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A treat.

Romance blooms even during turbulent winters.

Missed chances on New Year’s Eve, a Star Wars movie premiere, the soundtrack to grieving a breakup, breaking traditions for a school dance, celebrating holidays amid a pandemic, a modern fairy tale, stark realizations about life passing by, the awkwardness of bringing a boyfriend home for Christmas, and characters in limbo, waiting to be written into the story: Rowell weaves these scenarios into nine short stories, some realistic and some fantasy and most taking place during the winter or relating to holidays. A number are set in the author’s home state of Nebraska. Fans will recognize a few familiar characters, including Simon and Baz from Carry On (2015), the sole queer couple in this collection. All but one story ends in a definite romance, but they are all about the honest, layers-peeled-back connections by which people feel seen by one another. With this volume, which includes four previously published entries, Rowell offers more of what she does best: character-driven stories interlaced with a healthy dose of nerdiness and a little sappy indulgence thrown in as a treat. It’s easy to get swept up in these tales and root so passionately for the protagonists that it almost hurts, but readers will close the covers feeling satisfied. Except for one Vietnamese American protagonist, the cast is predominantly White. Each story is prefaced by an attractive mulberry- or mint green–and-white, full-page illustration that helps set the mood.

A treat. (Short stories. 14-18)

Pub Date: Nov. 8, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-2508-5541-1

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Wednesday Books

Review Posted Online: Aug. 30, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2022

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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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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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