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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An earnest examination of mental health in sports.

GEESE ARE NEVER SWANS

Sixteen-year-old Gus Bennett lives in the shadow of his older brother, Danny, a former Olympic swimming hopeful who recently died by suicide.

Gus does not have an easy home life: He has a strained relationship with his mother, a single parent who’s still struggling after Danny’s death; and his older sister, Darien, has a drug addiction and abandoned her now 18-month-old child to the care of their mother. But Gus hopes to train with Coach Marks, the renowned trainer who worked with his brother. He even sneaks into the country club to get access to the pool, willing to do whatever it takes to succeed. He has his eye on qualifying for the national team and seems poised for success, but he soon experiences a downward spiral and engages in reckless behavior. Although the side characters are underdeveloped, Gus’ first-person narration carries the story along smoothly. Conceptualized by the late Academy Award–winning basketball player Bryant and written by Clark, this emotional novel contains lyrical prose that beautifully captures the energy of swimming and short chapters that will keep readers engaged. Physical descriptions are limited, suggesting a white default, but naming conventions suggest some diversity among the swim team members.

An earnest examination of mental health in sports. (resources) (Fiction. 12-18)

Pub Date: July 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-949520-05-7

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Granity Studios

Review Posted Online: June 1, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2020

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This story is necessary. This story is important.

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THE HATE U GIVE

Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter is a black girl and an expert at navigating the two worlds she exists in: one at Garden Heights, her black neighborhood, and the other at Williamson Prep, her suburban, mostly white high school.

Walking the line between the two becomes immensely harder when Starr is present at the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend, Khalil, by a white police officer. Khalil was unarmed. Khalil’s death becomes national news, where he’s called a thug and possible drug dealer and gangbanger. His death becomes justified in the eyes of many, including one of Starr’s best friends at school. The police’s lackadaisical attitude sparks anger and then protests in the community, turning it into a war zone. Questions remain about what happened in the moments leading to Khalil’s death, and the only witness is Starr, who must now decide what to say or do, if anything. Thomas cuts to the heart of the matter for Starr and for so many like her, laying bare the systemic racism that undergirds her world, and she does so honestly and inescapably, balancing heartbreak and humor. With smooth but powerful prose delivered in Starr’s natural, emphatic voice, finely nuanced characters, and intricate and realistic relationship dynamics, this novel will have readers rooting for Starr and opening their hearts to her friends and family.

This story is necessary. This story is important. (Fiction. 14-adult)

Pub Date: Feb. 28, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-06-249853-3

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Dec. 6, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2016

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