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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Will both entertain and encourage reflection.

CINDERELLA IS DEAD

In Mersailles, “Cinderella” is more than just a fairy tale: It’s the basis for a harsh monarch’s throttlehold on his kingdom.

Sophia is turning 16, the age at which young women must attend King Manford’s annual ball, at which they are scrutinized by and married off to male attendees. Any young woman who has not been claimed after her third ball is destined to spend the rest of her days engaged in hard labor. But being chosen can be its own curse in a society where domestic violence is common. Sophia is a beautiful Black girl in love with dark-haired Erin, one of her best friends. While racial diversity is a natural part of this world, the same acceptance does not exist for those who defy rigid gender norms: Anything other than heterosexual desire is strictly forbidden, and while Sophia wishes to escape as a couple, Erin is too fearful. After fleeing the ball, Sophia stumbles across Cinderella’s mausoleum, hidden in the woods. There she meets rebellious Constance, an attractive young red-haired woman with a very personal motivation for sabotaging the monarchy. As the two grew closer—and sparks fly—they discover secrets that could end Manford’s cruel reign. This promising debut deals with themes around rebellion and empowerment as well as the toll that rejecting the status quo can take on relationships. The atmospheric setting is a particular strength, and the twists and turns will keep readers in suspense.

Will both entertain and encourage reflection. (Fantasy. 12-16)

Pub Date: July 7, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5476-0387-9

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: April 27, 2021

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Inspiring and heartwarming.

MOST LIKELY

From the Most Likely series , Vol. 1

The future is female: Her name is President Diffenderfer.

Best friends since kindergarten, Ava, CJ, Jordan, and Martha tackle their senior year with great aplomb in Watson’s debut. When their senior rite of passage, carving one’s name into the jungle gym at a local park, is threatened by a city council that wants to demolish the park, the girls rally to save the place where they became friends. This is far from their only problem: Though each is talented, they struggle this year with emotional, academic, social, and financial issues. Latinx artist Ava, who lives with depression, desires to find her birth mother and attend art school against her mother’s wishes; white cross-country athlete CJ, who is self-conscious about her body, can’t crack the SATs, so she strengthens her college application by volunteering with disabled children; biracial (black/white) student journalist Jordan lies about her age to interview a handsome councilman’s aide, and a mutual crush develops; STEM-focused white lesbian Martha, named for her ancestor Martha Washington, worries that her family can’t afford MIT. Over the course of the year, the friends weather obstacles and realize the power of their friendship. Their relationship prepares one of the girls to become president of the United States, and the twist ending will come as a surprise. The characters are superbly drawn; portrayed as whole people, the various elements of their identities are not the entirety of who they are.

Inspiring and heartwarming. (Fiction. 12-16)

Pub Date: March 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-316-45483-4

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Poppy/Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Dec. 16, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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