While Leo’s story won’t set any records, the right readers will happily race with him to the finish line.

RUNNING FULL TILT

Currinder’s quiet debut explores the complexities of living with a sibling with disabilities.

High school junior Leo loves his older brother, Caleb, even if he doesn’t always understand him. Caleb has autism, seizures, and unspecified cognitive delays that cause him to process and communicate with the world in ways that Leo does not. As Caleb’s interactions with him become increasingly violent (though seemingly nonmalicious), Leo takes up running as a form of escape, firmly deciding he would rather find his own escape than risk institutionalizing Caleb. When their family decides to move from their St. Louis suburb to a town that will provide more privacy, Leo is excited about the prospect of joining his new school’s cross-country team. The team, it turns out, is made up primarily of undedicated outsiders, with the exception of Curtis, an unusually formal and focused senior who immediately takes Leo under his wing. As Leo juggles his friendship with Curtis and a budding relationship with a female classmate, he also works to balance his home life, struggling with his relationship with Curtis and watching his parents’ relationship rapidly deteriorate. Leo’s first-person narration expresses affection and respect for Caleb, although his lengthy descriptions of training and races tend to drag for readers who are not enthusiastic runners. A late-in-the-book tragedy affirms problematic disability tropes, cheapens what seems otherwise to have been a sensitive depiction of a character with intersecting disabilities, and turns Caleb into a plot device. The primary cast is a white one.

While Leo’s story won’t set any records, the right readers will happily race with him to the finish line. (Fiction. 14-17)

Pub Date: Sept. 5, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-58089-802-7

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Charlesbridge Teen

Review Posted Online: May 31, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2017

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“Cinderella” but with genocide and rebel plots.

ASH PRINCESS

From the Ash Princess series , Vol. 1

The daughter of a murdered queen plots to take back what is hers.

With her country seized and her mother, the Fire Queen of Astrea, murdered by invaders when she was only 6 years old, Theodosia has been a prisoner for 10 years, stripped of her crown, her people enslaved. Theo (renamed Thora by her captors) is at the mercy of the Kaiser—the fearsome ruler of the Kalovaxians—enduring his malicious whims in order to survive. But when the Kaiser forces Theo to execute her own father, survival is no longer good enough, and she finally takes up the mantle of queen to lead her people’s rise to resistance in a land saturated in elemental magic. Debut author Sebastian has invigorated some well-worn fantasy tropes (a displaced heir, an underground rebellion, and a love triangle that muddies the distinctions between enemies and allies), delivering a narrative that crackles with political intrigue, powerful and debilitating magic, and the violent mechanisms of colonization even as it leaves sequel-primed gaps. Some details—like Theo’s crisis of identity and Hamletian indecision—work well to submerge readers in a turbulent and enthralling plot; others, like racialized descriptions that fall short of actual representation (Atreans are dark-haired and olive-skinned, Kalovaxians are blond and pale-skinned) and the use of magic-induced madness for narrative shock and awe feel lazy and distracting among more nuanced elements.

“Cinderella” but with genocide and rebel plots. (Fantasy. 14-17)

Pub Date: April 24, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6706-8

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: April 3, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 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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