Rich prose and a complex main character salvage this suspenseful but less-than-satisfying mystery

THE SMALLER EVIL

Strange occurrences at a secluded self-help retreat threaten 17-year-old Arman’s already fragile mental health

For as long as he can remember, Arman has taken medications for numerous chronic physical and emotional ailments. So when Beau, a reassuring but mysterious man, invites Arman to a healing retreat in the hills of Big Sur, he accepts. He’s nervous but eager for a chance to move beyond his sense of brokenness. At the retreat compound, Arman is among strangers, except for his classmate Kira, a black girl who is the daughter of a famous civil rights attorney, and her boyfriend, Dale. Like Arman and most of the other characters, Dale is white. Arman is at once comforted and confused by Beau’s interest in him and by his encounters with a beautiful girl, a cook at the compound. But talk of “inoculation” and “quarantine” and the program’s other odd rituals unnerve Arman, as effectively conveyed in Kuehn’s third-person narration. When Beau disappears, Arman is the only witness to what may have been a murder or a suicide—he’s not sure which, because he can’t remember exactly what happened. Arman’s tale of self-discovery is woven into the bigger mystery of Beau’s fate, but the result of the latter is less than enthralling. More gripping is the insightful and empathetic look into the mind of a teen struggling to heal.

Rich prose and a complex main character salvage this suspenseful but less-than-satisfying mystery . (Thriller. 14-18)

Pub Date: Aug. 2, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-101-99470-2

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Dutton

Review Posted Online: May 4, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2016

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This story is necessary. This story is important.

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THE HATE U GIVE

Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter is a black girl and an expert at navigating the two worlds she exists in: one at Garden Heights, her black neighborhood, and the other at Williamson Prep, her suburban, mostly white high school.

Walking the line between the two becomes immensely harder when Starr is present at the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend, Khalil, by a white police officer. Khalil was unarmed. Khalil’s death becomes national news, where he’s called a thug and possible drug dealer and gangbanger. His death becomes justified in the eyes of many, including one of Starr’s best friends at school. The police’s lackadaisical attitude sparks anger and then protests in the community, turning it into a war zone. Questions remain about what happened in the moments leading to Khalil’s death, and the only witness is Starr, who must now decide what to say or do, if anything. Thomas cuts to the heart of the matter for Starr and for so many like her, laying bare the systemic racism that undergirds her world, and she does so honestly and inescapably, balancing heartbreak and humor. With smooth but powerful prose delivered in Starr’s natural, emphatic voice, finely nuanced characters, and intricate and realistic relationship dynamics, this novel will have readers rooting for Starr and opening their hearts to her friends and family.

This story is necessary. This story is important. (Fiction. 14-adult)

Pub Date: Feb. 28, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-06-249853-3

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Dec. 6, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2016

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Many teen novels touch on similar themes, but few do it so memorably.

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ALL THE BRIGHT PLACES

Two struggling teens develop an unlikely relationship in a moving exploration of grief, suicide and young love.

Violet, a writer and member of the popular crowd, has withdrawn from her friends and from school activities since her sister died in a car accident nine months earlier. Finch, known to his classmates as "Theodore Freak," is famously impulsive and eccentric. Following their meeting in the school bell tower, Finch makes it his mission to re-engage Violet with the world, partially through a school project that sends them to offbeat Indiana landmarks and partially through simple persistence. (Violet and Finch live, fortunately for all involved, in the sort of romantic universe where his throwing rocks at her window in the middle of the night comes off more charming than stalker-esque.) The teens alternate narration chapter by chapter, each in a unique and well-realized voice. Finch's self-destructive streak and suicidal impulses are never far from the surface, and the chapters he narrates are interspersed with facts about suicide methods and quotations from Virginia Woolf and poet Cesare Pavese. When the story inevitably turns tragic, a cast of carefully drawn side characters brings to life both the pain of loss and the possibility of moving forward, though some notes of hope are more believable than others.

Many teen novels touch on similar themes, but few do it so memorably. (Fiction. 14 & up)

Pub Date: Jan. 6, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-385-75588-7

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Oct. 1, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2014

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