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A touching allegory of the unexpected and burdensome trials of migration.

A journey from swampy nothingness to fulfillment.

Lacuna knows her own name and little else. She cannot remember living anywhere other than the Great Swamp of Ink, where she senses that she is being watched. Polaris, a will-o’-the-wisp and magical guardian of the swamp, gives her a choice: Leave or die. Before heading north, Lacuna fills two gourds with swamp ink and soon encounters the Thicket of Tickets, where a forest of “admit one” tickets stands between her and the blue road leading to the Northern Kingdom. Once she emerges from the thicket and embarks upon the blue road, Lacuna realizes her trials are only beginning. Taking cues from The Wizard of Oz, Compton (The Outer Harbour, 2015, etc.) draws parallels between the confusing journey migrants face and Lacuna’s journey. Compton’s characters are intriguing; brown-skinned, curly–black-haired Lacuna is wily, smart, inventive, and empathetic, and her internal battles are thought-provoking. Her own resourcefulness and the different objects she gathers allow her to persevere in her perilous pilgrimage. Milne’s (The Imperfect Garden, 2019, etc.) loose illustrations are colorful, featuring many gradations of blues, greens, and browns, and effectively convey the intensity of the journey. As the story leaves unanswered questions, it begs for a sequel. Characters are diverse, ranging in skin tone from beige to dark brown.

A touching allegory of the unexpected and burdensome trials of migration. (Graphic fantasy. 12-16)

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-55152-777-2

Page Count: 128

Publisher: Arsenal Pulp Press

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2019

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Despite some missteps, this will appeal to readers who enjoy a fresh and realistic teen voice.

A teenage, not-so-lonely loner endures the wilds of high school in Austin, Texas.

Norris Kaplan, the protagonist of Philippe’s debut novel, is a hypersweaty, uber-snarky black, Haitian, French-Canadian pushing to survive life in his new school. His professor mom’s new tenure-track job transplants Norris mid–school year, and his biting wit and sarcasm are exposed through his cataloging of his new world in a field guide–style burn book. He’s greeted in his new life by an assortment of acquaintances, Liam, who is white and struggling with depression; Maddie, a self-sacrificing white cheerleader with a heart of gold; and Aarti, his Indian-American love interest who offers connection. Norris’ ego, fueled by his insecurities, often gets in the way of meaningful character development. The scenes showcasing his emotional growth are too brief and, despite foreshadowing, the climax falls flat because he still gets incredible personal access to people he’s hurt. A scene where Norris is confronted by his mother for getting drunk and belligerent with a white cop is diluted by his refusal or inability to grasp the severity of the situation and the resultant minor consequences. The humor is spot-on, as is the representation of the black diaspora; the opportunity for broader conversations about other topics is there, however, the uneven buildup of detailed, meaningful exchanges and the glibness of Norris’ voice detract.

Despite some missteps, this will appeal to readers who enjoy a fresh and realistic teen voice. (Fiction. 13-16)

Pub Date: Jan. 8, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-06-282411-0

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Oct. 14, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2018

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A smart, timely outing.

Two teens connect through a mysterious podcast in this sophomore effort by British author Oseman (Solitaire, 2015).

Frances Janvier is a 17-year-old British-Ethiopian head girl who is so driven to get into Cambridge that she mostly forgoes friendships for schoolwork. Her only self-indulgence is listening to and creating fan art for the podcast Universe City, “a…show about a suit-wearing student detective looking for a way to escape a sci-fi, monster-infested university.” Aled Last is a quiet white boy who identifies as “partly asexual.” When Frances discovers that Aled is the secret creator of Universe City, the two embark on a passionate, platonic relationship based on their joint love of pop culture. Their bond is complicated by Aled’s controlling mother and by Frances’ previous crush on Aled’s twin sister, Carys, who ran away last year and disappeared. When Aled’s identity is accidently leaked to the Universe City fandom, he severs his relationship with Frances, leaving her questioning her Cambridge goals and determined to win back his affection, no matter what the cost. Frances’ narration is keenly intelligent; she takes mordant pleasure in using an Indian friend’s ID to get into a club despite the fact they look nothing alike: “Gotta love white people.” Though the social-media–suffused plot occasionally lags, the main characters’ realistic relationship accurately depicts current issues of gender, race, and class.

A smart, timely outing. (Fiction. 12-16)

Pub Date: March 28, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-06-233571-5

Page Count: 496

Publisher: HarperTeen

Review Posted Online: Jan. 16, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2017

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