This uplifting novel of clashing cultures and faith in the underdog will leave readers with hope for troubled teens.

SHADES OF GRAY

In Hale’s novel, a teacher reaches out to the children the educational system has left behind—all while desperately wanting children of her own.

After Olivia Dalton losing her job as a high school teacher, she and two other teachers were asked to take at-risk students into a special prevention program and guide them to graduation. Olivia’s big heart entangles her in the personal lives of her students, but she strives to understand the lives they live in a neighborhood just blocks away—but in a much different world—from hers. While she and her husband, Tom, struggle to conceive a child of their own (a cause of tension in their marriage), her teen students flaunt pregnancies that show someone cared about them for at least one night. Despite her cheery optimism, Olivia sees the consequences her students face; some spend time in jail, commit robberies and succumb to the violence of the street. Though the setting feels like the ’80s (Hale herself was a dropout-prevention teacher in New York City years ago) the core of the material is contemporary. As usual, the highest-risk students often need a teacher’s faith most. Hale’s use of urban dialect to represent how Dalton’s students speak feels genuine yet not condescending. Ultimately, Dalton’s respect for her students—for their music, commitment to each other and their potential to overcome disadvantages—helps reveal a cast of teens worth caring about. The authentic emotional conversations about adoption also make up for the limited details regarding the reality of that route’s difficulty and expense.

This uplifting novel of clashing cultures and faith in the underdog will leave readers with hope for troubled teens.

Pub Date: Dec. 19, 2011

ISBN: 978-1462061013

Page Count: 356

Publisher: iUniverse

Review Posted Online: June 7, 2012

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Fresh and upbeat, though not without flaws.

THE LOVE HYPOTHESIS

An earnest grad student and a faculty member with a bit of a jerkish reputation concoct a fake dating scheme in this nerdy, STEM-filled contemporary romance.

Olive Smith and professor Adam Carlsen first met in the bathroom of Adam's lab. Olive wore expired contact lenses, reducing her eyes to temporary tears, while Adam just needed to dispose of a solution. It's a memory that only one of them has held onto. Now, nearly three years later, Olive is fully committed to her research in pancreatic cancer at Stanford University's biology department. As a faculty member, Adam's reputation precedes him, since he's made many students cry or drop their programs entirely with his bluntness. When Olive needs her best friend, Anh, to think she's dating someone so Anh will feel more comfortable getting involved with Olive's barely-an-ex, Jeremy, she impulsively kisses Adam, who happens to be standing there when Anh walks by. But rumors start to spread, and the one-time kiss morphs into a fake relationship, especially as Adam sees there's a benefit for him. The university is withholding funds for Adam's research out of fear that he'll leave for a better position elsewhere. If he puts down more roots by getting involved with someone, his research funds could be released at the next budgeting meeting in about a month's time. After setting a few ground rules, Adam and Olive agree that come the end of September, they'll part ways, having gotten what they need from their arrangement. Hazelwood has a keen understanding of romance tropes and puts them to good use—in addition to fake dating, Olive and Adam are an opposites-attract pairing with their sunny and grumpy personalities—but there are a couple of weaknesses in this debut novel. Hazelwood manages to sidestep a lot of the complicated power dynamics of a student-faculty romance by putting Olive and Adam in different departments, but the impetus for their fake relationship has much higher stakes for Adam. Olive does reap the benefits of dating a faculty member, but in the end, she's still the one seemingly punished or taunted by her colleagues; readers may have been hoping for a more subversive twist. For a first novel, there's plenty of shine here, with clear signs that Hazelwood feels completely comfortable with happily-ever-afters.

Fresh and upbeat, though not without flaws.

Pub Date: Sept. 14, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-33682-3

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Berkley

Review Posted Online: July 28, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2021

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A heartfelt look at taking second chances, in life and in love.

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BEACH READ

Two struggling authors spend the summer writing and falling in love in a quaint beach town.

January Andrews has just arrived in the small town of North Bear Shores with some serious baggage. Her father has been dead for a year, but she still hasn’t come to terms with what she found out at his funeral—he had been cheating on her mother for years. January plans to spend the summer cleaning out and selling the house her father and “That Woman” lived in together. But she’s also a down-on-her-luck author facing writer’s block, and she no longer believes in the happily-ever-after she’s made the benchmark of her work. Her steadily dwindling bank account, though, is a daily reminder that she must sell her next book, and fast. Serendipitously, she discovers that her new next-door neighbor is Augustus Everett, the darling of the literary fiction set and her former college rival/crush. Gus also happens to be struggling with his next book (and some serious trauma that unfolds throughout the novel). Though the two get off to a rocky start, they soon make a bet: Gus will try to write a romance novel, and January will attempt “bleak literary fiction.” They spend the summer teaching each other the art of their own genres—January takes Gus on a romantic outing to the local carnival; Gus takes January to the burned-down remains of a former cult—and they both process their own grief, loss, and trauma through this experiment. There are more than enough steamy scenes to sustain the slow-burn romance, and smart commentary on the placement and purpose of “women’s fiction” joins with crucial conversations about mental health to add multiple intriguing layers to the plot.

A heartfelt look at taking second chances, in life and in love.

Pub Date: May 19, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-0673-4

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Jove/Penguin

Review Posted Online: March 2, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2020

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