Plot and pacing could be tighter, but packed with vivid cultural scenery, this ambitious debut offers readers a journey...

A PSALM FOR LOST GIRLS

Tess da Costa was believed to work miracles but lost street cred after failing to find Ana, a child abductee; when, months after Tess dies, Ana’s found alive, Tess appears slated for sainthood—unless her sister, Callie, can stop it.

Callie, white and wrapped in grief and anger, has no compassion to spare for Tess’ followers, desperately coping with troubles of their own, or for Tess’ Puerto Rican boyfriend, Danny, whom she recruits in her crusade. Callie’s failing in school and at war with her hospital-receptionist single mom. Her feelings for Tess (and the church) are complicated. If Tess, 17, was the angel, Callie, 16, felt like her demonic twin. Tess’ journal, excerpted throughout, reveals that being cast as saintly was no picnic, either. Not all plot elements mesh neatly. Callie and Danny’s hunt for Ana’s abductor, a plot thread explored partly from Ana’s point of view, has gravitas; however resolved, a child abduction leaves lasting scars. While Callie’s family history takes up a fair chunk of plot real estate, she’s the story’s beating heart—scrappy, resentful, funny, and, above all, observant of her hardscrabble, working-class southeastern Massachusetts town and its denizens. Of Portuguese, Latino, and Irish descent (but not Cape Verdean), with strong cultural and religious (Roman Catholic) immigrant ties, they’ve struggled economically since the mills closed.

Plot and pacing could be tighter, but packed with vivid cultural scenery, this ambitious debut offers readers a journey worth taking. (Fiction. 12-16)

Pub Date: March 14, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-399-54525-2

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: Dec. 21, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2017

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An eerie thriller reminiscent of summer horror movies that will keep readers on edge.

THE LAKE

Two teens with a dark secret return to their old summer camp.

Childhood friends Esme and Kayla can’t wait to return to Camp Pine Lake as counselors-in-training, ready to try everything they couldn’t do when they were younger: find cute boys, stay up late, and sneak out after hours. Even Andy, their straight-laced supervisor, can’t dampen their excitement, especially after they meet the crushworthy Olly and Jake. An intuitive 17-year-old, Esme is ready to jump in and teach her cute little campers. But when a threatening message appears, Esme and Kayla realize the secret they’ve kept hidden for nearly a decade is no longer safe. Paranoia and fear soon cause Esme and Kayla to revisit their ominous secret and realize that nobody in the camp can be trusted. The slow buildup of suspense and the use of classic horror elements contrast with lighthearted camp activities, bonding with new friends, and budding romance. Similarly, Esme’s first-person point of view allows for increased tension and action as well as offering insight into her emotional and mental well-being. Discussions of adulthood, trauma, and recovery are subtle and realistic, but acts of sexism and machismo aren’t fully analyzed. While the strong buildup of action comes late, it leads to a shockingly satisfying finale. Major characters are White.

An eerie thriller reminiscent of summer horror movies that will keep readers on edge. (Thriller. 12-16)

Pub Date: March 2, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-12497-0

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: Dec. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2021

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Though it lacks references or suggestions for further reading, Arn's agonizing story is compelling enough that many readers...

NEVER FALL DOWN

A harrowing tale of survival in the Killing Fields.

The childhood of Arn Chorn-Pond has been captured for young readers before, in Michelle Lord and Shino Arihara's picture book, A Song for Cambodia (2008). McCormick, known for issue-oriented realism, offers a fictionalized retelling of Chorn-Pond's youth for older readers. McCormick's version begins when the Khmer Rouge marches into 11-year-old Arn's Cambodian neighborhood and forces everyone into the country. Arn doesn't understand what the Khmer Rouge stands for; he only knows that over the next several years he and the other children shrink away on a handful of rice a day, while the corpses of adults pile ever higher in the mango grove. Arn does what he must to survive—and, wherever possible, to protect a small pocket of children and adults around him. Arn's chilling history pulls no punches, trusting its readers to cope with the reality of children forced to participate in murder, torture, sexual exploitation and genocide. This gut-wrenching tale is marred only by the author's choice to use broken English for both dialogue and description. Chorn-Pond, in real life, has spoken eloquently (and fluently) on the influence he's gained by learning English; this prose diminishes both his struggle and his story.

Though it lacks references or suggestions for further reading, Arn's agonizing story is compelling enough that many readers will seek out the history themselves. (preface, author's note) (Historical fiction. 12-15)

Pub Date: May 8, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-06-173093-1

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: March 21, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2012

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