Overall, a compelling and genuine coming-of-age story.

Chinese American teens contend with the unpredictability of life.

Seventeen-year-old Serene Li has always admired her mother for moving from Beijing to the U.S. by herself while pregnant and achieving success as a single parent and trailblazing fashion designer. When her mother is diagnosed with stage 3 pancreatic cancer, Serene suddenly faces a future alone—unless she can find her father. Serene’s classmate Lian Chen also feels desperate. At school, he endures microaggressions from students and teachers; at home, he faces intense parental pressure to test into a competitive engineering program at MIT. Lian’s true passion is stand-up, but he knows his parents would never allow him to pursue such an uncertain career. When his college admissions counselor advises him to demonstrate leadership skills, Lian starts a Chinese club at school, counting on his classmates’ apathy to leave him with time and space to practice his comedy. He doesn’t anticipate popular, pretty Serene showing up to learn Chinese—or their gradual bonding over shared experiences, including being the only Asian American kids in their affluent, White Southern California town. The novel’s strength lies in its thoughtful, nuanced depictions of the teens’ complicated relationships with their immigrant parents, which deftly incorporates overarching themes of prejudice, assimilation, and heritage-seeking. Unfortunately, clunky wording in romantic scenes and a rushed, too-tidy conclusion that belies the book’s skill in portraying life’s complexity, unfairness, and unpredictability detract from the otherwise emotionally immersive story.

Overall, a compelling and genuine coming-of-age story. (Fiction. 14-18)

Pub Date: May 31, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-06-294110-7

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Katherine Tegen/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: March 1, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2022


There’s not much plot here, but readers will relish the opportunity to climb inside Autumn’s head.

The finely drawn characters capture readers’ attention in this debut.

Autumn and Phineas, nicknamed Finny, were born a week apart; their mothers are still best friends. Growing up, Autumn and Finny were like peas in a pod despite their differences: Autumn is “quirky and odd,” while Finny is “sweet and shy and everyone like[s] him.” But in eighth grade, Autumn and Finny stop being friends due to an unexpected kiss. They drift apart and find new friends, but their friendship keeps asserting itself at parties, shared holiday gatherings and random encounters. In the summer after graduation, Autumn and Finny reconnect and are finally ready to be more than friends. But on August 8, everything changes, and Autumn has to rely on all her strength to move on. Autumn’s coming-of-age is sensitively chronicled, with a wide range of experiences and events shaping her character. Even secondary characters are well-rounded, with their own histories and motivations.

There’s not much plot here, but readers will relish the opportunity to climb inside Autumn’s head.   (Fiction. 14 & up)

Pub Date: April 1, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-4022-7782-5

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire

Review Posted Online: Feb. 12, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2013


An ode to the children of migrants who have been taken away.

A Mexican American boy takes on heavy responsibilities when his family is torn apart.

Mateo’s life is turned upside down the day U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents show up unsuccessfully seeking his Pa at his New York City bodega. The Garcias live in fear until the day both parents are picked up; his Pa is taken to jail and his Ma to a detention center. The adults around Mateo offer support to him and his 7-year-old sister, Sophie, however, he knows he is now responsible for caring for her and the bodega as well as trying to survive junior year—that is, if he wants to fulfill his dream to enter the drama program at the Tisch School of the Arts and become an actor. Mateo’s relationships with his friends Kimmie and Adam (a potential love interest) also suffer repercussions as he keeps his situation a secret. Kimmie is half Korean (her other half is unspecified) and Adam is Italian American; Mateo feels disconnected from them, less American, and with worries they can’t understand. He talks himself out of choosing a safer course of action, a decision that deepens the story. Mateo’s self-awareness and inner monologue at times make him seem older than 16, and, with significant turmoil in the main plot, some side elements feel underdeveloped. Aleman’s narrative joins the ranks of heart-wrenching stories of migrant families who have been separated.

An ode to the children of migrants who have been taken away. (Fiction. 14-18)

Pub Date: May 4, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-7595-5605-8

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Feb. 22, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2021

Close Quickview