Childhood at its most hopeful and heartbreaking; readers seeking lighthearted, sanitized fare should turn away.

PLAYING FOR THE DEVIL'S FIRE

In photojournalist Diederich’s harrowing debut novel, 13-year-old Liberio “Boli” Flores endures the effects of narcoviolence sweeping Mexico.

Brutal change comes to the pueblo of Izayoc when the townspeople discover the severed head of a teacher. Soon, new cars with California plates appear in the village, driven by men in flashy clothes. After another body—a woman’s—turns up in a field, Boli and his village suspect the worst: “Something was going on.” Boli’s parents go to nearby Toluca to request assistance from the federal police. Meanwhile, life goes on, and Boli and his best friend, Mosca, shine shoes to scrape together enough money for a wrestling event at a fair. When his parents fail to return, Boli longs to uncover the truth behind their disappearance, as he solicits help from El Chicano Estrada, a washed-up, jaded luchador. Though he filters this narrative through Boli’s starry-eyed perspective, Diederich doesn’t hold back in his depiction of corruption and loss. Full of grim and shocking violence, Izayoc here represents a demoralizing reality perhaps already too familiar. Boli and Chicano’s investigative efforts expose nothing but bad news: “We are a country built on lies. Listen, forget the illusion that the world is a good place. It’s not.” The conclusion provides only a dubious sense of closure.

Childhood at its most hopeful and heartbreaking; readers seeking lighthearted, sanitized fare should turn away. (glossary) (Fiction. 12-15)

Pub Date: Feb. 9, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-941026-29-8

Page Count: 232

Publisher: Cinco Puntos Press

Review Posted Online: Jan. 9, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2016

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

Characters to love, quips to snort at, insights to ponder: typical Spinelli.

DEAD WEDNESDAY

For two teenagers, a small town’s annual cautionary ritual becomes both a life- and a death-changing experience.

On the second Wednesday in June, every eighth grader in Amber Springs, Pennsylvania, gets a black shirt, the name and picture of a teen killed the previous year through reckless behavior—and the silent treatment from everyone in town. Like many of his classmates, shy, self-conscious Robbie “Worm” Tarnauer has been looking forward to Dead Wed as a day for cutting loose rather than sober reflection…until he finds himself talking to a strange girl or, as she would have it, “spectral maiden,” only he can see or touch. Becca Finch is as surprised and confused as Worm, only remembering losing control of her car on an icy slope that past Christmas Eve. But being (or having been, anyway) a more outgoing sort, she sees their encounter as a sign that she’s got a mission. What follows, in a long conversational ramble through town and beyond, is a day at once ordinary yet rich in discovery and self-discovery—not just for Worm, but for Becca too, with a climactic twist that leaves both ready, or readier, for whatever may come next. Spinelli shines at setting a tongue-in-cheek tone for a tale with serious underpinnings, and as in Stargirl (2000), readers will be swept into the relationship that develops between this adolescent odd couple. Characters follow a White default.

Characters to love, quips to snort at, insights to ponder: typical Spinelli. (Fiction. 12-15)

Pub Date: Aug. 3, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-30667-3

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: June 1, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2021

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

Stronger books may exist about the 1960s, but female friendship tales never go out of style.

BAD GIRLS NEVER SAY DIE

For “bad girls,” hell can be a place on Earth.

In Houston in the early ’60s, girls only seem to have two choices: be a good girl and get married or be a bad girl and live your life. Fifteen-year-old Evie, from a working-class White family, became a bad girl after her sister’s shotgun wedding took her away from home. Mexican American neighbor Juanita, who smokes, drinks, wears intense eye makeup, and runs with the tough crowd, takes Evie under her wing, but despite the loyalty of this new sisterhood, Evie often feels uncertain of her place. When a rich girl from the wealthy part of town named Diane saves Evie from assault by killing the attacker, Evie finds a new friend and, through that friendship, discovers her own courage. This work borrows a few recognizable beats from S.E. Hinton’s 1967 classic, The Outsiders—class tensions, friendship, death, and a first-person narrative that frequently employs the word tuff—but with a gender-swapped spin. Overall, the novel would have benefited from a stronger evocation of the setting. During an era of societal upheaval, Evie struggles to reconcile her frustration at the limited roles defined for her and her friends, with many moments of understanding and reflection that will resonate with modern readers’ sensibilities—although sadly she still victim blames herself for the attempted assault.

Stronger books may exist about the 1960s, but female friendship tales never go out of style. (author's note, resources) (Historical fiction. 12-15)

Pub Date: Oct. 19, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-250-23258-8

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Roaring Brook Press

Review Posted Online: Aug. 16, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2021

Did you like this book?

more