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An entertaining, comic, but also thoughtful coming-of-age tale.

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In this YA novel, a 15-year-old boy is sent to a wilderness camp for delinquents.

It’s 1980, and while life in a cookie-cutter suburb of Tucson can be dull, narrator Daniel looks forward to summer vacation in a few weeks. But Mom and Dad, convinced he’s heading down the path of his wild-child older sister, Jackie (currently disappointing her parents while living in Phoenix), have signed him up for Quest Trail—camping in the desert with other teenage ne’er-do-wells for character-building wilderness education. At least Daniel’s childhood friend Greg Pittz will be there, and the campers include the glamorous, charismatic Vera Lee Buffington. They almost make up for the terrible food and painfully corny, coerced self-help shticks, such as joining in a circle to declare your “daily wintention.” When an authoritarian counselor goes too far, Vera proposes an escape plan and is joined by Daniel, Greg, and another camper. Their ensuing adventure includes hopping a train, stealing a dune buggy from a marijuana stash house in the desert, and eventually tracking down Jackie. In the end, Daniel has a new appreciation for his family, friends, and the entire Quest Trail experience. Debut author Polito writes excellent dialogue, nailing his wiseass teenagers’ snarky observations: “The road to hell is paved with good wintentions.” Also on target are the camp’s maddeningly earnest lingo and maxims, like “sarcasm…is simply the scar tissue of the soul.” Beneath the jokes, though, is a compelling story of growth; as Vera puts it, “Quest Trail is the epicenter of suckitude, but real shit happens here, real friends happen here.” That Daniel wrests an authentic experience from the camp’s “jackass solemnity” speaks well of him and his growing maturity.

An entertaining, comic, but also thoughtful coming-of-age tale.

Pub Date: June 3, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-953944-52-8

Page Count: 298

Publisher: Wise Wolf Books

Review Posted Online: April 28, 2021

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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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An ode to the children of migrants who have been taken away.

A Mexican American boy takes on heavy responsibilities when his family is torn apart.

Mateo’s life is turned upside down the day U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents show up unsuccessfully seeking his Pa at his New York City bodega. The Garcias live in fear until the day both parents are picked up; his Pa is taken to jail and his Ma to a detention center. The adults around Mateo offer support to him and his 7-year-old sister, Sophie, however, he knows he is now responsible for caring for her and the bodega as well as trying to survive junior year—that is, if he wants to fulfill his dream to enter the drama program at the Tisch School of the Arts and become an actor. Mateo’s relationships with his friends Kimmie and Adam (a potential love interest) also suffer repercussions as he keeps his situation a secret. Kimmie is half Korean (her other half is unspecified) and Adam is Italian American; Mateo feels disconnected from them, less American, and with worries they can’t understand. He talks himself out of choosing a safer course of action, a decision that deepens the story. Mateo’s self-awareness and inner monologue at times make him seem older than 16, and, with significant turmoil in the main plot, some side elements feel underdeveloped. Aleman’s narrative joins the ranks of heart-wrenching stories of migrant families who have been separated.

An ode to the children of migrants who have been taken away. (Fiction. 14-18)

Pub Date: May 4, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-7595-5605-8

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Feb. 22, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2021

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