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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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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Whether you came for the lore or the love, perfection.

THE QUEEN OF NOTHING

From the Folk of the Air series , Vol. 3

Broken people, complicated families, magic, and Faerie politics: Black’s back.

After the tumultuous ending to the last volume (marriage, exile, and the seeming collapse of all her plots), Jude finds herself in the human world, which lacks appeal despite a childhood spent longing to go back. The price of her upbringing becomes clear: A human raised in the multihued, multiformed, always capricious Faerie High Court by the man who killed her parents, trained for intrigue and combat, recruited to a spy organization, and ultimately the power behind the coup and the latest High King, Jude no longer understands how to exist happily in a world that isn’t full of magic and danger. A plea from her estranged twin sends her secretly back to Faerie, where things immediately come to a boil with Cardan (king, nemesis, love interest) and all the many political strands Jude has tugged on for the past two volumes. New readers will need to go back to The Cruel Prince (2018) to follow the complexities—political and personal side plots abound—but the legions of established fans will love every minute of this lushly described, tightly plotted trilogy closer. Jude might be traumatized and emotionally unhealthy, but she’s an antihero worth cheering on. There are few physical descriptions of humans and some queer representation.

Whether you came for the lore or the love, perfection. (Fantasy. 14-adult)

Pub Date: Nov. 19, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-316-31042-0

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Aug. 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

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