An all-encompassing story full of deep romance and searing tragedy.

POSTCARDS FROM SUMMER

Lexi’s search for information about her mother leads to her unraveling the mysterious truth.

When 17-year-old Lexi unexpectedly receives a wooden chest, decorated with mosaics and full of her deceased mother’s letters and memorabilia, she takes a solo trip to Mackinac Island, where her mom grew up, hoping to learn more. The book alternates between Lexi’s story (in chapters labeled “Now”) and her mother Emma’s (“Then,” which contextual clues situate in the early 2000s). Through this structure, both Lexi and readers slowly learn who Emma really was and what happened during a tragic summer that changed her life forever. Emma and her best friends, JR, Linda, and Ryan, entered that summer as carefree teens, but everything culminated in a devastating tragedy, a complicated love triangle, severed familial relationships, and ruined friendships. The members of the central cast are believable, flawed, impulsive teenagers, and the secondary characters—like sharp-witted, elderly Clara VanHill, a legendary Black Broadway star—are full of personality. Main characters are White; important secondary characters bring diversity in race and sexual orientation. Mackinac Island, with its lake views and old-timey charm, is itself an atmospheric presence. While aspects of Lexi’s trip require some suspension of disbelief, overall Platt handily closes the loop on the book’s many open ends. This is a lengthy read, but Platt’s twists and turns do not disappoint, and the pacing keeps readers engaged.

An all-encompassing story full of deep romance and searing tragedy. (Fiction. 12-17)

Pub Date: May 31, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-5344-7440-6

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: April 13, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2022

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Heartbreaking, historical, and a little bit hopeful.

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SALT TO THE SEA

January 1945: as Russians advance through East Prussia, four teens’ lives converge in hopes of escape.

Returning to the successful formula of her highly lauded debut, Between Shades of Gray (2011), Sepetys combines research (described in extensive backmatter) with well-crafted fiction to bring to life another little-known story: the sinking (from Soviet torpedoes) of the German ship Wilhelm Gustloff. Told in four alternating voices—Lithuanian nurse Joana, Polish Emilia, Prussian forger Florian, and German soldier Alfred—with often contemporary cadences, this stints on neither history nor fiction. The three sympathetic refugees and their motley companions (especially an orphaned boy and an elderly shoemaker) make it clear that while the Gustloff was a German ship full of German civilians and soldiers during World War II, its sinking was still a tragedy. Only Alfred, stationed on the Gustloff, lacks sympathy; almost a caricature, he is self-delusional, unlikable, a Hitler worshiper. As a vehicle for exposition, however, and a reminder of Germany’s role in the war, he serves an invaluable purpose that almost makes up for the mustache-twirling quality of his petty villainy. The inevitability of the ending (including the loss of several characters) doesn’t change its poignancy, and the short chapters and slowly revealed back stories for each character guarantee the pages keep turning.

Heartbreaking, historical, and a little bit hopeful. (author’s note, research and sources, maps) (Historical fiction. 12-16)

Pub Date: Feb. 2, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-399-16030-1

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Philomel

Review Posted Online: Nov. 3, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2015

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Despite some missteps, this will appeal to readers who enjoy a fresh and realistic teen voice.

THE FIELD GUIDE TO THE NORTH AMERICAN TEENAGER

A teenage, not-so-lonely loner endures the wilds of high school in Austin, Texas.

Norris Kaplan, the protagonist of Philippe’s debut novel, is a hypersweaty, uber-snarky black, Haitian, French-Canadian pushing to survive life in his new school. His professor mom’s new tenure-track job transplants Norris mid–school year, and his biting wit and sarcasm are exposed through his cataloging of his new world in a field guide–style burn book. He’s greeted in his new life by an assortment of acquaintances, Liam, who is white and struggling with depression; Maddie, a self-sacrificing white cheerleader with a heart of gold; and Aarti, his Indian-American love interest who offers connection. Norris’ ego, fueled by his insecurities, often gets in the way of meaningful character development. The scenes showcasing his emotional growth are too brief and, despite foreshadowing, the climax falls flat because he still gets incredible personal access to people he’s hurt. A scene where Norris is confronted by his mother for getting drunk and belligerent with a white cop is diluted by his refusal or inability to grasp the severity of the situation and the resultant minor consequences. The humor is spot-on, as is the representation of the black diaspora; the opportunity for broader conversations about other topics is there, however, the uneven buildup of detailed, meaningful exchanges and the glibness of Norris’ voice detract.

Despite some missteps, this will appeal to readers who enjoy a fresh and realistic teen voice. (Fiction. 13-16)

Pub Date: Jan. 8, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-06-282411-0

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Oct. 15, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2018

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