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WHAT YOU ALWAYS WANTED

From the If Only series

Sure to please any teen who loves the arts or dreams of musical-style romance.

Toto, I’ve got a feeling we’re not in the big city anymore.

For thespian Maddie Brooks, junior year of high school is off to a rocky start. Forced to leave Chicago after her father loses his job, Maddie finds herself relocated to suburban Houston, a land of cowboy hats and four-wheelers so foreign to her that it might as well be over the rainbow. Focusing on drama to help navigate her life transition, Maddie devotes her energy to landing a part in the local theater’s production of Crazy for You. The only problem is…she doesn’t know how to tap dance. Enter Jesse Morales, her former dancer–turned–baseball star of a next-door neighbor. Jesse is handsome, well-mannered, and everything that Maddie could hope for…except that her fantasy boyfriend is Gene Kelly, not Albert Pujols. Rae’s (Wish You Were Italian, 2014) second novel in the If Only series proves that she knows her teen audience well, delivering a story that is well-paced, engaging, and enjoyable. Maddie is an appealing protagonist, as sassy and sophisticated as she is occasionally self-absorbed. Her great struggle ultimately is not with dance or boyfriends but with her expectation that life mirror the old-Hollywood movies she reveres. Though the plot resolution is unsurprising, snappy dialogue and compulsively readable prose render the characters fresh and the situations entertaining.

Sure to please any teen who loves the arts or dreams of musical-style romance. (Fiction. 12-16)

Pub Date: March 29, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-61963-821-1

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: Dec. 21, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2016

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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

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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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