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BEING TOFFEE

An uncommon, successful approach to a tough topic.

In Cornwall, a 16-year-old runaway and a senior with dementia form an unusual friendship that leads to mutual solace.

Allison has always been able to cope with her angry, widowed father’s abuse, especially with Kelly-Anne, her father’s fiancee, there to mediate. But when Kelly-Anne leaves suddenly and her father burns her face, Allison runs away. Crossan, the Children’s Literature Laureate of Ireland, conveys the teen’s story in raw verse. While seeking refuge in a presumably empty house, Allison quickly discovers that it’s occupied by Marla, an elderly woman with dementia. Confusing Allison for a childhood friend named Toffee, Marla invites the teen into her home. At first Allison pretends to be Toffee simply to live with Marla and survive, but when she secretly observes the disrespect and abuse Marla receives from caregivers and family, she uses her predicament to give Marla the life she deserves. Crossan weaves in flashbacks from Allison’s past to help readers understand her thoughts and actions during this transition. Despite Marla’s dementia and the age difference, it’s clear that both women understand each other’s hardships and grow in friendship because of this mutual sympathy. The effect is at once painful and beautiful. Although the spare format forces readers to fill in gaps, it also renders lovely imagery as Allison seeks the family she needs. All characters seem to be White.

An uncommon, successful approach to a tough topic. (Verse novel. 14-18)

Pub Date: July 14, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5476-0329-9

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: May 1, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2020

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IF HE HAD BEEN WITH ME

There’s not much plot here, but readers will relish the opportunity to climb inside Autumn’s head.

The finely drawn characters capture readers’ attention in this debut.

Autumn and Phineas, nicknamed Finny, were born a week apart; their mothers are still best friends. Growing up, Autumn and Finny were like peas in a pod despite their differences: Autumn is “quirky and odd,” while Finny is “sweet and shy and everyone like[s] him.” But in eighth grade, Autumn and Finny stop being friends due to an unexpected kiss. They drift apart and find new friends, but their friendship keeps asserting itself at parties, shared holiday gatherings and random encounters. In the summer after graduation, Autumn and Finny reconnect and are finally ready to be more than friends. But on August 8, everything changes, and Autumn has to rely on all her strength to move on. Autumn’s coming-of-age is sensitively chronicled, with a wide range of experiences and events shaping her character. Even secondary characters are well-rounded, with their own histories and motivations.

There’s not much plot here, but readers will relish the opportunity to climb inside Autumn’s head.   (Fiction. 14 & up)

Pub Date: April 1, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-4022-7782-5

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire

Review Posted Online: Feb. 12, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2013

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IF ONLY I HAD TOLD HER

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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