An adventure story for reluctant readers driven by high winds of melodrama.

THE VANISHING PLACE

A quick outing in a borrowed boat becomes a terror-soaked nightmare for a group of teens.

Cast into short bursts of confessional free verse, the tale opens with four young people meeting on a Florida beach and setting out for a joyride—which turns deadly with the onset of a sudden squall that leaves one dead and the others stranded on a deserted island with virtually no supplies. As they take up the narrative oars, each in turn reveals a distinctive mix of traits and histories—Nate is moody and serious; his buddy Jay hides the emotional wreckage of childhood abuse beneath the facade of a carefree party boy; Brooke is the outgoing one; and Eva, her friend from back home in Pennsylvania, though timid in company, turns out to be the most resolute and heroic of all. The plot ends on a wave of narrow squeaks as, after weeks with no sign of rescue, the survivors set off on a bamboo raft…only to be driven back to the island by a big shark and, later, another ferocious storm. Emminizer cuts her debut novel off in an abrupt ending that may bring some readers up short but will at least spark discussion about how things will turn out. The characters are all cued as white except for Eva, who is Latinx.

An adventure story for reluctant readers driven by high winds of melodrama. (Verse novel. 13-16)

Pub Date: April 1, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5383-8509-8

Page Count: 200

Publisher: West 44 Books

Review Posted Online: April 5, 2020

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The Phantom of the Opera served as inspiration, but this wouldn’t last on Broadway.

PHANTOM HEART

Stephanie and her family move into an old mansion rumored to have been put under a curse after a turn-of-the-20th-century rich boy meddled with an Egyptian mummy.

After her young sister complains about strange events, high school student Stephanie befriends Lucas, a geeky, good-looking boy, and meets the other members of SPOoKy, the Scientific Paranormal Organization of Kentucky: Charlotte, Wes, and Patrick. Stephanie learns the history of her new home from Lucas, who attracts her romantic attention, but the usually levelheaded girl is soon drawn to Erik, the handsome phantom who first comes to her in dreams. The story is told in chapters narrated by Stephanie, Lucas, and Zedok, whose identity is initially a source of confusion to Stephanie. Zedok appears wearing different masks, “personified slivers” of his soul, representing states of mind such as Wrath, Madness, and Valor. Meanwhile, until gifted singer Stephanie came along and he could write songs for her, Erik’s dreams were thwarted; he wanted to be a composer but his family expected him to become a doctor. In the gothic horror tradition, Erik’s full background and connection with Zedok are slowly revealed. Romantic dream sequences are lush and swoon-y, but the long, drawn-out battle to end the curse, aided by a celebrity clairvoyant, is tedious, and the constant introduction of Erik’s different personae is confusing. Most characters default to White; Patrick is Black.

The Phantom of the Opera served as inspiration, but this wouldn’t last on Broadway. (Horror. 13-16)

Pub Date: Aug. 17, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-11604-3

Page Count: 528

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 27, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2021

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In the end, it’s more liberating than oppressive, with bits of humor and a jubilant pageant takeover by beauty rebels to...

DUMPLIN'

From the Dumplin' series , Vol. 1

In a small Texas town, a confident fat girl confronts new challenges to her self-esteem.

At age 16, Willowdean—her mother calls her Dumplin’—has a good sense of herself. She’s uninterested in Mom’s raison d’être, the Clover City Miss Teen Blue Bonnet Pageant, which annually takes over the town and Will’s own house. Mom won once and now runs the pageant, dieting to fit her old dress and pressuring Will to diet too. Will doesn’t. She mourns her beloved aunt Lucy, a second parent to her who died six months ago, and simmers with pleasure over a new, hot, sort-of-boyfriend. However, his touch makes Will panic with newfound insecurity. She loses him, loses her old best friend, gains new social-outsider buddies (a familiar trope)—and finds triumph somewhere amid Dolly Parton, drag queens, breaking pageant rules, and repairing relationships. The text refreshingly asserts that thinness is no requirement for doing and deserving good things, that weight loss isn’t a cure-all, and that dieting doesn’t work anyway. The plot arc, amazingly, avoids the all-too-common pitfall of having its fat protagonist lose weight. Unfortunately, Murphy loses her step and undermines her main point in the mournful, cringeworthy details of Lucy’s death and life, which are blamed on extreme fatness rather than unfairness.

In the end, it’s more liberating than oppressive, with bits of humor and a jubilant pageant takeover by beauty rebels to crown this unusual book about a fat character. (Fiction. 13-16)

Pub Date: Sept. 15, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-06-232718-5

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 12, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2015

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