The stereotypical depiction of sociopathy, that hoary trope, leaves a bad taste.

BLACK FLOWERS, WHITE LIES

Fifteen-year-old Ariella Benton, nicknamed Ella, finds herself in Hoboken, New Jersey, at the mercy of her own ideas regarding her long-dead father, her mom’s new husband, her love for cats, a new love interest, a belief in the supernatural, and the stigma of mental illness.

All of these story elements become a psychological-thriller Mobius strip with the appearance and then encroaching insinuation of the “tall and blond” “Beautiful Boy” she meets at the mall—and who turns out to be her future stepbrother, Blake. If the incestuous undertones don’t creep readers out, Crystal Kite winner Ventresca (Pandemic, 2014) ploddingly layers on Blake’s manipulations, from his constant gaslighting of Ella—with the participation of Ella’s best friend and the aforementioned love interest)—to bloody and muddy fingerprints on mirrors and walls and other, far nastier, deeds. Does sociopathic Blake get away with his dastardliness toward his white (by inference) family? The author tries to build the suspense and empathy, but it falls flat due to the grating characterization of Ella herself—as well as the unkind characterization of sociopathy. The lesson is that, at best, Blake, with his mental illness, cannot be incorporated into family life but needs to disappear, optimally of his own accord.

The stereotypical depiction of sociopathy, that hoary trope, leaves a bad taste. (further reading) (Thriller. 14-18)

Pub Date: Oct. 4, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-5107-0988-1

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Sky Pony Press

Review Posted Online: Aug. 30, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2016

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A tear-jerker that fails to connect despite desperate effort.

THE INEVITABLE COLLISION OF BIRDIE & BASH

Tragedy hovers over a blossoming romance.

Brazilian-American Sebastian “Bash” Alvaréz is just trying to get by when he meets the nerdy, white Birdie Paxton. The two spark up some romantic fire, but disaster quickly strikes. Late one night, Bash and his ne’er-do-well pal “Wild” Kyle are driving erratically (Kyle is at the wheel) and slam right into Birdie’s baby brother, Benny. The boys flee the scene, while Benny slips into a coma and the town begins to hunt for the perpetrators of the hit-and-run. Bash keeps his secret from Birdie as they grow closer, and readers will roll their eyes at the excessive misery. The author gives Bash a dying mother to balance out the equation, but the choice overloads the devastation factor. With everything emotional and awful and crazy and turned up to 11, nothing really sticks out. The two moping, guilt-ridden protagonists are drawn well enough—they alternate narration—but seem to be stuck in a narrative hell bent on getting readers to cry. Secondary characters are poorly sketched, given no interior life, and merely activated to interact with Birdie and Bash. The novel’s end is disproportionately sunny and hopeful, giving readers tonal whiplash. A last-minute Hail Mary act gets the teens out of the narrative corner, but it feels spectacularly tacked-on.

A tear-jerker that fails to connect despite desperate effort. (Fiction. 14-17)

Pub Date: July 25, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-250-11622-2

Page Count: 320

Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin

Review Posted Online: April 17, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2017

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UPSIDE-DOWN CAKE

Carrick (Melanie, 1996, etc.) sensitively explores the pain of a parent’s death through the eyes, feelings, and voice of a nine-year-old boy whose world turns upside down when his father becomes terminally ill with cancer. Through a fictional reminiscence, the story explores many of the issues common to children whose parents are ill—loss of control, changes in physical appearance and mental ability, upsets in daily routine, experiences of guilt and anger, the reaction of friends, and, most of all, a fear of the unknown. Although the book suffers from a pat ending and the black-and-white sketches emphasize the bleakness of the topic, this title is a notch above pure bibliotherapy and will fill a special niche for children struggling to deal with the trauma of parental sickness and death. (Fiction. 7-10)

Pub Date: Sept. 20, 1999

ISBN: 0-395-84151-8

Page Count: 64

Publisher: Clarion Books

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1999

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