A bold and inventive environmental tale with a striking protagonist.

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A teenager takes a year off to write the Great American Novel of climate change in this YA fiction debut.

High school junior Elaine Archer is having a climate change–driven existential crisis. After seeing a video of a sea turtle with a straw stuck up its nose, she can no longer sit quietly in class and concentrate on physics or algebra. Not when the environment is collapsing around her, no way. As she tells her two moms, “The world is literally falling apart!...And school isn’t teaching me a single thing that’s going to help….Every single kid is in school, only we’re not teaching them how to do anything that might help….That should be ALL we’re doing.” They agree to let Elaine take a year off—if worst comes to worst, she can go back and repeat a grade—but only if she can come up with a productive use of her time. Elaine decides she wants to write a novel, though she doesn’t know exactly what it will be about. Her new freedom gives her the opportunity to meet people she would not have otherwise, including artsy Chicago hipsters, a fellow aspiring teenage writer, and a celebrity author who turns out to be a real monster. Elaine is exposed to books and concepts that change the way she thinks not only about the climate, but also about human history, sexual politics, and the ways people interact with Earth. Ideas begin to percolate, and Elaine soon starts drafting a dystopian novel of her own. Yet her art cannot be fully separated from her life, and the relationships she’s forged around her begin to shape those that she creates for her characters. Elaine may not have the scientific know-how to fix climate change, but can she come up with a more useful story to explain the state of things than the one she’s been learning in school—even if that tale is just for her?

Mather’s prose, as narrated by the profane, flippant, and often hilarious Elaine, is vibrant and surprising. Here, the protagonist makes one of her many allusions to her favorite movie, Aliens, which is, for her, a Bible-like font of parables: “Ripley never begged Hicks to love her. Even when she says to him, If an alien gets me, you gotta promise to kill me so I don’t end up impregnated and with an alien bursting out of my chest….He just says, ‘If it comes to that, I’ll do us both….’ But she neverbegs.” The story is a thrilling read right from the beginning. As soon as Elaine is allowed to quit school, the normal rules seem no longer to apply. The tale eschews standard YA tropes and plot structure, taking Elaine and readers in unexpected directions. By the time readers are consuming Elaine’s novel alongside Mather’s, it will be clear that they are experiencing a work of unusual depth and ambition. It is a climate change novel, yes, but it’s a book about so much more: angst, idealism, self-discovery, and reclaiming the world by reclaiming the narrative.

A bold and inventive environmental tale with a striking protagonist.

Pub Date: April 22, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-73-295967-5

Page Count: 395

Publisher: Whisk(e)y Tit

Review Posted Online: June 30, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2021


A heavy read about the harsh realities of tragedy and their effects on those left behind.

In this companion novel to 2013’s If He Had Been With Me, three characters tell their sides of the story.

Finn’s narrative starts three days before his death. He explores the progress of his unrequited love for best friend Autumn up until the day he finally expresses his feelings. Finn’s story ends with his tragic death, which leaves his close friends devastated, unmoored, and uncertain how to go on. Jack’s section follows, offering a heartbreaking look at what it’s like to live with grief. Jack works to overcome the anger he feels toward Sylvie, the girlfriend Finn was breaking up with when he died, and Autumn, the girl he was preparing to build his life around (but whom Jack believed wasn’t good enough for Finn). But when Jack sees how Autumn’s grief matches his own, it changes their understanding of one another. Autumn’s chapters trace her life without Finn as readers follow her struggles with mental health and balancing love and loss. Those who have read the earlier book will better connect with and feel for these characters, particularly since they’ll have a more well-rounded impression of Finn. The pain and anger is well written, and the novel highlights the most troublesome aspects of young adulthood: overconfidence sprinkled with heavy insecurities, fear-fueled decisions, bad communication, and brash judgments. Characters are cued white.

A heavy read about the harsh realities of tragedy and their effects on those left behind. (author’s note, content warning) (Fiction. 14-18)

Pub Date: Feb. 6, 2024

ISBN: 9781728276229

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire

Review Posted Online: Jan. 5, 2024

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2024


An ode to the children of migrants who have been taken away.

A Mexican American boy takes on heavy responsibilities when his family is torn apart.

Mateo’s life is turned upside down the day U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents show up unsuccessfully seeking his Pa at his New York City bodega. The Garcias live in fear until the day both parents are picked up; his Pa is taken to jail and his Ma to a detention center. The adults around Mateo offer support to him and his 7-year-old sister, Sophie, however, he knows he is now responsible for caring for her and the bodega as well as trying to survive junior year—that is, if he wants to fulfill his dream to enter the drama program at the Tisch School of the Arts and become an actor. Mateo’s relationships with his friends Kimmie and Adam (a potential love interest) also suffer repercussions as he keeps his situation a secret. Kimmie is half Korean (her other half is unspecified) and Adam is Italian American; Mateo feels disconnected from them, less American, and with worries they can’t understand. He talks himself out of choosing a safer course of action, a decision that deepens the story. Mateo’s self-awareness and inner monologue at times make him seem older than 16, and, with significant turmoil in the main plot, some side elements feel underdeveloped. Aleman’s narrative joins the ranks of heart-wrenching stories of migrant families who have been separated.

An ode to the children of migrants who have been taken away. (Fiction. 14-18)

Pub Date: May 4, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-7595-5605-8

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Feb. 22, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2021

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