Truly Devious #1

Ellingham Academy is a famous private school in Vermont for the brightest thinkers, inventors, and artists. It was founded by Albert Ellingham, an early twentieth century tycoon, who wanted to make a wonderful place full of riddles, twisting pathways, and gardens. “A place,” he said, “where learning is a game.”

Shortly after the school opened, his wife and daughter were kidnapped. The only real clue was a mocking riddle listing methods of murder, signed with the frightening pseudonym “Truly, Devious.” It became one of the great unsolved crimes of American history.

True-crime aficionado Stevie Bell is set to begin her first year at Ellingham Academy, and she has an ambitious plan: she will solve this cold case. That is, she will solve the case when she gets a grip on her demanding new school life and her housemates: the inventor, the novelist, the actor, the artist, and the jokester.

But something strange is happening. Truly Devious makes a surprise return, and death revisits Ellingham Academy. The past has crawled out of its grave. Someone has gotten away with murder.

Truly Devious will captivate murder mystery fans as it goes back and forth from the 1936 kidnapping of Ellingham’s wife and daughter and the current students who reside at Ellingham Academy. While Stevie scours the school’s archives for clues to the cold case, she also must navigate typical high school drama, which makes her a more relatable and likable character. While some of the students are a little too quirky to be believable, that doesn’t detract from the book’s entertainment value. Instead, it highlights some of the bizarre behavior of the ultra-rich. The story has the perfect blend of suspense, mystery, and teenage angst. Plus, there’s a mysterious boy Stevie isn’t sure if she should hate or love.

While most of the story revolves around the Ellingham’s school, the reader also gets a look into Stevie’s home life and the conflict between her and her parents. Stevie’s parents have never really understood why she can’t be “normal.” Increasing the conflict, Stevie’s parents also work for Senator Edward King—a rich, corrupt man who Stevie hates. While Senator King plays a small role in Truly Devious, the book hints that the senator will return in the next book in the series, The Vanishing Stairs.

The fast-paced mystery expertly blends the past and the present into an entertaining story that will keep the readers guessing until the very end. While the conclusion partially solves one mystery, the mystery of the Ellingham’s kidnapping ends with an interesting new clue which will have readers reaching for the next book in the series, The Vanishing Stairs. With interesting characters, a suspenseful mystery, and lots of surprising twists, Truly Devious will please mystery buffs who are ready for more mature content. If you’d like a tamer detective story, the Jess Tennant Mysteries Series by Jane Casey is a highly entertaining mystery that will thrill without the graphic images.

Sexual Content

  • Janelle recently broke up with her girlfriend and now has a crush on another student, Vi.
  • When two students disappear, a boy says, “I think they’re going to go back and bone. . .” Later, the students “walked close enough together and looked at each other in a way that made it clear that they had not parted ways right away last night.”
  • After a student dies, David and Stevie go back to her bedroom. After talking for a while, “David pressed his lips to hers. . . He was kissing her very gently, his lips pressing on her neck. . . Her hands were in his hair.” The make-out scene is described over a page. A teacher interrupts them and tells David to leave.
  • David wants to talk to Stevie about them making out. He tells her that her technique “was good. You really like to explore with that tongue. Every part of you is a detective, I guess. . . I like what we did.” After they talk, “she pressed her lips to his. . . Their lips met and they would be tighter for a minute, then they would both stop and stay where they were for another few seconds. . . He was stroking her hair, running his fingers up the short strands. . .” When there is a knock on the door, Stevie hides in the closet. David answers the door and leaves.

Violence

  • Stevie is investigating a murder from 1936. As she investigates, the story flashes back to the events when Dottie was murdered. While trying to escape from a man, Dottie falls, and “her fingers slipped along the rungs of the ladder, but she couldn’t get purchase. She was falling. The floor met her with terrible finality. . . There was an ache that was almost sweet and something pooled around her. . . When the darkness came for Dottie, it was quick and it was total.”
  • After delivering ransom money, Albert Ellingham is knocked out when “something came down on his head, and then all faded to black.”
  • When Ellingham’s wife’s body was found, “she was wrapped in oilcloth and she was in bad shape, real bad shape. . . Iris’s body was found to have three gunshot wounds.”
  • Ellingham and one of his friends die when their boat explodes. The death is not described.
  • A man named Vorachek is standing trial for the kidnapping of Ellingham’s wife and daughter. During the trial, he is shot. The death is not described.

