A veneer of gravitas hides little substance.

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HOW SHE DIED, HOW I LIVED

Coming to terms with a brutal murder in small-town Virginia gets complicated when the unnamed narrator falls for Charlie, the victim’s bereaved boyfriend.

Of the five girls Kyle texted, one of whom was the protagonist, only Jamie responded. Kyle said he needed a listening ear, and Jamie was kind. After confessing to her murder, Kyle was jailed immediately. A year later, the other four girls are asked to testify at the sentencing hearing for which the death penalty is sought. Coping with her feelings is still hard for the narrator; when her relationship with Charlie turns intimate, his violent grief and hatred of Kyle threaten to destroy their romance. While the protagonist barely knew either killer or victim, she nearly responded positively to Kyle’s text suggesting they get high—a near miss that haunts her during a year of agony. The female characters object to threats from boys while passively tolerating other behavior and comments that amount to sexual harassment. The protagonist’s sharp eyes, wry views, and judgments are highlights, but excessive length, low stakes, and dead-end plot twists that work against suspense try readers’ patience. The presence of genuine literary merit, particularly in the portrayal of intense grief, only serves to highlight aspects of the book that fall short, such as insufficient development of Kyle’s character. One girl’s Asian boyfriend excepted, characters are presumed white.

A veneer of gravitas hides little substance. (Fiction. 14-18)

Pub Date: Nov. 13, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-316-52381-3

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Sept. 2, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2018

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Busy, busy, busy…with portents of doom.

CHAIN OF GOLD

From the Last Hours series , Vol. 1

Clare’s (Ghosts of the Shadow Market, 2019, etc.) latest is set in the Shadowhunter world in the 20th century’s first decade (with frequent flashbacks to the previous one).

Teenage offspring of the Herondales, Carstairs, Fairchilds, and other angel-descended Nephilim continue their families’ demon-fighting ways amid a round of elegant London balls, soirees, salons, picnics, and romantic intrigues. James Herondale, 17-year-old son of Will and Tessa, finds himself and his “perfectly lethal dimple” hung up between two stunning new arrivals: Cordelia Carstairs, red-haired Persian/British wielder of a fabled magic sword, and Grace Blackthorn, an emotionally damaged but (literally, as the author unsubtly telegraphs) spellbinding friend from childhood. Meanwhile, a sudden outbreak of demonic attacks that leave more and more Shadowhunters felled by a mysterious slow poison plunges James and a cohort of allies into frantic searches for both a cause and an antidote. Ichor-splashed encounters with ravening boojums and even one of hell’s own princes ensue—all leading to final hints of a devastating scheme to destroy the Nephilim in which James himself is slated to play a central role. Characters have a range of skin tones, but ethnic diversity adds no texture to the portrayals; there is a lesbian cousin who wears traditionally male clothing and two young gay men (one tortured, the other less so).

Busy, busy, busy…with portents of doom. (Fantasy. 14-18)

Pub Date: March 3, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-4814-3187-3

Page Count: 624

Publisher: McElderry

Review Posted Online: Jan. 23, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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An emotionally engaging closer that fumbles in its final moments.

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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