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An easy-to-read and inspirational story for struggling readers.

A teacher helps a 10th grader with his reading difficulties in Thompson’s YA novella.

Owen Daniels has a secret: He can’t read very well. Thus far he’s been able to hide this fact, but now that he’s a high school sophomore, it’s becoming increasingly difficult, especially when his new English teacher, Ms. Gulliver, starts calling on students to read aloud in class. He realizes that he’s bound to fail in his classes eventually and that he may be mocked by his fellow students. But Ms. Gulliver proves to be an ally when she gives him an easy-to-read book as part of a long-term plan to help his reading skills. With support from his mom and older sister, Owen starts to dedicate himself to that task, and that dedication spreads to other areas of his life and schoolwork, especially in science class. Slowly but surely, Owen starts to feel better about himself, and his fear of failure transforms into a dream of success. Thompson’s book has a clear-cut mission to encourage teens to read by working hard and applying themselves. It does so through simple, uncomplicated language that will appeal to struggling readers: “I remember when the school year started. My grades were terrible. I never thought I could get better. It’s been a lot of hard work. And I’ve read a lot of books.” It’s also a book about challenging expectations and the importance of support for those who are less privileged; Owen’s father is in prison, and his mother struggles to support their family. The protagonist’s reading challenges color much of his life, making the story limited to its very specific purpose, but it’s likely to be helpful to youngsters in similar situations.

An easy-to-read and inspirational story for struggling readers.

Pub Date: May 24, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-578-92372-7

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Bookstock Press

Review Posted Online: Sept. 26, 2022

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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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