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Strong characters drive an enthusiastic adolescent tale that ably tackles serious issues.

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In this debut YA novel, a teenager in 1995 finds himself torn between his social status and his growing friendship with the class nerd.

Junior high is a new experience for 13-year-old Evan Roth in Columbus, Ohio. He’d been a popular athlete, but seventh grade overflows with tweens and teens from different elementary schools. Sadly, it looks as if he won’t make a good impression the first week, as he’s the assigned “lunch buddy” of the Cincinnati transfer student. William Nash has severe food allergies and must eat lunch in a classroom rather than the crowded cafeteria. Evan finds the situation alarming: “Lunch was one of the times when kids figured out who would be leaders, who would be followers, and who would be left with no friends at all.” But it turns out Evan and William have a lot in common, including their love of baseball. Being friends with William is an adjustment for Evan, as he and his fellow students learn how to use an “epi” in case the boy goes into anaphylactic shock. But William is worth it, and Evan enjoys hanging out with him. Yet Evan likes to be popular, too, which sometimes involves keeping his head down while others tease and openly mock William. Evan may have to choose—siding with insensitive bullies or a warm, funny, and generous guy. Each of Coven’s believable characters is chock-full of personality, as not all bullies are entirely apathetic and not every mother is as affectionate as Evan’s. William shows the most layers; he’s often unruffled when peers toss out insults (dubbing him Casper on account of his pale skin), but he’s devastated when convinced he’s a burden to his parents. Readers will learn a lot about allergies, especially in a chapterlong conversation on William’s medical problems and the shocking physical reactions he’s endured. Coven deftly taps into the teenage mind, as Evan and his male friends, when not mulling over girls or professional sports, play pranks and video games. This story serves lighthearted and profound moments in equal measure all the way to the unforgettable ending.

Strong characters drive an enthusiastic adolescent tale that ably tackles serious issues.

Pub Date: Sept. 9, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-66292-485-9

Page Count: 202

Publisher: Gatekeeper Press

Review Posted Online: Sept. 29, 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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