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A high-interest read for its exploration of complex topics without simple answers.

After the death of a friend, a teenage boy struggles to move on and open himself up to others in this debut novel.

High school junior Joel Higgins volunteers at a soup kitchen every Wednesday, in part to fulfill his community service requirement and in part to spend time with Eli, the girl he’s loved since seventh grade. Unlike Joel, Eli believes in God—and also that she can fix anything if she tries hard enough. Instead of telling Eli or anyone else about his feelings, Joel writes—but doesn’t send—text messages on his phone to Eli; his best friend, Andy, who died of leukemia last year; and their school’s principal. Through his messages, Joel declares his love and struggles for solutions to the problems that weigh on him. When he meets Rooster, a homeless veteran with PTSD, Joel’s obsession with helping him leads him down an irreversible path of progressively greater challenges. Written in first person interspersed with a series of text messages, Joel’s distinctive voice gives personality to the narration. Reilly delves into themes of poverty, mental illness, religion, censorship, and safe spaces. More than once, while holding a gun, Joel contemplates death. Despite the tough topics, the resolution leaves room for hope and growth. Main characters are white, and the book follows a white default.

A high-interest read for its exploration of complex topics without simple answers. (Fiction. 14-17)

Pub Date: Oct. 2, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-368-01633-9

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Disney-Hyperion

Review Posted Online: June 23, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2018

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From the Aurelian Cycle series , Vol. 1

Full of drama, emotional turmoil, and high stakes.

What happens to the world after the dust from a revolution has settled?

Friends Annie and Lee were children from very different circles when Atreus killed Lee’s father, dragonlord Leon Stormscourge, ending the uprising on the bloodiest day in Callipolis’ history. For too long the dragonriders held all the power while their people starved and lived in fear. Nine years later, a new generation of dragonriders is emerging, children selected and trained on merit, not bloodlines. Their dragons are finally mature enough for them to compete for Firstrider, a position of power that can give Lee back a small part of what his family lost. However, not only is Lee competing against Annie, but rumors are circulating that some of the royal family have survived and have dragons of their own. Everyone will have to make a choice: Restore the old regime, support the First Protector and the new caste system he created, or look for a new way, no matter what the cost. From the beginning, this book pulls readers in with political intrigue and action. What keeps them invested, however, are the complex relationships between many cast members. Choices are complex, and the consequences for all could be deadly. The world is well fleshed out and believable. Annie and Lee are light skinned; secondary characters are diverse, and race is a nonissue in this world.

Full of drama, emotional turmoil, and high stakes. (author’s note) (Fantasy.14-17)

Pub Date: Oct. 15, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-51821-1

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: July 23, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2019

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Several yards short of a touchdown.

A transgender boy starting over at a new school falls hard for a popular cheerleader with a reputation to protect in this debut.

On the first day of senior year, transgender boy Pony locks eyes with cisgender cheerleader Georgia. They both have pasts they want to leave behind. No one at Hillcrest High knows that Pony is transgender, and he intends to keep it that way. Georgia’s last boyfriend shook her trust in boys, and now she’s determined to forget him. As mutual attraction draws them together, Pony and Georgia must decide what they are willing to risk for a relationship. Pony’s best friend, Max, who is also transgender, disapproves of Pony’s choice to live stealth; this disagreement leads to serious conflict in their relationship. Meanwhile, Georgia and Pony behave as if Pony’s trans identity was a secret he was lying to her about rather than private information for him to share of his own volition. The characters only arrive at a hopeful resolution after Pony pays high physical and emotional prices. McSmith places repeated emphasis on the born-in-the-wrong-body narrative when the characters discuss trans identities. Whiteness is situated as the norm, and all main characters are white.

Several yards short of a touchdown. (Fiction. 14-17)

Pub Date: May 26, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-294317-0

Page Count: 368

Publisher: HarperTeen

Review Posted Online: Feb. 8, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2020

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