A swift fable about navigating the perils of middle school.

The Sassy Divas

A bossy middle school fashionista feels threatened by the new girl in Saii’s YA novel.

Vanessa Pocker and her friends Chelsea, Adrienne and Katie are the richest of the rich in their Santa Monica, Calif., middle school, and they comprise the Sassy Divas. Vanessa leads the pack and dictates whom the divas are allowed to talk to, what they’re allowed to wear and how they conduct themselves in public. Vanessa is so domineering that it’s a miracle she has any friends at all. Had Saii endowed her with an ounce of kindness, the loyalty of her minions might be more understandable. Vanessa’s militant nature finally alienates Katie, the diva who is too much of a bookworm, according to Vanessa. Katie befriends Flo, who’s on the Sassy Diva “do not speak to” list (Flo had once refused to hold Vanessa’s purse). Excommunicated from the Sassy Divas, Katie befriends the new girl at the school, Quinn. This infuriates Vanessa, and she declares war. A power play ensues among the adversarial lip-glossed sets, with Vanessa, Chelsea and Adrienne on one side and Katie, Quinn and Flo on the other. Vanessa turns to guy friend Ryan, who offers the only voice of reason when he admonishes her for obsessing over trivialities, such as revenge and makeovers, when there are starving children in the world. He seems to be nothing more than Vanessa’s sounding board, and it’s unclear what he gets out of the relationship. At least Vanessa buys clothes and makeup for her divas, on occasion. Mired in trendy youngster lingo, Saii’s tale accurately depicts girls’ power plays and the alienation that can result from simply owning jeans without a designer label. Fashion, gossip, popularity and shopping define these characters, and any threat of competition is cause for war. Vanessa’s parents rarely make appearances, except for a poignant scene when Vanessa’s mother engages her daughter in a heart-to-heart about her selfish behavior. It’s a relief to finally hear the mother speak and lead the story to an ending marked with humor and depth. Saii’s literary chops are inconsistently displayed and improve toward the conclusion. Although the average middle school girl may not wear Jimmy Choos or form private elitist groups, young readers might find themselves curious about these affluent trendsetters. At least Vanessa learns her lesson, which raises the novel a notch above teenybopper fluff.

A swift fable about navigating the perils of middle school.

Pub Date: March 1, 2013

ISBN: 9781937675080

Page Count: 155

Publisher: Lekha Publishers

Review Posted Online: March 4, 2013

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

A clever, feel-good opening to a fantasy series with a tenacious heroine.

Girls Can't Be Knights

From the Spirit Knights series , Vol. 1

The start of a new YA series features a teen orphan and a protective brotherhood of Spirit Knights.

Fifteen-year-old Claire Terdan lives in a group foster home in Portland, Oregon. Six years ago, her family died in a house fire, and her only dependable friend since has been a boy her age named Drew. One day in school, after she punches a bully who mocks her, the principal suspends her for a day. She sneaks out of school and into town only to be accosted by several cats and dogs. Meanwhile, at the nearby Oregon Historical Society, a man named Justin arrives on his white horse, Tariel. He’s there, dressed in his green Spirit Knight armor, to borrow (some might say steal) an antique hat that has sentimental meaning to his mentor, Kurt. When he meets Claire, he offers her a ride home. Telling Justin she doesn’t have one, Claire ends up with him in Vancouver, Washington, at his family’s farm. There she meets his wife and two young daughters and eventually learns about the Palace, a magical, dormitory-style structure where Spirit Knights—a brotherhood that protects the world from ghostly, vengeful Phasms—dwell. Justin isn’t sure why Claire seems familiar until he learns that she’s the daughter of a dead Knight named Mark. French (Superheroes in Denim, 2016, etc.) establishes a crafty new fantasy series with a light smattering of genre fixtures, including talking animals, an enchanted pendant, and the firmly held belief that “Girls can’t be Knights.” Most of the narrative drama comes from grounded conflicts that teens should relate to, like Claire’s attraction to the older Justin and the lousy conditions of the “sanitized prison” that is her group home. Later scenes in which a detective named Avery physically assaults Claire are not for the faint-hearted. The upside for the tale’s heroine is that Justin and his family turn out to be perfect for her; despite early misgivings about them, she decides to “admire the example they set and be grateful for it.” The story should provide a heartwarming boost to anyone in a tough situation.

A clever, feel-good opening to a fantasy series with a tenacious heroine.

Pub Date: June 3, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-68063-030-5

Page Count: 246

Publisher: Myrddin Publishing Group

Review Posted Online: July 27, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2016

Did you like this book?

A magnetic coming-of-age novel.

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

Google Rating

  • google rating
  • google rating
  • google rating
  • google rating
  • google rating
  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2018

SOME PLACE BETTER THAN HERE

A debut novel of young love, ’90s-style grunge, and teenage angst. 

When Danny first sees Mary, she’s running away from her ex-boyfriend Tanner into the back room of the New Jersey grocery store where she works—screaming at the top of her lungs, imploring him to leave her alone. Mary’s loud outburst sets the tone for the rest of the novel, which follows the two teenagers’ eclectic, unusual relationship. The book is structured in acts, letting the momentum build, as it would in a play, until the final section. More specifically, the book is structured using alternating perspectives; as it oscillates between Danny’s and Mary’s points of view, it offers a complete, authentic, and objective narration. Danny is a fairly typical 17-year-old high schooler who loves music (though only music with lyrics, preferably from decades that preceded his birth), smells good, is a talented guitarist, and works at a car wash across the street from the grocery store where Mary works. When he meets her, he’s awestruck but a bit wary: “When my too dry lips peeled apart, I realized I had become that guy. Totally forgetting that this amazingly hot girl was just involved in a shouting match about ten seconds prior to my being captivated by her hotness.” Still, Danny musters the courage to ask her out—but it takes a little while. Mary, on the other hand, doesn’t come off as the most approachable girl for a boy like Danny. She’s an irritable 17-year-old who goes out to bars with her girlfriends, surrounds herself with people who call Danny a “faggot,” and struggles with a physically and verbally abusive father. The duo is an unlikely match—another case of opposites attracting.   Debut author Wakil fills the text with moments of pure teenage bliss in which readers will recognize their younger selves experiencing the excitement of love for the very first time. Similar to works like Stephen Chbosky’s 1999 debut novel, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, this book is a testament to the power of conviction, the results of perseverance, and a case study of small-town millennials from varying economic backgrounds. The author has a punchy, irreverent writing style: “So, as we drove through the swampy and winding road, where the crickets were louder than the music Danny played, my head fell back between the headrest and the door, and I let the wind blow back my hair.” With it, he effectively creates a narrative environment in which anything can happen, from stealing a boss’s Porsche to chasing down bullies on the freeway to helping friends cope with debilitating bouts of depression to navigating the changing functions of parent-child relationships. Danny and Mary are captivating, frustrating, and completely imperfect characters that are very much evocative of the current sociocultural climate. They also seem like products of the 1990s, and they drive into adulthood with familiar teenage uncertainties and doubts. Readers will willingly surrender themselves to this book and gain much from it.

A magnetic coming-of-age novel.

Pub Date: Oct. 25, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-5255-0609-3

Page Count: 432

Publisher: FriesenPress

Review Posted Online: Jan. 17, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2018

Did you like this book?

more