A heartfelt, charming coming-of-age story with a strong message.

THE BOY WHO LIVED IN THE CEILING

In Thurlbourn’s YA novel, a homeless boy and a lonely girl become unlikely companions when she discovers that he’s been secretly living in her attic.

When teenage Freddie first enters the Johnson family’s home, it’s only because they’ve left their door ajar after going on vacation, and he means to close it after coming inside for a moment to warm up. However, desperation makes him stay longer. Abandoned by his parents and without other support, Freddie realizes that having a place to shower, sleep, and wash his clothes could give him the leg up he needs to get out of poverty. Things go awry, though, when the Johnsons return home unexpectedly, and Freddie hastily hides himself in their attic. He reluctantly decides to continue to live there and to eventually slip away after he’s saved up enough money. In the process, he becomes aware of the Johnson family’s many troubles, including the fact that teenage daughter Violet’s transfer to a new school has made her a target of bullying. Later, Freddie reveals himself when he saves Violet from an attempted assault by one of her classmates. Against all odds, she agrees to keep his secret, and the two form an unlikely bond. But as they grow closer, it becomes clear that there are secrets in Freddie’s past that could end their relationship before it truly begins. Thurlbourn does an exceptional job of taking an unnerving premise and spinning it into a lovely story about compassion and self-acceptance. Throughout, the author explores Freddie’s and Violet’s inner lives, giving their struggles shape and nuance, and portrays Freddie’s situation with grace and sensitivity. Despite the presence of a few genre clichés (such as a shallow friend-turned-bully), the narrative never feels trite or contrived. It also thoughtfully touches on everyday realities of unhoused people in a realistic way: “He’d written about his nights wandering town because he had nowhere to sleep and moving was better than staying still”; “It was the most he’d spoken in so long that he felt a little breathless.” It’s a sincere story with likable protagonists that balances romance, suspense, sorrow, and humor.

A heartfelt, charming coming-of-age story with a strong message.

Pub Date: July 23, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-07-913500-8

Page Count: 300

Publisher: Wise Wolf Books

Review Posted Online: Aug. 4, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2021

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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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This grittily provocative debut explores the horrors of self-harm and the healing power of artistic expression.

GIRL IN PIECES

After surviving a suicide attempt, a fragile teen isn't sure she can endure without cutting herself.

Seventeen-year-old Charlie Davis, a white girl living on the margins, thinks she has little reason to live: her father drowned himself; her bereft and abusive mother kicked her out; her best friend, Ellis, is nearly brain dead after cutting too deeply; and she's gone through unspeakable experiences living on the street. After spending time in treatment with other young women like her—who cut, burn, poke, and otherwise hurt themselves—Charlie is released and takes a bus from the Twin Cities to Tucson to be closer to Mikey, a boy she "like-likes" but who had pined for Ellis instead. But things don't go as planned in the Arizona desert, because sweet Mikey just wants to be friends. Feeling rejected, Charlie, an artist, is drawn into a destructive new relationship with her sexy older co-worker, a "semifamous" local musician who's obviously a junkie alcoholic. Through intense, diarylike chapters chronicling Charlie's journey, the author captures the brutal and heartbreaking way "girls who write their pain on their bodies" scar and mar themselves, either succumbing or surviving. Like most issue books, this is not an easy read, but it's poignant and transcendent as Charlie breaks more and more before piecing herself back together.

This grittily provocative debut explores the horrors of self-harm and the healing power of artistic expression. (author’s note) (Fiction. 14 & up)

Pub Date: Aug. 30, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-101-93471-5

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: May 4, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2016

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