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THE METAMORPHOSIS OF EMMA MURRY

A smart, riveting environmental tale with a laudable adolescent cast.

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In this debut middle-grade novel, a teenage girl fights an environmentally destructive development in her hometown, where a werewolf roams.

Thirteen-year-old Emma Murry loves nature and animals. She and her best friend, Sophie, are proud members of their middle school’s Environmental Club in Black Mountain, North Carolina, a place renowned for its monarch butterfly population. So they, like other locals, are horrified by the news that a ski resort is in the works. Its environmental impact will be devastating, starting with tearing down the community’s monarch butterfly garden. Some Black Mountain residents support the development, seeing it as an economic boost. The girls brainstorm ways to protest, and even act on some of them, before learning that action movie star of yesteryear Chester Scott is the one planning the resort; Emma’s been crushing on Chester’s teen son Jeb via Instagram. She forces herself to look past Jeb’s indisputable cuteness and sells him on Black Mountain’s natural beauty, hoping the boy can change his father’s mind. But when they discover a bizarre set of paw prints, Emma and Jeb become convinced that there’s a werewolf on the loose. Identifying the lycanthrope gives Emma another great excuse to spend time with Jeb and, while she’s at it, try to scare the resort developers away. There’s not much time, as the zoning meeting to greenlight the project takes place in only a week. It’s an uphill battle for Emma, but she knows her beloved environment is worth it.

Rebecca Laxton delivers a diverting, environment-friendly mystery. The werewolf subplot focuses more on investigation than scares; Emma first has to prove that a werewolf even exists before identifying its human counterpart. Further engaging plot threads emerge from the narrative as well, including a death threat against Chester, a wrongfully accused townsperson, and a character who turns up missing in the final act. Emma is an appealing young hero who shares a subtle romance with Jeb. She quickly sees him as more than a social media idol; the two connect over their love of skateboarding and their utter belief in the existence of a legendary shape-shifting creature. At the same time, there’s potential trouble between Emma and Sophie. Sophie doesn’t hide her animosity toward Jeb, and her perpetual negativity spoils some of the book’s lightheartedness. Descriptions are colorful; Emma, a painter, equates people’s traits with soothing hues (e.g., “buttery yellow”). Rebecca Laxton’s prose, meanwhile, engages multiple senses: “At lunchtime, the crowd flocked to the restaurants. The street smelled like hot bread, tangy oregano, and warm tomato sauce, making my stomach rumble.” There’s educational value, too, as Emma not only praises nature, but also notes for Jeb (and readers) things that harm the environment. Gracie Laxton’s black-and-white minimalist artwork prefaces each chapter. These unembellished illustrations and silhouettes leave lasting impressions of such things as a howling wolf and a wheels-up skateboard.

A smart, riveting environmental tale with a laudable adolescent cast.

Pub Date: March 28, 2023

ISBN: 9781960146229

Page Count: 244

Publisher: Warren Publishing

Review Posted Online: Feb. 26, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2023

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THE WOMEN

A dramatic, vividly detailed reconstruction of a little-known aspect of the Vietnam War.

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A young woman’s experience as a nurse in Vietnam casts a deep shadow over her life.

When we learn that the farewell party in the opening scene is for Frances “Frankie” McGrath’s older brother—“a golden boy, a wild child who could make the hardest heart soften”—who is leaving to serve in Vietnam in 1966, we feel pretty certain that poor Finley McGrath is marked for death. Still, it’s a surprise when the fateful doorbell rings less than 20 pages later. His death inspires his sister to enlist as an Army nurse, and this turn of events is just the beginning of a roller coaster of a plot that’s impressive and engrossing if at times a bit formulaic. Hannah renders the experiences of the young women who served in Vietnam in all-encompassing detail. The first half of the book, set in gore-drenched hospital wards, mildewed dorm rooms, and boozy officers’ clubs, is an exciting read, tracking the transformation of virginal, uptight Frankie into a crack surgical nurse and woman of the world. Her tensely platonic romance with a married surgeon ends when his broken, unbreathing body is airlifted out by helicopter; she throws her pent-up passion into a wild affair with a soldier who happens to be her dead brother’s best friend. In the second part of the book, after the war, Frankie seems to experience every possible bad break. A drawback of the story is that none of the secondary characters in her life are fully three-dimensional: Her dismissive, chauvinistic father and tight-lipped, pill-popping mother, her fellow nurses, and her various love interests are more plot devices than people. You’ll wish you could have gone to Vegas and placed a bet on the ending—while it’s against all the odds, you’ll see it coming from a mile away.

A dramatic, vividly detailed reconstruction of a little-known aspect of the Vietnam War.

Pub Date: Feb. 6, 2024

ISBN: 9781250178633

Page Count: 480

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 4, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2023

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HAPPY PLACE

A wistfully nostalgic look at endings, beginnings, and loving the people who will always have your back.

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Exes pretend they’re still together for the sake of their friends on their annual summer vacation.

Wyn Connor and Harriet Kilpatrick were the perfect couple—until Wyn dumped Harriet for reasons she still doesn’t fully understand. They’ve been part of the same boisterous friend group since college, and they know that their breakup will devastate the others and make things more than a little awkward. So they keep it a secret from their friends and families—in fact, Harriet barely even admits it to herself, focusing instead on her grueling hours as a surgical resident. She’s ready for a vacation at her happy place—the Maine cottage she and her friends visit every summer. But (surprise!) Wyn is there too, and he and Harriet have to share a (very romantic) room and a bed. Telling the truth about their breakup is out of the question, because the cottage is up for sale, and this is the group’s last hurrah. Determined to make sure everyone has the perfect last trip, Harriet and Wyn resolve to fake their relationship for the week. The problem with this plan, of course, is that Harriet still has major feelings for Wyn—feelings that only get stronger as they pretend to be blissfully in love. As always, Henry’s dialogue is sparkling and the banter between characters is snappy and hilarious. Wyn and Harriet’s relationship, shown both in the past and the present, feels achingly real. Their breakup, as well as their complicated relationships with their own families, adds a twinge of melancholy, as do the relatable growing pains of a group of friends whose lives are taking them in different directions.

A wistfully nostalgic look at endings, beginnings, and loving the people who will always have your back.

Pub Date: April 25, 2023

ISBN: 9780593441275

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Berkley

Review Posted Online: Feb. 23, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2023

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