An enticing blend of tragedy, poetry, surrealism and redemption.

BELZHAR

In a riveting exploration of the human psyche, her debut for teens, best-selling author Wolitzer offers a story about what it means to lose someone, or something, you love. Twice.

Jam Gallahue is sent to The Wooden Barn, a boarding school for emotionally fragile teens, when she fails to recover from her boyfriend’s death. At first, she can’t fathom how the school will help her. All she wants to do is stay in bed and remember the 41 days she and Reeve shared. One class, “Special Topics in English,” offers her a way to experience those moments in a whole new way—by writing in a particular journal and slipping into a surreal alternate reality. She and the four other members of the class are both thrilled at the opportunity to revel in their old lives and anxious that when the journals fill up, they have to say goodbye all over again. Will the final page be healing or just as terrible as the first loss? Wolitzer’s teenage characters are invigorated, flawed, emotionally real and intensely interesting. Even as readers fold back the layers of the story and discover unexpected truths and tragedies, the plot maintains an integrity that has come to be hallmark of Wolitzer’s novels. In-depth references to Sylvia Plath add highlights to an already robust text.

An enticing blend of tragedy, poetry, surrealism and redemption. (Magical realism. 12-16)

Pub Date: Sept. 30, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-525-42305-8

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Dutton

Review Posted Online: July 29, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2014

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Though it lacks references or suggestions for further reading, Arn's agonizing story is compelling enough that many readers...

NEVER FALL DOWN

A harrowing tale of survival in the Killing Fields.

The childhood of Arn Chorn-Pond has been captured for young readers before, in Michelle Lord and Shino Arihara's picture book, A Song for Cambodia (2008). McCormick, known for issue-oriented realism, offers a fictionalized retelling of Chorn-Pond's youth for older readers. McCormick's version begins when the Khmer Rouge marches into 11-year-old Arn's Cambodian neighborhood and forces everyone into the country. Arn doesn't understand what the Khmer Rouge stands for; he only knows that over the next several years he and the other children shrink away on a handful of rice a day, while the corpses of adults pile ever higher in the mango grove. Arn does what he must to survive—and, wherever possible, to protect a small pocket of children and adults around him. Arn's chilling history pulls no punches, trusting its readers to cope with the reality of children forced to participate in murder, torture, sexual exploitation and genocide. This gut-wrenching tale is marred only by the author's choice to use broken English for both dialogue and description. Chorn-Pond, in real life, has spoken eloquently (and fluently) on the influence he's gained by learning English; this prose diminishes both his struggle and his story.

Though it lacks references or suggestions for further reading, Arn's agonizing story is compelling enough that many readers will seek out the history themselves. (preface, author's note) (Historical fiction. 12-15)

Pub Date: May 8, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-06-173093-1

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: March 21, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2012

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Despite the stale fat-to-curvy pattern, compelling world building with a Southern European, pseudo-Christian feel,...

THE GIRL OF FIRE AND THORNS

From the Girl of Fire and Thorns series , Vol. 1

Adventure drags our heroine all over the map of fantasyland while giving her the opportunity to use her smarts.

Elisa—Princess Lucero-Elisa de Riqueza of Orovalle—has been chosen for Service since the day she was born, when a beam of holy light put a Godstone in her navel. She's a devout reader of holy books and is well-versed in the military strategy text Belleza Guerra, but she has been kept in ignorance of world affairs. With no warning, this fat, self-loathing princess is married off to a distant king and is embroiled in political and spiritual intrigue. War is coming, and perhaps only Elisa's Godstone—and knowledge from the Belleza Guerra—can save them. Elisa uses her untried strategic knowledge to always-good effect. With a character so smart that she doesn't have much to learn, body size is stereotypically substituted for character development. Elisa’s "mountainous" body shrivels away when she spends a month on forced march eating rat, and thus she is a better person. Still, it's wonderfully refreshing to see a heroine using her brain to win a war rather than strapping on a sword and charging into battle.

Despite the stale fat-to-curvy pattern, compelling world building with a Southern European, pseudo-Christian feel, reminiscent of Naomi Kritzer's Fires of the Faithful (2002), keeps this entry fresh. (Fantasy. 12-14)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-06-202648-4

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Greenwillow Books

Review Posted Online: July 20, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2011

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