Football forms the backbone, but music courses through the veins of a dynamic but thoughtful novel of self-discovery

ALWAYS A CATCH

First-generation rich boy Jack is shipped off to prestigious Oakhurst Hall, where he makes varsity football as a walk-on, molds potheads into a recording-worthy band, wows teachers with his insightful writing and meets the intriguing Caroline—but Jack’s a teen, so there’s plenty of angst and self-analysis, too.

Even with mom long-gone to do “good work” in Guatemala (apparently unconcerned about “the work she hasn’t finished” in raising her son), a father obsessed with work, a kind but inexperienced stepmother, and little home support for his loves of music and running, Jack knows he has more going for him than most. But he’s still a teen away from home facing life-altering decisions: bulk up through weightlifting alone, or try steroids? Go with Dad’s “try harder than the people on each side of you” competitive advice or his coach’s “[you’re] playing for the men on each side of you” message? Buck school tradition, or go along to get along? The compressed time frame (football season) and deep bench of characters necessitate skimming over profound development, but the pace is fast and the writing clean, entertaining and candid. An appealing mix of teen confusion and potential, Jack’s greatest threat is his ’roid-raging teammates’ late hits, but a happy outcome is never really in doubt.

Football forms the backbone, but music courses through the veins of a dynamic but thoughtful novel of self-discovery .(Fiction. 12-16)

Pub Date: Sept. 4, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-399-25055-2

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Philomel

Review Posted Online: June 30, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2014

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This is no didactic near-future warning of present evils, but a cinematic adventure featuring endearing, compelling heroes

LEGEND

From the Legend series , Vol. 1

A gripping thriller in dystopic future Los Angeles.

Fifteen-year-olds June and Day live completely different lives in the glorious Republic. June is rich and brilliant, the only candidate ever to get a perfect score in the Trials, and is destined for a glowing career in the military. She looks forward to the day when she can join up and fight the Republic’s treacherous enemies east of the Dakotas. Day, on the other hand, is an anonymous street rat, a slum child who failed his own Trial. He's also the Republic's most wanted criminal, prone to stealing from the rich and giving to the poor. When tragedies strike both their families, the two brilliant teens are thrown into direct opposition. In alternating first-person narratives, Day and June experience coming-of-age adventures in the midst of spying, theft and daredevil combat. Their voices are distinct and richly drawn, from Day’s self-deprecating affection for others to June's Holmesian attention to detail. All the flavor of a post-apocalyptic setting—plagues, class warfare, maniacal soldiers—escalates to greater complexity while leaving space for further worldbuilding in the sequel.

This is no didactic near-future warning of present evils, but a cinematic adventure featuring endearing, compelling heroes . (Science fiction. 12-14)

Pub Date: Nov. 29, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-399-25675-2

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: April 8, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2011

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Heartbreaking, historical, and a little bit hopeful.

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SALT TO THE SEA

January 1945: as Russians advance through East Prussia, four teens’ lives converge in hopes of escape.

Returning to the successful formula of her highly lauded debut, Between Shades of Gray (2011), Sepetys combines research (described in extensive backmatter) with well-crafted fiction to bring to life another little-known story: the sinking (from Soviet torpedoes) of the German ship Wilhelm Gustloff. Told in four alternating voices—Lithuanian nurse Joana, Polish Emilia, Prussian forger Florian, and German soldier Alfred—with often contemporary cadences, this stints on neither history nor fiction. The three sympathetic refugees and their motley companions (especially an orphaned boy and an elderly shoemaker) make it clear that while the Gustloff was a German ship full of German civilians and soldiers during World War II, its sinking was still a tragedy. Only Alfred, stationed on the Gustloff, lacks sympathy; almost a caricature, he is self-delusional, unlikable, a Hitler worshiper. As a vehicle for exposition, however, and a reminder of Germany’s role in the war, he serves an invaluable purpose that almost makes up for the mustache-twirling quality of his petty villainy. The inevitability of the ending (including the loss of several characters) doesn’t change its poignancy, and the short chapters and slowly revealed back stories for each character guarantee the pages keep turning.

Heartbreaking, historical, and a little bit hopeful. (author’s note, research and sources, maps) (Historical fiction. 12-16)

Pub Date: Feb. 2, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-399-16030-1

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Philomel

Review Posted Online: Nov. 3, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2015

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