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An often powerful intergenerational story that overcomes its commonplace life lessons.

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A realistic YA story follows a teen’s journey from caving in to peer pressure to finding her own path.

Carney’s debut novel opens with 14-year-old Jennifer Shaw making a poor decision to help her friend and fellow student Sammy steal a purse from an older woman. From the very beginning, the author highlights Jennifer’s thought processes; the girl feels reluctance about the endeavor but also assumes that Sammy knows what he’s doing. Jennifer is caught by authorities and sentenced to community service in the Pine Rest Care Center. There, she’ll interact with many elderly people, as the judge wants her to learn to respect her elders. The teen begins a journey of self-discovery that alternates between negative influences and new, positive ones. For example, she later teases Tom Goodhue, her classmate and math whiz—until she realizes that she has more in common with him than she thought. Carney effectively shows how Jennifer gradually progresses from a state of somewhat numb unhappiness to a warmer attitude that includes growing respect for the seniors of Pine Rest as well as for the many adults who support her. (The teen even grudgingly helps plan a dance inspired by her comment that Tom is from “Planet Weirdo”—a mean concept that’s transformed into a creative story.) At the same time, she enjoys the attention of Sammy, who’s fallen in with a suspect group of people, and eventually she must choose a side. The smooth pacing of the text admirably sets up Jennifer’s relationships, and Carney ably develops many characters as she muses on the nature of community service. Overall, the book’s concepts aren’t new, but readers will enjoy how the author portrays Jennifer’s spunk, creativity, and growth as she faces changes in her life.

An often powerful intergenerational story that overcomes its commonplace life lessons.

Pub Date: July 2, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-68470-672-3

Page Count: 188

Publisher: Lulu

Review Posted Online: April 7, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2020

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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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An ode to the children of migrants who have been taken away.

A Mexican American boy takes on heavy responsibilities when his family is torn apart.

Mateo’s life is turned upside down the day U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents show up unsuccessfully seeking his Pa at his New York City bodega. The Garcias live in fear until the day both parents are picked up; his Pa is taken to jail and his Ma to a detention center. The adults around Mateo offer support to him and his 7-year-old sister, Sophie, however, he knows he is now responsible for caring for her and the bodega as well as trying to survive junior year—that is, if he wants to fulfill his dream to enter the drama program at the Tisch School of the Arts and become an actor. Mateo’s relationships with his friends Kimmie and Adam (a potential love interest) also suffer repercussions as he keeps his situation a secret. Kimmie is half Korean (her other half is unspecified) and Adam is Italian American; Mateo feels disconnected from them, less American, and with worries they can’t understand. He talks himself out of choosing a safer course of action, a decision that deepens the story. Mateo’s self-awareness and inner monologue at times make him seem older than 16, and, with significant turmoil in the main plot, some side elements feel underdeveloped. Aleman’s narrative joins the ranks of heart-wrenching stories of migrant families who have been separated.

An ode to the children of migrants who have been taken away. (Fiction. 14-18)

Pub Date: May 4, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-7595-5605-8

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Feb. 22, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2021

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