A keenly crafted thriller.

TIME BOMB

When a suburban high school is devastated by a bombing, a diverse group of teens gathers to find a way out.

Minor connections pre-exist among the group: biracial (black/white) Tad is on the football team with the popular Frankie, a white boy, and the pair may be a little more than just friends. Latino Z has been pegged as the class ne’er-do-well; Palestinian-American Rashid, an observant Muslim, feels extra conspicuous now that his beard has started growing. Of course, everyone knows the white daughter of a U.S. senator, the perfectly popular Diana. The wildcard is olive-skinned Cassandra, the new kid in school. When word reaches the gang that the bomber may still be inside the building, tensions rise and the small bonds just being forged threaten to disintegrate. The third-person perspective shifts chapter to chapter, letting readers into each of the character’s heads. Some of the characters are fuller than others (Z is frustratingly thin), but through their eyes the author lays out the geography of the school before the bombing and smartly paces the aftermath. Charbonneau makes the bold move of letting readers—though not all the characters—know who the bomber is right away. This pivots the suspense from a whodunit to a survival tale, and the author effectively charts the action, taking time to allow the kids to discuss current events and the perils of false assumptions.

A keenly crafted thriller. (Thriller. 12-16)

Pub Date: March 13, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-544-41670-3

Page Count: 352

Publisher: HMH Books

Review Posted Online: Nov. 22, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2017

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Though it lacks references or suggestions for further reading, Arn's agonizing story is compelling enough that many readers...

NEVER FALL DOWN

A harrowing tale of survival in the Killing Fields.

The childhood of Arn Chorn-Pond has been captured for young readers before, in Michelle Lord and Shino Arihara's picture book, A Song for Cambodia (2008). McCormick, known for issue-oriented realism, offers a fictionalized retelling of Chorn-Pond's youth for older readers. McCormick's version begins when the Khmer Rouge marches into 11-year-old Arn's Cambodian neighborhood and forces everyone into the country. Arn doesn't understand what the Khmer Rouge stands for; he only knows that over the next several years he and the other children shrink away on a handful of rice a day, while the corpses of adults pile ever higher in the mango grove. Arn does what he must to survive—and, wherever possible, to protect a small pocket of children and adults around him. Arn's chilling history pulls no punches, trusting its readers to cope with the reality of children forced to participate in murder, torture, sexual exploitation and genocide. This gut-wrenching tale is marred only by the author's choice to use broken English for both dialogue and description. Chorn-Pond, in real life, has spoken eloquently (and fluently) on the influence he's gained by learning English; this prose diminishes both his struggle and his story.

Though it lacks references or suggestions for further reading, Arn's agonizing story is compelling enough that many readers will seek out the history themselves. (preface, author's note) (Historical fiction. 12-15)

Pub Date: May 8, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-06-173093-1

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: March 21, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2012

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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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