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WHEN YOU LOOK LIKE US

A powerful story about misperceptions, reality, and the lives lived in between.

A high school junior fights to find his sister before times runs out.

Black 16-year-old Jayson Murphy hopes to make it one step closer to leaving the Ducts, a paycheck-to-paycheck neighborhood in Newport News, Virginia. Jay does his best to make his paternal grandmother, MiMi, proud. After his father passed from cancer and his mom’s struggles with addiction put her behind bars, MiMi stepped in for Jay and his older sister, Nic. While Jay tries to ease MiMi’s stress, Nic stays out all hours with her shady, drug-dealing boyfriend. Jay is tired of covering for Nic; after receiving an unintelligible call, he decides this time is the last. But after a few days, he realizes she is missing. Though his White best friend from school and the Black preacher’s daughter he teaches Sunday school with are willing to help, Jay has trouble trusting others to care as much as he does. This deftly written tale peels back the layers of a much-maligned neighborhood and its vibrant, complex residents—and exposes the dark, violent underbelly of White America. Ultimately, Jay’s community proves to be stronger and more powerful than any bad reputation. Harris’ book shines a light on the repercussions of institutionalized racism on Black communities and the plight of missing Black girls. Readers will ponder this story long after they turn the final page.

A powerful story about misperceptions, reality, and the lives lived in between. (Fiction. 14-18)

Pub Date: Jan. 5, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-06-294589-1

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Quill Tree Books/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Sept. 28, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2020

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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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IF ONLY I HAD TOLD HER

A heavy read about the harsh realities of tragedy and their effects on those left behind.

In this companion novel to 2013’s If He Had Been With Me, three characters tell their sides of the story.

Finn’s narrative starts three days before his death. He explores the progress of his unrequited love for best friend Autumn up until the day he finally expresses his feelings. Finn’s story ends with his tragic death, which leaves his close friends devastated, unmoored, and uncertain how to go on. Jack’s section follows, offering a heartbreaking look at what it’s like to live with grief. Jack works to overcome the anger he feels toward Sylvie, the girlfriend Finn was breaking up with when he died, and Autumn, the girl he was preparing to build his life around (but whom Jack believed wasn’t good enough for Finn). But when Jack sees how Autumn’s grief matches his own, it changes their understanding of one another. Autumn’s chapters trace her life without Finn as readers follow her struggles with mental health and balancing love and loss. Those who have read the earlier book will better connect with and feel for these characters, particularly since they’ll have a more well-rounded impression of Finn. The pain and anger is well written, and the novel highlights the most troublesome aspects of young adulthood: overconfidence sprinkled with heavy insecurities, fear-fueled decisions, bad communication, and brash judgments. Characters are cued white.

A heavy read about the harsh realities of tragedy and their effects on those left behind. (author’s note, content warning) (Fiction. 14-18)

Pub Date: Feb. 6, 2024

ISBN: 9781728276229

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire

Review Posted Online: Jan. 5, 2024

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2024

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