BUDDAH BOY

Koja (Straydog, 2002) gives the tried and true “oddball new student vs. the bullies” theme a well-oiled workout. Comfortably invisible within the crowd, Justin at first wants nothing to do with new transfer Michael, or “Jinsen,” to use his “spiritual name.” After all, his shaved head, oversized shirt, and habit of wandering about the lunchroom with a begging bowl quickly earn him the nickname “Buddha boy” from alpha male McManus and his circle of goons. As he watches Jinsen respond calmly to escalating harassment, though, Justin’s reserve begins to break down—particularly after he discovers that Jinsen is a superb artist, and learns that he had once been an incorrigible sociopath who had turned his life around with a conversion to Buddhism after being orphaned. Fortunately for the tale’s credibility, Jinsen’s self-possession isn’t superhuman, and after two prized art projects are vandalized, only Justin’s well-timed intervention gives him the moment he needs to regain his hard-won balance. Justin also does the friend thing by blowing the whistle on McManus, and unlike so many similar situations in teen fiction, justice is thoroughly, satisfyingly served. Koja barely touches on Buddhist practices and principles, but she does show how loving one’s enemies rather that hating them often makes them crazy, as well as securing the moral high ground. Jerry Spinelli she is not (or not yet), but fans of Crash (1996), Loser (2002), and the like will enjoy the familiar scenery. (Fiction. 12+)

Pub Date: March 4, 2003

ISBN: 0-374-30998-1

Page Count: 128

Publisher: Frances Foster/Farrar, Straus & Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2003

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Engrossing, contemplative, and as heart-wrenching as the title promises.

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THEY BOTH DIE AT THE END

What would you do with one day left to live?

In an alternate present, a company named Death-Cast calls Deckers—people who will die within the coming day—to inform them of their impending deaths, though not how they will happen. The End Day call comes for two teenagers living in New York City: Puerto Rican Mateo and bisexual Cuban-American foster kid Rufus. Rufus needs company after a violent act puts cops on his tail and lands his friends in jail; Mateo wants someone to push him past his comfort zone after a lifetime of playing it safe. The two meet through Last Friend, an app that connects lonely Deckers (one of many ways in which Death-Cast influences social media). Mateo and Rufus set out to seize the day together in their final hours, during which their deepening friendship blossoms into something more. Present-tense chapters, short and time-stamped, primarily feature the protagonists’ distinctive first-person narrations. Fleeting third-person chapters give windows into the lives of other characters they encounter, underscoring how even a tiny action can change the course of someone else’s life. It’s another standout from Silvera (History Is All You Left Me, 2017, etc.), who here grapples gracefully with heavy questions about death and the meaning of a life well-lived.

Engrossing, contemplative, and as heart-wrenching as the title promises. (Speculative fiction. 13-adult).

Pub Date: Sept. 5, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-06-245779-0

Page Count: 384

Publisher: HarperTeen

Review Posted Online: June 5, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2017

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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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