Stokes’ engaging prose and sympathetic characters serve up great lessons in acceptance for teens dealing with trauma.

GIRL AGAINST THE UNIVERSE

A seemingly cursed teen tests her luck.

Sixteen-year-old Maguire has had it rough. Five years prior, she was the lone survivor of a car crash that claimed the lives of her father, brother, and uncle. A year later, the roller coaster carriage she was in careened off the track, critically injuring everyone else around her. Shortly after that, when the white teen found herself running toward her neighbor’s house as it was engulfed by flames, Stokes’ besieged protagonist wound up in therapy, where this bildungsroman opens and much of its introspective character development plays out, session by session. Viewing herself a “disaster magnet” rather than uncannily lucky, Maguire suffers so terribly from survivor’s guilt that she begins actively avoiding others, thinking “accidentally hurting yourself is way better than hurting other people.” As Maguire’s fears and compulsive coping mechanisms threaten to derail her adolescence, she meets an alluring, white classmate in her therapist’s waiting room—with a few issues of his own to work out—and the two team up to see if each can exorcise the other’s demons. Though the disasters in Stokes’s calamity-filled plotline occur with soap-operatic frequency, the progression of Maguire’s treatment unfolds convincingly as she attempts the various cognitive behavioral challenges her therapist sets before her.

Stokes’ engaging prose and sympathetic characters serve up great lessons in acceptance for teens dealing with trauma. (Fiction. 14-18)

Pub Date: May 17, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-06-237996-2

Page Count: 400

Publisher: HarperTeen

Review Posted Online: Feb. 17, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2016

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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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An unsettling but easy-to-read blend of social media savvy and gritty gumshoe work.

14 WAYS TO DIE

A teen sleuth tries livestreaming to catch a murderer.

Seventeen-year-old Jessica Simmons lost her mother a decade ago, the first victim of the Magpie Man, a serial killer now on victim No. 13, who has struck in locations around the U.K. Her father’s life is still in shambles and her former friends are long gone, but Jessica’s decided to publicize her tragedy. One of five contestants on YouTube’s “The Eye”—an unscripted, livestreamed reality show—Jessica asks her viewers to help identify the serial killer. But inviting the world into her home and school brings unwanted attention, perhaps even from the Magpie Man, whose body count keeps climbing: Sleuthing-related drama and peril ensue. Jessica’s friends and family are economically rendered yet believable, and Ralph renders grief beautifully and devastatingly, as something that evolves but doesn’t end. As in the story, the bulk of the action occurs when the cameras aren’t rolling, and eventually, the reality show premise and its minimally developed contestants are more a distraction and transparent deus ex machina than an integral part of Jessica’s journey. More intriguing—and with real-life precedents—is the possibility of crowdsourcing a murder investigation. Although the fast-paced finale can’t quite overcome the slow start and overlong middle, the tale reaches a dramatic, satisfactory conclusion. Characters follow a White default.

An unsettling but easy-to-read blend of social media savvy and gritty gumshoe work. (resources, author interview) (Thriller. 14-18)

Pub Date: June 1, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-72823-186-0

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire

Review Posted Online: March 31, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2021

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