A read that honors the devastation of loss and self-discovery from a distinctively adolescent perspective.

READ REVIEW

ANN, NOT ANNIE

In Steadman’s (The Waking Dream, 2016, etc.) third YA novel, a high school nobody encounters the harsh reality of what it means to become somebody.

Annie Julia Grey (who doesn’t like to be called “Annie,” preferring “Ann”) is a high school student who spends a lot of time in detention with her troublemaking best friend, Lisa. A year ago, Ann’s father died in an accident, her mother became an alcoholic, and her brother, William, left for college with no intention of ever coming back home. Ann often finds herself alone, saddled with responsibilities her mother used to shoulder: cooking, cleaning, and caring for her younger brother, Tommy. At school, she pines for Jacob Waters, who also happens to be “the hottest senior in school.” Meanwhile, her eccentric (and handsome) classmate Danny Feller, who readers later learn is the book’s narrator, has feelings for her. After a few passed notes, Ann and Danny discover their mutual interest in Henry David Thoreau’s Walden—a book that William once owned. Ann desperately combs through the book “in hopes of discovering why he never came home.” However, as soon as Ann starts to fall for Danny, Jacob breaks up with his own girlfriend and—much to Ann’s surprise—begins aggressively pursuing her. Almost overnight, she goes from feeling invisible to becoming a member of the “Totally Fabulous and Popular clique,” otherwise known as the “T.F.P.” The book is an immersive experience, and it reads very much like a novel-length note from a friend in one’s class—complete with hand-drawn comic strips interspersed throughout. Not unlike a note written by a teenager, the prose is prone to hyperbole, and there are places in which the teenage voice feels exaggerated: “At this particular moment, Ann Julia Grey was in denial about Danny Feller’s obvious magnificence. (Tragic sigh.)” Overall, however, Steadman captures the mania of teenage friendships and first loves as aptly as she captures the confusion of adolescent grief.

A read that honors the devastation of loss and self-discovery from a distinctively adolescent perspective.

Pub Date: Sept. 22, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-9970565-6-3

Page Count: 294

Publisher: Mmhmm Books

Review Posted Online: March 27, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2018

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A clever, feel-good opening to a fantasy series with a tenacious heroine.

Girls Can't Be Knights

From the Spirit Knights series , Vol. 1

The start of a new YA series features a teen orphan and a protective brotherhood of Spirit Knights.

Fifteen-year-old Claire Terdan lives in a group foster home in Portland, Oregon. Six years ago, her family died in a house fire, and her only dependable friend since has been a boy her age named Drew. One day in school, after she punches a bully who mocks her, the principal suspends her for a day. She sneaks out of school and into town only to be accosted by several cats and dogs. Meanwhile, at the nearby Oregon Historical Society, a man named Justin arrives on his white horse, Tariel. He’s there, dressed in his green Spirit Knight armor, to borrow (some might say steal) an antique hat that has sentimental meaning to his mentor, Kurt. When he meets Claire, he offers her a ride home. Telling Justin she doesn’t have one, Claire ends up with him in Vancouver, Washington, at his family’s farm. There she meets his wife and two young daughters and eventually learns about the Palace, a magical, dormitory-style structure where Spirit Knights—a brotherhood that protects the world from ghostly, vengeful Phasms—dwell. Justin isn’t sure why Claire seems familiar until he learns that she’s the daughter of a dead Knight named Mark. French (Superheroes in Denim, 2016, etc.) establishes a crafty new fantasy series with a light smattering of genre fixtures, including talking animals, an enchanted pendant, and the firmly held belief that “Girls can’t be Knights.” Most of the narrative drama comes from grounded conflicts that teens should relate to, like Claire’s attraction to the older Justin and the lousy conditions of the “sanitized prison” that is her group home. Later scenes in which a detective named Avery physically assaults Claire are not for the faint-hearted. The upside for the tale’s heroine is that Justin and his family turn out to be perfect for her; despite early misgivings about them, she decides to “admire the example they set and be grateful for it.” The story should provide a heartwarming boost to anyone in a tough situation.

A clever, feel-good opening to a fantasy series with a tenacious heroine.

Pub Date: June 3, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-68063-030-5

Page Count: 246

Publisher: Myrddin Publishing Group

Review Posted Online: July 27, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2016

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A magnetic coming-of-age novel.

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SOME PLACE BETTER THAN HERE

A debut novel of young love, ’90s-style grunge, and teenage angst. 

When Danny first sees Mary, she’s running away from her ex-boyfriend Tanner into the back room of the New Jersey grocery store where she works—screaming at the top of her lungs, imploring him to leave her alone. Mary’s loud outburst sets the tone for the rest of the novel, which follows the two teenagers’ eclectic, unusual relationship. The book is structured in acts, letting the momentum build, as it would in a play, until the final section. More specifically, the book is structured using alternating perspectives; as it oscillates between Danny’s and Mary’s points of view, it offers a complete, authentic, and objective narration. Danny is a fairly typical 17-year-old high schooler who loves music (though only music with lyrics, preferably from decades that preceded his birth), smells good, is a talented guitarist, and works at a car wash across the street from the grocery store where Mary works. When he meets her, he’s awestruck but a bit wary: “When my too dry lips peeled apart, I realized I had become that guy. Totally forgetting that this amazingly hot girl was just involved in a shouting match about ten seconds prior to my being captivated by her hotness.” Still, Danny musters the courage to ask her out—but it takes a little while. Mary, on the other hand, doesn’t come off as the most approachable girl for a boy like Danny. She’s an irritable 17-year-old who goes out to bars with her girlfriends, surrounds herself with people who call Danny a “faggot,” and struggles with a physically and verbally abusive father. The duo is an unlikely match—another case of opposites attracting.   Debut author Wakil fills the text with moments of pure teenage bliss in which readers will recognize their younger selves experiencing the excitement of love for the very first time. Similar to works like Stephen Chbosky’s 1999 debut novel, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, this book is a testament to the power of conviction, the results of perseverance, and a case study of small-town millennials from varying economic backgrounds. The author has a punchy, irreverent writing style: “So, as we drove through the swampy and winding road, where the crickets were louder than the music Danny played, my head fell back between the headrest and the door, and I let the wind blow back my hair.” With it, he effectively creates a narrative environment in which anything can happen, from stealing a boss’s Porsche to chasing down bullies on the freeway to helping friends cope with debilitating bouts of depression to navigating the changing functions of parent-child relationships. Danny and Mary are captivating, frustrating, and completely imperfect characters that are very much evocative of the current sociocultural climate. They also seem like products of the 1990s, and they drive into adulthood with familiar teenage uncertainties and doubts. Readers will willingly surrender themselves to this book and gain much from it.

A magnetic coming-of-age novel.

Pub Date: Oct. 25, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-5255-0609-3

Page Count: 432

Publisher: FriesenPress

Review Posted Online: Jan. 17, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2018

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