Imperfect yet earnest works celebrating love in all forms for reluctant teen readers.

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JUST JULIAN

From the Lorimer Real Love series

Boy meets boy and falls in love in this angst-y modern reworking of Romeo and Juliet set in Winnipeg.

In this latest adaptation of Shakespeare’s most famous love story, the plot does not matter nearly as much as the characters’ sexual orientations. The lovers this time are Julian Capulet, a gay 19-year-old who uses his painting to hide from the world after being bullied, and Romeo Montague, a closeted teen jock who indulges in gay bashing to avoid confronting his sexuality. The world that Harwood-Jones depicts in this pair of companion novels (Romeo for Real tells the tale from Romeo’s point of view), in which gender fluidity is completely accepted and mothers dole out condoms and allow their children to have sex at home without judgment, feels so fantastical that it proves how far society still has to go in the quest for true acceptance. The author’s passion for diversity is evident, but the novels feel so packed with nonconformity that characters become political statements rather than three-dimensional people. Nearly every character lies somewhere on the LGBTQ spectrum, and God is referred to as female, which, while laudable, feels forced at certain points. While the theme of star-crossed teenage lovers is timeless, the novels’ viselike grip on names and plot points from Shakespeare’s play drives them into the realm of the hyperbolic. Julian is implied at least part Chinese due to his mother’s surname, but race is indeterminate for all characters. Despite their flaws, these novels provide much-needed representation for those whom society marginalizes.

Imperfect yet earnest works celebrating love in all forms for reluctant teen readers. (Fiction. 14-17)

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-4594-1292-7

Page Count: 168

Publisher: James Lorimer

Review Posted Online: June 18, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2018

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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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Packed to the brim with intrigue and the promise of a third installment.

LADY SMOKE

From the Ash Princess series , Vol. 2

A rebel queen fans the sparks of revolution.

Picking up immediately after the events of Ash Princess (2018), Sebastian’s expansive sequel finds young Queen Theodosia—her title newly reclaimed—fleeing her country and throne. With her people still enslaved, Theo will need allies and an army to free them, and her aunt, the fierce and manipulative pirate Dragonsbane, insists that the only way to acquire either is if Theo marries—something no queen has ever done in Astrea’s history. Wracked by nightmares, guilt, and fear that she is losing herself (and more), Theo balks but, with few options open to her, grudgingly agrees to meet with suitors at a grand invitational hosted by the king of the opulent Sta’Crivero. Readers looking for further immersion and expansion of Theo’s world will not be disappointed here. The narrative suffers marginally from lengthy details picked up and soon put back down with no real service to plot or character development, but Theo’s first-person narration remains enthralling with emotional immediacy as she learns more and more about her world and the people (and cruelty) within it. Vengeance, political corruption, and mystery are the main drivers, and questions of trauma, empathy, and sacrifice hold the reigns as Theo grapples with emergent magic, inconvenient romances, and the crushing weight of her choices as a leader.

Packed to the brim with intrigue and the promise of a third installment. (maps) (Fantasy. 14-17)

Pub Date: Feb. 5, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6710-5

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: Dec. 19, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2019

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