An unusual and intriguing puzzle of a book.

MESSENGER OF FEAR

From the Messenger of Fear series , Vol. 1

Sixteen-year-old Mara thinks she might be dead when she wakes up in a mist and finds herself with a strange boy dressed in black and displaying frightening supernatural powers.

Neither Mara nor readers will understand what’s going on until the final pages of this interesting paranormal mystery, but readers, at least, can have plenty of fun speculating about it. The boy, the titular Messenger of Fear, tells Mara that she is not dead but that she has become his apprentice—apparently by her own choice. Her response is emotional when Messenger shows her the suicide of a high school girl named Samantha. As part of her training, the Messenger then demonstrates his task when they follow a couple that commits a wrong, giving them the option of winning a gruesome game or facing their worst fears. Later, Mara will begin to understand what that choice means when she witnesses a boy being burned at the stake, a scene described in gruesome detail. But the story keeps returning to Samantha, and Mara begins to anticipate the punishment of the girl who knowingly bullied Samantha, literally, to death. Grant only slowly unveils the reason Mara is with the Messenger, building tension and atmosphere expertly for maximum impact. Readers will find that in the end, it all comes together extremely well.

An unusual and intriguing puzzle of a book. (Paranormal suspense. 14 & up)

Pub Date: Sept. 23, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-06-220740-1

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Katherine Tegen/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: July 16, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2014

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Many teen novels touch on similar themes, but few do it so memorably.

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ALL THE BRIGHT PLACES

Two struggling teens develop an unlikely relationship in a moving exploration of grief, suicide and young love.

Violet, a writer and member of the popular crowd, has withdrawn from her friends and from school activities since her sister died in a car accident nine months earlier. Finch, known to his classmates as "Theodore Freak," is famously impulsive and eccentric. Following their meeting in the school bell tower, Finch makes it his mission to re-engage Violet with the world, partially through a school project that sends them to offbeat Indiana landmarks and partially through simple persistence. (Violet and Finch live, fortunately for all involved, in the sort of romantic universe where his throwing rocks at her window in the middle of the night comes off more charming than stalker-esque.) The teens alternate narration chapter by chapter, each in a unique and well-realized voice. Finch's self-destructive streak and suicidal impulses are never far from the surface, and the chapters he narrates are interspersed with facts about suicide methods and quotations from Virginia Woolf and poet Cesare Pavese. When the story inevitably turns tragic, a cast of carefully drawn side characters brings to life both the pain of loss and the possibility of moving forward, though some notes of hope are more believable than others.

Many teen novels touch on similar themes, but few do it so memorably. (Fiction. 14 & up)

Pub Date: Jan. 6, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-385-75588-7

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Oct. 1, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2014

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More a story about falling in love with yourself than with a romantic interest, this novel will resonate with all readers...

HOLDING UP THE UNIVERSE

Love blooms between two teens—a white girl who refuses to be judged and a biracial boy who hides himself from judgment.

Libby Strout was once America's Fattest Teen, whose house had to be cut open to allow her to be taken to the hospital. After three years of weight loss and counseling, Libby's returning to school, where Jack Masselin is the big man on campus. Full of swagger and the life of the party, Jack has developed this persona to hide the truth about himself: he can't recognize faces due to a condition known as prosopagnosia—he doesn't even recognize himself except by his Afro. When Jack grabs Libby in a cruel “game” called Fat Girl Rodeo, she punches him in the mouth, and they both wind up in group counseling. Spending time together will inspire each of them to become stronger, and slowly a kind of friendship develops that turns into more. The narration alternates between the two, effectively getting readers into both kids’ heads. The discomfort and fear that Jack feels come through clearly, as he constantly rehearses the “identifiers” of everyone he knows in order to avoid embarrassing mistakes, as do Libby's particular anxieties: will she get stuck behind her desk? Will her peers ever see her for herself?

More a story about falling in love with yourself than with a romantic interest, this novel will resonate with all readers who’ve struggled to love themselves. (Fiction. 14-18)

Pub Date: Oct. 4, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-385-75592-4

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: July 20, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2016

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