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HALFWAY TO SCHIST

A thoughtful, engaging tale about loss and growing up.

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A teenage American girl finds herself on a remote Canadian lake in this geology-themed YA novel.

Buffalo, New York, 1955. Red Rogers knows a lot about rocks. Both her parents are geologists, so it comes with the territory. After her mom chooses suicide, Red realizes that rocks were central to the way the woman interacted with the world. “My father liked to say I needed to understand that my mother had been born with a heart of stone,” recalls Red. “My mother, he said, couldn’t comprehend human nature, especially her own, but she understood stones, rocks and ice, and all the processes they went through.” Just as Red is settling into high school, her father decides to move both of them to a remote Canadian island in order to renovate his dead uncle’s fishing lodge—not exactly the kind of place where Red wants to spend her 16th birthday. The lodge is even more rustic and isolated than Red had imagined, but she finds some unexpected friendships with two local teens: Walter Mohaney, a skilled carpenter and amateur boatbuilder, and Isadore Whitefeather, a handy First Nations mechanic who works alongside his stoic grandfather. After Red acclimates to the tensions between the townies and the wealthy seasonal tourists—and an unexpected organized crime presence—she comes to better understand her father and her deceased mother. As Red’s summer unfolds, she examines some of the geology-centric fables that her mother bequeathed her in an old diary as well as the letter she left labeled “FOR RED. DO NOT OPEN UNTIL YOUR 16th BIRTHDAY.” If there’s one thing that every rockhound knows, it’s that human lives pass by in the blink of an eye—at least when you’re measuring them in geological time.

Bridgford’s prose is measured but full of movement, deftly capturing both Red’s angst and the liberty she feels in her new setting: “I kept the boat zipping along, and soon the freedom of being my own captain became intoxicating to me. I never wanted it to stop. For the first time I felt completely free and I wanted nothing more than to be alongside a noisy boat motor and feel the spray and wind on my face as I piloted my own craft among the islands of what now seemed such an enchanting place.” Red narrates the book from far in the future, which makes the story feel more contemplative than urgent. The author displays a tendency to let Red summarize her memories more often than dramatizing them as scenes. This, coupled with the 1950s setting, brings to mind an earlier era of YA fiction. That isn’t to say that the novel doesn’t have many of the familiar tropes of the genre, including social hierarchies, fast friendships, betrayals, queer longing, and a fairly explosive ending. Red lives a lot of life over the course of one summer, and by the time readers reach the final pages, they will feel as if they have, too.

A thoughtful, engaging tale about loss and growing up.

Pub Date: March 31, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-68433-909-9

Page Count: 276

Publisher: Black Rose Writing

Review Posted Online: Jan. 18, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 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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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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