This feels more like a mood piece for adults than a book for teens; regardless, a subtle, hard-hitting book for readers who...

ALMOST AUTUMN

Things fall apart for the Stern family over the last few months of 1942 in Oslo, Norway.

Fifteen-year-old Ilse waits in vain for her date; did he stand her up because she's plain (even her white skin is dry)? Hermann, white-blond and Norwegian, wishes he could tell Ilse why he never arrived, but his secrets would endanger others. Sonja, 18, wants Ilse to be more helpful in their father's tailor shop. Isak rushes to work before his daughters wake so he can scrub “Jewish scum” off the windows, but he can't spare the girls from what's to come. The spare, lovely prose, translated from Norwegian and shifting narrative perspective from character to character, is wrenching for readers with context to extrapolate all that's unsaid. After a vile journey, "Sonja catches sight of a sign hanging over the platform: Auschwitz. It means nothing to her." Sonja's storyline ends abruptly only pages later, while she waits in the dark for a mandatory shower; Isak's comes to a similarly undetailed conclusion shortly after he's been categorized in Birkenau as "forty years old, no gold teeth." Such details are chilling for readers in the know but less so for those without a fuller understanding of Nazi atrocities. A historical note discusses the Holocaust in Norway but likewise assumes basic understanding. The myriad viewpoints decrease the appeal for younger readers (Ilse's concerns seem naïve when contrasted with her father's) but beautifully enhance the tragic unreality.

This feels more like a mood piece for adults than a book for teens; regardless, a subtle, hard-hitting book for readers who have the background to understand its oblique approach. (resources) (Historical fiction. 14 & up)

Pub Date: Jan. 3, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-545-88965-0

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: Sept. 19, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2016

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An engaging, fast-paced story let down by character development.

I KISSED SHARA WHEELER

A romance with solid queer representation set against the backdrop of an Alabama Christian school.

Chloe Green is the only one who sees through Shara Wheeler’s goody-two-shoes act, and now that Shara’s pulled a disappearing act right before being crowned prom queen, she makes it her business to find her. This means teaming up with unlikely allies like Smith Parker, Shara’s jock boyfriend, and Rory Heron, the brooding boy next door, both in love with Shara, just as Chloe claims she is not. What brings the trio together is a series of notes Shara has left them, along with the awkward fact that she kissed all three of them before vanishing. McQuiston’s YA debut starts off as a fun page-turner with a rich cast of queer characters but ultimately disappoints with its predictable plot twists and protagonists whose journeys feel lackluster. In a story that uplifts the importance of friendship and found family, the main character’s tunnel vision and indifference toward her friends’ problems make for an ending that doesn’t feel earned. Rather than coming across as a complicated but earnest love interest, Shara feels superficial and narcissistic, raising the question of why so many people drop everything to pursue her. Shara and Chloe are White; Rory has a White mom and Black dad, and Smith is described as having dark brown skin. Bisexual Chloe has two moms.

An engaging, fast-paced story let down by character development. (author’s note) (Romance. 14-18)

Pub Date: May 3, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-250-24445-1

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Wednesday Books

Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2022

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Beautifully written historical fiction about giddy, queer first love.

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LAST NIGHT AT THE TELEGRAPH CLUB

Finally, the intersectional, lesbian, historical teen novel so many readers have been waiting for.

Lily Hu has spent all her life in San Francisco’s Chinatown, keeping mostly to her Chinese American community both in and out of school. As she makes her way through her teen years in the 1950s, she starts growing apart from her childhood friends as her passion for rockets and space exploration grows—along with her curiosity about a few blocks in the city that her parents have warned her to avoid. A budding relationship develops with her first White friend, Kathleen, and together they sneak out to the Telegraph Club lesbian bar, where they begin to explore their sexuality as well as their relationship to each other. Lo’s lovely, realistic, and queer-positive tale is a slow burn, following Lily’s own gradual realization of her sexuality while she learns how to code-switch between being ostensibly heterosexual Chinatown Lily and lesbian Telegraph Bar Lily. In this meticulously researched title, Lo skillfully layers rich details, such as how Lily has to deal with microaggressions from gay and straight women alike and how all of Chinatown has to be careful of the insidious threat of McCarthyism. Actual events, such as Madame Chiang Kai-shek’s 1943 visit to San Francisco, form a backdrop to this story of a journey toward finding one’s authentic self.

Beautifully written historical fiction about giddy, queer first love. (author’s note) (Historical romance. 14-18)

Pub Date: Jan. 19, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-525-55525-4

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Dutton

Review Posted Online: Nov. 12, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2020

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