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 grittily provocative debut explores the horrors of self-harm and the healing power of artistic expression.

GIRL IN PIECES

After surviving a suicide attempt, a fragile teen isn't sure she can endure without cutting herself.

Seventeen-year-old Charlie Davis, a white girl living on the margins, thinks she has little reason to live: her father drowned himself; her bereft and abusive mother kicked her out; her best friend, Ellis, is nearly brain dead after cutting too deeply; and she's gone through unspeakable experiences living on the street. After spending time in treatment with other young women like her—who cut, burn, poke, and otherwise hurt themselves—Charlie is released and takes a bus from the Twin Cities to Tucson to be closer to Mikey, a boy she "like-likes" but who had pined for Ellis instead. But things don't go as planned in the Arizona desert, because sweet Mikey just wants to be friends. Feeling rejected, Charlie, an artist, is drawn into a destructive new relationship with her sexy older co-worker, a "semifamous" local musician who's obviously a junkie alcoholic. Through intense, diarylike chapters chronicling Charlie's journey, the author captures the brutal and heartbreaking way "girls who write their pain on their bodies" scar and mar themselves, either succumbing or surviving. Like most issue books, this is not an easy read, but it's poignant and transcendent as Charlie breaks more and more before piecing herself back together.

This grittily provocative debut explores the horrors of self-harm and the healing power of artistic expression. (author’s note) (Fiction. 14 & up)

Pub Date: Aug. 30, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-101-93471-5

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: May 4, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2016

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Though constrained, the work nevertheless stands apart in a literature that too often finds it hard to look hard truths in...

DEAR MARTIN

In this roller-coaster ride of a debut, the author summons the popular legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. to respond to the recent tragic violence befalling unarmed black men and boys.

Seventeen-year-old black high school senior Justyce McAllister, a full-scholarship student at the virtually all-white Braselton Prep, is the focus. After a bloody run-in with the police when they take his good deed for malice, Justyce seeks meaning in a series of letters with his “homie” Dr. King. He writes, “I thought if I made sure to be an upstanding member of society, I’d be exempt from the stuff THOSE black guys deal with, you know?” While he’s ranked fourth in his graduating class and well-positioned for the Ivy League, Justyce is coming to terms with the fact that there’s not as much that separates him from “THOSE black guys” as he’d like to believe. Despite this, Stone seems to position Justyce and his best friend as the decidedly well-mannered black children who are deserving of readers’ sympathies. They are not those gangsters that can be found in Justyce’s neighborhood. There’s nuance to be found for sure, but not enough to upset the dominant narrative. What if they weren’t the successful kids? While the novel intentionally leaves more questions than it attempts to answer, there are layers that still remain between the lines.

Though constrained, the work nevertheless stands apart in a literature that too often finds it hard to look hard truths in the face. Take interest and ask questions. (Fiction. 14-18)

Pub Date: Oct. 17, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-101-93949-9

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Aug. 7, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2017

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