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • During prohibition, a secret tunnel was built, and “bottles of wine and liquor of every description” were stored in a hidden area.
  • Stevie has a prescription for Lexapro and Ativan. Twice Stevie takes Ativan while having a panic attack.
  • Ellie, one of the students, sneaks in champagne. When offered it, Stevie “decided to go for it. She had only drunk a few times in her life. . . the champagne was warm and had a hard, mineral taste and fizzed up her nose. It was not unpleasant.” Several times throughout the story, Ellie appears drunk.
  • Ellie tells Stevie that “plenty of people on the street will buy [alcohol] for you for five bucks.”
  • Ellie went to Paris with her mother and her mother’s “lover.” While there they drank wine.
  • Ellie says that a boy spent his time smoking weed and playing video games; later, Stevie finds out that this is untrue.
  • At a school gathering, some of the students pass around a flask. Stevie doesn’t drink from it.
  • After the kidnappers demand more ransom, Ellingham “poured some whiskeys with a shaking hand, giving one to the detective and keeping one for himself.”
  • While reading the Ellingham’s case files, Stevie finds out that a man who was present drank “often and in high quantities.”
  • Stevie and her friends play a drinking game. While playing the game, some of the players drink, while others don’t. “Stevie reached for the bottle and took a very tiny sip, just enough that the wine touched her lips and scent flooded her nose.”

Language

  • Several times a girl says, “It is hot as balls in here.”
  • Oh my God, God, and Jesus are used as exclamations occasionally.
  • Hell is used frequently.
  • Ass, damn, crap, pissed, and shit are used infrequently.
  • Ellie tells Stevie that her parents’ boss, a senator, is an asshole.
  • Stevie says, “I’m not being a dick.”
  • A girl says that a boy’s ex-girlfriend is a bitch.
  • Stevie says that her parents’ employer, a senator, is a “racist, fascist scum.”
  • The f-word is used twice.
  • In a heated situation, goddamnit is used once.

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

On a Scale of One to Ten

Tamar is admitted to Lime Grove, a psychiatric hospital for teenagers with a variety of issues. She’s asked endless questions. But there’s one question she can’t. . . or won’t answer: What happened to her friend Iris? As Tamar’s past becomes more and more clear to her, she’ll have to figure out a path toward forgiveness and find a way to live.

Tamar tells her own story which allows her self-hatred, guilt, and desire to die take center stage. While readers may not understand Tamar’s struggle, she is a sympathetic character who isn’t sure how to take control of her life. While in the psychiatric hospital, Tamar does little to help herself and she describes most of the hospital workers in a negative light. The staff members are either incompetent or too worn out to expend any energy on the patients. When a psychiatrist sees Tamar, his lack of compassion makes the sessions useless. While in the hospital, Tamar continues to try to harm herself and even attempts to end her life. Even though the story has a hopeful conclusion, the reason that Tamar is beginning to heal is unclear.

On a Scale of One to Ten is difficult to read because of Tamar’s graphic descriptions of her suicide attempts and her self-hatred. Tamar often refers to herself as a murderer because of Iris’s death. The constant reminders of Iris create suspense, but the circumstances of Iris’s death aren’t revealed until the very end. The reasons that led to Iris’s suicide are unrealistic and horrifying. When a girl sets Iris’s hair on fire, Tamar does nothing to help Iris, which is one of the reasons Tamar feels guilt. Tamar’s lack of empathy for Iris and her own despicable behavior is heartbreaking.

