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AZAR ON FIRE

A poignant, engaging, and affirming novel.

Azar Rossi hastens to put a band together in this stand-alone story featuring several characters from Abtahi’s debut, Perfectly Parvin (2021).

Self-conscious Azar loves writing song lyrics and drumming, but nodules on her vocal cords and frequent throat infections affect the sound of her voice, resulting in the already reserved ninth grader’s avoiding not only singing, but talking. When she accidentally damages costly supplies in the janitor’s closet, her principal suggests she represent their school at an upcoming battle of the bands. The winner gets $10,000—so she can show her contrition, possibly cover the expenses, and at least add one extracurricular to her record. Her adoring but overworked mom struggles to make ends meet, so Azar obliges, surprising even herself by asking popular White athlete Eben to be the lead singer. Bassist Nadim, a new student from Beirut, plus Argentinian American Matty on guitar fill out the rest of the band, forcing headstrong Azar to learn the art of compromise as she works with other talented musicians. Azar has an Italian American dad; her maternal grandparents are from Iran and Argentina. Cultural details about Azar’s family enhance this positive story, with distinctive and hilarious first-person narration, of literally finding one’s voice. Azar’s cousin points out that Azar seems to fit the definition of demisexual, which tracks with her growing relationship with love interest Eben.

A poignant, engaging, and affirming novel. (Fiction. 12-18)

Pub Date: Aug. 23, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-593-10945-8

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Nancy Paulsen Books

Review Posted Online: June 7, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2022

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IF HE HAD BEEN WITH ME

There’s not much plot here, but readers will relish the opportunity to climb inside Autumn’s head.

The finely drawn characters capture readers’ attention in this debut.

Autumn and Phineas, nicknamed Finny, were born a week apart; their mothers are still best friends. Growing up, Autumn and Finny were like peas in a pod despite their differences: Autumn is “quirky and odd,” while Finny is “sweet and shy and everyone like[s] him.” But in eighth grade, Autumn and Finny stop being friends due to an unexpected kiss. They drift apart and find new friends, but their friendship keeps asserting itself at parties, shared holiday gatherings and random encounters. In the summer after graduation, Autumn and Finny reconnect and are finally ready to be more than friends. But on August 8, everything changes, and Autumn has to rely on all her strength to move on. Autumn’s coming-of-age is sensitively chronicled, with a wide range of experiences and events shaping her character. Even secondary characters are well-rounded, with their own histories and motivations.

There’s not much plot here, but readers will relish the opportunity to climb inside Autumn’s head.   (Fiction. 14 & up)

Pub Date: April 1, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-4022-7782-5

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire

Review Posted Online: Feb. 12, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2013

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POWERLESS

From the Powerless Trilogy series , Vol. 1

A lackluster and sometimes disturbing mishmash of overused tropes.

The Plague has left a population divided between Elites and Ordinaries—those who have powers and those who don’t; now, an Ordinary teen fights for her life.

Paedyn Gray witnessed the king kill her father five years ago, and she’s been thieving and sleeping rough ever since, all while faking Psychic abilities. When she inadvertently saves the life of Prince Kai, she becomes embroiled in the Purging Trials, a competition to commemorate the sickness that killed most of the kingdom’s Ordinaries. Kai’s duties as the future Enforcer include eradicating any remaining Ordinaries, and these Trials are his chance to prove that he’s internalized his brutal training. But Kai can’t help but find Pae’s blue eyes, silver hair, and unabashed attitude enchanting. She likewise struggles to resist his stormy gray eyes, dark hair, and rakish behavior, even as they’re pitted against each other in the Trials and by the king himself. Scenes and concepts that are strongly reminiscent of the Hunger Games fall flat: They aren’t bolstered by the original’s heart or worldbuilding logic that would have justified a few extreme story elements. Illogical leaps and inconsistent characterizations abound, with lighthearted romantic interludes juxtaposed against genocide, child abuse, and sadism. These elements, which are not sufficiently addressed, combined with the use of ableist language, cannot be erased by any amount of romantic banter. Main characters are cued white; the supporting cast has some brown-skinned characters.

A lackluster and sometimes disturbing mishmash of overused tropes. (map) (Fantasy. 14-18)

Pub Date: Nov. 7, 2023

ISBN: 9798987380406

Page Count: 538

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Sept. 9, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2023

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