An intriguing premise (or three) drowning under its own weight.

STOLEN SECRETS

A crowded contemporary story with a Holocaust secret at its core.

On the eve of 11th grade, blonde, white, blue-eyed Livvy is dragged across the country by her alcoholic (five years sober) mother for unclear reasons. Livvy is determined to get them back to Vermont until she learns the real reason for the move: her grandmother, who her mother had told her was dead, is still alive. She’s suffering from Alzheimer’s, and Livvy’s mother is prepared to be her caregiver for fear of being written out of the will. What follows is a jam-packed narrative with a full complement of tropes and topical elements: new girl; friend issues (the back-home friends are classic mean girls); alcoholism; family secrets (involving the Holocaust); neo-Nazis; predatory elder care; armed robbery—and a romance. It’s a lot for just about 300 pages, and the suspension of disbelief required is damaged by the overly explicit first-person narration. That Livvy has a photographic memory that fuels her habit of spewing facts doesn’t make the exposition less stiff. The grandmother’s mysterious past (is she Anne Frank? A Nazi?) intrigues, and the questions—is it possible to forgive her? To love her?—could have made a complex novel in their own right; here, they are settled in five pages.

An intriguing premise (or three) drowning under its own weight. (Fiction. 12-16)

Pub Date: Sept. 19, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-62979-722-9

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Boyds Mills

Review Posted Online: June 27, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2017

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Heartbreaking, historical, and a little bit hopeful.

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SALT TO THE SEA

January 1945: as Russians advance through East Prussia, four teens’ lives converge in hopes of escape.

Returning to the successful formula of her highly lauded debut, Between Shades of Gray (2011), Sepetys combines research (described in extensive backmatter) with well-crafted fiction to bring to life another little-known story: the sinking (from Soviet torpedoes) of the German ship Wilhelm Gustloff. Told in four alternating voices—Lithuanian nurse Joana, Polish Emilia, Prussian forger Florian, and German soldier Alfred—with often contemporary cadences, this stints on neither history nor fiction. The three sympathetic refugees and their motley companions (especially an orphaned boy and an elderly shoemaker) make it clear that while the Gustloff was a German ship full of German civilians and soldiers during World War II, its sinking was still a tragedy. Only Alfred, stationed on the Gustloff, lacks sympathy; almost a caricature, he is self-delusional, unlikable, a Hitler worshiper. As a vehicle for exposition, however, and a reminder of Germany’s role in the war, he serves an invaluable purpose that almost makes up for the mustache-twirling quality of his petty villainy. The inevitability of the ending (including the loss of several characters) doesn’t change its poignancy, and the short chapters and slowly revealed back stories for each character guarantee the pages keep turning.

Heartbreaking, historical, and a little bit hopeful. (author’s note, research and sources, maps) (Historical fiction. 12-16)

Pub Date: Feb. 2, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-399-16030-1

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Philomel

Review Posted Online: Nov. 3, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2015

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An enjoyable, if predictable, romantic holiday story.

10 BLIND DATES

Is an exuberant extended family the cure for a breakup? Sophie is about to find out.

When Sophie unexpectedly breaks up with her boyfriend, she isn’t thrilled about spending the holidays at her grandparents’ house instead of with him. And when her grandmother forms a plan to distract Sophie from her broken heart—10 blind dates, each set up by different family members—she’s even less thrilled. Everyone gets involved with the matchmaking, even forming a betting pool on the success of each date. But will Sophie really find someone to fill the space left by her ex? Will her ex get wind of Sophie’s dating spree via social media and want them to get back together? Is that what she even wants anymore? This is a fun story of finding love, getting to know yourself, and getting to know your family. The pace is quick and light, though the characters are fairly shallow and occasionally feel interchangeable, especially with so many names involved. A Christmas tale, the plot is a fast-paced series of dinners, parties, and games, relayed in both narrative form and via texts, though the humor occasionally feels stiff and overwrought. The ending is satisfying, though largely unsurprising. Most characters default to white as members of Sophie’s Italian American extended family, although one of her cousins has a Filipina mother. One uncle is gay.

An enjoyable, if predictable, romantic holiday story. (Fiction. 13-16)

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-368-02749-6

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Disney-Hyperion

Review Posted Online: June 23, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2019

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