“Sometimes I’d love to fit in, see. Sometimes there’s nothing I’d like more than just to be the same as everyone else. It’d make life so much easier.” Jesse Flood is really not much different from most 14-year-olds: simultaneously struggling with a family that’s coming apart at the seams, a burgeoning interest in the opposite sex and the certain knowledge that none of them will ever be interested in him, and the need to forge a personality that can survive all this, he nevertheless emerges as a distinct, wryly self-aware voice. From the story’s riveting opening in a train tunnel as he seeks to shake himself from an adolescence-induced funk to its close, Jesse’s narration takes the reader back and forth through time as he tries to discover a meaning to life here, “at the arse end of the Universe.” Of course, just about every teen feels that she lives at the arse end of the Universe, but in Jesse’s case it’s pretty much accurate: Doyle (Cow, p. 804, etc.) effectively recreates the quietly desperate atmosphere of Greywater, a tired, bypassed seaside town in Northern Ireland. Despite the potentially volatile setting, the Troubles make no appearance, leaving the text free to focus on Jesse’s own personal troubles. The relentless focus on his adolescent angst is relieved both by hilarity (such as when a rather forward girl gets tired of waiting for Jesse to make a move and jumps him, resulting in a particularly evocative description of his first French kiss) and crushing poignancy occasioned by the drug-related death of a classmate. There isn’t much new in this tale, but its delivery and the originality of Jesse’s voice will resonate with readers, who may feel after reading Jesse’s story that maybe life is manageable after all. (Fiction. 12-15)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2002

ISBN: 1-58234-776-X

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2002

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Han’s leisurely paced, somewhat somber narrative revisits several beach-house summers in flashback through the eyes of now 15-year-old Isabel, known to all as Belly. Belly measures her growing self by these summers and by her lifelong relationship with the older boys, her brother and her mother’s best friend’s two sons. Belly’s dawning awareness of her sexuality and that of the boys is a strong theme, as is the sense of summer as a separate and reflective time and place: Readers get glimpses of kisses on the beach, her best friend’s flirtations during one summer’s visit, a first date. In the background the two mothers renew their friendship each year, and Lauren, Belly’s mother, provides support for her friend—if not, unfortunately, for the children—in Susannah’s losing battle with breast cancer. Besides the mostly off-stage issue of a parent’s severe illness there’s not much here to challenge most readers—driving, beer-drinking, divorce, a moment of surprise at the mothers smoking medicinal pot together. The wish-fulfilling title and sun-washed, catalog-beautiful teens on the cover will be enticing for girls looking for a diversion. (Fiction. 12-14)

Pub Date: May 5, 2009

ISBN: 978-1-4169-6823-8

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2009

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When Clara Luna, 14, visits rural Mexico for the summer to visit the paternal grandparents she has never met, she cannot know her trip will involve an emotional and spiritual journey into her family’s past and a deep connection to a rich heritage of which she was barely aware. Long estranged from his parents, Clara’s father had entered the U.S. illegally years before, subsequently becoming a successful business owner who never spoke about what he left behind. Clara’s journey into her grandmother’s history (told in alternating chapters with Clara’s own first-person narrative) and her discovery that she, like her grandmother and ancestors, has a gift for healing, awakens her to the simple, mystical joys of a rural lifestyle she comes to love and wholly embrace. Painfully aware of not fitting into suburban teen life in her native Maryland, Clara awakens to feeling alive in Mexico and realizes a sweet first love with Pedro, a charming goat herder. Beautifully written, this is filled with evocative language that is rich in imagery and nuance and speaks to the connections that bind us all. Add a thrilling adventure and all the makings of an entrancing read are here. (glossaries) (Fiction. 12-14)

Pub Date: Sept. 12, 2006

ISBN: 0-385-73343-7

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2006

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