BOTH SIDES NOW

In this thoughtful, affecting, and often funny story, Pennebaker (Conditions of Love, 1992, etc.) looks at life through the eyes of a naïve girl learning to balance life as her mother struggles with breast cancer. Liza is 15 and firmly believes that a positive attitude brings positive results. She resolutely ignores the stress that her mother’s cancer brings to her own life, writing an advice column full of platitudes in her high school newspaper. But her “voice over” narration reflects her inner conflict, as she reports on her own changing behavior as well as that of those around her. Bringing the essence of these contradictions into a telling line or two, Liza says, “That’s what high school’s like. You never, ever, talk about big problems you’re having. You always go around, protecting yourself, acting like everything’s fine.” Home is like that, too. Everyone is trying to protect the others. Occasionally, Liza’s mom reflects on her side of this struggle, and the reader comes to understand that the family has trapped her into maintaining an upbeat attitude that is as hard to handle as the cancer. When her mother announces that she will refuse a debilitating stem-cell transplant in order to have a higher quality of life, knowing that the cancer will eventually kill her, Liza must abandon her rose-colored optimism. She’s finally able to see her mother’s strength, and through her mother’s love, to gain the strength she needs to cope. This is a subtle, absorbing examination of a girl’s difficult passage into maturity through the voice of one of the truest narrators in the genre. (Fiction. 12+)

Pub Date: June 1, 2000

ISBN: 0-8050-6105-3

Page Count: 202

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2000

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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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