In the end, Tamar is on the path to recovery, and she realizes “there isn’t a cure. Except me: I am the cure.” On a Scale of One to Ten gives readers insight into one girl’s struggle with mental illness; however, the story doesn’t include how Tamar is finally able to cope with her guilt and suicidal thoughts. On a Scale of One to Ten excellently depicts Tamar’s emotions and gives insight into teens who struggle with mental health. Mature readers who want to delve into another book that explores mental illness should add Turtles All the Way Down by John Green to their must-read list.

Sexual Content

  • Tamar wonders if a charity shop is “a front for drugs, kidnapping, or prostitution.”
  • Tamar goes to a party at Toby’s house. While there, “I feel his face close to mine even though my vodka-brain is swirling my vision and Rihanna bursts on. . . I brush my lips against his and I don’t think it lasts for more than a few seconds.” Later, Tamar describes the “burnt taste of weed on his lips.”
  • Tamar, who is wearing a dress, wonders if the “person in the street is looking at me weirdly. . . [is] planning to stalk and rape me.”
  • After Tamar gets out of the hospital, she begins dating. Kissing is involved.

Violence

  • To get the bad thoughts to stop, Tamar hits her head against the wall. “If you slam your forehead hard enough, then it bleeds under the skin and the bruises are swollen and sore, but at least the thoughts disappear for a third of a second.”
  • Tamar cuts herself. “I make three thin scratches on my thigh, watch to see which one draws the most blood.” She then gets in the bath and, “I stretch out my arm in front of me and press down, slice the blade across the skin. I watch it split, blood starting to ooze out. . . I’m slashing, wildly gashing deeper, deeper into my undeserving body. . .” She is taken to the hospital and given stitches.
  • While in Dr. Flores’s office, Tamar begins “shouting and swearing every swear word in the English language. I’d . . . hurled the books with the hardest covers I could find at him. . . He’d swerved just as the Holy Bible smashed into his computer.” When the nurses tried to restrain Tamar, she “tried to bite them as they held my squirming body. . .”
  • Tamar tries to drown herself. She fills the bathtub and then “plunging below the surface, water burning nostrils, dancing into lungs that in equal measure try to accept and reject in confusion the muddy flood that prances into them.” The scene is described over two and a half pages.
  • Again, Tamar tries to kill herself. She talks about “how tight the noose felt as it dug into my soft flesh, how my eyeballs felt like they were going to burst out of my sockets, and I could feel my brain swelling against my skull . . .”
  • Ellie, one of the patients in the psychiatric hospital throws a fit. “She thumps on the corridor walls outside the bedroom, dashing and darting away from nurses who want to inject her. . . I don’t look out the window or my door, but I’m sure if I did, I would see the chairs that I heard land, flying across the corridor and slamming into walls. . .”
  • Iris is a new girl at Tamar’s school. One day, Iris, Tamar, and Mia (Tamar’s friend) go outside to smoke. “Mia lifted the lighter to Iris’s red hair. Iris’s face said it all before the flames did, and her hair billowed into a smoking russet plumage. Someone. . . engulfed Iris’s head in a blazer.” There were “sheens of crimson lining her scalp. Shiny tracks of peeled skin running across her forehead.” The paramedics treated her burns. Neither Tamar, nor Mia was punished.
  • Iris and Tamar go to a dam and get wasted. When Tamar leaves, Iris “put her boots back on and filled them with stones. . . [she] jumped into the surging pool below. For a few minutes her body was tossed around as if all her bones had been removed. . .” Her death is described over one-third of a page.

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • Tamar and her friend, Iris, were drinking and smoking after school. Both girls got extremely drunk.
  • Tamar and her friends smoke cigarettes often. Once, Tamar “smoked half the pack of cigarettes out of my window, curled up into my curtains. It made me feel sick . . .”
  • While in the psychiatric hospital, the teens are given a variety of medications such as risperidone, lamotrigine, and fluoxetine. For example, Tamar is given a sleeping pill.
  • Tamar describes her dad as “beer-guzzling.”
  • In the ER, a man is given acetaminophen.
  • A girl in the hospital says her “mother overdosed on heroin in front of her when she was three.”
  • Tamar ’s friend gives two guys money and assumes they will buy “a can of Budweiser and a packet of Royals.”
  • While on a home visit, Tamar goes to a party where the teens wait “for tipsy to kick in.” Tamar drinks “one shot, then drink the rest of the bottle single-handedly, like it is water. . .until the room swirls. . .” Tamar was so drunk she was taken to the ER and didn’t remember it in the morning.
  • When Tamar tries to kill herself, she is taken to the hospital and given antidepressants, antipsychotics, and mood stabilizers.

