Readers will likely feel impartial to Arlie, but her story is tense enough to catch an audience. (Fiction. 13-16)

BURN GIRL

A teen girl learns she can’t erase her past but she can forgive herself and look hopefully to the future in Mikulencak’s debut novel.

When 16-year-old Arlie Betts finds her mother dead of an apparent drug overdose, Arlie’s life takes a major turn for the better. After being both parent and child most of her life, Arlie now has to trust adults to take care of things. Enter Frank, an uncle Arlie never knew existed. As they learn to relate to each other, stepfather Lloyd, whose meth lab exploded seven years earlier, disfiguring Arlie’s face, arrives and threatens their tenuously happy home. Lloyd demands that Arlie steal money from Frank to settle a debt Arlie’s mother owes him. If Arlie doesn’t comply, Lloyd will destroy everything and everyone Arlie cares about. Although her story is compelling, Arlie isn’t. Her first-person narration is generic and flat, and her lukewarm personality remains static throughout the novel. Fortunately, the well-drawn supporting characters hold everything together, notably best friend Mo, love interest Cody, and grandmother figure Dora. Frank, however, is the life of the story. As a first-time father to a teen niece he’s just met, he’s a wonderfully awkward mix of clueless and clued-in as he navigates his new role and works to create a home for Arlie.

Readers will likely feel impartial to Arlie, but her story is tense enough to catch an audience. (Fiction. 13-16)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8075-2217-2

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Whitman

Review Posted Online: June 10, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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Skip this uninspired entry into the world of medieval love and court intrigue.

THE BETROTHED

From the Betrothed series , Vol. 1

In an imagined setting evoking medieval England, King Jameson of Coroa pursues Hollis Brite.

The independent teenager makes Jameson laugh, but she lacks the education and demeanor people expect in a queen. Her friend Delia Grace has more knowledge of history and languages but is shunned due to her illegitimate birth. Hollis gets caught up in a whirl of social activity, especially following an Isolten royal visit. There has been bad blood between the two countries, not fully explained here, and when an exiled Isolten family also comes to court, Jameson generously allows them to stay. Hollis relies on the family to teach her about Isolten customs and secretly falls in love with Silas, the oldest son, even though a relationship with him would mean relinquishing Jameson and the throne. When Hollis learns of political machinations that will affect her future in ways that she abhors, she faces a difficult decision. Romance readers will enjoy the usual descriptions of dresses, jewelry, young love, and discreet kisses, although many characters remain cardboard figures. While the violent climax may be upsetting, the book ends on a hopeful note. Themes related to immigration and young women’s taking charge of their lives don’t quite lift this awkwardly written volume above other royal romances. There are prejudicial references to Romani people, and whiteness is situated as the norm.

Skip this uninspired entry into the world of medieval love and court intrigue. (Historical romance. 13-16)

Pub Date: May 5, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-229163-9

Page Count: 320

Publisher: HarperTeen

Review Posted Online: Feb. 5, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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Despite some missteps, this will appeal to readers who enjoy a fresh and realistic teen voice.

THE FIELD GUIDE TO THE NORTH AMERICAN TEENAGER

A teenage, not-so-lonely loner endures the wilds of high school in Austin, Texas.

Norris Kaplan, the protagonist of Philippe’s debut novel, is a hypersweaty, uber-snarky black, Haitian, French-Canadian pushing to survive life in his new school. His professor mom’s new tenure-track job transplants Norris mid–school year, and his biting wit and sarcasm are exposed through his cataloging of his new world in a field guide–style burn book. He’s greeted in his new life by an assortment of acquaintances, Liam, who is white and struggling with depression; Maddie, a self-sacrificing white cheerleader with a heart of gold; and Aarti, his Indian-American love interest who offers connection. Norris’ ego, fueled by his insecurities, often gets in the way of meaningful character development. The scenes showcasing his emotional growth are too brief and, despite foreshadowing, the climax falls flat because he still gets incredible personal access to people he’s hurt. A scene where Norris is confronted by his mother for getting drunk and belligerent with a white cop is diluted by his refusal or inability to grasp the severity of the situation and the resultant minor consequences. The humor is spot-on, as is the representation of the black diaspora; the opportunity for broader conversations about other topics is there, however, the uneven buildup of detailed, meaningful exchanges and the glibness of Norris’ voice detract.

Despite some missteps, this will appeal to readers who enjoy a fresh and realistic teen voice. (Fiction. 13-16)

Pub Date: Jan. 8, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-06-282411-0

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Oct. 15, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2018

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