For those who stay in it through the finish, there is a promise of more to come; here’s hoping it’s better balanced.

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WOLF BY WOLF

From the Wolf by Wolf series , Vol. 1

Mixing fantasy elements into an alternative, what-if-Hitler-won historical setting, Graudin delivers a wildly oscillating tale.

It’s 1956: Germany and Japan have split the world (the isolationist U.S. is still sitting it out). An annual motorcycle race, a sort of peaceful war, with contestants from each of their empires is the biggest media moment of the year. For Yael, a Jewish camp escapee and survivor of horrific medical experimentation, the race is a chance to strike a blow for the resistance that has raised her. Her ability to “skinshift” means she can assume any female form, including that of Adele Wolfe, perfect Aryan and the only girl to previously compete. Graudin’s strange sentence constructions, clearly deliberate but grammatically idiosyncratic (“Smelled the stick of his blood”; “clinging to life and bright”), will distract some readers; others will overlook the cluttered writing and weak character development, particularly Yael’s, for those moments when pulse-pounding action takes over and propels the narrative forward with a rush. Lofty ideas about race and identity (helpfully detailed in the author’s note) and deep-seated personal anguish and self-examination compete with action-adventure tropes and even a bit of star-crossed romantic tension. This unevenness makes this novel less than the sum of its parts, although it’s still an intriguing read.

For those who stay in it through the finish, there is a promise of more to come; here’s hoping it’s better balanced. (Historical fiction/fantasy. 12-16)

Pub Date: Oct. 20, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-316-40512-6

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: June 29, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2015

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Skip this uninspired entry into the world of medieval love and court intrigue.

THE BETROTHED

From the Betrothed series , Vol. 1

In an imagined setting evoking medieval England, King Jameson of Coroa pursues Hollis Brite.

The independent teenager makes Jameson laugh, but she lacks the education and demeanor people expect in a queen. Her friend Delia Grace has more knowledge of history and languages but is shunned due to her illegitimate birth. Hollis gets caught up in a whirl of social activity, especially following an Isolten royal visit. There has been bad blood between the two countries, not fully explained here, and when an exiled Isolten family also comes to court, Jameson generously allows them to stay. Hollis relies on the family to teach her about Isolten customs and secretly falls in love with Silas, the oldest son, even though a relationship with him would mean relinquishing Jameson and the throne. When Hollis learns of political machinations that will affect her future in ways that she abhors, she faces a difficult decision. Romance readers will enjoy the usual descriptions of dresses, jewelry, young love, and discreet kisses, although many characters remain cardboard figures. While the violent climax may be upsetting, the book ends on a hopeful note. Themes related to immigration and young women’s taking charge of their lives don’t quite lift this awkwardly written volume above other royal romances. There are prejudicial references to Romani people, and whiteness is situated as the norm.

Skip this uninspired entry into the world of medieval love and court intrigue. (Historical romance. 13-16)

Pub Date: May 5, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-229163-9

Page Count: 320

Publisher: HarperTeen

Review Posted Online: Feb. 5, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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Heartbreaking, historical, and a little bit hopeful.

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SALT TO THE SEA

January 1945: as Russians advance through East Prussia, four teens’ lives converge in hopes of escape.

Returning to the successful formula of her highly lauded debut, Between Shades of Gray (2011), Sepetys combines research (described in extensive backmatter) with well-crafted fiction to bring to life another little-known story: the sinking (from Soviet torpedoes) of the German ship Wilhelm Gustloff. Told in four alternating voices—Lithuanian nurse Joana, Polish Emilia, Prussian forger Florian, and German soldier Alfred—with often contemporary cadences, this stints on neither history nor fiction. The three sympathetic refugees and their motley companions (especially an orphaned boy and an elderly shoemaker) make it clear that while the Gustloff was a German ship full of German civilians and soldiers during World War II, its sinking was still a tragedy. Only Alfred, stationed on the Gustloff, lacks sympathy; almost a caricature, he is self-delusional, unlikable, a Hitler worshiper. As a vehicle for exposition, however, and a reminder of Germany’s role in the war, he serves an invaluable purpose that almost makes up for the mustache-twirling quality of his petty villainy. The inevitability of the ending (including the loss of several characters) doesn’t change its poignancy, and the short chapters and slowly revealed back stories for each character guarantee the pages keep turning.

Heartbreaking, historical, and a little bit hopeful. (author’s note, research and sources, maps) (Historical fiction. 12-16)

Pub Date: Feb. 2, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-399-16030-1

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Philomel

Review Posted Online: Nov. 3, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2015

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