Pitched for Downton Abbey fans but lacking both the style and the accuracy.

MANOR OF SECRETS

Upstairs, Lady Charlotte pines for a more adventurous, purposeful life, while downstairs, kitchen maid Janie doesn’t allow herself to consider any possibilities other than servitude.

The Manor is home to the Edmondses and all of the servants they require. Charlotte, age 16, understands that her mother, the icy Lady Diane wants her to marry dull Lord Andrew, but it’s a handsome footman who catches her eye and kisses her. She also forges a friendship with maid Janie, drawn to her adventurousness as well as her practical skills, though the admiration is not mutual. Alternating chapters reflect the two girls’ perspectives. The arrival of Charlotte’s cosmopolitan aunt, the Lady Beatrice, creates new questions in Charlotte’s mind about societal expectations and also about the mysterious coolness between Beatrice and Diane. References to corsets, airplanes, Worth gowns and “suffragettes” place the tale around 1910, as Old World values were beginning to shift. Longshore works in interesting details about period food and clothing, but characters’ speech and behavior often seem off, as, for instance, when servants riff on Shakespeare and the oh-so-proper Lady Diane refers to a “shiner.” The choppy prose style relies heavily on sentence fragments: “This was a test. Of her fortitude. But also of her ability to disregard the wall that separated mistress from servant.”

Pitched for Downton Abbey fans but lacking both the style and the accuracy. (Historical romance. 12-16)

Pub Date: Jan. 28, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-545-56758-9

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Point/Scholastic

Review Posted Online: Oct. 23, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2013

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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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Characters to love, quips to snort at, insights to ponder: typical Spinelli.

DEAD WEDNESDAY

For two teenagers, a small town’s annual cautionary ritual becomes both a life- and a death-changing experience.

On the second Wednesday in June, every eighth grader in Amber Springs, Pennsylvania, gets a black shirt, the name and picture of a teen killed the previous year through reckless behavior—and the silent treatment from everyone in town. Like many of his classmates, shy, self-conscious Robbie “Worm” Tarnauer has been looking forward to Dead Wed as a day for cutting loose rather than sober reflection…until he finds himself talking to a strange girl or, as she would have it, “spectral maiden,” only he can see or touch. Becca Finch is as surprised and confused as Worm, only remembering losing control of her car on an icy slope that past Christmas Eve. But being (or having been, anyway) a more outgoing sort, she sees their encounter as a sign that she’s got a mission. What follows, in a long conversational ramble through town and beyond, is a day at once ordinary yet rich in discovery and self-discovery—not just for Worm, but for Becca too, with a climactic twist that leaves both ready, or readier, for whatever may come next. Spinelli shines at setting a tongue-in-cheek tone for a tale with serious underpinnings, and as in Stargirl (2000), readers will be swept into the relationship that develops between this adolescent odd couple. Characters follow a White default.

Characters to love, quips to snort at, insights to ponder: typical Spinelli. (Fiction. 12-15)

Pub Date: Aug. 3, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-30667-3

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: June 1, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2021

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