A beautifully written, compassionate coming-of-age tale with subtle mythic overtones.

HELEN IN TROUBLE

A 16-year-old girl’s unexpected pregnancy leads her on a hero’s journey in this 1963-set debut historical novel.

Waking up in a university library with her 18-year-old boyfriend, Quentin Caffrey, after a night of drunken, frat-house partying, prep schooler Helen Bird is panicked, and not just because she missed her chaperone’s curfew. The couple’s unspoken agreement, formed in “their foggy world of wordless decisions,” has been to use coitus interruptus as their only form of birth control, but this time, Helen can’t find the sticky evidence. She says nothing to Quentin. Later, in his dorm room, he contemplates writing her a letter about his mystical, profound “epiphany” that justified not pulling out (it “would be wrong, even evil, a turning away from the sublime”). But his next missive is silent on the subject. As for Helen, she returns home to Arlington, Virginia, and her junior year at St. Joan’s. She figures out (more or less) how to use her mother’s douche bag and hopes for the best but never considers talking to her parent, who also grew up in a family where many important things were unsayable. Her father, too, knows how to bite his tongue, as when forced to write pro–strip mining press releases for his boss, a United States senator. Though she tries to resume her life of propriety, Helen must soon face up to the truth: She’s pregnant, and only an abortion can save her future. It requires the girl to find an inner determination she didn’t know she had, reach out to a friend, trust strangers, and ask for help. Both in the process and its aftermath, these resources come through for her, allowing Helen to make rich connections with feminine strength and caring, finally breaking her and her family’s walls of silence.

In her novel, Sibbison writes thoughtfully about her hero’s dilemma and its cultural, familial, and personal context. For example, Quentin doesn’t buy condoms because that “would make their sex premeditated and Helen a ‘pig.’ No decent, unmarried girl would plan to have intercourse.” Similarly, Helen’s mother has a poignant backstory that makes sense of her reticence: “It was obvious that she was to know nothing. Questions would bring only displeasure, which Rosemary could not risk.” Moral characterization is complex, as when delineating the Birds’ support of the civil rights movement; their sympathy “was real but almost entirely abstract.” Another character, Ilse Gaulden, a young woman who helps arrange abortions, became involved after realizing that civil rights workers were getting pregnant in the name of free love. Since something should be done, Ilse did it. The author does a fine job of tying Helen’s everyday life, during which she must hide every sign of her pregnancy, to the compelling archetypal elements in her experience. The correspondence is especially powerful when—emotionally and literally—the girl must make a tenebrous voyage to Ilse’s rough, ill-lit neighborhood before reaching her destination’s unexpected warmth.

A beautifully written, compassionate coming-of-age tale with subtle mythic overtones.

Pub Date: July 18, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-73665-063-9

Page Count: 242

Publisher: Booksmyth Press

Review Posted Online: Oct. 21, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2021

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Thrill-seekers will be absorbed by this exciting story.

THE GIRL IN THE CASTLE

The lives of two girls named Hannah, living in different centuries on different continents, intersect.

Eighteen-year-old Hannah Dory is an English peasant living a harsh existence in 1347. Hannah Doe is a resident of Belman Psychiatric Hospital in 2023 New York City, brought in after being found on the street experiencing hallucinations and screaming something about a castle. Modern-day Hannah periodically enters a catatonic state, something the staff refer to as her “going to the castle.” Columbia psychology student Jordan Hassan is a new intern at Belman, and his interest is piqued by this girl no one knows much about. He decides to play detective and try to discover her history himself. Meanwhile, in the medieval England storyline, Hannah Dory tries to save her village from starvation by sneaking into the baron’s castle but finds herself swept up in a fight between the new baron and his rival. The book sustains a breakneck pace with short chapters and many cliffhangers that will keep readers’ interest. Patterson’s author’s note includes a list of mental health resources and describes his experience of working as an aide in a psychiatric hospital when he was a teenager. The narrative thoughtfully centers mental illness and touches on complex topics like suicide. Whiteness is the default; Jordan is cued as Muslim.

Thrill-seekers will be absorbed by this exciting story. (Thriller. 14-18)

Pub Date: Sept. 19, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-316-41172-1

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Jimmy Patterson/Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: June 22, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2022

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Engrossing, contemplative, and as heart-wrenching as the title promises.

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THEY BOTH DIE AT THE END

What would you do with one day left to live?

In an alternate present, a company named Death-Cast calls Deckers—people who will die within the coming day—to inform them of their impending deaths, though not how they will happen. The End Day call comes for two teenagers living in New York City: Puerto Rican Mateo and bisexual Cuban-American foster kid Rufus. Rufus needs company after a violent act puts cops on his tail and lands his friends in jail; Mateo wants someone to push him past his comfort zone after a lifetime of playing it safe. The two meet through Last Friend, an app that connects lonely Deckers (one of many ways in which Death-Cast influences social media). Mateo and Rufus set out to seize the day together in their final hours, during which their deepening friendship blossoms into something more. Present-tense chapters, short and time-stamped, primarily feature the protagonists’ distinctive first-person narrations. Fleeting third-person chapters give windows into the lives of other characters they encounter, underscoring how even a tiny action can change the course of someone else’s life. It’s another standout from Silvera (History Is All You Left Me, 2017, etc.), who here grapples gracefully with heavy questions about death and the meaning of a life well-lived.

Engrossing, contemplative, and as heart-wrenching as the title promises. (Speculative fiction. 13-adult).

Pub Date: Sept. 5, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-06-245779-0

Page Count: 384

Publisher: HarperTeen

Review Posted Online: June 5, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2017

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