Unfortunately, even Team Edward may find Ruslan difficult to defend.

CASTLE OF CONCRETE

Love triangles tend to make people angry.

This novel—a coming-of-age story set in the Soviet Union in the early days of perestroika—may make readers upset for other reasons. Sonya is a 15-year-old Jewish girl, and the guy she’s dating might genuinely be one of the worst people on Earth. Ruslan is violent and bigoted, and he tends to patronize Sonya. He says things like, “it’s time you learned life a little…you little hedgehog in a fog.” Readers may wonder if Sonya is entering into an abusive relationship, especially when Ruslan tries to beat up his romantic rivals, like her other love interest, a perpetually tan Jewish boy named Misha Aizerman. The novel might have provided valuable insight into survivors of abuse if Ruslan were the least bit appealing, but the attraction seems to be mostly chemical. His eyes are apparently enchanting, because Sonya describes them every few chapters. Debut author Raina’s prose is often repetitive and clumsy, though from time to time it’s possible to glimpse the novel she meant to write, a moving story not only about love, but about political freedom and religious identity.

Unfortunately, even Team Edward may find Ruslan difficult to defend. (Historical fiction. 12-16)

Pub Date: June 11, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-9995416-3-0

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Young Europe Books

Review Posted Online: March 30, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2019

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

Heartbreaking, historical, and a little bit hopeful.

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

Google Rating

  • google rating
  • google rating
  • google rating
  • google rating
  • google rating
  • New York Times Bestseller

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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

A timely and well-paced story of personal discovery.

DISPLACEMENT

Time travel brings a girl closer to someone she’s never known.

Sixteen-year-old Kiku, who is Japanese and white, only knows bits and pieces of her family history. While on a trip with her mother to San Francisco from their Seattle home, they search for her grandmother’s childhood home. While waiting for her mother, who goes inside to explore the mall now standing there, a mysterious fog envelops Kiku and displaces her to a theater in the past where a girl is playing the violin. The gifted musician is Ernestina Teranishi, who Kiku later confirms is her late grandmother. To Kiku’s dismay, the fog continues to transport her, eventually dropping her down next door to Ernestina’s family in a World War II Japanese American internment camp. The clean illustrations in soothing browns and blues convey the characters’ intense emotions. Hughes takes inspiration from her own family’s story, deftly balancing complicated national history with explorations of cultural dislocation and biracial identity. As Kiku processes her experiences, Hughes draws parallels to President Donald Trump’s Muslim ban and the incarceration of migrant children. The emotional connection between Kiku and her grandmother is underdeveloped; despite their being neighbors, Ernestina appears briefly and feels elusive to both Kiku and readers up to the very end. Despite some loose ends, readers will gain insights to the Japanese American incarceration and feel called to activism.

A timely and well-paced story of personal discovery. (photographs, author’s note, glossary, further reading) (Graphic historical fantasy. 12-16)

Pub Date: Aug. 18, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-19353-7

Page Count: 288

Publisher: First Second

Review Posted Online: May 17, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2020

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet
more