This quiet debut with a powerful message leaves readers plenty to ponder.

A SOFT PLACE TO FALL

The departure of an alternative school’s empathetic teacher leaves her vulnerable students feeling bereft.

Creighton was 5 in 1989 when his mom left to pursue a singing career. Now 14, he and his emotionally distant dad settle in Breton, British Columbia. Behind in school and socially disengaged, Creighton enrolls in a tiny alternative school for students whose burdens include family dysfunction, poverty, abuse, and trauma. Bolstering students’ self-esteem, validating them, and helping them explore their interests, Ms. Hayworth prioritizes emotional needs over a strict academic agenda or punitive discipline. Slowly and unevenly, each young person—even bully Carlos—begins to heal. Creighton befriends traumatized Schooner and bonds with two older teens: sexual-assault survivor Carin, whose single mom has cancer, and Ratchet, sheltered and employed by a caring farmer after being taken from his abusive parents. These relationships anchor Creighton and help strengthen his relationship with his dad. But when Ms. Hayworth goes on maternity leave and is replaced by an affectless, uncaring teacher, the students relapse and catastrophe looms. The narrative pacing is slow but purposeful. The memorable characters, all cued as White, are drawn with affection and are scarred, flawed, and fully human. Their needs are great, their expectations modest as they hunger for connection and security. As Ms. Hayworth says, “it’s hard to give to others what you haven’t received yourself.”

This quiet debut with a powerful message leaves readers plenty to ponder. (author Q&A) (Fiction. 12-16)

Pub Date: Nov. 15, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-88995-638-4

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Red Deer Press

Review Posted Online: Oct. 13, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2021

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Characters to love, quips to snort at, insights to ponder: typical Spinelli.

DEAD WEDNESDAY

For two teenagers, a small town’s annual cautionary ritual becomes both a life- and a death-changing experience.

On the second Wednesday in June, every eighth grader in Amber Springs, Pennsylvania, gets a black shirt, the name and picture of a teen killed the previous year through reckless behavior—and the silent treatment from everyone in town. Like many of his classmates, shy, self-conscious Robbie “Worm” Tarnauer has been looking forward to Dead Wed as a day for cutting loose rather than sober reflection…until he finds himself talking to a strange girl or, as she would have it, “spectral maiden,” only he can see or touch. Becca Finch is as surprised and confused as Worm, only remembering losing control of her car on an icy slope that past Christmas Eve. But being (or having been, anyway) a more outgoing sort, she sees their encounter as a sign that she’s got a mission. What follows, in a long conversational ramble through town and beyond, is a day at once ordinary yet rich in discovery and self-discovery—not just for Worm, but for Becca too, with a climactic twist that leaves both ready, or readier, for whatever may come next. Spinelli shines at setting a tongue-in-cheek tone for a tale with serious underpinnings, and as in Stargirl (2000), readers will be swept into the relationship that develops between this adolescent odd couple. Characters follow a White default.

Characters to love, quips to snort at, insights to ponder: typical Spinelli. (Fiction. 12-15)

Pub Date: Aug. 3, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-30667-3

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: June 1, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2021

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An enjoyable, if predictable, romantic holiday story.

10 BLIND DATES

Is an exuberant extended family the cure for a breakup? Sophie is about to find out.

When Sophie unexpectedly breaks up with her boyfriend, she isn’t thrilled about spending the holidays at her grandparents’ house instead of with him. And when her grandmother forms a plan to distract Sophie from her broken heart—10 blind dates, each set up by different family members—she’s even less thrilled. Everyone gets involved with the matchmaking, even forming a betting pool on the success of each date. But will Sophie really find someone to fill the space left by her ex? Will her ex get wind of Sophie’s dating spree via social media and want them to get back together? Is that what she even wants anymore? This is a fun story of finding love, getting to know yourself, and getting to know your family. The pace is quick and light, though the characters are fairly shallow and occasionally feel interchangeable, especially with so many names involved. A Christmas tale, the plot is a fast-paced series of dinners, parties, and games, relayed in both narrative form and via texts, though the humor occasionally feels stiff and overwrought. The ending is satisfying, though largely unsurprising. Most characters default to white as members of Sophie’s Italian American extended family, although one of her cousins has a Filipina mother. One uncle is gay.

An enjoyable, if predictable, romantic holiday story. (Fiction. 13-16)

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-368-02749-6

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Disney-Hyperion

Review Posted Online: June 23, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2019

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