An excellent supernatural tale with a unique premise and indelible characters.

SMOKE AND KEY

Sutton’s (Gardenia, 2017, etc.) paranormal YA thriller sees a young woman trapped in an afterlife realm, trying to solve the mystery of her own death.

As the story opens, a young woman wakes in a dark, confined space. “Let me out!” she screams before falling into a dirty cavern. After orienting herself, she meets a handsome young man holding an unlit cigar who introduces himself as “no one,” adding that “We’re all no one.” She learns that he goes by the name Smoke; she soon meets another girl named Doll, after her one possession. The young woman has a key around her neck, so this becomes her name. It turns out that a small village of people live in “Under,” in homes fashioned from dirt. Nobody recalls their lives before they arrived there, but everyone maintains the markings (or coloration) that they had when they died; chillingly, Smoke has a slash across his throat. When a frightening man named Splinter accosts Key, Smoke saves her, and she goes on to befriend a girl named Ribbon as well as a man named Journal, from whom she borrows books. Yet how did books—and other objects, such as beds—come to be in Under? An even graver puzzle confronts Key when Splinter is found burned to a crisp. In this moody YA fantasy, Sutton offers a propulsive, multilayered mystery: How did her characters reach Under, and what’s the tangled nature of their relationships? There’s also a quiet sensuality to Key’s narration, as when she notices that, “Every line of [Smoke’s] body is elegant, and my fear is overpowered by admiration.” The plot slowly tiptoes forward as Key receives notes from an unknown scribe; one says, “Swim across the river,” which turns out to refer to a “river” of twisted tree roots. Sutton takes this dreamlike atmosphere a step further when Key begins to remember her former existence. More burned bodies appear, details of characters’ lives creep in, and pressure mounts for Key to stop the carnage. The superior pacing during the final third makes the ending hit like a slow-motion cannon blast.

An excellent supernatural tale with a unique premise and indelible characters.

Pub Date: April 2, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-64063-600-2

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Entangled Teen

Review Posted Online: March 26, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2019

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A familiar but heartfelt romance for easygoing readers.

ADORKABLE

In O’Gorman’s YA debut, two best friends try to fool people into thinking that they’re in love—and then discover a new facet of their relationship.

Sally Spitz is a frizzy-haired 17-year-old girl with a charming zeal for three things: Harry Potter (she’s a Gryffindor), Star Wars, and getting into Duke University. During her senior year of high school, she goes on a slew of miserable dates, set up by her mother and her own second-best–friend–turned-matchmaker, Lillian Hooker. Sally refuses to admit to anyone that she’s actually head over Converses in love with her longtime best friend, a boy named Baldwin Eugene Charles Kent, aka “Becks.” After a particularly awkward date, Sally devises a plan to end Lillian’s matchmaking attempts; specifically, she plans to hire someone to act as her fake boyfriend, or “F.B.F.” But before Sally can put her plan into action, a rumor circulates that Sally and Becks are already dating. Becks agrees to act as Sally’s F.B.F. in exchange for a box of Goobers and Sally’s doing his calculus homework for a month. Later, as they hold hands in the hall and “practice” make-out sessions in Becks’ bedroom, their friendship heads into unfamiliar territory. Over the course of this novel, O’Gorman presents an inviting and enjoyable account of lifelong friendship transforming into young love. Though the author’s reliance on familiar tropes may be comforting to a casual reader, it may frustrate those who may be looking for a more substantial and less predictable plot. A number of ancillary characters lack very much complexity, and the story, overall, would have benefited from an added twist or two. Even so, however, this remains a largely engaging and often endearing debut. 

A familiar but heartfelt romance for easygoing readers.

Pub Date: Dec. 3, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-64063-759-7

Page Count: 340

Publisher: Entangled: Teen

Review Posted Online: Jan. 7, 2020

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LYDDIE

Abandoned by their mother, whose mental stability has been crumbling since her husband went west, Lyddie and her brother Charlie manage alone through a Vermont winter. But in the spring of 1844, without consulting them, the mother apprentices Charlie to a miller and hires Lyddie out to a tavern, where she is little better than a slave. Still, Lyddie is strong and indomitable, and the cook is friendly even if the mistress is cold and stern; Lyddie manages well enough until a run-in with the mistress sends her south to work in the mills of Lowell, Massachusetts, thus earning a better wage (in a vain hope of saving the family farm), making friends among the other girls enduring the long hours and dangerous conditions, and expanding her understanding of loyalty, generosity, and injustice (she already knows more than most people ever learn about perseverance). Knowing only her own troubled family, Lyddie is unusually reserved, even for a New Englander, With her usual discernment and consummate skill, Paterson depicts her gradually turning toward the warmth of others' kindnesses—Betsy reads Oliver Twist aloud and suggests the ultimate goal of Oberlin College; Diana teaches Lyddie to cope in the mill, setting an example that Lyddie later follows with an Irish girl who is even more naive than she had been; Quaker neighbors offer help and solace that Lyddie at first rejects out of hand. Deftly plotted and rich in incident, a well-researched picture of the period—and a memorable portrait of an untutored but intelligent young woman making her way against fierce odds.

Pub Date: March 1, 1991

ISBN: 0-525-67338-5

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Dutton

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2000

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