Adoption entails lifelong losses along with joys, but its hard questions and nuanced complexities are airbrushed from this...

AUTOFOCUS

A photography-class assignment on the meaning of family prompts Maude, an adopted high school senior in Florida, to learn about her deceased birth mother, Claire.

Maude’s Indian-American BFF, Treena, attends Florida State University, which Claire attended and where Maude might apply. Parental permission secured, the white teen visits Treena, who promises to help; but partying, drinking, and hanging with her new boyfriend means she’s not there for Maude. Luckily, Treena’s dorm mate, an appealing Star Wars nerd, steps in and joins Maude’s quest, which leads to Claire’s high school, teachers, friends, foes, and family. Each discovery forces Maude to re-examine her image of Claire, as she also does with Treena. Maude’s high-concept struggle to condense a process into one snapshot has depth and pathos, but it is undermined by the incomplete portrait of adoption. A bright, artistic, edgy teen from a troubled background, Claire elicits Maude’s compassion, along with repulsion and relief at having been adopted by better parents. Maude expresses no sense of deep personal loss. After all, her affluent, “fit” parents have given her a better life than her impoverished birth family could. Claire’s (atypical) death in childbirth at 18 safely removed her from the story; Maude’s goal is to understand her mother as a teen in order to complete her own story. Claire’s peers play a greater role in Maude’s search than her birth family.

Adoption entails lifelong losses along with joys, but its hard questions and nuanced complexities are airbrushed from this affluence-cushioned world. (Fiction. 12-16)

Pub Date: June 14, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-06-230223-6

Page Count: 352

Publisher: HarperTeen

Review Posted Online: March 30, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2016

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A lushly written story with an intriguing heart.

ONCE UPON A BROKEN HEART

From the Once Upon a Broken Heart series , Vol. 1

After praying to a Fate for help, Evangeline discovers the dangerous world of magic.

When her father passes away, Evangeline is left with her cold stepmother and kind but distant stepsister, Marisol. Despite inheriting a steady trust in magic, belief in her late mother’s homeland of the mystical North (where fantastical creatures live), and philosophy of hope for the future, her dreams are dashed when Luc, her love, pledges to marry Marisol instead. Evangeline desperately prays to the Prince of Hearts, a dangerous and fickle Fate famed for his heart that is waiting to be revived by his one true love—and his potentially lethal kisses. The bargain they strike sends her on a dark and magical journey throughout the land. The writing style fluctuates from clever and original to overly verbose and often confusing in its jumble of senses. While the pervasive magic and concept of the Fates as a religious system add interest, other fantasy elements are haphazardly incorporated without enough time devoted to building a cohesive world. However, the themes of love, the power of story, family influence, and holding onto belief are well rounded and add depth. The plot contains welcome surprises, and the large cast piques curiosity; readers will wish more time was spent getting to know them. Evangeline has rose-gold hair and, like other main characters, reads as White; there is diversity among the fantasy races in this world.

A lushly written story with an intriguing heart. (map) (Fantasy. 12-16)

Pub Date: Sept. 28, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-250-26839-6

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Flatiron Books

Review Posted Online: July 28, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2021

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Not quite the wild ride of Skyward (2018) but still great fun.

STARSIGHT

From the Skyward series , Vol. 2

As if the threat of huge, raging monsters from hyperspace isn’t scary enough, hotshot fighter pilot Spensa Nightshade becomes embroiled in an alien empire’s politics.

On a desperate mission to steal hyperdrive technology from the crablike invading Krell who are threatening to destroy her beleaguered home colony on Detritus, Spensa, who is white, holographically disguises herself as a violet-skinned UrDail and slips into a Krell pilot training program for “lesser species.” The discovery that she’s being secretly trained not to fight planet-destroying delvers but to exterminate humans, who are (with some justification, having kindled three interstellar wars in past centuries) regarded in certain quarters as an irrationally aggressive species, is just one in a string of revelations as, in between numerous near-death experiences on practice flights, she struggles to understand both her own eerie abilities and the strange multispecies society in which she finds herself. There are so many characters besides Spensa searching for self-identity—notably her comic-relief sidekick AI M-Bot, troubled human friend Jorgen back on Detritus, and Morriumur, member of a species whose color-marked sexes create trial offspring—that even with a plot that defaults to hot action and escalating intrigue the pacing has a stop and start quality. Still, Spensa’s habitual over-the-top recklessness adds a rousing spark, and the author folds in plenty of banter as well as a colorful supporting cast.

Not quite the wild ride of Skyward (2018) but still great fun. (Science fiction. 12-15)

Pub Date: Nov. 26, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-399-55581-7

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: Oct. 13, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2019

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