NICKEL

Ninth-grader Coy doesn’t feel comfortable in his own skin. Neither does his best friend, Monroe.

Drawn together by their shared outsider status and a mutual love of 1980s pop culture, the two white teens help each other through the day-to-day craziness of middle school. Coy’s father died years ago, and his mother has been institutionalized for six months, leaving Coy to live somewhat awkwardly with his stepfather. The nickel in Monroe’s braces have given her a rash around her mouth, which spreads to become a life-threatening medical condition, throwing narrator Coy for a loop. Coy’s insecurities compel him to ridicule others, and it’s easy to trip over the slurs that come so easily to him, mostly variations on gay jokes: “It sounded so ghey I wanted to die,” “Fifty Shades of Ghey,” among dozens. Coy himself is a stereotype of a nerdy white boy who mindlessly disrespects others, from an Asian receptionist (“whatever the hell brand of Chinese or Vulcan she was speaking”) to the home-schooled (“They’re like the Amish, only even less deodorant”). While the story contains a lot of humor, it comes at a cost, as the hefty amount of teen slang threatens to overwhelm the plot. Still, Coy is a likable narrator who wears his vulnerability on his sleeve for readers to see. A witty, angst-filled drama that succeeds in spite of its flaws. (Fiction. 13-17)

Pub Date: Sept. 12, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-9970207-0-0

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Leaf Storm Press

Review Posted Online: June 1, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2016

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Best leave it at maybe so.

YES NO MAYBE SO

Two 17-year-olds from the northern suburbs of Atlanta, Georgia, work together on a campaign for a progressive state senate candidate in an unlikely love story.

Co-authors Albertalli (Leah on the Offbeat, 2018, etc.) and Saeed (Bilal Cooks Daal, 2019, etc.) present Jamie Goldberg, a white Ashkenazi Jewish boy who suffers from being “painfully bad at anything girl-related,” and Maya Rehman, a Pakistani American Muslim girl struggling with her parents’ sudden separation. Former childhood best friends, they find themselves volunteered as a team by their mothers during a Ramadan “campaign iftar.” One canvassing adventure at a time, they grow closer despite Maya’s no-dating policy. Chapters alternate between Maya’s and Jamie’s first-person voices. The endearing, if somewhat clichéd, teens sweetly connect over similarities like divorced parents, and their activism will resonate with many. Jamie is sensitive, clumsy, and insecure; Maya is determined, sassy, a dash spoiled, and she swears freely. The novel covers timeless themes of teen activism and love-conquers-all along with election highs and lows, messy divorces, teen angst, bat mitzvah stress, social media gaffes, right-wing haters, friendship drama, and cultural misunderstandings, but the explicit advocacy at times interferes with an immersive reading experience and the text often feels repetitious. Maya’s mother is hijabi, and while Maya advocates against a hijab ban, she chooses not to wear hijab and actively wrestles with what it means to be an observant Muslim.

Best leave it at maybe so. (Romance. 14-18)

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-293704-9

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Nov. 17, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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Lacks any real substance.

LETTERS TO THE LOST

Kemmerer’s dual-narrative romance ponders the path of fate versus blazing one’s own trail.

Juliet’s photographer mother died several months ago, and every week since, she’s been writing letters to her mother and leaving them at her graveside. Declan, the local bad boy, is sentenced to community service as a cemetery caretaker for drunkenly crashing his incarcerated father’s truck. When Declan replies anonymously to one of Juliet’s letters, Juliet writes back, and the two begin an exchange about fate and free will. The two inevitably meet in person, not knowing they have been revealing their deepest secrets to each other via pen and paper. During their in-person interactions, Juliet is attracted to this potentially violent outcast and “intense” but vulnerable soul, and he’s extremely rude to her, a behavior that moderates as pages turn but is not fully corrected. Sadly, Juliet lets him make her feel shame and guilt for the things she says. In his letters and, eventually, emails to her, he invalidates her feelings, causing her to second-guess herself, all of this unfurling in chapters that alternate narration. Despite the tragedies in their lives, neither teen is sympathetic; they possess too much self-pity and anger and act accordingly, and as a result they are unlikable. Both principals are white; Declan’s community-service supervisor is Latino, and his white best friend’s adoptive parents are black, and one main secondary character is Asian.

Lacks any real substance. (Fiction. 13-17)

Pub Date: April 4, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-68119-008-2

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: Feb. 1, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2017

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