Gothic, gadget-y, gay: a socially conscious sci-fi thriller to shelve between The Terminator and Romeo and Juliet.

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WILLFUL MACHINES

Same-sex dating is tricky when your dad is a right-wing political figure. Then there’s that whole robot-fueled terrorist attack thing threatening to directly strike at any second.

In the not-so-distant future, robotics enthusiast Lee Fisher is the closeted son of the ultra-conservative U.S. president. With only one kiss under his belt, Lee has earned his nickname, Walk-In (as in closet). His father has a strict moral agenda to steer the country back to ancient ideals, proselytizing the dangers of technology; indeed, Lee's mother was murdered by an “artificially conscious” robot named Charlotte who is now plotting a terrorist attack. Lee, tailed by the Secret Service and scrutinized by the media, wants to keep a low profile. When svelte, charismatic, Chilean Nico Medina arrives at Lee's stuffy prep school, the stakes change. Lee decides to explore romance even if Nico might not be who he says he is—and even if Charlotte has Lee in her cross hairs. Many au courant topics are challenged: equal rights, conservative closed-mindedness, terrorism, global acceptance of same-sex couples, the stickiness of coming out. From a first-person perspective, Lee fumbles from self-deprecation to self-confidence. As varied as his opinions are of himself, so too is the landscape, mixing technology with gothic settings à la Poe and Stoker.

Gothic, gadget-y, gay: a socially conscious sci-fi thriller to shelve between The Terminator and Romeo and Juliet. (Science fiction. 12-17)

Pub Date: Oct. 20, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-4814-3277-1

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Simon Pulse/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: July 15, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2015

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An emotionally engaging closer that fumbles in its final moments.

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ALWAYS AND FOREVER, LARA JEAN

From the To All the Boys I've Loved Before series , Vol. 3

Lara Jean prepares for college and a wedding.

Korean-American Lara Jean is finally settled into a nice, complication-free relationship with her white boyfriend, Peter. But things don’t stay simple for long. When college acceptance letters roll in, Peter and Lara Jean discover they’re heading in different directions. As the two discuss the long-distance thing, Lara Jean’s widower father is making a major commitment: marrying the neighbor lady he’s been dating. The whirlwind of a wedding, college visits, prom, and the last few months of senior year provides an excellent backdrop for this final book about Lara Jean. The characters ping from event to event with emotions always at the forefront. Han further develops her cast, pushing them to new maturity and leaving few stones unturned. There’s only one problem here, and it’s what’s always held this series back from true greatness: Peter. Despite Han’s best efforts to flesh out Peter with abandonment issues and a crummy dad, he remains little more than a handsome jock. Frankly, Lara Jean and Peter may have cute teen chemistry, but Han's nuanced characterizations have often helped to subvert typical teen love-story tropes. This knowing subversion is frustratingly absent from the novel's denouement.

An emotionally engaging closer that fumbles in its final moments. (Romance. 14-17)

Pub Date: May 2, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-4814-3048-7

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: March 29, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2017

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Heartbreaking, historical, and a little bit hopeful.

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SALT TO THE SEA

January 1945: as Russians advance through East Prussia, four teens’ lives converge in hopes of escape.

Returning to the successful formula of her highly lauded debut, Between Shades of Gray (2011), Sepetys combines research (described in extensive backmatter) with well-crafted fiction to bring to life another little-known story: the sinking (from Soviet torpedoes) of the German ship Wilhelm Gustloff. Told in four alternating voices—Lithuanian nurse Joana, Polish Emilia, Prussian forger Florian, and German soldier Alfred—with often contemporary cadences, this stints on neither history nor fiction. The three sympathetic refugees and their motley companions (especially an orphaned boy and an elderly shoemaker) make it clear that while the Gustloff was a German ship full of German civilians and soldiers during World War II, its sinking was still a tragedy. Only Alfred, stationed on the Gustloff, lacks sympathy; almost a caricature, he is self-delusional, unlikable, a Hitler worshiper. As a vehicle for exposition, however, and a reminder of Germany’s role in the war, he serves an invaluable purpose that almost makes up for the mustache-twirling quality of his petty villainy. The inevitability of the ending (including the loss of several characters) doesn’t change its poignancy, and the short chapters and slowly revealed back stories for each character guarantee the pages keep turning.

Heartbreaking, historical, and a little bit hopeful. (author’s note, research and sources, maps) (Historical fiction. 12-16)

Pub Date: Feb. 2, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-399-16030-1

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Philomel

Review Posted Online: Nov. 3, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2015

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