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FRESHMAN YEAR

An engaging and relatable slice-of-life story.

An artistic, thoughtful young woman from southern Wisconsin sets off for college in Minnesota.

Sarah graduates from high school and spends her last summer before college with friends Finn and Emma and boyfriend Ben, who proclaims that he loves her and wants them to stay together, even after they leave for different campuses in the fall. Sarah’s earnest insecurities about her plans, including whether she may transfer to an art school at some point, are evident from the get-go and will ring true for readers who’ve been in similar positions during this major life pivot point. The simple color palette (black and white with a blue-gray wash), with panels that smoothly shift in size and structure to suit the needs of the story, form a backdrop to playful yet realistic drawings that effectively convey people’s emotions through their facial expressions. Sarah’s persistent anxiety comes through especially clearly. Mai’s author-illustrator debut follows Sarah throughout her entire first year of college and into the next summer. Her life is replete with new friends made (including her science-oriented roommate and a fellow artist pal), relationship struggles, spontaneous changes in personal style, visits home that show how things are both changing and staying the same, and more. This detailed, meditative tale is insightful, honest, and darkly funny, and it includes threads that are (realistically) not tidily resolved. Sarah and her family read white; there’s some ethnic diversity among secondary characters.

An engaging and relatable slice-of-life story. (author’s note) (Graphic fiction. 14-18)

Pub Date: Feb. 13, 2024

ISBN: 9780316401173

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Christy Ottaviano Books

Review Posted Online: Nov. 4, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2023

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THE ONLY GIRL IN TOWN

A high-concept premise that falls short in its execution.

A teenage girl finds herself alone after everyone else in her town mysteriously disappears, leaving her scrambling to figure out how to find them all.

One late summer day, everybody in July Fielding’s town disappears. She is left to piece together what happened, following a series of cryptic signs she finds around town urging her to “GET THEM BACK.” The narrative moves back and forth between July’s present and the events of the summer before, when her relationship with her best friend, cross-country team co-captain Sydney, starts to fracture due to a combination of jealousy over July’s new relationship with a cute boy called Sam and sweet up-and-coming freshman Ella’s threatening to overtake Syd’s status as star of the track team. The team members participate in a ritual in which they jump off a cliff into the rocky waters below at the end of their Friday practice runs. Though Ella is reluctant, Syd pressures her to jump. Short, frenetically paced sections move the story along quickly, and there is much foreshadowing pointing to something terrible that occurred at the end of that summer, which may be the key to July’s current predicament, but there is much misdirection too. Ultimately this is a story without enough setup to make the turn the book takes in the end feel fully developed or earned. All characters read white.

A high-concept premise that falls short in its execution. (Fiction. 14-18)

Pub Date: Sept. 19, 2023

ISBN: 9780593327173

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Dutton

Review Posted Online: July 27, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2023

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SPIN ME RIGHT ROUND

A great read offering entertainment, encouragement, and plenty to reflect upon.

A gay teen contends with time travel—and homophobia through the decades.

All Cuban American Luis wants is to be prom king with his boyfriend, but tiny upstate New York boarding school Antic Springs Academy, with its strict, Christian code of conduct, won’t even let them hold hands in public. After a disastrous prom committee meeting at which his attempt to make the event welcoming of queer couples is rejected by the principal, Luis gets quite literally knocked into the past—specifically, ASA in the year 1985. There he meets Chaz, a Black student who attended the school at the same time as Luis’ parents and who died under mysterious circumstances after being bullied for his sexuality. Luis now faces a choice between changing the past to help Chaz and preserving his own future existence. Fortunately, he has Ms. Silverthorn, a Black English teacher and beloved mentor, who offers him support in both timelines. The narrative explores the impacts of homophobia and being closeted, remaining optimistic without shying away from the more brutal aspects. Luis is a multifaceted character with an engaging voice whose flaws are confronted and examined throughout. The solid pacing and pleasant, fluid prose make this a page-turner. Luis’ boyfriend is cued as Chinese American, and his best friend is nonbinary; there is some diversity in ethnicity and sexuality in background characters, although the school is predominantly White.

A great read offering entertainment, encouragement, and plenty to reflect upon. (author's note) (Fiction. 14-18)

Pub Date: Jan. 4, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-5476-0710-5

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: July 26, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2021

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