A thoughtful, engaging tale about loss and growing up.

HALFWAY TO SCHIST

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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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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