A celebratory coming-of-age novel with a thoughtful, resilient heroine.

MALCOLM AND ME

A Black teenager deals with racism at school and problems at home in this 1970s-set YA novel.

Roberta Forest, one of the few Black students at her Catholic school in Philadelphia, is proud of her heritage. But standing up for her point of view lands her in trouble—and on her 13th birthday, no less. When Sister Elizabeth asks how Thomas Jefferson could promote independence while owning slaves, Roberta answers that he was a hypocrite. The nun is furious, raging, “Go back to Africa. We never needed you people in the first place!” When Roberta replies angrily, the nun slaps her three times, and the teenager hits back in self-defense, earning her a suspension from school and punishment at home. The incident kicks off a stressful year. Roberta is barred from entering a writing contest she was determined to win; her father moves out; and her mother is strict and critical. Writing poetry in her diary helps manage some of her feelings, but Roberta also rebels against her school and her mother. Over the course of the year, she learns truths, often surprising ones, about Sister Elizabeth, her family, and herself and develops her inner strength. In her novel, Farmer makes good use of a challenging time in American history. The Watergate scandal follows the upheavals and shocking assassinations of the 1960s, and Black teenagers like Roberta have such models to emulate as Angela Davis and Malcolm X. Roberta’s character is complex; she questions her faith and her family but also grapples with self-doubt and guilt. She must reevaluate her black-and-white (in two senses) ideas of the truth in order to mature. Farmer brings emotional fidelity to Roberta’s struggles, making the girl’s growth feel well earned.

A celebratory coming-of-age novel with a thoughtful, resilient heroine.

Pub Date: Nov. 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-68463-083-7

Page Count: 257

Publisher: SparkPress

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2021

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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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Riveting, brutal and beautifully told.

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WE WERE LIARS

A devastating tale of greed and secrets springs from the summer that tore Cady’s life apart.

Cady Sinclair’s family uses its inherited wealth to ensure that each successive generation is blond, beautiful and powerful. Reunited each summer by the family patriarch on his private island, his three adult daughters and various grandchildren lead charmed, fairy-tale lives (an idea reinforced by the periodic inclusions of Cady’s reworkings of fairy tales to tell the Sinclair family story). But this is no sanitized, modern Disney fairy tale; this is Cinderella with her stepsisters’ slashed heels in bloody glass slippers. Cady’s fairy-tale retellings are dark, as is the personal tragedy that has led to her examination of the skeletons in the Sinclair castle’s closets; its rent turns out to be extracted in personal sacrifices. Brilliantly, Lockhart resists simply crucifying the Sinclairs, which might make the family’s foreshadowed tragedy predictable or even satisfying. Instead, she humanizes them (and their painful contradictions) by including nostalgic images that showcase the love shared among Cady, her two cousins closest in age, and Gat, the Heathcliff-esque figure she has always loved. Though increasingly disenchanted with the Sinclair legacy of self-absorption, the four believe family redemption is possible—if they have the courage to act. Their sincere hopes and foolish naïveté make the teens’ desperate, grand gesture all that much more tragic.

Riveting, brutal and beautifully told. (Fiction. 14 & up)

Pub Date: May 13, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-385-74126-2

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: March 17, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2014

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