Engaging behind-the-scenes look at a lonely young Hollywood star's tragedies and triumphs.

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UNSCRIPTED JOSS BYRD

A critically acclaimed child actor struggles with her insecurities, a fame-hungry momager, and a demanding director.

Twelve-year-old Joss Byrd is Hollywood's latest sensation, a “scrappy,” "wise beyond her years" young white thespian in the Dakota Fanning and Tatum O'Neal mode. On the set of ambitious director Terrance Rivenbach's gritty autobiographical coming-of-age drama, The Locals, Joss has trouble balancing her personal and professional lives. Secretly dyslexic, Joss needs her on-set tutor to skip regular lessons and help her memorize continuously revised lines. Complicating things, Joss harbors a crush on her 14-year-old screen brother, is frightened by the method co-star who plays their abusive stepfather, and is unhappy with disturbing scenes added to the script. Meanwhile, single mother Viva, who’s lost most of Joss' previous earnings, openly flirts with the married director. Through her thoughtful, unconfident main character, the author, a private tutor for school-aged actors, realistically pulls back the curtain on the difficulties professional child actors face. Unfamiliar readers may be particularly curious about O'Neal, Joss' oft-mentioned acting muse, and her unforgettable performance in Paper Moon. Although the young protagonist makes the story seem exclusively for middle graders at first glance, sympathetic Joss' journey delves into themes like living with learning disabilities, dealing with celebrity culture, sexual precocity, and understanding the difference between actors' public and private selves, broadening its audience.

Engaging behind-the-scenes look at a lonely young Hollywood star's tragedies and triumphs. (Fiction. 12-16)

Pub Date: Aug. 23, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-62672-369-6

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Roaring Brook

Review Posted Online: June 1, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 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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