WILD AND CROOKED

In three voices and six “acts,” Thomas’ (When Light Left Us, 2018, etc.) latest plumbs the prejudices behind a murder that divided two families and their Kentucky town.

What’s in a name? Plenty. Gay, feminist Kalyn-Rose Spence’s surname is synonymous with poverty and being targeted for harassment; the residents of Samsboro (aka “Shitsboro”) never forgave her father for murdering a local golden boy decades earlier. But is he guilty? Wealthy, “gay and confused” Gus Peake, who has cerebral palsy, two moms, and a “glorious menagerie of issues” including aphasia, feels doomed to be “the disabled kid” or “the kid whose dad got murdered.” When their pasts threaten their budding friendship, Shakespeare-inflected, uber-analytical classmate Phil tries to “keep Capulets and Montagues from clashing” as he struggles to develop a conscience despite his anti-social personality disorder. In alternating perspectives, the trio endeavor to forge their own identities as they seek clues that may reveal Gus' father's real killer. The mystery resolves in a last-minute rush, but the book’s real stars are its poignantly explored issues: love, social class, sexuality, homophobia, and the cycles of poverty and abuse. Kalyn’s conflicted, loving relationship with her dad is particularly well-examined. However, the teens’ heavy-handed exposition and discussions of fictional tropes and their subversion risk making their characters feel as “manufactured” and “intentionally offbeat” as the teen-targeting goth store Gus browses in, marring their refreshingly intersectional diversity. Most characters default to white.

Thought-provoking. (Mystery. 14-18)

Pub Date: June 4, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-5476-0002-1

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: March 7, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2019

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Riveting, brutal and beautifully told.

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WE WERE LIARS

A devastating tale of greed and secrets springs from the summer that tore Cady’s life apart.

Cady Sinclair’s family uses its inherited wealth to ensure that each successive generation is blond, beautiful and powerful. Reunited each summer by the family patriarch on his private island, his three adult daughters and various grandchildren lead charmed, fairy-tale lives (an idea reinforced by the periodic inclusions of Cady’s reworkings of fairy tales to tell the Sinclair family story). But this is no sanitized, modern Disney fairy tale; this is Cinderella with her stepsisters’ slashed heels in bloody glass slippers. Cady’s fairy-tale retellings are dark, as is the personal tragedy that has led to her examination of the skeletons in the Sinclair castle’s closets; its rent turns out to be extracted in personal sacrifices. Brilliantly, Lockhart resists simply crucifying the Sinclairs, which might make the family’s foreshadowed tragedy predictable or even satisfying. Instead, she humanizes them (and their painful contradictions) by including nostalgic images that showcase the love shared among Cady, her two cousins closest in age, and Gat, the Heathcliff-esque figure she has always loved. Though increasingly disenchanted with the Sinclair legacy of self-absorption, the four believe family redemption is possible—if they have the courage to act. Their sincere hopes and foolish naïveté make the teens’ desperate, grand gesture all that much more tragic.

Riveting, brutal and beautifully told. (Fiction. 14 & up)

Pub Date: May 13, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-385-74126-2

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: March 17, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2014

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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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