Didactic overtones and blatant real-world parallels spoil this reluctant reader series.


From the AI High series

Julie balks at working with android Leila as part of her high school’s integration program.

When interacting with Leila reveals that androids might not be as bad as Julie’s parents preached, Julie learns to use her human privilege to stand up for android rights. All books in the AI High series take place at Julie and Leila’s high school, where tensions between humans and androids run high. In Team Player by Jeffrey Pratt (The Prank, 2019), the star quarterback finds himself replaced by the first android addition to the team. Star-Crossed, by Loren Bailey (Becoming Prince Charming, 2018, etc.), is a Romeo and Juliet story about human Alyssa and android Reid. Claire Ainslie’s (The One, 2019) Detained profiles an android who vandalizes the school in retaliation for bullying from human peers. While the latter three titles balance storytelling with pointed lessons about prejudice, Family Ties reads like an oversimplified introduction to racial injustice. Humans represent a white community while negative stereotypes about androids echo real-world racial hostility. Though a couple of the other books feature ethnic diversity among humans and androids, in Family Ties, only android surnames indicate diverse backgrounds (Farid, Goldman, Kim). When Julie intervenes in an anti-android protest, victory is easily won. Ultimately, the topics of prejudice and bigotry deserve to be addressed with more nuance and less attempt at veiling the subject matter.

Didactic overtones and blatant real-world parallels spoil this reluctant reader series. (Speculative fiction. 12-16)

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-5415-5691-1

Page Count: 112

Publisher: Darby Creek

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2019

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Heartbreaking, historical, and a little bit hopeful.

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January 1945: as Russians advance through East Prussia, four teens’ lives converge in hopes of escape.

Returning to the successful formula of her highly lauded debut, Between Shades of Gray (2011), Sepetys combines research (described in extensive backmatter) with well-crafted fiction to bring to life another little-known story: the sinking (from Soviet torpedoes) of the German ship Wilhelm Gustloff. Told in four alternating voices—Lithuanian nurse Joana, Polish Emilia, Prussian forger Florian, and German soldier Alfred—with often contemporary cadences, this stints on neither history nor fiction. The three sympathetic refugees and their motley companions (especially an orphaned boy and an elderly shoemaker) make it clear that while the Gustloff was a German ship full of German civilians and soldiers during World War II, its sinking was still a tragedy. Only Alfred, stationed on the Gustloff, lacks sympathy; almost a caricature, he is self-delusional, unlikable, a Hitler worshiper. As a vehicle for exposition, however, and a reminder of Germany’s role in the war, he serves an invaluable purpose that almost makes up for the mustache-twirling quality of his petty villainy. The inevitability of the ending (including the loss of several characters) doesn’t change its poignancy, and the short chapters and slowly revealed back stories for each character guarantee the pages keep turning.

Heartbreaking, historical, and a little bit hopeful. (author’s note, research and sources, maps) (Historical fiction. 12-16)

Pub Date: Feb. 2, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-399-16030-1

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Philomel

Review Posted Online: Nov. 3, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2015

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A twisty and entertaining magic-filled mystery that mirrors real-life issues.


From the City of Villains series , Vol. 1

A teen’s sense of justice leads her into dark and unexpected places.

Mary Elizabeth lives in the Scar with her Aunt Gia, living life to the fullest with her boyfriend, James; his Neverland boys; and her best friend, Ursula. While Mary balances attending school at Monarch High; partying at Wonderland, a local club for minors; and her internship with the police department that solved her parents’ murders, tensions rise between Legacy, the Scar’s original inhabitants who have a magical lineage, and Narrows, privileged incomers without magic. When the mysterious Mad Hatter strikes, leaving grisly presents for the police, and a wealthy Legacy student disappears, the police chief puts Mary and a young officer on the case in search of answers and justice. The Scar is a complex and realistic setting where Legacy struggle with collective trauma, social unrest, and inequity while rich Narrows families are buying up and building on Legacy land that holds spiritual significance and reshaping the high school to be less inclusive. Themes discussed include politics after the Death of Magic and the co-opting of Legacy culture by Narrows as well as the importance of chosen family. The appearance of familiar characters will draw readers into this story that delves into society’s darkness. Mary is pale-skinned with red hair; ethnic diversity in the cast does not correspond with Legacy versus Narrows status.

A twisty and entertaining magic-filled mystery that mirrors real-life issues. (Fantasy. 12-16)

Pub Date: Feb. 2, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-368-04938-2

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Disney-Hyperion

Review Posted Online: Nov. 24, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2020

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