A sharp, shockingly believable look at the inner-city life of a student.

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BLUFORD HIGH SERIES #19

Langan (Survivor, 2013, etc.), the editor of the YA Bluford High series and author of several in the series, offers a cleareyed look at the challenges faced by an inner-city high school student and his family.

The walls are closing in on 15-year-old Tyray Hobbs. Tough and big for his age, he’s an academic failure who’s been bullying other kids for years. Everyone is scared of him, even the few guys who hang out with him. That all changes in an instant when Darrell Mercer, Tyray’s longtime victim, turns the tables and publicly overpowers him. His humiliation complete and no longer feared, Tyray is now openly taunted and ostracized by all his fellow classmates. With violent crime and drug dealing commonplace in Tyray’s world, he responds to defeat by procuring a gun from someone in his neighborhood and going after Darrell in a dark alley. Darrell escapes the tense situation and helps stop any further violence, including Tyray’s suicide attempt. But when word of the gun and the abortive shootout reaches Tyray’s father, he reacts with fury. Nonetheless, he helps his younger son hide the weapon; it’s too late for the father to help Warren, his older son, who’s already in prison for a gun-related crime. In a stinging assertion, Tyray’s father tells him he’s no good and he’ll end up in prison like his brother. But Tyray isn’t yet ready to change. Further along in his journey, he’s guided by a compassionate teacher; his rueful brother, Warren; and Lark, a genuinely caring girl. Finally, by helping someone else out of a dangerous spot, he gains understanding and hope for redemption. Although the story follows a somewhat predictable YA trajectory, it doesn’t condescend to its audience or minimize the stakes. Action and characters ring true, and the language is conversational rather than unfailingly correct, though the author doesn’t attempt to be overly hip with the latest street slang. The tense, realistic story shows how quickly situations among young people can turn violent—even deadly—despite the best efforts of school officials and parents.

A sharp, shockingly believable look at the inner-city life of a student.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 2013

ISBN: 978-1591943037

Page Count: 151

Publisher: Townsend Press

Review Posted Online: Aug. 21, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2013

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Engrossing, contemplative, and as heart-wrenching as the title promises.

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THEY BOTH DIE AT THE END

What would you do with one day left to live?

In an alternate present, a company named Death-Cast calls Deckers—people who will die within the coming day—to inform them of their impending deaths, though not how they will happen. The End Day call comes for two teenagers living in New York City: Puerto Rican Mateo and bisexual Cuban-American foster kid Rufus. Rufus needs company after a violent act puts cops on his tail and lands his friends in jail; Mateo wants someone to push him past his comfort zone after a lifetime of playing it safe. The two meet through Last Friend, an app that connects lonely Deckers (one of many ways in which Death-Cast influences social media). Mateo and Rufus set out to seize the day together in their final hours, during which their deepening friendship blossoms into something more. Present-tense chapters, short and time-stamped, primarily feature the protagonists’ distinctive first-person narrations. Fleeting third-person chapters give windows into the lives of other characters they encounter, underscoring how even a tiny action can change the course of someone else’s life. It’s another standout from Silvera (History Is All You Left Me, 2017, etc.), who here grapples gracefully with heavy questions about death and the meaning of a life well-lived.

Engrossing, contemplative, and as heart-wrenching as the title promises. (Speculative fiction. 13-adult).

Pub Date: Sept. 5, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-06-245779-0

Page Count: 384

Publisher: HarperTeen

Review Posted Online: June 5, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2017

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Riveting, brutal and beautifully told.

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WE WERE LIARS

A devastating tale of greed and secrets springs from the summer that tore Cady’s life apart.

Cady Sinclair’s family uses its inherited wealth to ensure that each successive generation is blond, beautiful and powerful. Reunited each summer by the family patriarch on his private island, his three adult daughters and various grandchildren lead charmed, fairy-tale lives (an idea reinforced by the periodic inclusions of Cady’s reworkings of fairy tales to tell the Sinclair family story). But this is no sanitized, modern Disney fairy tale; this is Cinderella with her stepsisters’ slashed heels in bloody glass slippers. Cady’s fairy-tale retellings are dark, as is the personal tragedy that has led to her examination of the skeletons in the Sinclair castle’s closets; its rent turns out to be extracted in personal sacrifices. Brilliantly, Lockhart resists simply crucifying the Sinclairs, which might make the family’s foreshadowed tragedy predictable or even satisfying. Instead, she humanizes them (and their painful contradictions) by including nostalgic images that showcase the love shared among Cady, her two cousins closest in age, and Gat, the Heathcliff-esque figure she has always loved. Though increasingly disenchanted with the Sinclair legacy of self-absorption, the four believe family redemption is possible—if they have the courage to act. Their sincere hopes and foolish naïveté make the teens’ desperate, grand gesture all that much more tragic.

Riveting, brutal and beautifully told. (Fiction. 14 & up)

Pub Date: May 13, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-385-74126-2

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: March 17, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2014

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