A rewarding depiction of a teen fighting isolation and depression.

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SMOOTH

Kevin’s terrible acne has survived every cream and facial scrub; next up is Accutane, a medication with a zillion side effects.

At the mandatory monthly blood tests, 15-year-old Kevin befriends Alex, a cute girl from a different school. Kevin becomes obsessed, looking forward to their monthly waiting-room chats and detaching himself from his two best friends, who have joined both the football team and a different social circle. With the first-person narration, readers are, for better or worse, trapped within the lonely teen’s mind as it circles round and round the carousel of depression. Kevin runs scenarios in his head, trying to figure out the best way to impress Alex and turn himself into the kind of person he thinks she will like (or even love). This portrait of teen angst is well drawn but a bit overlong. Kevin wallows in his “woe is me” depths, and while that may be the point (being a teen is uncomfortable; being a teen with severe acne and depressive episodes is hell), readers may have trouble staying on Kevin’s side. Kevin’s friends and family have just enough shading to hint at inner lives but not so much so that Kevin registers them as people instead of obstacles to his own happiness. It’s a tricky balancing act, and the author pulls it off. All main characters are white.

A rewarding depiction of a teen fighting isolation and depression. (Fiction. 13-17)

Pub Date: June 16, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5362-0438-4

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Candlewick

Review Posted Online: March 11, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 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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A satisfying if slightly lesser sequel. (Romance. 13-17)

P.S. I STILL LOVE YOU

From the To All the Boys I've Loved Before series , Vol. 2

Lara Jean's romantic entanglements complicate themselves further.

In the wake of the events detailed in To All the Boys I Loved Before (2014), Lara Jean confesses her love for handsome golden boy Peter. This frees the pair to start a romantic relationship with a clean slate, but over the course of the novel it becomes clear that embarking on a relationship that turns an aggressive blind eye to baggage is never a good idea. When a viral video of a steamy love session between Peter and Lara Jean rears its ugly head and a boy from the past enters Lara Jean's life once more, Lara Jean's life gets complicated. Every character from Han’s adored previous novel is back, with new dimensions given to nearly every one of them. Subplots abound, among them two involving Lara Jean's father and Peter's ex-gal Genevieve, but benefitting most from this second look is John Ambrose McClaren, a boy briefly referenced in the former book who is thrust into the spotlight here as Peter's rival for Lara Jean's heart. With all these characters bouncing around, Han occasionally struggles to keep a steady hand on the novel's primary thrust: Lara Jean’s emotional development. Han gets the job done in the end, but this overeventful sequel pales to the original where structure is concerned. The author's greatest success remains her character work, and the book does indeed give everyone a solid arc, narrative be damned.

A satisfying if slightly lesser sequel. (Romance. 13-17)

Pub Date: May 26, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-4424-2673-3

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: July 4, 2015

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