A well-intentioned project whose earnest messages of empathy and equality fall short in execution.

GAME CHANGER

A timely, speculative thought experiment in perspective, privilege, and identity.

Ash Bowman is a White, heterosexual boy who doesn’t think too deeply about the plights of others. That is, until a jarring football injury shifts him into a parallel universe. At first, the changes to Ash’s world are small: Stop signs are blue, not red, for example. Then, with every tackle, Ash transports himself into a new reality, and the changes become much more pronounced. Characters change gender, social class status, sexuality, or even live in a world where racial segregation still exists. These changes in perspective prompt Ash to cultivate a greater sense of empathy and urgency regarding the suffering of others. But as reality becomes increasingly unstable, he must set the world back to rights. Ash is a clever, sincere narrator, and his journey of self-discovery is well-paced with solid twists at nearly every chapter’s end. But the project ultimately attempts to tackle too much, covering abuse, racism, homophobia, misogyny, class privilege, and more; this leads to little time and nuance dedicated to each. Unlike in real life, characters typically possess a single marginalized identity, and the interplay between struggles for progress in different areas is not explored, oversimplifying matters. The joys of queer love are shown, but experiences of being female or Black are largely presented in terms of oppression. Additionally, characters from marginalized populations are generally used for Ash’s own character development.

A well-intentioned project whose earnest messages of empathy and equality fall short in execution. (Science fiction. 14-18)

Pub Date: Feb. 9, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-06-199867-6

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Quill Tree Books/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Nov. 24, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2020

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Black is building a complex mythology; now is a great time to tune in.

THE CRUEL PRINCE

From the Folk of the Air series , Vol. 1

Black is back with another dark tale of Faerie, this one set in Faerie and launching a new trilogy.

Jude—broken, rebuilt, fueled by anger and a sense of powerlessness—has never recovered from watching her adoptive Faerie father murder her parents. Human Jude (whose brown hair curls and whose skin color is never described) both hates and loves Madoc, whose murderous nature is true to his Faerie self and who in his way loves her. Brought up among the Gentry, Jude has never felt at ease, but after a decade, Faerie has become her home despite the constant peril. Black’s latest looks at nature and nurture and spins a tale of court intrigue, bloodshed, and a truly messed-up relationship that might be the saving of Jude and the titular prince, who, like Jude, has been shaped by the cruelties of others. Fierce and observant Jude is utterly unaware of the currents that swirl around her. She fights, plots, even murders enemies, but she must also navigate her relationship with her complex family (human, Faerie, and mixed). This is a heady blend of Faerie lore, high fantasy, and high school drama, dripping with description that brings the dangerous but tempting world of Faerie to life.

Black is building a complex mythology; now is a great time to tune in. (Fantasy. 14-adult)

Pub Date: Jan. 2, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-316-31027-7

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Sept. 26, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2017

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A thoughtful and thrilling story of life, death, and meaning.

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SCYTHE

From the Arc of a Scythe series , Vol. 1

Two teens train to be society-sanctioned killers in an otherwise immortal world.

On post-mortal Earth, humans live long (if not particularly passionate) lives without fear of disease, aging, or accidents. Operating independently of the governing AI (called the Thunderhead since it evolved from the cloud), scythes rely on 10 commandments, quotas, and their own moral codes to glean the population. After challenging Hon. Scythe Faraday, 16-year-olds Rowan Damisch and Citra Terranova reluctantly become his apprentices. Subjected to killcraft training, exposed to numerous executions, and discouraged from becoming allies or lovers, the two find themselves engaged in a fatal competition but equally determined to fight corruption and cruelty. The vivid and often violent action unfolds slowly, anchored in complex worldbuilding and propelled by political machinations and existential musings. Scythes’ journal entries accompany Rowan’s and Citra’s dual and dueling narratives, revealing both personal struggles and societal problems. The futuristic post–2042 MidMerican world is both dystopia and utopia, free of fear, unexpected death, and blatant racism—multiracial main characters discuss their diverse ethnic percentages rather than purity—but also lacking creativity, emotion, and purpose. Elegant and elegiac, brooding but imbued with gallows humor, Shusterman’s dark tale thrusts realistic, likable teens into a surreal situation and raises deep philosophic questions.

A thoughtful and thrilling story of life, death, and meaning. (Science fiction. 14 & up)

Pub Date: Nov. 29, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-4424-7242-6

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: July 26, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2016

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