An earnest but didactic collection that is both personal and political.

WHEN THE STARS WROTE BACK

POEMS

Free-form poetry about the struggle to find agency is paired with softly rendered illustrations.

Alternating in style from brief, punchy verses to lists to longer pieces that read like confessional vignettes, these poems explore difficult relationships (romantic, platonic, and familial) through a feminist lens and examine the ways in which they can result in a loss of self. A trigger warning at the beginning preps readers for content that includes topics such as eating disorders, sexual assault, mental illness, and emotional abuse. These issues and more are woven throughout this collection that simultaneously embodies tough wit and vulnerability and is sectioned into four parts—“Half-light,” “Midnight,” “Starfall,” and “Dawn”—that reflect the emotional arc of the narrator. Queer romantic relationships are a subject of discussion, but there is no mention or examination of race or ethnicity as a facet of identity and experience. Understated grayscale drawings and handwritten phrases mesh well with verses that move with fluidity across the pages. While there are some stylistic embellishments, these poems are at their core distinctly message-driven, often taking on the tone of self-help literature. This will likely resonate with some readers who share the experiences being parsed but may not pull in those who don’t.

An earnest but didactic collection that is both personal and political. (Poetry. 14-18)

Pub Date: June 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-593-17267-4

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: March 29, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2020

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This grittily provocative debut explores the horrors of self-harm and the healing power of artistic expression.

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GIRL IN PIECES

After surviving a suicide attempt, a fragile teen isn't sure she can endure without cutting herself.

Seventeen-year-old Charlie Davis, a white girl living on the margins, thinks she has little reason to live: her father drowned himself; her bereft and abusive mother kicked her out; her best friend, Ellis, is nearly brain dead after cutting too deeply; and she's gone through unspeakable experiences living on the street. After spending time in treatment with other young women like her—who cut, burn, poke, and otherwise hurt themselves—Charlie is released and takes a bus from the Twin Cities to Tucson to be closer to Mikey, a boy she "like-likes" but who had pined for Ellis instead. But things don't go as planned in the Arizona desert, because sweet Mikey just wants to be friends. Feeling rejected, Charlie, an artist, is drawn into a destructive new relationship with her sexy older co-worker, a "semifamous" local musician who's obviously a junkie alcoholic. Through intense, diarylike chapters chronicling Charlie's journey, the author captures the brutal and heartbreaking way "girls who write their pain on their bodies" scar and mar themselves, either succumbing or surviving. Like most issue books, this is not an easy read, but it's poignant and transcendent as Charlie breaks more and more before piecing herself back together.

This grittily provocative debut explores the horrors of self-harm and the healing power of artistic expression. (author’s note) (Fiction. 14 & up)

Pub Date: Aug. 30, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-101-93471-5

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: May 4, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2016

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Eden’s emotionally raw narration is compelling despite its solipsism. (Fiction. 14-18)

THE WAY I USED TO BE

In the three years following Eden’s brutal rape by her brother’s best friend, Kevin, she descends into anger, isolation, and promiscuity.

Eden’s silence about the assault is cemented by both Kevin’s confident assurance that if she tells anyone, “No one will ever believe you. You know that. No one. Not ever,” and a chillingly believable death threat. For the remainder of Eden’s freshman year, she withdraws from her family and becomes increasingly full of hatred for Kevin and the world she feels failed to protect her. But when a friend mentions that she’s “reinventing” herself, Eden embarks on a hopeful plan to do the same. She begins her sophomore year with new clothes and friendly smiles for her fellow students, which attract the romantic attentions of a kind senior athlete. But, bizarrely, Kevin’s younger sister goes on a smear campaign to label Eden a “totally slutty disgusting whore,” which sends Eden back toward self-destruction. Eden narrates in a tightly focused present tense how she withdraws again from nearly everyone and attempts to find comfort (or at least oblivion) through a series of nearly anonymous sexual encounters. This self-centeredness makes her relationships with other characters feel underdeveloped and even puzzling at times. Absent ethnic and cultural markers, Eden and her family and classmates are likely default white.

Eden’s emotionally raw narration is compelling despite its solipsism. (Fiction. 14-18)

Pub Date: March 22, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-4814-4935-9

Page Count: 384

Publisher: McElderry

Review Posted Online: Dec. 16, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2016

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