SMALL STEPS

After a hiatus of some seven years, Sachar returns with a companion to Holes (1998) that places one of Stanley’s fellow “campers” on center stage. Armpit is living with his parents in Austin, having set for himself five rehabilitative “small steps:” “1. Graduate from high school. 2. Get a job. 3. Save his money. 4. Avoid situations that may become violent. And 5. Lose the name Armpit.” When fellow ex-camper X-Ray persuades him to join him in a scheme scalping tickets for a Kaira DeLeon concert, steps 1-4 are severely threatened—step 5 seeming to be permanently out of reach. Armpit is a genuinely sympathetic character, as is the teen singing phenom Kaira; the third-person narrative shifts focus from one to the other as their paths inexorably, and incredibly, draw closer and closer. If Holes invoked Vonnegut in its narrative complexity and deadpan delivery, this offering more closely resembles more straightforward crime fiction. Although readers may find themselves missing the tricky layers of its predecessor, any novel in which the good guys so righteously win should be happily welcomed in its own right. (Fiction. 12+)

Pub Date: Jan. 10, 2006

ISBN: 0-385-73314-3

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2005

THIS WINTER

A HEARTSTOPPER NOVELLA

From the Heartstopper series

Short and sweet.

When Charlie returns home from in-patient anorexia treatment in a psychiatric ward, he and his older sister, Tori, navigate a difficult Christmas with their family in this Heartstopper novella.

Tori thought her parents might learn to open up after Charlie started treatment, but they—especially Mum—still avoid discussing anything serious. Now that Charlie is home from the hospital, all Tori wants is to spend time with him, but the pressure of the holiday increases family tensions and threatens to drive Charlie away. Set during unexplored moments of Volume 4 of the Heartstopper graphic-novel series, this three-chapter novella zooms in on Christmas Day. Each chapter moves the story forward from a different perspective, shifting from Tori to Charlie to their 7-year-old brother, Oliver. Nick, Charlie’s boyfriend, makes an appearance as a source of comfort, but the conflict focuses on Charlie and his family. As Tori tries to support Charlie, she wrestles with guilt and loneliness. Meanwhile, Charlie and his mum, who both want a normal holiday, keep clashing. Although the story handles heavy themes of mental illness, Oseman balances the fraught emotions with tender moments and a hopeful but honest outlook on recovery that emphasizes the value of therapy. There will be greater emotional impact for those familiar with the original stories, but as a bonus entry, this novella has high appeal for devoted fans. Occasional illustrations add to the charm.

Short and sweet. (resources) (Fiction. 14-18)

Pub Date: Sept. 5, 2023

ISBN: 9781338885132

Page Count: 128

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: July 13, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2023

IF HE HAD BEEN WITH ME

There’s not much plot here, but readers will relish the opportunity to climb inside Autumn’s head.

The finely drawn characters capture readers’ attention in this debut.

Autumn and Phineas, nicknamed Finny, were born a week apart; their mothers are still best friends. Growing up, Autumn and Finny were like peas in a pod despite their differences: Autumn is “quirky and odd,” while Finny is “sweet and shy and everyone like[s] him.” But in eighth grade, Autumn and Finny stop being friends due to an unexpected kiss. They drift apart and find new friends, but their friendship keeps asserting itself at parties, shared holiday gatherings and random encounters. In the summer after graduation, Autumn and Finny reconnect and are finally ready to be more than friends. But on August 8, everything changes, and Autumn has to rely on all her strength to move on. Autumn’s coming-of-age is sensitively chronicled, with a wide range of experiences and events shaping her character. Even secondary characters are well-rounded, with their own histories and motivations.

There’s not much plot here, but readers will relish the opportunity to climb inside Autumn’s head.   (Fiction. 14 & up)

Pub Date: April 1, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-4022-7782-5

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire

Review Posted Online: Feb. 12, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2013

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