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A rich coming-of-age tale of friendship and self-discovery.

Awards & Accolades

Our Verdict

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Changing times run up against traditional values in this third installment of a YA series.

It’s the fall of 1969, and 16-year-old Malachi “Mally” Jacobs has just returned to Croy, Oklahoma, for the start of the school year. It was a watershed summer for Mally. He spent it in New York City, where he witnessed the Stonewall riots (totally by accident) and met his first-ever boyfriend, Vince. Now, he’s back in Croy several inches taller, with a new nickname—Jake—and a newly awakened sense of himself as a young gay man. That isn’t to say he’s out of the closet: Croy is still “Smalltown Nowhere,” as one character puts it, “where the highlights are pregnancies, strokes, and collapsing old buildings.” Jake’s best friend, Joanie Tibbits, knows Croy’s secret, of course. As the junior editor of the school paper, she knows just about everything—except why her boyfriend (and Jake’s other best friend), Randy Edom, has been acting so strange toward her of late. As the school year progresses, Jake and Randy throw themselves into football and then basketball, though team dynamics are in flux since their high school was combined with the largely Black school across town. Jake is trying to keep his personal business to himself, but he’s hardly the only one in Croy with something gnawing on his mind. His new friend, long-haired Beau Hamilton, feels a strong attraction to women’s clothing. Joanie’s Christian friend Bobbie Littledeer is sick with something, but she’s afraid to tell her medicine-skeptical parents about it. Randy has several weighty distractions of his own, including the fact that his father has escaped from prison and that he’s just inherited a great deal of money upon turning 18. Things are changing for nearly everyone in Croy—America itself is transforming—but are the shifts faced by Jake and his friends for the better or for the worse?

The novel includes stylish but infrequent black-and-white illustrations by Crosby (so rare that readers will always be surprised when one appears). Ceci’s prose is smooth and never hurried, depicting the angst and dread of his teenage characters with wry restraint: “It was Beau’s first time in detention, and he worried what other kids would be there. The toughest, he bet. The kind that would knock your books loose in the hall or clip you with their car as you crossed the street. And he was right.” The author makes good use of the large cast of supporting characters, switching the point of view as needed to expand the story in unexpected ways. As a result, readers will get a good sense of Croy and the sort of people who live there: folks caught between personal desires and the expectations of those around them. Compared to the earlier books in the series, the characters feel sharper, their conflicts more organic, and the world a bit more lived-in. Elements from the previous volumes inform the plot, but generally in ways that deepen the narrative. Readers familiar with the second installment in particular will get more enjoyment out of this one, but those picking up the series for the first time will be impressed with Ceci’s confident craftsmanship and insightful evocation of adolescence.

A rich coming-of-age tale of friendship and self-discovery.

Pub Date: Sept. 20, 2021


Page Count: 237

Publisher: Les Croyens Press

Review Posted Online: June 23, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2021

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A heavy read about the harsh realities of tragedy and their effects on those left behind.

In this companion novel to 2013’s If He Had Been With Me, three characters tell their sides of the story.

Finn’s narrative starts three days before his death. He explores the progress of his unrequited love for best friend Autumn up until the day he finally expresses his feelings. Finn’s story ends with his tragic death, which leaves his close friends devastated, unmoored, and uncertain how to go on. Jack’s section follows, offering a heartbreaking look at what it’s like to live with grief. Jack works to overcome the anger he feels toward Sylvie, the girlfriend Finn was breaking up with when he died, and Autumn, the girl he was preparing to build his life around (but whom Jack believed wasn’t good enough for Finn). But when Jack sees how Autumn’s grief matches his own, it changes their understanding of one another. Autumn’s chapters trace her life without Finn as readers follow her struggles with mental health and balancing love and loss. Those who have read the earlier book will better connect with and feel for these characters, particularly since they’ll have a more well-rounded impression of Finn. The pain and anger is well written, and the novel highlights the most troublesome aspects of young adulthood: overconfidence sprinkled with heavy insecurities, fear-fueled decisions, bad communication, and brash judgments. Characters are cued white.

A heavy read about the harsh realities of tragedy and their effects on those left behind. (author’s note, content warning) (Fiction. 14-18)

Pub Date: Feb. 6, 2024

ISBN: 9781728276229

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire

Review Posted Online: Jan. 5, 2024

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2024

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An ode to the children of migrants who have been taken away.

A Mexican American boy takes on heavy responsibilities when his family is torn apart.

Mateo’s life is turned upside down the day U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents show up unsuccessfully seeking his Pa at his New York City bodega. The Garcias live in fear until the day both parents are picked up; his Pa is taken to jail and his Ma to a detention center. The adults around Mateo offer support to him and his 7-year-old sister, Sophie, however, he knows he is now responsible for caring for her and the bodega as well as trying to survive junior year—that is, if he wants to fulfill his dream to enter the drama program at the Tisch School of the Arts and become an actor. Mateo’s relationships with his friends Kimmie and Adam (a potential love interest) also suffer repercussions as he keeps his situation a secret. Kimmie is half Korean (her other half is unspecified) and Adam is Italian American; Mateo feels disconnected from them, less American, and with worries they can’t understand. He talks himself out of choosing a safer course of action, a decision that deepens the story. Mateo’s self-awareness and inner monologue at times make him seem older than 16, and, with significant turmoil in the main plot, some side elements feel underdeveloped. Aleman’s narrative joins the ranks of heart-wrenching stories of migrant families who have been separated.

An ode to the children of migrants who have been taken away. (Fiction. 14-18)

Pub Date: May 4, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-7595-5605-8

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Feb. 22, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2021

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