THE BOY IN THE BURNING HOUSE

Old sins come home to roost in this taut, terrifying psychological thriller, set largely on an isolated Canadian farm. Fourteen-year-old Jim has gotten past more-than-half-serious suicide attempts and an episode of mutism in the wake of his beloved father’s sudden disappearance. But the pain is still sharp enough to leave him vulnerable when tough, wild teenager Ruth Rose suggests a connection between that disappearance and her stepfather, popular local minister Father Fisher. She herself claims to be in danger. According to Fisher, Ruth Rose is mentally and emotionally unbalanced (skittish, violent, and subject to sudden mood swings, she certainly acts the part)—but she plants a seed in Jim that grows into suspicion, as he finds revealing family photos, learns from old newspaper accounts of a fire that claimed a boy’s life, and catches hints of an ugly side to Fisher that his congregation never sees. As Ruth Rose knows and Jim discovers, Fisher makes a scary adversary: brilliant, plausible, utterly ruthless, able to play on Jim’s grief like a musical instrument. As it turns out, Fisher has more than one terrible secret to hide, but the young people here are so overmatched that the tale loses some credibility when he allows himself to be caught in a conventional climactic standoff with police. That bit of contrivance aside, Wynne-Jones (Stephen Fair, 1998) weaves a strong, sensitively observed cast, plus themes of inner conflict, unlikely friendships, and the enduring power of hate, into a powerful tale that will grip readers from start to finish. (Fiction. 11-15)

Pub Date: Sept. 11, 2001

ISBN: 0-374-30930-2

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Melanie Kroupa/Farrar, Straus & Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2001

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Quietly suspenseful, vividly character-driven, and poignant, with insights into cerebral palsy and the multiple meanings of...

I HAVE NO SECRETS

A nonverbal teen becomes the “real-life password” to solving a terrible crime in this British import.

Sixteen-year-old Jemma has “no secrets of [her] own.” Quadriplegic due to cerebral palsy, she can’t move or speak and depends on her foster parents and her aide, Sarah, for everything from eating to using the bathroom. But people often share their secrets with her. After all, Jemma can never tell—even when Sarah’s sleazy boyfriend, Dan, hints at his involvement in a recent murder just before Sarah goes missing. But when innovative technology offers Jemma a chance to communicate, can she expose Dan’s secret before he silences her? Despite its suspenseful premise, the plot pales against Joelson’s (Girl in the Window, 2018) intimate, unflinching exploration of Jemma’s character; the book’s most powerful tension lies in Jemma’s simple, direct narration of her unrecognized, uncomfortably realistic frustrations and fears, such as patronizing adults who “don’t realize that [she has] a functioning brain” and her worry that her overwhelmed parents will stop fostering. Refreshingly, the author’s detailed depiction of augmentative and alternative communication explores both the joy of self-expression and the physical and mental effort it requires. Jemma’s bond with her chaotic but supportive foster family grounds the story, particularly her touching rapport with her younger foster brother, Finn, who’s autistic and also nonverbal. Most characters appear white.

Quietly suspenseful, vividly character-driven, and poignant, with insights into cerebral palsy and the multiple meanings of “family.” (Suspense. 12-15)

Pub Date: Nov. 5, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-4926-9336-9

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire

Review Posted Online: Aug. 13, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2019

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AKATA WITCH

Who can't love a story about a Nigerian-American 12-year-old with albinism who discovers latent magical abilities and saves the world? Sunny lives in Nigeria after spending the first nine years of her life in New York. She can't play soccer with the boys because, as she says, "being albino made the sun my enemy," and she has only enemies at school. When a boy in her class, Orlu, rescues her from a beating, Sunny is drawn in to a magical world she's never known existed. Sunny, it seems, is a Leopard person, one of the magical folk who live in a world mostly populated by ignorant Lambs. Now she spends the day in mundane Lamb school and sneaks out at night to learn magic with her cadre of Leopard friends: a handsome American bad boy, an arrogant girl who is Orlu’s childhood friend and Orlu himself. Though Sunny's initiative is thin—she is pushed into most of her choices by her friends and by Leopard adults—the worldbuilding for Leopard society is stellar, packed with details that will enthrall readers bored with the same old magical worlds. Meanwhile, those looking for a touch of the familiar will find it in Sunny's biggest victories, which are entirely non-magical (the detailed dynamism of Sunny's soccer match is more thrilling than her magical world saving). Ebulliently original. (Fantasy. 11-13)

Pub Date: April 14, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-670-01196-4

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: March 28, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2011

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