Indelible characters, two-legged or otherwise, power this superb, melodramatic tale.

CHILDREN OF THE AIR

Humans and animals in small-town America unite and diverge in this novel about families and devastating loss.

Mary Peabody loves her freethinking 13-year-old daughter, Melissa, but needs a break. Motherhood hasn’t been easy, especially since Lissy’s father abruptly left three years ago. Mary sends Lissy to the teen’s recently widowed grandfather’s farm for the summer. But as Mary spends most of her precious solitude watching TV, will her resultant guilt overwhelm her? Surprisingly, her life parallels Corwynn’s, an eagle nurturing three eggs in her nest in the dense woods not far from Lissy at her grandfather Ed Nowlen’s home. When humans capture the eaglets’ father, Corwynn—worried she won’t be able to care for her babies alone—contemplates abandoning the eggs. Other colorful characters gradually join the story: an injured owl; a high schooler fleeing his “meaningless” life and abusive father; and Ed’s loyal dog, Shep, who, like his owner, shows copious signs of his advancing age. They form a series of fractured families learning to rely on others, though some of them prove selfish or even outright malicious. In this somber tale, Smith writes in a beautifully simple style. This matches the animals’ outlook; they live in the moment, as the narrative focuses on singular tasks, such as Corwynn hunting for food. The animals’ perspectives can also be endearing. Birds, for example, see humans with “malformed wings,” and Shep’s name for Ed is “Good.” But this story is largely humorless, teeming with characters not ready to say goodbye, from Ed still mourning his wife to Lissy viewing high school as the unwanted end of her childhood. Similarly, there’s a sad death or two as well as a violent act with long-lasting repercussions. The novel is not all gloom, though, as these glimpses into varied but comparable lives create a truly rewarding experience.

Indelible characters, two-legged or otherwise, power this superb, melodramatic tale.

Pub Date: Feb. 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-939636-04-1

Page Count: 226

Publisher: Mottled Speck

Review Posted Online: Jan. 3, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2022

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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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