TUNES FOR BEARS TO DANCE TO

Emblematic though they are, Cormier's characters have a vigor and authenticity surpassing creations of less accomplished authors of more realistic fiction. Here, protagonist Henry (11) retains all his essential innocence despite a troubled family: mourning the death of Henry's older brother, his mother is supporting them in a low-paying job while his father has withdrawn into a paralyzing depression. The grocer for whom Henry does odd jobs serves as evil incarnate, barely clothed in respectability: first glimpsed making vicious remarks to Henry about his customers' origins and physical defects, he is revealed to be an abusive parent and husband (Henry doesn't quite read the clues, but readers will), and finally tempts—then blackmails—Henry, wielding overwhelming pressure in an attempt to force him to destroy the village a kindly old Holocaust survivor has carved to commemorate his lost home. In classic Cormier fashion, the conclusion is unexpected, with surprises grounded less in the events than in the characters' moral readings of them. Briefer, more easily read, and ultimately less grim than much of Cormier's fiction, a thought-provoking story; for discussion, try comparison with two other incisive and compelling views of the roots of cruel destruction: Jan Slepian's underrated gem, Risk n' Roses (1990) and Paula Fox's hard-edged but compassionate The Village by the Sea (1988). (Fiction. 11+)

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1992

ISBN: 0-385-30818-3

Page Count: 102

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1992

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Engrossing, contemplative, and as heart-wrenching as the title promises.

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THEY BOTH DIE AT THE END

What would you do with one day left to live?

In an alternate present, a company named Death-Cast calls Deckers—people who will die within the coming day—to inform them of their impending deaths, though not how they will happen. The End Day call comes for two teenagers living in New York City: Puerto Rican Mateo and bisexual Cuban-American foster kid Rufus. Rufus needs company after a violent act puts cops on his tail and lands his friends in jail; Mateo wants someone to push him past his comfort zone after a lifetime of playing it safe. The two meet through Last Friend, an app that connects lonely Deckers (one of many ways in which Death-Cast influences social media). Mateo and Rufus set out to seize the day together in their final hours, during which their deepening friendship blossoms into something more. Present-tense chapters, short and time-stamped, primarily feature the protagonists’ distinctive first-person narrations. Fleeting third-person chapters give windows into the lives of other characters they encounter, underscoring how even a tiny action can change the course of someone else’s life. It’s another standout from Silvera (History Is All You Left Me, 2017, etc.), who here grapples gracefully with heavy questions about death and the meaning of a life well-lived.

Engrossing, contemplative, and as heart-wrenching as the title promises. (Speculative fiction. 13-adult).

Pub Date: Sept. 5, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-06-245779-0

Page Count: 384

Publisher: HarperTeen

Review Posted Online: June 5, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2017

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THE SUMMER I TURNED PRETTY

Han’s leisurely paced, somewhat somber narrative revisits several beach-house summers in flashback through the eyes of now 15-year-old Isabel, known to all as Belly. Belly measures her growing self by these summers and by her lifelong relationship with the older boys, her brother and her mother’s best friend’s two sons. Belly’s dawning awareness of her sexuality and that of the boys is a strong theme, as is the sense of summer as a separate and reflective time and place: Readers get glimpses of kisses on the beach, her best friend’s flirtations during one summer’s visit, a first date. In the background the two mothers renew their friendship each year, and Lauren, Belly’s mother, provides support for her friend—if not, unfortunately, for the children—in Susannah’s losing battle with breast cancer. Besides the mostly off-stage issue of a parent’s severe illness there’s not much here to challenge most readers—driving, beer-drinking, divorce, a moment of surprise at the mothers smoking medicinal pot together. The wish-fulfilling title and sun-washed, catalog-beautiful teens on the cover will be enticing for girls looking for a diversion. (Fiction. 12-14)

Pub Date: May 5, 2009

ISBN: 978-1-4169-6823-8

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2009

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