An uneven coming-of-age tale with an engaging heroine.


Just Maagy

In this YA fantasy novel, the first in a planned series, an impulsive, spoiled young princess begins maturing into a wise, responsible ruler.

It’s Princess Melania Abigail Alice Grace’s 13th birthday, which should be a happy occasion, but Maagy (as she’s called) pouts and throws tantrums so much that she’s sent to her room. With Maagy’s mother long dead, King Henry—who loves his daughter and appreciates her good qualities—realizes he must do something to help her grow up and earn her throne someday. He sends her to Whitmore Castle for the summer, where she enjoys exploring the enormous edifice, with its many amenities and mysterious locked doors. At first she’s dismayed by having to perform chores—milking cows, mucking out stables, mending clothes—but soon she’s cheerfully rising early, feeling proud of her new skills. In town for the League of Kingdoms summit, the handsome Prince Rudolpho of Estadore, called Rudy, 17, makes Maagy feel giddy. Luckily, he’s kind, sweet, and likes her flares of temper: “You’re all spit and vinegar. I like people who speak up for themselves.” At the summit, Maagy learns much about geopolitics, diplomacy, negotiation, and queenly duties, and also discovers some interesting features of Whitmore Castle, like an appearing/disappearing toy shop. Finally, she attends school incognito, where she develops leadership. Perhaps the strongest fantasy element in this debut novel by Stringer (Can You Hear Them Crying?, 1994) is how quickly the spoiled princess takes to executing chores, appreciating others, and being ordinary. At times, this seems more like wish fulfillment for parents than for adolescents. Still, Maagy’s curiosity and willingness to learn from mistakes make her an appealing heroine, and the castle remains intriguing. But the plot is imperfectly paced; the novel continues well after the seemingly climactic summit, then ends rather abruptly. Stringer makes some odd choices: why give fantasy names to countries (for example, Franciné, Adriaca) but real ones for languages (Hebrew, Latin, Greek)? The author’s ellipses-heavy style is irritating (“people touching her…showing her affection…or running toward her and laughing…or speaking”), as are the many intrusive asterisks for unfamiliar words (a glossary is included).

 An uneven coming-of-age tale with an engaging heroine. 

Pub Date: Oct. 3, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4808-1119-5

Page Count: 342

Publisher: ArchwayPublishing

Review Posted Online: July 22, 2016

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This story is necessary. This story is important.

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Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter is a black girl and an expert at navigating the two worlds she exists in: one at Garden Heights, her black neighborhood, and the other at Williamson Prep, her suburban, mostly white high school.

Walking the line between the two becomes immensely harder when Starr is present at the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend, Khalil, by a white police officer. Khalil was unarmed. Khalil’s death becomes national news, where he’s called a thug and possible drug dealer and gangbanger. His death becomes justified in the eyes of many, including one of Starr’s best friends at school. The police’s lackadaisical attitude sparks anger and then protests in the community, turning it into a war zone. Questions remain about what happened in the moments leading to Khalil’s death, and the only witness is Starr, who must now decide what to say or do, if anything. Thomas cuts to the heart of the matter for Starr and for so many like her, laying bare the systemic racism that undergirds her world, and she does so honestly and inescapably, balancing heartbreak and humor. With smooth but powerful prose delivered in Starr’s natural, emphatic voice, finely nuanced characters, and intricate and realistic relationship dynamics, this novel will have readers rooting for Starr and opening their hearts to her friends and family.

This story is necessary. This story is important. (Fiction. 14-adult)

Pub Date: Feb. 28, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-06-249853-3

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Dec. 6, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2016

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Though constrained, the work nevertheless stands apart in a literature that too often finds it hard to look hard truths in...


In this roller-coaster ride of a debut, the author summons the popular legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. to respond to the recent tragic violence befalling unarmed black men and boys.

Seventeen-year-old black high school senior Justyce McAllister, a full-scholarship student at the virtually all-white Braselton Prep, is the focus. After a bloody run-in with the police when they take his good deed for malice, Justyce seeks meaning in a series of letters with his “homie” Dr. King. He writes, “I thought if I made sure to be an upstanding member of society, I’d be exempt from the stuff THOSE black guys deal with, you know?” While he’s ranked fourth in his graduating class and well-positioned for the Ivy League, Justyce is coming to terms with the fact that there’s not as much that separates him from “THOSE black guys” as he’d like to believe. Despite this, Stone seems to position Justyce and his best friend as the decidedly well-mannered black children who are deserving of readers’ sympathies. They are not those gangsters that can be found in Justyce’s neighborhood. There’s nuance to be found for sure, but not enough to upset the dominant narrative. What if they weren’t the successful kids? While the novel intentionally leaves more questions than it attempts to answer, there are layers that still remain between the lines.

Though constrained, the work nevertheless stands apart in a literature that too often finds it hard to look hard truths in the face. Take interest and ask questions. (Fiction. 14-18)

Pub Date: Oct. 17, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-101-93949-9

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Aug. 7, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2017

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