Plenty of drama and a laundry list of catchy, contemporary issues make this an eventful, intriguing read.

SPIRIT LEVEL

Sperm-donor half siblings, friends with gay parents, and stay-at-home dads who run away with other men or with younger women, or dads who reside in prison for vehicular manslaughter—Harvey weaves far-ranging family and gender strands together.

Harry (short for Harriet) has always known she is a product of her blonde, blue-eyed “Single Mother by Choice” Della and an anonymous sperm donor, “a tall, part-Latino medical student.” Deeply saddened by a recent breakup, Harry keeps busy transcribing her mother’s research on Seattle’s homeless girls. A chance encounter with a tabloid story about donor siblings and the risk of “accidental incest” piques her interest and conjures icky scenarios (“I really like you, but I want to make sure we’re not related before I get in your pants”). Harry begins to secretly explore her genetic roots; in an end-of-summer synopsis she tells a friend “I was so bored I found five half-siblings, my donor and a trans boyfriend.” A troubled half sib briefly turns the story dark and violent; the gift of a carpenter’s spirit level provides the title and grounding symbol for Harry, whose narrative voice is genuine and entertaining. Harvey neatly and matter-of-factly incorporates a wide range of family styles and relationships, dysfunctional to healthy.

Plenty of drama and a laundry list of catchy, contemporary issues make this an eventful, intriguing read. (Fiction. 12-16)

Pub Date: Feb. 2, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-4598-0816-4

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Orca

Review Posted Online: Nov. 3, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2015

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Characters to love, quips to snort at, insights to ponder: typical Spinelli.

DEAD WEDNESDAY

For two teenagers, a small town’s annual cautionary ritual becomes both a life- and a death-changing experience.

On the second Wednesday in June, every eighth grader in Amber Springs, Pennsylvania, gets a black shirt, the name and picture of a teen killed the previous year through reckless behavior—and the silent treatment from everyone in town. Like many of his classmates, shy, self-conscious Robbie “Worm” Tarnauer has been looking forward to Dead Wed as a day for cutting loose rather than sober reflection…until he finds himself talking to a strange girl or, as she would have it, “spectral maiden,” only he can see or touch. Becca Finch is as surprised and confused as Worm, only remembering losing control of her car on an icy slope that past Christmas Eve. But being (or having been, anyway) a more outgoing sort, she sees their encounter as a sign that she’s got a mission. What follows, in a long conversational ramble through town and beyond, is a day at once ordinary yet rich in discovery and self-discovery—not just for Worm, but for Becca too, with a climactic twist that leaves both ready, or readier, for whatever may come next. Spinelli shines at setting a tongue-in-cheek tone for a tale with serious underpinnings, and as in Stargirl (2000), readers will be swept into the relationship that develops between this adolescent odd couple. Characters follow a White default.

Characters to love, quips to snort at, insights to ponder: typical Spinelli. (Fiction. 12-15)

Pub Date: Aug. 3, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-30667-3

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: June 1, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2021

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A successful romantic enterprise.

THE UPSIDE OF FALLING

High school seniors do the fake dating thing.

Brett Wells has always been focused on football. Brainy Becca Hart’s faith in love was destroyed by her parents’ divorce. The two have little in common other than being pestered by their friends and families about the lack of a special someone in their lives. They embark upon a “fake relationship,” but, predictably, it gives way to a real one. Debut author Light sprinkles in just enough charm and good-natured romance as the narrative bounces between Brett’s and Becca’s perspectives to keep readers engaged but not overwhelmed by twee sentiment. Becca is a much better developed character than Brett (handsome yet doofy, he has the complexity of a golden retriever), and her chapters are the novel’s highlights. Brett’s whole deal is a bigger pill to swallow, but readers who go with it will find a pleasant story. The novel is a syrupy ode to what it feels like to slowly fall for someone for the first time, and that mood is captured effectively. Becca and Brett have chemistry that feels completely natural, but sadly there are some late-in-the-game plot mechanics that feel forced. Fortunately, the author seems as uninterested in these disruptions as readers will be: Things are resolved quickly, and the novel ends on a high note. Whiteness is situated as the norm; main characters are white.

A successful romantic enterprise. (Romance. 12-16)

Pub Date: Feb. 18, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-291805-5

Page Count: 288

Publisher: HarperTeen

Review Posted Online: Nov. 19, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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