A penetrating look at the power in the stories we tell ourselves but just a glancing one at the juvenile-justice system.

THE FREE

A Boston-area youth in juvenile detention finds redemption in stories—his and his fellow inmates’.

Car thief Isaac West just has to get through 30 days in juvie, and then he’ll be out and able to protect his beloved little sister from their appalling single mother, an alcoholic prostitute. But he doesn’t bargain on the group-therapy program that has him writing down his “crime story” and then acting it out in a process that combines story critique and reliving his most painful memories. When he’s not in therapy he hangs with the geeks in computer class, mostly so he can email his sister, which is how he almost unwittingly becomes “poems and shit” editor of the inmate newsletter, The Free. McLaughlin creates a correctional facility that’s realistically organized along gang and racial lines, with the exception of the geeks, a multiethnic crew of lovable cons. Actually, all the inmates are lovable in the end, believably victims of circumstance despite their horrifying crimes. These circumstances, despite the constant acknowledgment of race, are largely race-free however, mostly contingent on terrible parenting. Biracial, brown-skinned Isaac himself possesses a physical ambiguity he uses to avoid attention, allowing others to see him as black or Hispanic to avoid conflict. But the only acknowledgment the book makes of institutional racism is Isaac’s dismissive acceptance of an “ ‘essay’…about how racist the criminal justice system is.”

A penetrating look at the power in the stories we tell ourselves but just a glancing one at the juvenile-justice system. (afterword) (Fiction. 14-18)

Pub Date: Feb. 28, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-61695-731-5

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Soho

Review Posted Online: Dec. 26, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2017

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An unsettling but easy-to-read blend of social media savvy and gritty gumshoe work.

14 WAYS TO DIE

A teen sleuth tries livestreaming to catch a murderer.

Seventeen-year-old Jessica Simmons lost her mother a decade ago, the first victim of the Magpie Man, a serial killer now on victim No. 13, who has struck in locations around the U.K. Her father’s life is still in shambles and her former friends are long gone, but Jessica’s decided to publicize her tragedy. One of five contestants on YouTube’s “The Eye”—an unscripted, livestreamed reality show—Jessica asks her viewers to help identify the serial killer. But inviting the world into her home and school brings unwanted attention, perhaps even from the Magpie Man, whose body count keeps climbing: Sleuthing-related drama and peril ensue. Jessica’s friends and family are economically rendered yet believable, and Ralph renders grief beautifully and devastatingly, as something that evolves but doesn’t end. As in the story, the bulk of the action occurs when the cameras aren’t rolling, and eventually, the reality show premise and its minimally developed contestants are more a distraction and transparent deus ex machina than an integral part of Jessica’s journey. More intriguing—and with real-life precedents—is the possibility of crowdsourcing a murder investigation. Although the fast-paced finale can’t quite overcome the slow start and overlong middle, the tale reaches a dramatic, satisfactory conclusion. Characters follow a White default.

An unsettling but easy-to-read blend of social media savvy and gritty gumshoe work. (resources, author interview) (Thriller. 14-18)

Pub Date: June 1, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-72823-186-0

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire

Review Posted Online: March 31, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2021

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An enticing, turbulent, and satisfying final voyage.

THE NOBLEMAN'S GUIDE TO SCANDAL AND SHIPWRECKS

From the Montague Siblings series , Vol. 3

Adrian, the youngest of the Montague siblings, sails into tumultuous waters in search of answers about himself, the sudden death of his mother, and her mysterious, cracked spyglass.

On the summer solstice less than a year ago, Caroline Montague fell off a cliff in Aberdeen into the sea. When the Scottish hostel where she was staying sends a box of her left-behind belongings to London, Adrian—an anxious, White nobleman on the cusp of joining Parliament—discovers one of his mother’s most treasured possessions, an antique spyglass. She acquired it when she was the sole survivor of a shipwreck many years earlier. His mother always carried that spyglass with her, but on the day of her death, she had left it behind in her room. Although he never knew its full significance, Adrian is haunted by new questions and is certain the spyglass will lead him to the truth. Once again, Lee crafts an absorbing adventure with dangerous stakes, dynamic character growth, sharp social and political commentary, and a storm of emotion. Inseparable from his external search for answers about his mother, Adrian seeks a solution for himself, an end to his struggle with mental illness—a journey handled with hopeful, gentle honesty that validates the experiences of both good and bad days. Characters from the first two books play significant secondary roles, and the resolution ties up their loose ends. Humorous antics provide a well-measured balance with the heavier themes.

An enticing, turbulent, and satisfying final voyage. (Historical fiction. 14-18)

Pub Date: Nov. 16, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-06-291601-3

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Katherine Tegen/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Sept. 1, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2021

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