An affecting tale that shows how people and animals can change each other’s lives.

BIG AND BAD

The lives of a downtrodden teenage girl and a shepherd dog intersect in Scotti’s debut YA novel.

Candace “Candy” Scott lives in Southern California with her father. She should be a sophomore in high school, but she hasn’t had the will to attend class since her mother died. Her father does odd jobs to pay the bills, including collecting stray dogs for Clement, a liquor store owner and dogfighting enthusiast. One day, her dad brings home a “big shaggy shepherd with biscuit-colored fur” and keeps him in their building’s basement. Candy also starts noticing Carlos, an older teen who lives in the building with his uncle, Rafael Gomez, and his family. Carlos helps Candy briefly care for the dog until Clement comes to pick him up. Then they witness Clement kicking the animal and saying, “you gotta be tougher than that, little man.” The dog’s name is Bear, and he’s had a horrible life ever since he failed to keep his boy companion, Jared, from running into a street, which led to tragedy. Bear has since suffered beatings, the loneliness of a kill shelter, and life on the streets. As Candy and Carlos bond, her father’s alcoholism threatens the security of her home. Bear, meanwhile, makes a fragile connection to JuJuBee, a Chihuahua. Scotti’s portraits of resilience, though harrowing, reveal much overlap in the emotional lives of humans and animals. When readers meet Bear in the first of his many first-person chapters, he says, “I am not a bad dog, but I did a bad thing,” echoing Candy’s attitude toward dropping out of school. She and Carlos are a charming couple; for instance, she claims not to like her nickname, saying, “I’m not that sweet,” and he replies by calling her “Lemon.” Clement comes off as menacing from his very first scene, when he tries to brush Candy’s hair off of her face without her permission. Various scenes of brutality involving Bear in a dogfighting ring are effective without being excessively graphic. Scotti maintains a sense of realism by avoiding easy or saccharine solutions but still offers hope.

An affecting tale that shows how people and animals can change each other’s lives.

Pub Date: March 30, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-68003-196-6

Page Count: 138

Publisher: Texas Review Press

Review Posted Online: April 6, 2021

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Mouths have never run so dry at the idea of thirst.

DRY

When a calamitous drought overtakes southern California, a group of teens must struggle to keep their lives and their humanity in this father-son collaboration.

When the Tap-Out hits and the state’s entire water supply runs dry, 16-year-old Alyssa Morrow and her little brother, Garrett, ration their Gatorade and try to be optimistic. That is, until their parents disappear, leaving them completely alone. Their neighbor Kelton McCracken was born into a survivalist family, but what use is that when it’s his family he has to survive? Kelton is determined to help Alyssa and Garrett, but with desperation comes danger, and he must lead them and two volatile new acquaintances on a perilous trek to safety and water. Occasionally interrupted by “snapshots” of perspectives outside the main plot, the narrative’s intensity steadily rises as self-interest turns deadly and friends turn on each other. No one does doom like Neal Shusterman (Thunderhead, 2018, etc.)—the breathtakingly jagged brink of apocalypse is only overshadowed by the sense that his dystopias lie just below the surface of readers’ fragile reality, a few thoughtless actions away. He and his debut novelist son have crafted a world of dark thirst and fiery desperation, which, despite the tendrils of hope that thread through the conclusion, feels alarmingly near to our future. There is an absence of racial markers, leaving characters’ identities open.

Mouths have never run so dry at the idea of thirst. (Thriller. 13-17)

Pub Date: Oct. 2, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-4814-8196-0

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: July 17, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2018

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Yet another bland, half-baked dystopian exercise.

CRAZY HOUSE

A teen girl goes looking for her missing twin sister.

In the absence of their parents, Cassie and Becca, both white, are doing their best to tend to the family farm. One morning, Cassie wakes up to discover Becca is missing. Meanwhile, Becca wakens in a horrific children’s prison, in which the detained are forced to fight to the death. As Cassie searches for her sister, Becca does her best to survive the torture her captors put her through. The novel is set in a future in which populations are organized geographically into isolated cells. The government controls all the information going in and out. More lurks beneath the surface, and the book sets up further installments, but few readers will feel the need to keep reading. The world is poorly built, the characters are dreadfully thin, and the plotting is drastically uneven. When Cassie and Becca are finally reunited, readers will have little reason to celebrate: their relationship is so thinly sketched they barely feel like sisters. The torture sequences in the teen prison are gratuitous and dreary. A last-minute twist is easily predicted, making the slow, tedious burn toward the reveal and the barely distinguishable characters all the more intolerable.

Yet another bland, half-baked dystopian exercise. (Dystopian adventure. 14-17)

Pub Date: May 22, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-316-43131-6

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Jimmy Patterson/Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Feb. 20, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2017

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