Intriguingly spooky but never quite coheres

BEFORE I LET GO

Seven months after Corey left her hometown of Lost Creek, Alaska, and her best friend, Kyra, behind, she returns, grief-stricken, to learn what caused Kyra’s death.

Expecting the comfort of shared grief over Kyra’s loss, Corey’s instead treated with coldness and suspicion. Kyra’s parents house her with discomfort, and the more Corey probes for answers, the more opposition she faces and the more isolated she becomes. Their friendship had been strained by Kyra’s intensifying bipolar disorder, their different ways of interpreting the world, and Kyra’s unrequited romantic love for Corey, yet their bond endured until Corey moved away. Thereafter, Kyra painted obsessively—vibrant murals and vivid paintings in town and at the abandoned hot springs resort where she spent her last months. The community expresses new reverence for Kyra and her art, which they view as revitalizing the community’s fortunes. Mysteries proliferate: what accounts for the abundant fresh salmonberry flowers in January? Corey’s isolation is compounded by both the isolated Alaska setting and a sense of horrors hidden in plain sight. What’s missing is a connection between the two girls’ complicated friendship and the archetypal horror narrative that fuels the tale’s compulsive readability. The author’s avoidance of clear references to Alaska’s Native heritage belies the thematic insistence on the power of storytelling to shape the world. Settlers stole the land, readers are told, but the story of this thievery remains untold.

Intriguingly spooky but never quite coheres . (Suspense. 12-16)

Pub Date: Jan. 23, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-4926-4228-2

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire

Review Posted Online: Oct. 1, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2017

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This is no didactic near-future warning of present evils, but a cinematic adventure featuring endearing, compelling heroes

LEGEND

From the Legend series , Vol. 1

A gripping thriller in dystopic future Los Angeles.

Fifteen-year-olds June and Day live completely different lives in the glorious Republic. June is rich and brilliant, the only candidate ever to get a perfect score in the Trials, and is destined for a glowing career in the military. She looks forward to the day when she can join up and fight the Republic’s treacherous enemies east of the Dakotas. Day, on the other hand, is an anonymous street rat, a slum child who failed his own Trial. He's also the Republic's most wanted criminal, prone to stealing from the rich and giving to the poor. When tragedies strike both their families, the two brilliant teens are thrown into direct opposition. In alternating first-person narratives, Day and June experience coming-of-age adventures in the midst of spying, theft and daredevil combat. Their voices are distinct and richly drawn, from Day’s self-deprecating affection for others to June's Holmesian attention to detail. All the flavor of a post-apocalyptic setting—plagues, class warfare, maniacal soldiers—escalates to greater complexity while leaving space for further worldbuilding in the sequel.

This is no didactic near-future warning of present evils, but a cinematic adventure featuring endearing, compelling heroes . (Science fiction. 12-14)

Pub Date: Nov. 29, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-399-25675-2

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: April 8, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2011

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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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