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

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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 emotionally engaging closer that fumbles in its final moments.

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ALWAYS AND FOREVER, LARA JEAN

From the To All the Boys I've Loved Before series , Vol. 3

Lara Jean prepares for college and a wedding.

Korean-American Lara Jean is finally settled into a nice, complication-free relationship with her white boyfriend, Peter. But things don’t stay simple for long. When college acceptance letters roll in, Peter and Lara Jean discover they’re heading in different directions. As the two discuss the long-distance thing, Lara Jean’s widower father is making a major commitment: marrying the neighbor lady he’s been dating. The whirlwind of a wedding, college visits, prom, and the last few months of senior year provides an excellent backdrop for this final book about Lara Jean. The characters ping from event to event with emotions always at the forefront. Han further develops her cast, pushing them to new maturity and leaving few stones unturned. There’s only one problem here, and it’s what’s always held this series back from true greatness: Peter. Despite Han’s best efforts to flesh out Peter with abandonment issues and a crummy dad, he remains little more than a handsome jock. Frankly, Lara Jean and Peter may have cute teen chemistry, but Han's nuanced characterizations have often helped to subvert typical teen love-story tropes. This knowing subversion is frustratingly absent from the novel's denouement.

An emotionally engaging closer that fumbles in its final moments. (Romance. 14-17)

Pub Date: May 2, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-4814-3048-7

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: March 29, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2017

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Many teen novels touch on similar themes, but few do it so memorably.

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  • New York Times Bestseller

ALL THE BRIGHT PLACES

Two struggling teens develop an unlikely relationship in a moving exploration of grief, suicide and young love.

Violet, a writer and member of the popular crowd, has withdrawn from her friends and from school activities since her sister died in a car accident nine months earlier. Finch, known to his classmates as "Theodore Freak," is famously impulsive and eccentric. Following their meeting in the school bell tower, Finch makes it his mission to re-engage Violet with the world, partially through a school project that sends them to offbeat Indiana landmarks and partially through simple persistence. (Violet and Finch live, fortunately for all involved, in the sort of romantic universe where his throwing rocks at her window in the middle of the night comes off more charming than stalker-esque.) The teens alternate narration chapter by chapter, each in a unique and well-realized voice. Finch's self-destructive streak and suicidal impulses are never far from the surface, and the chapters he narrates are interspersed with facts about suicide methods and quotations from Virginia Woolf and poet Cesare Pavese. When the story inevitably turns tragic, a cast of carefully drawn side characters brings to life both the pain of loss and the possibility of moving forward, though some notes of hope are more believable than others.

Many teen novels touch on similar themes, but few do it so memorably. (Fiction. 14 & up)

Pub Date: Jan. 6, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-385-75588-7

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Oct. 1, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2014

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