An ambitiously structured road-trip novel stumbles a bit but gets a lot right.

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Two small-town Kentucky high school girls run away together.

Bo, whose voice narrates the story going forward from the night they steal Agnes' sister's car, is a sober bisexual virgin who's widely considered the school slut. Most of her family members are drunk or in jail, her father ran off, and her mother's addicted to meth. Agnes, whose voice in alternate chapters narrates the story in flashback from the beginning of her friendship with Bo, is legally blind from birth and chafing at the restrictions her well-meaning but hardly adventurous family puts upon her. She also drinks beer and has had sex with Bo's cousin. The two narratives come at each other from a distance, then cross in a way that drains some of the tension out of the conflict: by the time readers understand the reason for the white girls' sudden departure, they also know that Bo has made promises she never intended to keep, which puts the entire escapade in an uncomfortable light. A pat ending feels tacked-on, but Bo and Agnes' unlikely friendship rings true and strong. Agnes can see lights and shadows, and she is competent at navigating familiar areas with the help of a cane; she can read with heavy magnifiers. Her blindness never feels stereotyped, nor does the sense of small-town suffocation.

An ambitiously structured road-trip novel stumbles a bit but gets a lot right. (Fiction. 14-18)

Pub Date: June 28, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-545-83113-0

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: March 2, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2016

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This story is necessary. This story is important.

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THE HATE U GIVE

Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter is a black girl and an expert at navigating the two worlds she exists in: one at Garden Heights, her black neighborhood, and the other at Williamson Prep, her suburban, mostly white high school.

Walking the line between the two becomes immensely harder when Starr is present at the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend, Khalil, by a white police officer. Khalil was unarmed. Khalil’s death becomes national news, where he’s called a thug and possible drug dealer and gangbanger. His death becomes justified in the eyes of many, including one of Starr’s best friends at school. The police’s lackadaisical attitude sparks anger and then protests in the community, turning it into a war zone. Questions remain about what happened in the moments leading to Khalil’s death, and the only witness is Starr, who must now decide what to say or do, if anything. Thomas cuts to the heart of the matter for Starr and for so many like her, laying bare the systemic racism that undergirds her world, and she does so honestly and inescapably, balancing heartbreak and humor. With smooth but powerful prose delivered in Starr’s natural, emphatic voice, finely nuanced characters, and intricate and realistic relationship dynamics, this novel will have readers rooting for Starr and opening their hearts to her friends and family.

This story is necessary. This story is important. (Fiction. 14-adult)

Pub Date: Feb. 28, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-06-249853-3

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Dec. 6, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2016

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An unpolished grab bag of incidents that tries to make a point about racial inequality.

I'M NOT DYING WITH YOU TONIGHT

Two teenage girls—Lena and Campbell—come together following a football game night gone wrong.

Campbell, who is white and new to Atlanta, now attends the school where Lena, who is black, is a queen bee. At a game between McPherson High and their rival, a racist slur leads to fights, and shots are fired. The unlikely pair are thrown together as they try to escape the dangers on campus only to find things are even more perilous on the outside; a police blockade forces them to walk through a dangerous neighborhood toward home. En route, a peaceful protest turns into rioting, and the presence of police sets off a clash with protestors with gruesome consequences. The book attempts to tackle racial injustice in America by offering two contrasting viewpoints via narrators of different races. However, it portrays black characters as violent and criminal and the white ones as excusably ignorant and subtly racist, seemingly redeemed by moments when they pause to consider their privileges and biases. Unresolved story arcs, underdeveloped characters, and a jumpy plot that tries to pack too much into too small a space leave the story lacking. This is not a story of friendship but of how trauma can forge a bond—albeit a weak and questionable one—if only for a night.

An unpolished grab bag of incidents that tries to make a point about racial inequality. (Fiction. 15-adult)

Pub Date: Aug. 6, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-4926-7889-2

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire

Review Posted Online: May 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2019

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