A jam-packed ride through early-20th-century performance culture, if one can hold on.

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THE LIFE FANTASTIC

A NOVEL IN THREE ACTS

Raised on the road with vaudevillian parents and gifted with a golden voice, young Teresa LeClair sets out to “shoot for the stars—or die trying” in Ketchum’s newest historical novel.

Though Resa longs for fame and the bright lights of the stage, her French-Canadian father has other plans. He expects the 15-year-old white girl to put her perfect pitch to work at the Estey organ factory in Brattleboro, Vermont. Victory in a local singing competition and taunting encouragement from a young African-American tap dancer, Pietro Jones, compel Teresa to run away to New York City rather than settle for a life in the tuning rooms of Estey. Restrictions on young performers as well as the specter of segregation and racial inequality are consistent trials throughout the story. Discussion of the practice of blackface will likely give some readers pause. The pace is quick, but at times it’s to the detriment of narrative flow, as readers must pause to recalibrate how they arrived at many plot points. Many characters come and go without much development, as if plugged in simply to fill holes, but this also serves to illustrate the transient nature of life in the theater.

A jam-packed ride through early-20th-century performance culture, if one can hold on. (list of songs, author’s note, glossary, bibliography) (Historical fiction. 12-16)

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-4405-9876-0

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Merit Press

Review Posted Online: Nov. 16, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2016

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For readers in need of a happy ending but not much else.

ALL THIS TIME

A modern-day fairy tale about two teenagers suffering from loss who find healing in one another.

Despite the ups and downs in their relationship, Kyle and Kimberly have always made up, and Kyle looks forward to attending college together after graduation. But on the night they should be celebrating, Kimberly confesses that she has committed to a different college and breaks up with him. As they argue, their car crashes, and Kyle later wakes up in the hospital and learns that Kimberly is dead. In his grief, Kyle blames himself for her death. He struggles to leave his bed most days, ignores calls from his and Kimberly’s best friend, Sam, and has visions of Kimberly and life before the accident. One day, while visiting Kimberly’s grave, he meets Marley, a girl who likes telling stories and is mourning the death of her twin sister. Predictably, their natural affinity for one another evolves into romance. It is unfortunate that Kyle essentially moves from one romantic relationship to another on his journey to better understanding himself and his co-dependence on those closest to him, although his gradual development into a more considerate person redeems him. The pacing remains even until the critical plot disruption, resulting in the rest of the story feeling disjointed and rushed. All characters are White.

For readers in need of a happy ending but not much else. (Fiction. 12-16)

Pub Date: Sept. 29, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5344-6634-0

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: July 8, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2020

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Heartbreaking, historical, and a little bit hopeful.

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SALT TO THE SEA

January 1945: as Russians advance through East Prussia, four teens’ lives converge in hopes of escape.

Returning to the successful formula of her highly lauded debut, Between Shades of Gray (2011), Sepetys combines research (described in extensive backmatter) with well-crafted fiction to bring to life another little-known story: the sinking (from Soviet torpedoes) of the German ship Wilhelm Gustloff. Told in four alternating voices—Lithuanian nurse Joana, Polish Emilia, Prussian forger Florian, and German soldier Alfred—with often contemporary cadences, this stints on neither history nor fiction. The three sympathetic refugees and their motley companions (especially an orphaned boy and an elderly shoemaker) make it clear that while the Gustloff was a German ship full of German civilians and soldiers during World War II, its sinking was still a tragedy. Only Alfred, stationed on the Gustloff, lacks sympathy; almost a caricature, he is self-delusional, unlikable, a Hitler worshiper. As a vehicle for exposition, however, and a reminder of Germany’s role in the war, he serves an invaluable purpose that almost makes up for the mustache-twirling quality of his petty villainy. The inevitability of the ending (including the loss of several characters) doesn’t change its poignancy, and the short chapters and slowly revealed back stories for each character guarantee the pages keep turning.

Heartbreaking, historical, and a little bit hopeful. (author’s note, research and sources, maps) (Historical fiction. 12-16)

Pub Date: Feb. 2, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-399-16030-1

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Philomel

Review Posted Online: Nov. 3, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2015

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