A fast-moving, upbeat mystery for readers willing to ignore major plot holes.

STAR POWER

From the Charly's Epic Fiascos series , Vol. 3

Teen reality TV star Charly and her co-star Liam head to the tiny town of Tallulahville, Minn., to make over an unwilling nerd but discover the mission is more complex than they'd realized.

After a dowdy young fan asks for her autograph, Charly becomes inspired to host a makeover show. She and Liam, with whom she has on-screen and off-screen flirtations, pitch the idea to the producers of their regular show, The Extreme Dream Team, and a month later, they're off to improve the appearance of one of the Tallulahville mayor's daughters, Nia. Their mission, however, is covert, as Nia does not wish to be made over, and only in the discussion questions following the text does the book invite readers to consider the ethics of publicly giving a makeover to someone who doesn't want one. Tallulahville is full of compelling mysteries: What happened to make nerdy Nia and her popular twin sister, Mya, so different? Why are the teens at a party acting so strangely? Who is sending Charly cryptic warnings, and what do they mean? Some of the answers, however, are difficult to swallow, and so are some of the book's premises. Why, for instance, are Charly's handlers so absent that she can't get a ride to visit her local contact?

A fast-moving, upbeat mystery for readers willing to ignore major plot holes. (Mystery. 12-16)

Pub Date: July 30, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-7582-8699-4

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Dafina/Kensington

Review Posted Online: June 8, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 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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A successful romantic enterprise.

THE UPSIDE OF FALLING

High school seniors do the fake dating thing.

Brett Wells has always been focused on football. Brainy Becca Hart’s faith in love was destroyed by her parents’ divorce. The two have little in common other than being pestered by their friends and families about the lack of a special someone in their lives. They embark upon a “fake relationship,” but, predictably, it gives way to a real one. Debut author Light sprinkles in just enough charm and good-natured romance as the narrative bounces between Brett’s and Becca’s perspectives to keep readers engaged but not overwhelmed by twee sentiment. Becca is a much better developed character than Brett (handsome yet doofy, he has the complexity of a golden retriever), and her chapters are the novel’s highlights. Brett’s whole deal is a bigger pill to swallow, but readers who go with it will find a pleasant story. The novel is a syrupy ode to what it feels like to slowly fall for someone for the first time, and that mood is captured effectively. Becca and Brett have chemistry that feels completely natural, but sadly there are some late-in-the-game plot mechanics that feel forced. Fortunately, the author seems as uninterested in these disruptions as readers will be: Things are resolved quickly, and the novel ends on a high note. Whiteness is situated as the norm; main characters are white.

A successful romantic enterprise. (Romance. 12-16)

Pub Date: Feb. 18, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-291805-5

Page Count: 288

Publisher: HarperTeen

Review Posted Online: Nov. 19, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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