Ambitious but only fitfully entertaining or informative.

JFK & THE MUCKERS OF CHOATE

A REAL-TO-LIFE NOVEL

Ask not what your prep school can do for you, ask what you can do for your prep school.

Journalist and nonfiction writer Badler states that this novel, focusing on John F. Kennedy’s time at the elite Choate School, is mostly based on actual history. Unfortunately, this first-person fictionalized portrait of a mutinous teenage underachiever fizzles. Episodes include gathering a group of fellow muckers to defiantly hold secret meetings before compulsory chapel and wear unsanctioned club pins, an explicit visit to a Harlem bordello, a closeted roommate’s offer of a hand job, and no less than four long dialogues with a Columbia psychologist. Interactions with the large Kennedy clan, particularly eldest brother and golden boy Joe Jr., play a large role. Both Lead Belly and Gertrude Stein parade past, the former having to pass his hat to get paid, the latter to make her famous comment about her hometown and encourage young Jack to write a book about brave politicians. In the end, the adolescent fuming and rebellion feel like a device for showing a future president developing leadership skills, exhibiting strength of character in dealing with his chronically poor health, and expressing strong feelings about the injustice of racial and religious prejudice. Readers can get the same from better conventional biographies without having to pick the invented bits out from the historical ones.

Ambitious but only fitfully entertaining or informative. (author’s note, character bios, timeline, discussion questions, further reading) (Historical fiction. 15-18)

Pub Date: May 29, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-61088-566-9

Page Count: 324

Publisher: Bancroft Press

Review Posted Online: March 29, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2022

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Perhaps a more genuinely enlightened protagonist would have made this debut more engaging

STALKING JACK THE RIPPER

Audrey Rose Wadsworth, 17, would rather perform autopsies in her uncle’s dark laboratory than find a suitable husband, as is the socially acceptable rite of passage for a young, white British lady in the late 1800s.

The story immediately brings Audrey into a fractious pairing with her uncle’s young assistant, Thomas Cresswell. The two engage in predictable rounds of “I’m smarter than you are” banter, while Audrey’s older brother, Nathaniel, taunts her for being a girl out of her place. Horrific murders of prostitutes whose identities point to associations with the Wadsworth estate prompt Audrey to start her own investigation, with Thomas as her sidekick. Audrey’s narration is both ponderous and polemical, as she sees her pursuit of her goals and this investigation as part of a crusade for women. She declares that the slain aren’t merely prostitutes but “daughters and wives and mothers,” but she’s also made it a point to deny any alignment with the profiled victims: “I am not going as a prostitute. I am simply blending in.” Audrey also expresses a narrow view of her desired gender role, asserting that “I was determined to be both pretty and fierce,” as if to say that physical beauty and liking “girly” things are integral to feminism. The graphic descriptions of mutilated women don’t do much to speed the pace.

Perhaps a more genuinely enlightened protagonist would have made this debut more engaging . (Historical thriller. 15-18)

Pub Date: Sept. 20, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-316-27349-7

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Jimmy Patterson/Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: June 1, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2016

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A stunning novel that exposes modern fascism and elevates human resilience. (author’s note, research and sources, glossary,...

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THE FOUNTAINS OF SILENCE

The pitiless dictatorship of Francisco Franco examined through the voices of four teenagers: one American and three Spaniards.

The Spanish Civil War lasted from 1936-1939, but Franco held Spain by its throat for 36 years. Sepetys (Salt to the Sea, 2016, etc.) begins her novel in 1957. Daniel is a white Texan who wants to be a photojournalist, not an oilman; Ana is trying to work her way to respectability as a hotel maid; her brother, Rafael, wants to erase memories of an oppressive boys’ home; and Puri is a loving caregiver for babies awaiting adoption—together they provide alternating third-person lenses for viewing Spain during one of its most brutally repressive periods. Their lives run parallel and intersect as each tries to answer questions about truth and the path ahead within a regime that crushes any opposition, murders dissidents, and punishes their families while stealing babies to sell to parents with accepted political views. This formidable story will haunt those who ask hard questions about the past as it reveals the hopes and dreams of individuals in a nation trying to lie its way to the future. Meticulous research is presented through believable, complex characters on the brink of adulthood who personalize the questions we all must answer about our place in the world. 

A stunning novel that exposes modern fascism and elevates human resilience. (author’s note, research and sources, glossary, photographs) (Historical fiction. 15-adult)

Pub Date: Oct. 22, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-399-16031-8

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Philomel

Review Posted Online: July 21, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2019

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