Benwell's gentle treatment of friendship and death with dignity will touch fans of John Green's The Fault in Our Stars...

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THE LAST LEAVES FALLING

A Japanese teen contracts a fatal disease and tests the strength of friendship.

Online, introverted Abe Sora can be anything—like the 17-year-old baseball player he was before Lou Gehrig’s disease, also known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, stole his ability to walk and even attend school. Largely homebound, he turns to samurai death poetry for comfort and the KyoToTeenz chat room for distraction. Eavesdropping on school woes and exchanging quips (printed in various types for verisimilitude), he meets artistic Mai and techy Kaito, and he eventually invites them to dinner. Overcoming their initial awkwardness, they become inseparable. Through vividly depicted outings and comic-book adventures, they give Sora something to live for as his health declines. Search terms like "help me die" foreshadow his outlook, however, and after poignantly encountering a dying man and waking up unable to use his fingers, he wonders if his friends will help him. Sora's introspective narration, coupled with stark and startling moments of chapter-to-chapter deterioration, emphasizes that suicide is his personal choice, avoiding generalizations of disability as a whole. Their dialogue is sometimes stilted, but the supportive characterizations of Sora's family and friends ease the sharply articulated uncertainty of disability and dying young. References to samurai culture and snippets of poetry will leave readers at peace with the drifting ending.

Benwell's gentle treatment of friendship and death with dignity will touch fans of John Green's The Fault in Our Stars (2012). (glossary) (Fiction. 13-18)

Pub Date: May 5, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-4814-3065-4

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Feb. 16, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2015

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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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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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