A gripping but uneven exploration of the anguishing impact of slavery. (Historical fiction. 14-17)


An educated slave girl struggles against the confines of race and gender in this coming-of-age story set in 1848 on the Pennsylvania-Maryland border.

Fifteen-year-old Willow, taught to read by her master, writes letters at her mother’s grave, located within sight of the granite Mason-Dixon Line marker. Papa, whom Willow adores—until she finds out what really has happened to her mother—is as controlling as any white master and determined to marry Willow off to a brute from the neighboring plantation. Ezra Jack Keats New Writer Award–winning author Hegamin (Most Loved in All the World, 2009, etc.) juxtaposes Willow’s first-person narration with Cato’s story: a free black 17-year-old aspiring to lead slaves to freedom. When the teens’ lives intersect, they fall in love at first sight, precipitating tumultuous results. This arresting story, richly historical, with an engaging narrator and well-drawn secondary characters, is unfortunately marred. The authenticity of Willow’s voice, with its awkward sentence structure and dialect, may make the book difficult to access for many in the intended audience. The lack of distinct chapters adds to confusion, as the narrative shifts between the two main characters’ stories. The author has researched deeply, but historical tidbits adding local color are so numerous as to impede the plot’s progression and even to feel didactic.

A gripping but uneven exploration of the anguishing impact of slavery. (Historical fiction. 14-17) . (Historical fiction14-17)

Pub Date: Feb. 11, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-7636-5769-7

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Candlewick

Review Posted Online: Nov. 13, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2013

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Full of drama, emotional turmoil, and high stakes.


From the Aurelian Cycle series , Vol. 1

What happens to the world after the dust from a revolution has settled?

Friends Annie and Lee were children from very different circles when Atreus killed Lee’s father, dragonlord Leon Stormscourge, ending the uprising on the bloodiest day in Callipolis’ history. For too long the dragonriders held all the power while their people starved and lived in fear. Nine years later, a new generation of dragonriders is emerging, children selected and trained on merit, not bloodlines. Their dragons are finally mature enough for them to compete for Firstrider, a position of power that can give Lee back a small part of what his family lost. However, not only is Lee competing against Annie, but rumors are circulating that some of the royal family have survived and have dragons of their own. Everyone will have to make a choice: Restore the old regime, support the First Protector and the new caste system he created, or look for a new way, no matter what the cost. From the beginning, this book pulls readers in with political intrigue and action. What keeps them invested, however, are the complex relationships between many cast members. Choices are complex, and the consequences for all could be deadly. The world is well fleshed out and believable. Annie and Lee are light skinned; secondary characters are diverse, and race is a nonissue in this world.

Full of drama, emotional turmoil, and high stakes. (author’s note) (Fantasy.14-17)

Pub Date: Oct. 15, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-51821-1

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: July 24, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2019

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Several yards short of a touchdown.


A transgender boy starting over at a new school falls hard for a popular cheerleader with a reputation to protect in this debut.

On the first day of senior year, transgender boy Pony locks eyes with cisgender cheerleader Georgia. They both have pasts they want to leave behind. No one at Hillcrest High knows that Pony is transgender, and he intends to keep it that way. Georgia’s last boyfriend shook her trust in boys, and now she’s determined to forget him. As mutual attraction draws them together, Pony and Georgia must decide what they are willing to risk for a relationship. Pony’s best friend, Max, who is also transgender, disapproves of Pony’s choice to live stealth; this disagreement leads to serious conflict in their relationship. Meanwhile, Georgia and Pony behave as if Pony’s trans identity was a secret he was lying to her about rather than private information for him to share of his own volition. The characters only arrive at a hopeful resolution after Pony pays high physical and emotional prices. McSmith places repeated emphasis on the born-in-the-wrong-body narrative when the characters discuss trans identities. Whiteness is situated as the norm, and all main characters are white.

Several yards short of a touchdown. (Fiction. 14-17)

Pub Date: May 26, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-294317-0

Page Count: 368

Publisher: HarperTeen

Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2020

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