Language

  • Profanity is used frequently. Profanity includes bullshit, damn, fuck, hell, piss, and shit.
  • A girl says, “my mum was a whore.”

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • While in the hospital, Tamar hears “Patient A” freak out. Then, “Distressed Patient A prays to God for it all to end, fractured cries between weeping. God doesn’t hear.”
  • At one point, Tamar is in so much pain that she prays, “Oh, God. Please make it end.”

 

A Kind of Spark

Ever since Ms. Murphy told us about the witch trials that happened centuries ago right here in Juniper, I can’t stop thinking about them. Those people weren’t magic. They were like me. Different like me.

I’m autistic. I see things that others do not. I hear sounds that they can ignore. And sometimes I feel things all at once. I think about the witches, with no one to speak for them. Not everyone in our small town understands. Not Jenna, who used to be my best friend. Not Nina, my older sister. But if I keep trying, maybe someone will.

I won’t let the witches be forgotten. Because there is more to their story. Just like there is more to mine.

A Kind of Spark is told from Addie’s point of view, which allows her to explain how it feels to be “neurodivergent.” For example, Addie explains, “Masking is when I have to pass as a neurotypical person, as someone who is not like me. I have to ignore the need to stim, to self-soothe, and I have to make firm eye contact. Keedie told me it’s like when superheroes have to pretend that they’re regular people.” Addie’s experiences will help readers understand autism and how people with autism experience the world differently. However, the frequent use of neurodivergent vocabulary becomes a little overwhelming.

While A Kind of Spark teaches readers about autism, it is also a story about sisterhood, friendship, and speaking up for what you believe in. Addie and Keedie both have autism, which gives them a special bond. Keedie often gives Addie advice. For example, Keedie says, “It’s better to be open about who you really are, what you’re really like, and be disliked by a few than it is to hide who you are and be tolerated by many.” Even though both girls struggle with their autism, autism is not portrayed as something that should be fixed. Keedie acknowledges that autism causes some difficulties, but she would not want to be any other way.

Throughout her journey, Addie faces bullying from both her classmates and her teacher. When her parents find out about the bullying, they remind Addie that she should have reached out to a trusted adult, instead of staying silent. As Addie learns about the women who were accused of witchcraft, she realizes that some of the women were different like her. However, some younger readers may be confused by the connection. While the unfair and violent way the women were killed is not described in gory detail, it may still frighten young readers.

A Kind of Spark is an entertaining book that allows readers to learn about autism through Addie’s experiences. While Addie sometimes feels misunderstood, her family helps her navigate the world in a positive manner. In the end, Addie is reminded that “The ocean needs all kinds of fish. Just like the world needs all kinds of minds. Just one would be really dull, wouldn’t it?” Readers who would like to read more books that focus on autistic characters should also read Tune It Out by Jamie Sumner and A Boy Called Bat by Elana K. Arnold.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • Addie is learning about women from the past who were accused of witchcraft. Addie’s teacher explains that “witches were dunked in the Nor’ Loch. Their thumbs and toes were tied together, and they were tossed into the water! . . . Guilty witches were removed from the loch and taken to Castlehill to be burned or hanged.”
  • An adult babysitter got upset at Keddie and “threw a plate and dived at Keedie. . .” Keedie began “Screaming, and crying, and beating her own head. . . Mrs. Craig sprang into action, cursing Keedie all the while, and using her considerable weight to restrain my sister. She pinned Keedie’s wrists to the floor and got right in her face.” A neighbor intervenes. The scene is described over two pages.
  • On a field trip, a man describes “crudely made thumbscrews, whipping, and other forms of torture” that were used on accused witches. In their town, two women “were dragged [to a tree] by the baying mob. . . the Juniper residents decided to use this very tree to carry out their vigilante sentence.”
  • Addie tells someone that “Lots of women were hanged here in Juniper . . .And some witches were burned, or put in barrels full of nails.”
  • A girl in Addie’s class destroys Addie’s thesaurus and writes “retard” on it. Addie gets upset. “I’m flying through the air and I land squarely on top of Emily. . . I hear her shouting, screaming, and people rushing around. I’m dimly aware of Emily shrieking beneath me as my fists flair and come raining down on her.” A teacher pulls Addie off Emily and only punishes Addie. The scene is described over two and a half pages.

