This resonant tale about a poetry lover features a unique voice and a hopeful ending.

BEYOND POETRY

A Black teenager rises above tragedy in this coming-of-age novel.

It’s 1995, and life isn’t easy for 14-year-old Leonard Gerard Robinson Jr., known to everyone as Junior. Sports aren’t his thing, which makes it tough to fit in at his school and in his North Philadelphia neighborhood. Junior prefers reading books and writing poetry in his beloved journals, much to the delight of his mother, Sandy, and the chagrin of his father, known as Senior. But Junior finds much-needed solace in words—others’ and his own—especially after a stray bullet ended his younger brother Lawrence’s life the year before. Still mired in grief, Junior’s parents deal with a marriage that’s on the rocks (they were planning to file for divorce on the day Lawrence was shot), and Senior tends to take his anger out on his son. The family moves to a new neighborhood in South Philly for a fresh start, but when Junior is expelled from his high school for standing up to a bully, home life becomes even tenser. Neither of Junior’s parents finished high school, so his graduation is their shared dream. When Junior enters Medgar Evers Secondary, an empathetic school secretary named Casey and a driven teacher called Brother Gay see potential in the angry but intelligent teen and push him to find a life outside of his neighborhood. Jarelle based the setting on his memories of Philadelphia in the 1990s, and the novel pulses with vibrant descriptions and a love for hip-hop stars like Tupac Shakur, Biggie Smalls, and Bone-Thugs-N-Harmony. Junior’s original poetry begins every chapter, deftly setting the scene for the stories to come, and all the poems are available as a collection at the end of the book. Though at times the prose gets repetitive—Junior’s home haircut and secondhand clothes are mentioned multiple times when once would have sufficed—the protagonist’s journey is compelling and addictively readable, the characters rich and nuanced, and the setting nostalgic for those who remember and illuminating for those who don’t.

This resonant tale about a poetry lover features a unique voice and a hopeful ending.

Pub Date: June 9, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-73-622481-6

Page Count: 332

Publisher: Self

Review Posted Online: May 28, 2021

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If novelists are auditioning to play God, Hilderbrand gets the part.

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GOLDEN GIRL

From the greenroom of the afterlife—make that Benjamin Moore "Parsley Snips" green—a newly dead Nantucket novelist watches life unfold without her.

In her 27th novel, Hilderbrand gives herself an alter ego—beloved beach-novel author Vivian Howe—sends her out for a morning jog, and immediately kills her off. A hit-and-run driver leaves Vivi dead by the side of the road, where her son's best friend discovers her body—or was he responsible for the accident? Vivi doesn't know, nor does she know yet that her daughter Willa is pregnant, or that her daughter Carson is having a terribly ill-advised affair, or that her son, Leo, has a gnawing secret, or that her ex is getting tired of the girl he dumped her for. She will discover all this and more as she watches one last summer on Nantucket play out under the tutelage of Martha, her "Person," who receives her in the boho-chic waiting room of the Beyond. Hermès-scarved Martha explains that Vivi will have three nudges—three chances to change the course of events on Earth and prevent her bereaved loved ones from making life-altering mistakes. She will also get to watch the publication of what will be her last novel, titled Golden Girl, natch, and learn the answers to two questions: Will the secret about her own life she buried in this novel come to light (who cares, really—she's dead now), and will it hit No. 1 on the New York Times bestseller list (now there's an interesting question). She'll also get to see that one of her biggest wrongs is posthumously righted and that her kids have learned her most important lesson. As Willa says to Carson, "You know how she treats the characters in her books? She gives them flaws, she portrays them doing horrible things—but the reader loves them anyway. Because Mom loves them. Because they’re human.”

If novelists are auditioning to play God, Hilderbrand gets the part.

Pub Date: June 1, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-31642008-2

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: May 5, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2021

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Light on suspense but still a solid page-turner.

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THE LAST THING HE TOLD ME

When a devoted husband and father disappears, his wife and daughter set out to find him.

Hannah Hall is deeply in love with her husband of one year, Owen Michaels. She’s also determined to win over his 16-year-old daughter, Bailey, who has made it very clear that she’s not thrilled with her new stepmother. Despite the drama, the family is mostly a happy one. They live in a lovely houseboat in Sausalito; Hannah is a woodturner whose handmade furniture brings in high-dollar clientele; and Owen works for The Shop, a successful tech firm. Their lives are shattered, however, when Hannah receives a note saying “Protect her” and can’t reach Owen by phone. Then there’s the bag full of cash Bailey finds in her school locker and the shocking news that The Shop’s CEO has been taken into custody. Hannah learns that the FBI has been investigating the firm for about a year regarding some hot new software they took to market before it was fully functional, falsifying their financial statements. Hannah refuses to believe her husband is involved in the fraud, and a U.S. marshal assigned to the case claims Owen isn’t a suspect. Hannah doesn’t know whom to trust, though, and she and Bailey resolve to root out the clues that might lead to Owen. They must also learn to trust one another. Hannah’s narrative alternates past and present, detailing her early days with Owen alongside her current hunt for him, and author Dave throws in a touch of danger and a few surprises. But what really drives the story is the evolving nature of Hannah and Bailey’s relationship, which is by turns poignant and frustrating but always realistic.

Light on suspense but still a solid page-turner.

Pub Date: May 4, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-5011-7134-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2021

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