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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An emotionally engaging and draining debut.

OUR CHEMICAL HEARTS

Two teenagers suffer through their first heartbreak.

Henry Page has spent his high school years with his nose to the grindstone, avoiding romantic relationships and focusing on becoming the editor of the school paper. At the start of his senior year Henry is offered the job, but there’s a catch: transfer student Grace Town is offered the gig as well, making the two white teens co-editors. Sparks fly as Henry works with the aloof, unkempt new girl, who walks with a cane. As Henry and Grace grow closer, Henry falls deeper for her even as he learns just how broken she is. In her debut, Sutherland mixes her love story with equal parts hope and ominous dread. There is never any doubt that this couple is marching toward romantic oblivion, but it’s an effectively drawn journey. The characters speak with a John Green–esque voice, but they are never overbearingly precocious. Narrator Henry’s a smartly rendered character, a decent kid who has goals and works hard to achieve them. His new goal is Grace’s affection, and the unstoppable force meeting the immovable object that is Grace’s emotional unavailability provides the novel some of its sharpest moments. When the walls tumble down, the connection between the two is clearly an unhealthy one, and the author pulls no punches, devastating Henry, Grace, and readers in equal measure.

An emotionally engaging and draining debut. (Fiction. 12-16)

Pub Date: Oct. 4, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-399-54656-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: July 20, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2016

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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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