An authentic, engaging, and thought-provoking family tale with an admirably resourceful hero.

DRAGONFLY DREAMS

In this debut YA historical novel, a Chinese American girl and her family must go into hiding following the Japanese invasion of China.

Although she’s always called Nini, the 10-year-old narrator of this story has two given names, Julia and Ju-Lian, reflecting her dual heritage. Her Da is Chinese and her Ma, American. Nini Liu and her family live in a northern port city in China that has several self-contained European districts, which were at first left alone after the 1937 Japanese invasion. But in 1941, as the tale begins, the Japanese occupy Nini’s city. All foreigners, including Ma, are considered enemy aliens and must register. Da loses his job and apartment, so the family takes shelter with an older friend. Now separated, Nini and her best friend, Chiyoko, find a place to leave each other messages, but reaching it is dangerous. When buses start taking foreigners away, Nini and her family flee to a small, isolated house outside the city, where they face many privations. Nini must make a daring trip into the city to get treatment for her ailing sister, just one of many tests of her courage, determination, and, most of all—by 1945, as the story ends—her hope for the future. Cooper bases her engrossing novel on family history, giving the tale the ring of truth. Despite the dramatic historical events and the family’s suffering, the story avoids histrionics. Nini’s point of view is sensitively rendered, capturing her confusion and worry and making the tale’s impact more powerful. The book also offers compelling reflections on foreignness and racism; a sign at the entrance of Victoria Park in the British district of Nini’s Chinese city reads “NO DOGS OR CHINESE ALLOWED.”

An authentic, engaging, and thought-provoking family tale with an admirably resourceful hero.

Pub Date: Aug. 31, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-64663-423-1

Page Count: 184

Publisher: Koehler Books

Review Posted Online: Oct. 6, 2021

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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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Riveting, brutal and beautifully told.

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WE WERE LIARS

A devastating tale of greed and secrets springs from the summer that tore Cady’s life apart.

Cady Sinclair’s family uses its inherited wealth to ensure that each successive generation is blond, beautiful and powerful. Reunited each summer by the family patriarch on his private island, his three adult daughters and various grandchildren lead charmed, fairy-tale lives (an idea reinforced by the periodic inclusions of Cady’s reworkings of fairy tales to tell the Sinclair family story). But this is no sanitized, modern Disney fairy tale; this is Cinderella with her stepsisters’ slashed heels in bloody glass slippers. Cady’s fairy-tale retellings are dark, as is the personal tragedy that has led to her examination of the skeletons in the Sinclair castle’s closets; its rent turns out to be extracted in personal sacrifices. Brilliantly, Lockhart resists simply crucifying the Sinclairs, which might make the family’s foreshadowed tragedy predictable or even satisfying. Instead, she humanizes them (and their painful contradictions) by including nostalgic images that showcase the love shared among Cady, her two cousins closest in age, and Gat, the Heathcliff-esque figure she has always loved. Though increasingly disenchanted with the Sinclair legacy of self-absorption, the four believe family redemption is possible—if they have the courage to act. Their sincere hopes and foolish naïveté make the teens’ desperate, grand gesture all that much more tragic.

Riveting, brutal and beautifully told. (Fiction. 14 & up)

Pub Date: May 13, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-385-74126-2

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: March 17, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2014

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