A clever, feel-good opening to a fantasy series with a tenacious heroine.

Girls Can't Be Knights

From the Spirit Knights series , Vol. 1

The start of a new YA series features a teen orphan and a protective brotherhood of Spirit Knights.

Fifteen-year-old Claire Terdan lives in a group foster home in Portland, Oregon. Six years ago, her family died in a house fire, and her only dependable friend since has been a boy her age named Drew. One day in school, after she punches a bully who mocks her, the principal suspends her for a day. She sneaks out of school and into town only to be accosted by several cats and dogs. Meanwhile, at the nearby Oregon Historical Society, a man named Justin arrives on his white horse, Tariel. He’s there, dressed in his green Spirit Knight armor, to borrow (some might say steal) an antique hat that has sentimental meaning to his mentor, Kurt. When he meets Claire, he offers her a ride home. Telling Justin she doesn’t have one, Claire ends up with him in Vancouver, Washington, at his family’s farm. There she meets his wife and two young daughters and eventually learns about the Palace, a magical, dormitory-style structure where Spirit Knights—a brotherhood that protects the world from ghostly, vengeful Phasms—dwell. Justin isn’t sure why Claire seems familiar until he learns that she’s the daughter of a dead Knight named Mark. French (Superheroes in Denim, 2016, etc.) establishes a crafty new fantasy series with a light smattering of genre fixtures, including talking animals, an enchanted pendant, and the firmly held belief that “Girls can’t be Knights.” Most of the narrative drama comes from grounded conflicts that teens should relate to, like Claire’s attraction to the older Justin and the lousy conditions of the “sanitized prison” that is her group home. Later scenes in which a detective named Avery physically assaults Claire are not for the faint-hearted. The upside for the tale’s heroine is that Justin and his family turn out to be perfect for her; despite early misgivings about them, she decides to “admire the example they set and be grateful for it.” The story should provide a heartwarming boost to anyone in a tough situation.

A clever, feel-good opening to a fantasy series with a tenacious heroine.

Pub Date: June 3, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-68063-030-5

Page Count: 246

Publisher: Myrddin Publishing Group

Review Posted Online: July 27, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2016

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An unevenly executed high school drama, but one that addresses important social issues.


In Cliett’s (More Than Friends, 2016, etc.) YA novel, a high school “nothing” becomes something that she never expected.

The initially unnamed protagonist is a high school loner who feels uninspired. She recently lost her father to suicide, which left her and her mother broke and living in a trailer park, referred to by one character as “The Land of Broken Dreams.” At school, she notes, “Kids and teachers act like I don’t exist,” which she begins to believe herself—until she meets an older high school boy on her bus nicknamed “Nietzsche.” He wears all black, reads philosophy books, and the seat beside him is always empty. Intrigued by their shared marginalization, the girl makes it her mission to learn more about him. She follows him around and spends hours poring over philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche’s works—an exercise that she enjoys, much to her surprise. Eventually, she finds enough courage to speak to the boy, who invites her to join his underground philosophy club. This club stokes her newfound academic passion and gives her a sense of belonging and identity; the members even give her a new nickname: “Socrates.” Not long after Socrates joins, however, the club takes a dark, serious turn: the members, a gaggle of students “outside the school’s social order,” decide to pursue an aggressive anti-bullying campaign involving a fake bomb scare. Cliett’s novel does do some important work in humanizing its young outcasts as they’re moved to extremes over the course of the story, and it effectively highlights how vulnerable teenagers can be to social structures that threaten their senses of self. However, the novel’s overall craftsmanship feels substandard; the characters, though conceptually interesting, are blandly written, and a sudden assault of plot twists at the end of the story has a slapdash feel. The swiftness with which Socrates finds a sense of resolve following a gruesome tragedy is also unrealistic.

An unevenly executed high school drama, but one that addresses important social issues.

Pub Date: June 5, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-5464-2630-1

Page Count: 270

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Jan. 29, 2018

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Although Yusuf's short stories offer various insights into Somalia, the reader is left wanting for greater nuance in order...


Yusuf (Somalis in Minnesota, 2013), who grew up as a nomad in Somalia and arrived in the U.S. without a high school diploma, uses Somalia's geographical landscape and culture to create an intricate braid of short stories about family, identity, escape, destruction, and return.

In “The Mayxaano Chronicles,” a young woman struggles to find her place in a society that sees no value in her existence despite the skills, intelligence, and activism she demonstrates. “The Vulture Has Landed” offers a harrowing narrative of a young married woman who, while raising her younger sister, also prepares her for the inevitable visit of soldiers bent on revenge. The dream of a new start for himself and his family is what keeps Aar, in “A Delicate Hope,” from despairing over the disarray of life in Mogadishu. “The Lion’s Binding Oath” presents a fantastical relationship between a boy and a lion. Hassan, a high school student separated from his family whilst they flee their home during the civil war, finds himself accompanied by a lion. Despite some interesting situations, excessive dialogue often bogs down the storylines. At times, the lead protagonists are scuppered by other characters and fail to fully inhabit their space.

Although Yusuf's short stories offer various insights into Somalia, the reader is left wanting for greater nuance in order to come away with a more focused view of the country and its people. (Short stories. 16-adult)

Pub Date: June 5, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-946395-07-8

Page Count: 220

Publisher: Catalyst Press

Review Posted Online: March 20, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2018

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