Based on true events in Mali in 2012, Davies’ novel offers villains to hate, protagonists to feel for, and a nuanced glimpse...

BLOOD AND INK

Ali and Kadija have nearly opposite views of how to live their faiths and cultures, but as their worlds collide, they are drawn to each other in this ambitious novel narrated by both teens in alternating chapters.

Ali, a native of Mali, is a soldier with the Defenders of Faith when they take over Timbuktu, using AK-47s to control the locals, who resist with marches, cunning, and song. Kadija sings in a musical band and is in line to inherit a position as a Guardian of Timbuktu’s priceless treasure: thousands of ancient manuscripts revered by the local Sufi population. When Ali is stationed on Kadi’s street as a guard, the ideological battle over the soul of Timbuktu becomes personal. Ali attempts to guide Kadi, while Kadi seeks to lure him out from under the influence of Redbeard, the real-life Arab leader of the Defenders. After Ali discovers the secret vault that houses the manuscripts, Kadi must save the manuscripts from destruction by the Defenders. While the chemistry between Ali and Kadi feels somewhat forced, the high-stakes action and believable setting details will likely keep readers tuned in. Their present-tense narrations alternate, interspersed with transcripts from the manuscripts.

Based on true events in Mali in 2012, Davies’ novel offers villains to hate, protagonists to feel for, and a nuanced glimpse into a rich Muslim culture and society. (glossary, afterword) (Historical fiction/thriller. 12-16)

Pub Date: Sept. 19, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-58089-790-7

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Charlesbridge Teen

Review Posted Online: June 27, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2017

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Despite some missteps, this will appeal to readers who enjoy a fresh and realistic teen voice.

THE FIELD GUIDE TO THE NORTH AMERICAN TEENAGER

A teenage, not-so-lonely loner endures the wilds of high school in Austin, Texas.

Norris Kaplan, the protagonist of Philippe’s debut novel, is a hypersweaty, uber-snarky black, Haitian, French-Canadian pushing to survive life in his new school. His professor mom’s new tenure-track job transplants Norris mid–school year, and his biting wit and sarcasm are exposed through his cataloging of his new world in a field guide–style burn book. He’s greeted in his new life by an assortment of acquaintances, Liam, who is white and struggling with depression; Maddie, a self-sacrificing white cheerleader with a heart of gold; and Aarti, his Indian-American love interest who offers connection. Norris’ ego, fueled by his insecurities, often gets in the way of meaningful character development. The scenes showcasing his emotional growth are too brief and, despite foreshadowing, the climax falls flat because he still gets incredible personal access to people he’s hurt. A scene where Norris is confronted by his mother for getting drunk and belligerent with a white cop is diluted by his refusal or inability to grasp the severity of the situation and the resultant minor consequences. The humor is spot-on, as is the representation of the black diaspora; the opportunity for broader conversations about other topics is there, however, the uneven buildup of detailed, meaningful exchanges and the glibness of Norris’ voice detract.

Despite some missteps, this will appeal to readers who enjoy a fresh and realistic teen voice. (Fiction. 13-16)

Pub Date: Jan. 8, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-06-282411-0

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Oct. 15, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2018

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Though it lacks references or suggestions for further reading, Arn's agonizing story is compelling enough that many readers...

NEVER FALL DOWN

A harrowing tale of survival in the Killing Fields.

The childhood of Arn Chorn-Pond has been captured for young readers before, in Michelle Lord and Shino Arihara's picture book, A Song for Cambodia (2008). McCormick, known for issue-oriented realism, offers a fictionalized retelling of Chorn-Pond's youth for older readers. McCormick's version begins when the Khmer Rouge marches into 11-year-old Arn's Cambodian neighborhood and forces everyone into the country. Arn doesn't understand what the Khmer Rouge stands for; he only knows that over the next several years he and the other children shrink away on a handful of rice a day, while the corpses of adults pile ever higher in the mango grove. Arn does what he must to survive—and, wherever possible, to protect a small pocket of children and adults around him. Arn's chilling history pulls no punches, trusting its readers to cope with the reality of children forced to participate in murder, torture, sexual exploitation and genocide. This gut-wrenching tale is marred only by the author's choice to use broken English for both dialogue and description. Chorn-Pond, in real life, has spoken eloquently (and fluently) on the influence he's gained by learning English; this prose diminishes both his struggle and his story.

Though it lacks references or suggestions for further reading, Arn's agonizing story is compelling enough that many readers will seek out the history themselves. (preface, author's note) (Historical fiction. 12-15)

Pub Date: May 8, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-06-173093-1

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: March 21, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2012

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