JESS, CHUNK, AND THE ROAD TRIP TO INFINITY

Well-meaning and timely but not as strong as Meredith Russo’s If I Was Your Girl and Brie Spangler’s Beast (both 2016)

A trans girl artist goes on a road trip with her fat best friend and publicly dresses as her true self for the first time.

Jess (Jeremy to Jess' dad) and Christophe (Chunk to Jess) are on their way to the wedding of Jess' estranged dad. Thanks to her father’s transphobia, Jess has been on hormones for only the seven months since she turned 18, and she's worried about passing. As they drive from liberal San Jose through places about which Jess has only fearful stereotypes, she seesaws from euphoria at the freedom of living openly to utter terror. Does she have visible stubble? Will she be murdered in a gas-station toilet? Jess realizes slowly that there are trans and trans-friendly people all over the U.S. She realizes even more slowly that—regardless of her own gender—she can behave in some pretty rotten ways to her loved ones. Jess' personal growth comes slowly, and she treats her overwhelmingly considerate best friend in fatphobic ways he clearly loathes. At the moment of truth an out-of-the-blue epiphany provides a happy ending. Written by the mother of a trans woman, the narrative appears at times to be more a vehicle for communicating the essential humanity of trans people than a fully developed story; both Jess and Christophe appear to be white by default.

Well-meaning and timely but not as strong as Meredith Russo’s If I Was Your Girl and Brie Spangler’s Beast (both 2016) . (Fiction. 12-16)

Pub Date: Nov. 8, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-374-38006-9

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: July 25, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2016

THE FIELD GUIDE TO THE NORTH AMERICAN TEENAGER

Despite some missteps, this will appeal to readers who enjoy a fresh and realistic teen voice.

A teenage, not-so-lonely loner endures the wilds of high school in Austin, Texas.

Norris Kaplan, the protagonist of Philippe’s debut novel, is a hypersweaty, uber-snarky black, Haitian, French-Canadian pushing to survive life in his new school. His professor mom’s new tenure-track job transplants Norris mid–school year, and his biting wit and sarcasm are exposed through his cataloging of his new world in a field guide–style burn book. He’s greeted in his new life by an assortment of acquaintances, Liam, who is white and struggling with depression; Maddie, a self-sacrificing white cheerleader with a heart of gold; and Aarti, his Indian-American love interest who offers connection. Norris’ ego, fueled by his insecurities, often gets in the way of meaningful character development. The scenes showcasing his emotional growth are too brief and, despite foreshadowing, the climax falls flat because he still gets incredible personal access to people he’s hurt. A scene where Norris is confronted by his mother for getting drunk and belligerent with a white cop is diluted by his refusal or inability to grasp the severity of the situation and the resultant minor consequences. The humor is spot-on, as is the representation of the black diaspora; the opportunity for broader conversations about other topics is there, however, the uneven buildup of detailed, meaningful exchanges and the glibness of Norris’ voice detract.

Despite some missteps, this will appeal to readers who enjoy a fresh and realistic teen voice. (Fiction. 13-16)

Pub Date: Jan. 8, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-06-282411-0

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Oct. 14, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2018

NEVER FALL DOWN

Though it lacks references or suggestions for further reading, Arn's agonizing story is compelling enough that many readers...

A harrowing tale of survival in the Killing Fields.

The childhood of Arn Chorn-Pond has been captured for young readers before, in Michelle Lord and Shino Arihara's picture book, A Song for Cambodia (2008). McCormick, known for issue-oriented realism, offers a fictionalized retelling of Chorn-Pond's youth for older readers. McCormick's version begins when the Khmer Rouge marches into 11-year-old Arn's Cambodian neighborhood and forces everyone into the country. Arn doesn't understand what the Khmer Rouge stands for; he only knows that over the next several years he and the other children shrink away on a handful of rice a day, while the corpses of adults pile ever higher in the mango grove. Arn does what he must to survive—and, wherever possible, to protect a small pocket of children and adults around him. Arn's chilling history pulls no punches, trusting its readers to cope with the reality of children forced to participate in murder, torture, sexual exploitation and genocide. This gut-wrenching tale is marred only by the author's choice to use broken English for both dialogue and description. Chorn-Pond, in real life, has spoken eloquently (and fluently) on the influence he's gained by learning English; this prose diminishes both his struggle and his story.

Though it lacks references or suggestions for further reading, Arn's agonizing story is compelling enough that many readers will seek out the history themselves. (preface, author's note) (Historical fiction. 12-15)

Pub Date: May 8, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-06-173093-1

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: March 20, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2012

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