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • One evening, Addie’s parents went “to the living room with some wine.”
  • Addie says one of her neighbors “gets drunk and sings on our street corner at night.”

Language

  • The kids in Addie’s class call her various names such as stupid.
  • Addie uses the word bloody once.
  • An adult babysitter called Addie’s sister a spoiled brat and a little animal.
  • Keedie says her sister’s teacher is a vicious cow.
  • Addie’s teacher tells her, “You are a vile girl.”
  • Someone asks Addie, “What the hell are you doing?”
  • A woman calls Addie and her friend miscreants.
  • Oh God and hell are both used once.
  • Addie’s sister tells her teacher, “you’re a disgraceful, ignorant, ableist coward, a monster, and a bigot.”

Supernatural

  • A man explains that “a curse is like an evil spell. It’s when someone calls down a higher power, or magical force, to harm another person.”

Spiritual Content

  • As Addie researches the accused witches, she thinks, “I bet you wished you were a witch. I bet in those moments, as they accused you of supernatural powers, you prayed to be able to cast a spell upon all of them.”

Daughter of the Pirate King #1

Sent on a mission to retrieve an ancient hidden map—the key to a legendary treasure trove—seventeen-year-old pirate captain, Alosa, deliberately allows herself to be captured by her enemies, giving her the perfect opportunity to search their ship.

More than a match for the ruthless pirate crew, Alosa has only one thing standing between her and the map: her captor, the unexpectedly clever and unfairly attractive first mate, Riden. But not to worry, for Alosa has a few tricks up her sleeve, and no lone pirate can stop the daughter of the Pirate King.

Alosa is an interesting protagonist who wants others to think that she has no morals; however, she isn’t a completely vicious pirate. Even though she talks about the countless men she has killed, when she takes the crew of the Night Farer captive, she only kills those who are cruel and depraved. She lets the young pirates go and takes several of the pirates on as crew members. Plus, she doesn’t allow anyone to kill Riden’s brother, Draxen, because she doesn’t want to cause Riden pain.

Alosa’s only weakness is her loyalty to her father, who is cruel beyond measure. She wants to make the Pirate King proud, but her main motivation is her fear of being punished. Alosa’s desire to please her father is implausible especially because his “training” was torturous and cruel. Even though the Pirate King does not appear in Daughter of the Pirate King, his influence continues to guide Alosa’s actions.

Daughter of the Pirate King is a fast-paced story that gives the reader a window into the pirate world. Despite this, none of the pirates are typical. Instead, the cast of characters is unique and shows that even in the pirate world some are despicable, and some are honorable. While Alosa’s female crewmembers do not appear often, they demonstrate the value of honesty, loyalty, and friendship. Plus, Riden adds a dash of romance, and the banter between Alosa and Riden is a lot of fun.

Full of twists, turns, and betrayals, Daughter of the Pirate King will keep readers interested until the very end. However, the pirate’s life is full of violence and the book does not shy away from graphic descriptions of bloody fights. If you’re a swashbuckler ready for adventure, you will have a hard time putting Daughter of the Pirate King down. However, if you’re looking for an excellent pirate book with a little less violence, Piratica by Tanith Lee would be an excellent choice.

