An engaging ’90s pastiche with an earnest heart beating at its center.

RUNAWAY TRAIN

A 1990s California grunge girl mourning the death of her sister sets out on a road trip of self-discovery in this YA novel.

Sixteen-year-old Nico Sullivan has been having a rough time since police came to her door to tell her that her sister, Kristen, died of a brain aneurysm during her morning jog through Laurel Canyon. That was Halloween 1993, the same day River Phoenix overdosed across town at the Viper Room in West Hollywood. No one in Nico’s family is dealing with it well, and six months after Kristen’s death, the teen comes home to find her mother in flagrante delicto with a neighbor. Nico’s been keeping a bucket list since her sister died: “Sometimes I take it out” and pore over “its wild contents that ranged from surfing, to climbing a mountain and facing my fear of heights, to kissing a boy I really had feelings for, to getting up in front of an audience and singing my heart out.” Faced with the prospect of her parents’ divorce—and egged on by her two friends also facing burnout—Nico decides to take her teal blue Hyundai Excel up the West Coast, knocking things off the list and coming to terms with her grief. The last thing on the list: driving to Seattle and knocking on the door of her favorite singer, Kurt Cobain. What could go wrong? Goldberg brings Nico to life with a narration that, save for a few anachronisms (“hella,” “muffin top”), is unabashedly 1994: “While I’m hella jealous of Courtney Love because of who she gets to lie next to every night, Hole’s music actually rocks. As I drive, I sing ‘Miss World’ until my throat is red, knowing I should support female musicians that are part of the Riot Grrrl movement rather than tear them down.” Nico is equal parts angst, humor, and longing, a compelling combination that invites readers into all manner of memorable (and often inadvisable) situations. She doesn’t always sound entirely like a 16-year-old girl, but she embodies the grunge ethos enough to make the constant music references feel like more than just a conceit.

An engaging ’90s pastiche with an earnest heart beating at its center.

Pub Date: April 29, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-953944-04-7

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Wise Wolf Books

Review Posted Online: March 25, 2021

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This story is necessary. This story is important.

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THE HATE U GIVE

Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter is a black girl and an expert at navigating the two worlds she exists in: one at Garden Heights, her black neighborhood, and the other at Williamson Prep, her suburban, mostly white high school.

Walking the line between the two becomes immensely harder when Starr is present at the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend, Khalil, by a white police officer. Khalil was unarmed. Khalil’s death becomes national news, where he’s called a thug and possible drug dealer and gangbanger. His death becomes justified in the eyes of many, including one of Starr’s best friends at school. The police’s lackadaisical attitude sparks anger and then protests in the community, turning it into a war zone. Questions remain about what happened in the moments leading to Khalil’s death, and the only witness is Starr, who must now decide what to say or do, if anything. Thomas cuts to the heart of the matter for Starr and for so many like her, laying bare the systemic racism that undergirds her world, and she does so honestly and inescapably, balancing heartbreak and humor. With smooth but powerful prose delivered in Starr’s natural, emphatic voice, finely nuanced characters, and intricate and realistic relationship dynamics, this novel will have readers rooting for Starr and opening their hearts to her friends and family.

This story is necessary. This story is important. (Fiction. 14-adult)

Pub Date: Feb. 28, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-06-249853-3

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Dec. 6, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2016

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Poignant and real, beautiful and intense, this story of a girl struggling to define herself is as powerful as Xiomara’s...

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THE POET X

Poetry helps first-generation Dominican-American teen Xiomara Batista come into her own.

Fifteen-year old Xiomara (“See-oh-MAH-ruh,” as she constantly instructs teachers on the first day of school) is used to standing out: she’s tall with “a little too much body for a young girl.” Street harassed by both boys and grown men and just plain harassed by girls, she copes with her fists. In this novel in verse, Acevedo examines the toxicity of the “strong black woman” trope, highlighting the ways Xiomara’s seeming unbreakability doesn’t allow space for her humanity. The only place Xiomara feels like herself and heard is in her poetry—and later with her love interest, Aman (a Trinidadian immigrant who, refreshingly, is a couple inches shorter than her). At church and at home, she’s stifled by her intensely Catholic mother’s rules and fear of sexuality. Her present-but-absent father and even her brother, Twin (yes, her actual twin), are both emotionally unavailable. Though she finds support in a dedicated teacher, in Aman, and in a poetry club and spoken-word competition, it’s Xiomara herself who finally gathers the resources she needs to solve her problems. The happy ending is not a neat one, making it both realistic and satisfying. Themes as diverse as growing up first-generation American, Latinx culture, sizeism, music, burgeoning sexuality, and the power of the written and spoken word are all explored with nuance.

Poignant and real, beautiful and intense, this story of a girl struggling to define herself is as powerful as Xiomara’s name: “one who is ready for war.” (Verse fiction. 14-18)

Pub Date: March 6, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-06-266280-4

Page Count: 368

Publisher: HarperTeen

Review Posted Online: Dec. 21, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2018

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