You can’t shake the sense that your guidance counselor assigned this.

LAST WORDS

Tackles suicide with lots of quoted poetry but without actually being poetic.

Sixteen-year-old Claire is taking photographs from the Lions Gate Bridge in her hometown of Vancouver, British Columbia, when a handsome, young stranger jumps over the railing. Only Claire is near enough to hear him apologize as he hands her his phone and jumps. Seeing Will Szabo die by suicide sends Claire into a state of confusion and trauma. Claire begins to disengage from friends and family, so haunted by Will’s piercing blue eyes that she is driven to investigate his full story. Along the way, Claire befriends a cancer patient in hospice, spends time with a widow who speaks to ghosts, is counseled by a father whose young daughter drowned, and learns from a friend who engages in taxidermy. The plot flits through tarot and tea leaf readings, Kurt Cobain’s suicide note, Buddhist chants, as well as the question of whether life as a quadriplegic is worth living. First-time novelist Baugh approaches death with a series of thoughtfully researched vignettes, but picking through a stranger’s suicide allows for exhaustive exploration without breaching the surface of real loss and grief. The story is filled with convenient characters who quote poetry and provide philosophical approaches for Claire to consider. Most characters are white; Claire’s older sister has Down syndrome, and her boyfriend’s mother is bisexual.

You can’t shake the sense that your guidance counselor assigned this. (Fiction. 13-16)

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-88995-576-9

Page Count: 328

Publisher: Red Deer Press

Review Posted Online: Dec. 8, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2020

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Despite some missteps, this will appeal to readers who enjoy a fresh and realistic teen voice.

THE FIELD GUIDE TO THE NORTH AMERICAN TEENAGER

A teenage, not-so-lonely loner endures the wilds of high school in Austin, Texas.

Norris Kaplan, the protagonist of Philippe’s debut novel, is a hypersweaty, uber-snarky black, Haitian, French-Canadian pushing to survive life in his new school. His professor mom’s new tenure-track job transplants Norris mid–school year, and his biting wit and sarcasm are exposed through his cataloging of his new world in a field guide–style burn book. He’s greeted in his new life by an assortment of acquaintances, Liam, who is white and struggling with depression; Maddie, a self-sacrificing white cheerleader with a heart of gold; and Aarti, his Indian-American love interest who offers connection. Norris’ ego, fueled by his insecurities, often gets in the way of meaningful character development. The scenes showcasing his emotional growth are too brief and, despite foreshadowing, the climax falls flat because he still gets incredible personal access to people he’s hurt. A scene where Norris is confronted by his mother for getting drunk and belligerent with a white cop is diluted by his refusal or inability to grasp the severity of the situation and the resultant minor consequences. The humor is spot-on, as is the representation of the black diaspora; the opportunity for broader conversations about other topics is there, however, the uneven buildup of detailed, meaningful exchanges and the glibness of Norris’ voice detract.

Despite some missteps, this will appeal to readers who enjoy a fresh and realistic teen voice. (Fiction. 13-16)

Pub Date: Jan. 8, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-06-282411-0

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Oct. 15, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2018

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Fans of the previous entry will enjoy following the story of a young woman who changes the fates of two countries.

THE BETRAYED

Lady Hollis flees her country after her new husband is killed.

In The Betrothed (2020), Hollis fell in love with Silas, the son of an Isolten family who sought asylum from their cruel king, and chose him over her intended match, King Jameson. Since Silas, his father, his brothers, and her parents have been killed, she decides to travel to Isolte with her mother-in-law and sister-in-law. Formerly primarily interested in dresses, dancing, and romance, Hollis now proves her mettle. Etan, Silas’ cousin, arrives to escort the family, and he clashes with Hollis from the moment they meet. The society they live in, modeled after medieval Europe, with castles, tournaments, kings, queens, and nobles, generally follows traditional gender roles, but Hollis sometimes breaks through the accepted boundaries. When Etan wants to lead a revolt against his own King Quinten, who is just one of the novel’s major betrayers, Hollis uses her wits to get the evidence needed to convince others that he is guilty of crimes against his own people. She bravely returns to Coroa to confront King Jameson when she finds out that he, too, has carried out unspeakable crimes. Hollis and Etan’s verbal wars are fun, predictably leading to love, but the political intrigue sometimes drags the novel down. Characters default to White.

Fans of the previous entry will enjoy following the story of a young woman who changes the fates of two countries. (Historical romance. 13-16)

Pub Date: July 6, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-06-229166-0

Page Count: 304

Publisher: HarperTeen

Review Posted Online: May 11, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2021

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