At once frustrating and deeply moving, this ambitious novel comes tantalizingly close to getting it right.

READ REVIEW

SURFACING

When Leah was 9 and Maggie 5, the sisters made a forbidden trip to the condo pool, where Leah drowned. Now 15 and a swim-team star, Maggie interprets her world, her worth and her choices through the prism of that loss.

Loner Maggie has one loyal friend, Julie, and acquires another in Nathan, the boy she’s drawn into her life for reasons she can’t explain. (Maggie’s abrupt, often self-destructive choices may puzzle readers.) With heartbreaking clarity, Baskin limns a family tragedy that’s marked each member, showing how, for even the youngest, grief and loss can scab over into guilt and blame. Leah’s death even haunts Maggie’s twin brothers, born years later. Water, the all-purpose metaphor, serves the tale well, but other tropes are less successful, like Maggie’s unwanted, near-magical power to draw deeply personal confessions from others. In encounters with these undervalued characters (their only role to confess), Maggie’s indifference to their pain casts her in a harsh light. Throughout, Leah makes ghostly appearances, describing the motivations that led to her drowning with unvarnished honesty. Yet her voice also sounds a quasi-fantastic note that undermines the story’s closely observed, lyrical realism.

At once frustrating and deeply moving, this ambitious novel comes tantalizingly close to getting it right. (Fiction. 14 & up)

Pub Date: March 12, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-7636-4908-1

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Candlewick

Review Posted Online: Dec. 1, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2012

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A carefully researched, precisely written tour de force; unforgettable and wrenching.

CODE NAME VERITY

Breaking away from Arthurian legends (The Winter Prince, 1993, etc.), Wein delivers a heartbreaking tale of friendship during World War II.

In a cell in Nazi-occupied France, a young woman writes. Like Scheherezade, to whom she is compared by the SS officer in charge of her case, she dribbles out information—“everything I can remember about the British War Effort”—in exchange for time and a reprieve from torture. But her story is more than a listing of wireless codes or aircraft types. Instead, she describes her friendship with Maddie, the pilot who flew them to France, as well as the real details of the British War Effort: the breaking down of class barriers, the opportunities, the fears and victories not only of war, but of daily life. She also describes, almost casually, her unbearable current situation and the SS officer who holds her life in his hands and his beleaguered female associate, who translates the narrative each day. Through the layers of story, characters (including the Nazis) spring to life. And as the epigraph makes clear, there is more to this tale than is immediately apparent. The twists will lead readers to finish the last page and turn back to the beginning to see how the pieces slot perfectly, unexpectedly into place.

A carefully researched, precisely written tour de force; unforgettable and wrenching. (Historical fiction. 14 & up)

Pub Date: May 15, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-4231-5219-4

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Hyperion

Review Posted Online: Feb. 15, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2012

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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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