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


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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

Earnest and bighearted but too pat overall.

Shaky Man

Set in Texas in the 1960s, this YA novel teaches tolerance through the experiences of its young protagonist and narrator, “Tops” Parsley.

In his short debut novel, writer Parker gives us Tops; his friends Mickey Jackson, Joe Ellis, and Rex Johnson; and Shaky Man, named for his inherited palsy. The story—but for the court scenes in Waco—takes place in the idyllic town of Tonkaway on Tonkaway Creek. The boys are crazy for baseball and other sports; Sunday means church, etc.—but there is a skunk in this woodpile. Two, in fact. One is the intolerance shown to Shaky Man, whom the kids have made into a boogeyman who lives alone and reputedly starves his dogs and eats children (!). Shaky Man is in fact poor material for an ogre or even a curmudgeon. He is a man with a tragic past who welcomes kids rather than eating them. The other, more serious, issue is Mickey’s African-American skin. Again, most of the characters haven’t a prejudiced bone in their bodies, but there are those—“knuckleheads” Tops’ dad calls them—who are not so enlightened. This comes to a head when Mickey’s dad, a janitor at Baylor, discovers the body of a murdered professor and of course becomes the prime suspect. Things look really grim until Shaky Man, who is really Dr. Walter Boone, a retired doctor with a forensic specialty, testifies for the defense. A hung jury saves Leonard Jackson until the real culprit is found and convicted. Some young readers may be moved by the book, the period touches (e.g., Star Trek and Wild Kingdom on the TV) are fun (although Mr. Spock is mistakenly given a doctor’s title), and Tops is well-drawn. But it’s borderline incredible that the kids could make a boogeyman out of Dr. Boone (see above), and as to the trial of Mickey’s father, in the Texas of 60 years ago, sadly, he would more likely have been railroaded than exonerated.

Earnest and bighearted but too pat overall.

Pub Date: Oct. 15, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-61254-862-3

Page Count: 144

Publisher: Brown Books Kids

Review Posted Online: Aug. 1, 2017

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

Readers will fall in love with Rinnie; Baskin has crafted a beautiful story about the complexities of family, self-respect...


Baskin’s first novel spans 13 years in the life of an artistic girl torn between perfection and loving herself as she is.

Three-year-old Margo renames herself Rinnie after Rin Tin Tin, “the smartest, fastest, strongest dog in the world.” Rinnie’s family appears to be the perfect wealthy nuclear family of the 1950s, complete with housekeeper and cook, but life in the Gardener home—particularly Rinnie’s—is far from idyllic. Her younger brother is coddled and her older sister held up as an example, while Rinnie, the “monster,” struggles for their mother’s love and approval. After her parents divorce, her brother moves in with Dad, leaving Rinnie and her sister to stay behind to endure Mom’s abuse, often aimed at Rinnie. As Rinnie loses control, she restricts her food intake and keeps track of every bite, convincingly chronicled in her obsessive, present-tense narration. If she can be perfect, she’ll reclaim her parents’ love. The school counselor encourages 16-year-old Rinnie to trust herself to save herself, and with his help, Rinnie paints the monsters of her past to begin the journey toward a future of hope, trust and freedom. Rinnie’s voice is honest and unflinching, gradually maturing from a 3-year-old’s singsong to that of a well-spoken, intelligent teenager.

Readers will fall in love with Rinnie; Baskin has crafted a beautiful story about the complexities of family, self-respect and human connection. (Historical fiction. 14 & up)

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-62324-018-9

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Scarlet Voyage/Enslow

Review Posted Online: Oct. 20, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2013

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet