A thoughtful tale of finding hope amid life’s trials.

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In the first book of a new YA series, Tillit paints a portrait of a Black high school football player struggling to find his own way in life.

As the third member of the Waxman family to play football at Hancock High, Ozzie appears to have it all. He has talent as an offensive and defensive tackle and is a strong candidate to be recruited by a university; indeed, he seems more likely to find success than his father or his brother, Vic, who’s currently the team’s assistant coach. But Ozzie doesn’t love the game as his family members do: “I kept waiting for that same intensity.” This disparity causes Ozzie angst as he navigates high school and his relationship with his girlfriend, Zonta Jones. Although he’s popular, he doesn’t have close friends, aside from high school freshman Vashon Wilkes, whom he’s known for years. He does meet a new student in school, however: an unhoused girl named Lilly Orem. His teammates engage in casual racism: “They threw out comments all the time full of hateful stereotyping. They didn’t hold back. Race, gender, or any trait at all were fair game.” In the interactions of these various characters, Tillit effectively addresses such issues as bigotry, homelessness, and mental health. The author also builds tension as Vic makes Ozzie change positions—a situation for which the teenager doesn’t feel prepared: “I understood how to be perfect with perfect preplanned plays. For me, winging it was impossible.” An unexpected turn of events only intensifies Ozzie’s struggle. Over the course of this novel, Tillit deftly weaves a story of hope into an account of typical high school challenges. Along the way, Ozzie learns who his true friends are, people who are there for him when it counts. The author also includes an authentic police intervention toward the end of the novel. Overall, the story is engaging without being preachy, which will appeal to many YA readers.

A thoughtful tale of finding hope amid life’s trials.

Pub Date: June 13, 2022

ISBN: 9781735264219

Page Count: 175

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: Oct. 23, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2023


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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