A fun YA read about the pressures of adolescence, and about cultivating a healthy attitude toward change.

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CAN I JUST BE ME?

In McCowan’s debut novel, a young girl copes with her parents’ divorce and her academic responsibilities, while struggling to define her own sense of identity.

Yolanda Phillips is just starting sixth grade, but she’s already feeling a great deal of pressure. Her parents have recently divorced and are still ironing out some of the finer points of their co-parenting responsibilities. They’re also attempting to redefine themselves as individuals: Her mother takes dance classes, and her father becomes a volunteer coach at her school. Meanwhile, she finds that the onset of puberty is changing the dynamics of her life, as male-female relationships become increasingly complicated. Her friends and older sister seem to be just a beat ahead of her in their physical development and newly romantic views. At school, Yolanda likes her new teacher, Mr. Jones, despite his no-nonsense approach. But she becomes mired in procrastination when he assigns the class a report: “What I Want to Be When I Grow Up.” Her friends seem sure of their future plans and confidently complete the assignment, but Yolanda must do some frantic self-analysis to determine who she is and what she wants from life. In the novel’s poignant climax, she acknowledges her passage into young adulthood, while also refusing to grow up too quickly. McCowan tells the story from Yolanda’s chatty, first-person point of view, and the book’s primary strength is the authenticity of that voice, as she energetically rambles through adolescent triumphs and travails. Yolanda is a charming creation: wary yet game, critical and questioning, without ever resorting to snarkiness. Her observations of her parents’ attempts at amicability (“They were making small talk, but I could tell it was different than before”) and of their post-divorce loneliness are touching. But although the author does a wonderful job of capturing the girl’s vivacious personality, younger readers may have difficulty envisioning some scenes due to the story’s overall lack of physical description.

A fun YA read about the pressures of adolescence, and about cultivating a healthy attitude toward change.

Pub Date: Oct. 15, 2013

ISBN: 978-1478709619

Page Count: 58

Publisher: Outskirts Press Inc.

Review Posted Online: Sept. 29, 2014

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A romantic, sad, and ultimately hopeful book that’s perfect for fans of Jojo Moyes.

GHOSTED

In Walsh’s American debut, a woman desperately tries to find out why the man she spent a whirlwind week with never called.

Sarah has just separated from her American husband and is visiting her hometown in England when she meets Eddie. He’s kind and charming, and although they only spend one week together, she falls in love. When he has to leave for a trip, she knows they’ll keep in touch—they’re already making plans for the rest of their lives. But then Eddie never calls, and Sarah’s increasingly frantic efforts to contact him are fruitless. Is he hurt? Is he dead? As her friends tell her, there’s a far greater likelihood that he’s just blowing her off—she’s been ghosted. After trying to track Eddie down at a football game, Sarah starts to become ashamed of herself—after all, she’s almost 40 years old and she’s essentially stalking a man who never called her. But as Sarah slowly learns, she and Eddie didn’t actually meet randomly—they both have a connection to an accident that happened years ago, and it may have something to do with why he disappeared. The tension quickly amps up as the secrets of Eddie’s and Sarah’s pasts are revealed, and the truth behind their connection is genuinely surprising and heartbreaking. The barriers between Sarah and Eddie seem insurmountable at times, and although their issues are resolved in a tidy manner, the emotions behind their actions are always believable. Walsh has created a deeply moving romance with an intriguing mystery and a touching portrait of grief at its heart.

A romantic, sad, and ultimately hopeful book that’s perfect for fans of Jojo Moyes.

Pub Date: July 24, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-525-52277-5

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: May 1, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2018

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An ambitious and bewitching gem of a book with mystery and passion inscribed on every page.

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THE STARLESS SEA

A withdrawn graduate student embarks on an epic quest to restore balance to the world in this long-anticipated follow-up to The Night Circus (2011).

Zachary Ezra Rawlins is a typical millennial introvert; he likes video games, escapist reading, and drinking sidecars. But when he recognizes himself in the pages of a mysterious book from the university library, he's unnerved—and determined to uncover the truth. What begins as a journey for answers turns into something much bigger, and Zachary must decide whether to trust the handsome stranger he meets at a highflying literary fundraiser in New York or to retreat back to his thesis and forget the whole affair. In a high-wire feat of metatextual derring-do, Morgenstern weaves Zachary's adventure into a stunning array of linked fables, myths, and origin stories. There are pirates and weary travelers, painters who can see the future, lovers torn asunder, a menacing Owl King, and safe harbors for all the stories of the world, far below the Earth on the golden shores of a Starless Sea. Clocking in at more than 500 pages, the novel requires patience as Morgenstern puts all the pieces in place, but it is exquisitely pleasurable to watch the gears of this epic fantasy turn once they're set in motion. As in The Night Circus, Morgenstern is at her best when she imagines worlds and rooms and parties in vivid detail, right down to the ballroom stairs "festooned with lanterns and garlands of paper dipped in gold" or a cloak carved from ice with "ships and sailors and sea monsters...lost in the drifting snow." This novel is a love letter to readers as much as an invitation: Come and see how much magic is left in the world. Fans of Neil Gaiman and V.E. Schwab, Kelly Link and Susanna Clarke will want to heed the call.

An ambitious and bewitching gem of a book with mystery and passion inscribed on every page.

Pub Date: Nov. 5, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-385-54121-3

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Aug. 4, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2019

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