A rousing series opener with equal portions of action and social commentary.

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NEFFATIRA'S FIRST CHALLENGE

Xavier’s (Dark Curses, Faerie Dreams, 2017) YA fantasy features a girl who takes a trip across the universe.

Fourteen-year-old Neffie Anderson is self-conscious about being tall and having pink freckles on her cheeks. She’s also the only dark-skinned student at Millard Fillmore High in Windmere, Iowa. She wants to fit in, so she hikes a dangerous hillside one weekday morning with popular girl Jessica’s clique. After Neffie looks over a steep ledge, her longtime seizure condition—which she’s convinced is epilepsy—triggers, and she temporarily passes out. That night, a man named Gannen Sargie Vong, who also has pink freckles, visits the Anderson home; he’s Neffie’s paternal grandfather. He takes her onto the roof, which sets off her condition again, and he tells her, “The reddest star will show you the way.” The next day in school, Jessica tells Neffie that they were once best friends, but Neffie has no recollection of this. They head to an upstairs room to help Neffie remember. This time, as Neffie succumbs to strange visions, Jessica holds her tightly, and they both travel to a place with a “pumpkin colored” sky and a reddish sun. This is the “Fastness”—an entirely different universe. Neffie, it turns out, is known as Lady Neffatira here, and she belongs to a blood-clan known as the Sargies who duel with other clans for possession of people. Xavier’s latest novel is a fantasy that explores aspects of bigotry in intriguing ways. For example, people with green eyes, such as fellow human Kerem Alp, are automatically considered thieves in the Fastness. The novel also features striking visual descriptions; for instance, when Gannen activates Neffie’s power, “The stars brightened, crackled and began oozing...like drips of glowing water rolling down black glass.” In the end, although Neffie is too young to fully embrace her destiny as one of the Fastness’ “half-human super-champions,” she nevertheless risks all for love and life. After this installment’s cliffhanger, fans will likely flock to a sequel.

A rousing series opener with equal portions of action and social commentary.

Pub Date: Dec. 15, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-63393-842-7

Page Count: 254

Publisher: Koehler Books

Review Posted Online: Oct. 10, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

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THE GIVER OF STARS

Women become horseback librarians in 1930s Kentucky and face challenges from the landscape, the weather, and the men around them.

Alice thought marrying attractive American Bennett Van Cleve would be her ticket out of her stifling life in England. But when she and Bennett settle in Baileyville, Kentucky, she realizes that her life consists of nothing more than staying in their giant house all day and getting yelled at by his unpleasant father, who owns a coal mine. She’s just about to resign herself to a life of boredom when an opportunity presents itself in the form of a traveling horseback library—an initiative from Eleanor Roosevelt meant to counteract the devastating effects of the Depression by focusing on literacy and learning. Much to the dismay of her husband and father-in-law, Alice signs up and soon learns the ropes from the library’s leader, Margery. Margery doesn’t care what anyone thinks of her, rejects marriage, and would rather be on horseback than in a kitchen. And even though all this makes Margery a town pariah, Alice quickly grows to like her. Along with several other women (including one black woman, Sophia, whose employment causes controversy in a town that doesn’t believe black and white people should be allowed to use the same library), Margery and Alice supply magazines, Bible stories, and copies of books like Little Women to the largely poor residents who live in remote areas. Alice spends long days in terrible weather on horseback, but she finally feels happy in her new life in Kentucky, even as her marriage to Bennett is failing. But her powerful father-in-law doesn’t care for Alice’s job or Margery’s lifestyle, and he’ll stop at nothing to shut their library down. Basing her novel on the true story of the Pack Horse Library Project established by the Works Progress Administration in the 1930s, Moyes (Still Me, 2018, etc.) brings an often forgotten slice of history to life. She writes about Kentucky with lush descriptions of the landscape and tender respect for the townspeople, most of whom are poor, uneducated, and grateful for the chance to learn. Although Alice and Margery both have their own romances, the true power of the story is in the bonds between the women of the library. They may have different backgrounds, but their commitment to helping the people of Baileyville brings them together.

A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

Pub Date: Oct. 8, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-399-56248-8

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2019

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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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