An engaging, illuminating, but never sensationalized portrayal of one plucky teen’s self-discovery and pulling away from a...

DEVOTED

Rachel tries to be devoted to her fundamentalist Christian church, but she’s finding it increasingly challenging.

Her large family belongs to a Quiverfull-movement church that emphasizes female submissiveness, modest clothing, no birth control, and a rigid interpretation of the Bible. She’s been kept isolated from the world but uses a computer to manage her father’s business as she reluctantly awaits her own future husband and numerous children. She’s naturally inquisitive, and that leads her to discover the blog of escaped church member Lauren, whose pithy commentary on the religion’s abuse helps Rachel re-evaluate her own situation. Her forbidden computer explorations exposed, Rachel’s threatened with the punishment of a harsh church camp used to brainwash straying teens. Her believable first-person narrative, which chronicles the navigation of her complex emotions of fear, longing, and tender love for God and her family, is both engaging and deeply moving. Her eventual escape attempt is inevitable, and her encounters with the outside world are sympathetically drawn as is her life within the church. If some elements of the plot seem too easy, they do not mitigate the effectiveness of Rachel’s tale.

An engaging, illuminating, but never sensationalized portrayal of one plucky teen’s self-discovery and pulling away from a controlling, restrictive (and real) religious movement. (Fiction. 11-16)

Pub Date: June 2, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-59643-911-5

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Roaring Brook Press

Review Posted Online: April 1, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2015

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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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A successful romantic enterprise.

THE UPSIDE OF FALLING

High school seniors do the fake dating thing.

Brett Wells has always been focused on football. Brainy Becca Hart’s faith in love was destroyed by her parents’ divorce. The two have little in common other than being pestered by their friends and families about the lack of a special someone in their lives. They embark upon a “fake relationship,” but, predictably, it gives way to a real one. Debut author Light sprinkles in just enough charm and good-natured romance as the narrative bounces between Brett’s and Becca’s perspectives to keep readers engaged but not overwhelmed by twee sentiment. Becca is a much better developed character than Brett (handsome yet doofy, he has the complexity of a golden retriever), and her chapters are the novel’s highlights. Brett’s whole deal is a bigger pill to swallow, but readers who go with it will find a pleasant story. The novel is a syrupy ode to what it feels like to slowly fall for someone for the first time, and that mood is captured effectively. Becca and Brett have chemistry that feels completely natural, but sadly there are some late-in-the-game plot mechanics that feel forced. Fortunately, the author seems as uninterested in these disruptions as readers will be: Things are resolved quickly, and the novel ends on a high note. Whiteness is situated as the norm; main characters are white.

A successful romantic enterprise. (Romance. 12-16)

Pub Date: Feb. 18, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-291805-5

Page Count: 288

Publisher: HarperTeen

Review Posted Online: Nov. 19, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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