mundane, some shocking—that Lizzie experiences while living in Iran.

A sympathetic protagonist and abundance of historical details mitigate this novel’s shortcomings.

Pub Date: Oct. 22, 2014

ISBN: 978-1500716752

Page Count: 196

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Jan. 2, 2015

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This story is necessary. This story is important.

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Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter is a black girl and an expert at navigating the two worlds she exists in: one at Garden Heights, her black neighborhood, and the other at Williamson Prep, her suburban, mostly white high school.

Walking the line between the two becomes immensely harder when Starr is present at the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend, Khalil, by a white police officer. Khalil was unarmed. Khalil’s death becomes national news, where he’s called a thug and possible drug dealer and gangbanger. His death becomes justified in the eyes of many, including one of Starr’s best friends at school. The police’s lackadaisical attitude sparks anger and then protests in the community, turning it into a war zone. Questions remain about what happened in the moments leading to Khalil’s death, and the only witness is Starr, who must now decide what to say or do, if anything. Thomas cuts to the heart of the matter for Starr and for so many like her, laying bare the systemic racism that undergirds her world, and she does so honestly and inescapably, balancing heartbreak and humor. With smooth but powerful prose delivered in Starr’s natural, emphatic voice, finely nuanced characters, and intricate and realistic relationship dynamics, this novel will have readers rooting for Starr and opening their hearts to her friends and family.

This story is necessary. This story is important. (Fiction. 14-adult)

Pub Date: Feb. 28, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-06-249853-3

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Dec. 6, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2016

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A bit of envelope-pushing freshens up the formula.


In honor of its 25th anniversary, a Disney Halloween horror/comedy film gets a sequel to go with its original novelization.

Three Salem witches hanged in 1693 for stealing a child’s life force are revived in 1993 when 16-year-old new kid Max completes a spell by lighting a magical candle (which has to be kindled by a virgin to work). Max and dazzling, popular classmate Allison have to keep said witches at bay until dawn to save all of the local children from a similar fate. Fast-forward to 2018: Poppy, daughter of Max and Allison, inadvertently works a spell that sends her parents and an aunt to hell in exchange for the gleeful witches. With help from her best friend, Travis, and classmate Isabella, on whom she has a major crush, Poppy has only hours to keep the weird sisters from working more evil. The witches, each daffier than the last, supply most of the comedy as well as plenty of menace but end up back in the infernal regions. There’s also a talking cat, a talking dog, a gaggle of costumed heroines, and an oblique reference to a certain beloved Halloween movie. Traditional Disney wholesomeness is spiced, not soured, by occasional innuendo and a big twist in the sequel. Poppy and her family are white, while Travis and Isabella are both African-American.

A bit of envelope-pushing freshens up the formula. (Fantasy. 10-15)

Pub Date: July 10, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-368-02003-9

Page Count: 528

Publisher: Freeform/Disney

Review Posted Online: June 17, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2018

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