A wily, tender bit of Christian-oriented fantasy that’s also likely to entertain the skeptical.

Teen Angel

In Syben’s debut YA novel, a teenage girl learns life’s lessons—in the afterlife.

Sixteen-year-old Chelsea Elizabeth Whitmore is killed in a boating accident while on a first date and returns to consciousness to find herself an angel at her own funeral. She also discerns the presence of Lydia, her late great-grandmother, who’s been sent to lead her to heaven and fill her in on the details of her new existence. Chelsea discovers that she’s to be part of an angelic combat squad, under Lydia’s guidance, charged with aiding living people and landing blows against Satan’s minions. As if to prove that the divine has a sense of humor, Chelsea’s first assignment is to look after her own bully, Sidney Sappington, and two of her bratty friends. The girls’ lavish late-night antics lead to a confrontation with a stalker; thanks in part to Chelsea’s and Lydia’s monitoring, though, the perpetrator is caught. Their next job flings them onto the 19th-century frontier to first protect a woman named Abigail and then her daughter, Maggie, as each braves demons, wildlife, and conniving fellow travelers. After that, Chelsea and Lydia visit the remains of Baltimore in 2902 to reunite Chase, a downtrodden divorcé of modest means, with his son, Fred, despite Chase’s ex-wife’s attempts to separate them. Chelsea’s successes merit an encounter with the Creator himself—and result in a revelation that weaves the previous chaotic episodes together. This spunky novel is full of verve and inventive scenarios, and its underlying moral insights never seem contrived or didactic; all the knowledge that Chelsea gains she earns through her own experiences and choices. Syben’s ambitious blending of sci-fi/fantasy motifs—such as time travel and Dantesque forces of spiritual good and evil—pays off in an easygoing, well-timed story that’s unhindered by its own complexity. Aside from this scenery, the novel’s themes are simple but not pat; the question of what makes for a good life looms large—even if the protagonist isn’t technically living.

A wily, tender bit of Christian-oriented fantasy that’s also likely to entertain the skeptical.

Pub Date: March 28, 2016


Page Count: 408

Publisher: Stone Tablet Books

Review Posted Online: March 23, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2016

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Aspiring filmmaker/first-novelist Chbosky adds an upbeat ending to a tale of teenaged angst—the right combination of realism and uplift to allow it on high school reading lists, though some might object to the sexuality, drinking, and dope-smoking. More sophisticated readers might object to the rip-off of Salinger, though Chbosky pays homage by having his protagonist read Catcher in the Rye. Like Holden, Charlie oozes sincerity, rails against celebrity phoniness, and feels an extraliterary bond with his favorite writers (Harper Lee, Fitzgerald, Kerouac, Ayn Rand, etc.). But Charlie’s no rich kid: the third child in a middle-class family, he attends public school in western Pennsylvania, has an older brother who plays football at Penn State, and an older sister who worries about boys a lot. An epistolary novel addressed to an anonymous “friend,” Charlie’s letters cover his first year in high school, a time haunted by the recent suicide of his best friend. Always quick to shed tears, Charlie also feels guilty about the death of his Aunt Helen, a troubled woman who lived with Charlie’s family at the time of her fatal car wreck. Though he begins as a friendless observer, Charlie is soon pals with seniors Patrick and Sam (for Samantha), stepsiblings who include Charlie in their circle, where he smokes pot for the first time, drops acid, and falls madly in love with the inaccessible Sam. His first relationship ends miserably because Charlie remains compulsively honest, though he proves a loyal friend (to Patrick when he’s gay-bashed) and brother (when his sister needs an abortion). Depressed when all his friends prepare for college, Charlie has a catatonic breakdown, which resolves itself neatly and reveals a long-repressed truth about Aunt Helen. A plain-written narrative suggesting that passivity, and thinking too much, lead to confusion and anxiety. Perhaps the folks at (co-publisher) MTV see the synergy here with Daria or any number of videos by the sensitive singer-songwriters they feature.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 1999

ISBN: 0-671-02734-4

Page Count: 256

Publisher: MTV Books/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 1999

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A thrilling romance that could use more even pacing.


For the second time in her life, Leo must choose between her family and true love.

Nineteen-year-old Princess Leonie Kolburg’s royal family is bankrupt. In order to salvage the fortune they accrued before humans fled the frozen Earth 170 years ago, Leonie’s father is forcing her to participate in the Valg Season, an elaborate set of matchmaking events held to facilitate the marriages of rich and royal teens. Leo grudgingly joins in even though she has other ideas: She’s invented a water filtration system that, if patented, could provide a steady income—that is if Leo’s calculating Aunt Freja, the Captain of the ship hosting the festivities, stops blocking her at every turn. Just as Leo is about to give up hope, her long-lost love, Elliot, suddenly appears onboard three years after Leo’s family forced her to break off their engagement. Donne (Brightly Burning, 2018) returns to space, this time examining the fascinatingly twisted world of the rich and famous. Leo and her peers are nuanced, deeply felt, and diverse in terms of sexuality but not race, which may be a function of the realities of wealth and power. The plot is fast paced although somewhat uneven: Most of the action resolves in the last quarter of the book, which makes the resolutions to drawn-out conflicts feel rushed.

A thrilling romance that could use more even pacing. (Science fiction. 16-adult)

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-328-94894-6

Page Count: 400

Publisher: HMH Books

Review Posted Online: Nov. 10, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2019

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