An often engaging narrative about coping with anxiety with an optimistic outlook, despite a few flaws.

PHOEBE UNFIRED

Jahn’s latest YA novel follows a high school junior on her summer break who struggles with germaphobia in Manhattan during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Phoebe Benson isn’t a typical 16-year-old; she’s not worried about what people think of her, or even about extending her curfew. Instead, she’s scared of accidentally endangering her kid brother with Covid-19––so scared, in fact, that she’s nearly completely isolated herself. Phoebe’s anxiety has made it so that she hasn’t touched anyone in two years—not even members of her family. Although she’s seen several therapists, her anxiety hasn’t greatly lessened, and her parents don’t know how to deal with her. Still, she manages to take a pottery class and hold down a part-time job at independent bookstore Dust Jackets. But when she hears the beautiful sound of a violin in the subway station on her way to work one day––and the young man playing the instrument smiles at her––she’s tempted to move outside her cozy quarantine bubble. Phoebe’s best friend, Walter, the 64-year-old owner of Dust Jackets, lost his wife in a tragic accident years before and also has problems with anxiety. So when he encourages Phoebe to read a new book about living with anxious thoughts, she takes on the challenge. Jahn navigates the romance and social-commentary aspects of her book expertly, and the work offers strong attention to detail, a well-paced plot, and intriguing major characters. But although the author delivers fine dialogue, her teenage characters read young, and her innocent depiction of high school, although suitable for younger teens and tweens, may not entice older teenagers. Side players also don’t receive very deep characterization, independent from Phoebe’s own arc, which is a missed opportunity to dive into how friends and family can help those with mental illness.

An often engaging narrative about coping with anxiety with an optimistic outlook, despite a few flaws.

Pub Date: June 15, 2021

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 271

Publisher: BermLord

Review Posted Online: April 8, 2021

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Will both entertain and encourage reflection.

CINDERELLA IS DEAD

In Mersailles, “Cinderella” is more than just a fairy tale: It’s the basis for a harsh monarch’s throttlehold on his kingdom.

Sophia is turning 16, the age at which young women must attend King Manford’s annual ball, at which they are scrutinized by and married off to male attendees. Any young woman who has not been claimed after her third ball is destined to spend the rest of her days engaged in hard labor. But being chosen can be its own curse in a society where domestic violence is common. Sophia is a beautiful Black girl in love with dark-haired Erin, one of her best friends. While racial diversity is a natural part of this world, the same acceptance does not exist for those who defy rigid gender norms: Anything other than heterosexual desire is strictly forbidden, and while Sophia wishes to escape as a couple, Erin is too fearful. After fleeing the ball, Sophia stumbles across Cinderella’s mausoleum, hidden in the woods. There she meets rebellious Constance, an attractive young red-haired woman with a very personal motivation for sabotaging the monarchy. As the two grew closer—and sparks fly—they discover secrets that could end Manford’s cruel reign. This promising debut deals with themes around rebellion and empowerment as well as the toll that rejecting the status quo can take on relationships. The atmospheric setting is a particular strength, and the twists and turns will keep readers in suspense.

Will both entertain and encourage reflection. (Fantasy. 12-16)

Pub Date: July 7, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5476-0387-9

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: April 27, 2021

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For readers in need of a happy ending but not much else.

ALL THIS TIME

A modern-day fairy tale about two teenagers suffering from loss who find healing in one another.

Despite the ups and downs in their relationship, Kyle and Kimberly have always made up, and Kyle looks forward to attending college together after graduation. But on the night they should be celebrating, Kimberly confesses that she has committed to a different college and breaks up with him. As they argue, their car crashes, and Kyle later wakes up in the hospital and learns that Kimberly is dead. In his grief, Kyle blames himself for her death. He struggles to leave his bed most days, ignores calls from his and Kimberly’s best friend, Sam, and has visions of Kimberly and life before the accident. One day, while visiting Kimberly’s grave, he meets Marley, a girl who likes telling stories and is mourning the death of her twin sister. Predictably, their natural affinity for one another evolves into romance. It is unfortunate that Kyle essentially moves from one romantic relationship to another on his journey to better understanding himself and his co-dependence on those closest to him, although his gradual development into a more considerate person redeems him. The pacing remains even until the critical plot disruption, resulting in the rest of the story feeling disjointed and rushed. All characters are White.

For readers in need of a happy ending but not much else. (Fiction. 12-16)

Pub Date: Sept. 29, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5344-6634-0

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: July 8, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2020

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