Sexual Content

  • When Draxen takes Alosa as a prisoner, he warns her, “‘You will be the only woman on a ship full of cutthroat thieves, and blackhearts who haven’t made port in a good long while. You know what that means?’ Alosa responds, ‘It means your men haven’t been to a whorehouse recently.’”
  • Alosa’s father “bedded” a siren.
  • Alosa goes into a town that has “a tavern on one side of the street, a whorehouse on the other.”
  • Alosa and Riden struggle and Riden throws her on the bed. Alosa “is about to tell him to shove off, but then I feel his lips at my cheek. He’s not kissing me exactly, just touching my cheek with his lips. . .When he does finally kiss me, it’s right below my ear in that sensitive spot. Then he moves lower, trailing his lips down my neck at the side, then back up in the middle. . . I move my lips to his ear. My teeth grave his ear lobe, and his hands tighten in a different way.” The kissing scene is described over two pages.
  • Riden kisses Alosa. She thinks she should stop him but, “Riden’s lips taste even better than I’d imagined. Or because his hands make my skin tingle where they hold the sides of my face. . . When Riden’s lips move down to my neck, I forget all about my father. There’s nothing except heat and chills all at once. . .” Finally, Alosa pushes Riden away.
  • In order to search Draxen, Alosa tries to seduce him. “When I lift my head up to his, he greedily meets me for a kiss. . .But I get no enjoyment out of this. . . I shove Draxen down on the bed and climb on top of him. . . I can feel the lust burning in him. It’s disgusting and wretched, and I want to stamp it out.” Alosa eventually knocks him out. Then she searches his clothes for a map.
  • In order to search Riden, Alosa tries to seduce Riden. “I trace his upper lip with the tip of my tongue. . . Before I know it, he’s got his hand at the back of my head, the other on the side of my thigh. . . Riden knows where to stroke my skin to make me feel more alive. He has me practically panting under the pressure of his lips.” Alosa almost loses herself in Riden’s arms but uses her siren’s ability to put him to sleep. The scene is described over three pages.
  • One of the pirates likes “the company of other men.”

Violence

  • There is an overabundance of violence in the book and not all scenes are described below.
  • Alosa often thinks about her father’s training. “It doesn’t matter that he shot me once to show me the pain of a gunshot wound, to have me practice fighting while injured. . .It doesn’t matter that he would starve me and weaken me, then give me tasks to complete. . .”
  • Alosa intentionally gets “caught” by Draxen, the captain of the Night Farer. Kearan, a pirate, grabs Alosa. She thinks, “I’m done kneeling on the floor like some servant. Bracing my hands against the wooden deck, I extend my legs backward, hooking my feet behind the heels of the ugly pirate standing there. With one yank forward, Kearan topples backward. . . I hear scuffling as Kearan finds his feet. I jerk my elbow backward, connecting with his enormous gut. There’s a large splat as he collapses on the ground again.”
  • When Alosa begins struggling to get free, Draxen “removes his right hand from his belt and reaches down for one of his pistols. As soon as he has it, he points it at the first of my men in line and fires. . .the body of my crewman falls backwards.” Alosa and Draxen continue killing each other’s crew until Riden stops them. Alosa is taken prisoner but the crew is set free. The scene is described over four pages.
  • When Riden gets too close to Alosa, she knees him “right between the legs.” Alosa then locks Riden in a cell.
  • The Night Farer finds a ship that looks abandoned. Riden and Alosa go to check it out and are surprised by three men, who were in a hidden room. Alosa slams her “heel into the foot of the sailor on my right. Then my free hand goes to the other sailor’s throat. I place one hand at the back of each man’s neck. . . it isn’t difficult to connect their heads. Hard.” Then Alosa’s “dagger flies straight and true, finding its place in the sailor’s chest.” Once the ship is safe, the other crew members board it.
  • Shack, one of the Night Farer’s crew members, tortures two prisoners. Later, he finds Alosa alone and grabs her. Alosa struggles to get away and kicks “him in the face with my free foot. His face is a bloody mess now.” Then she stabs him in the stomach. “I don’t wait more than a couple of heartbeats before dislodging the weapon and stabbing again, this time higher, towards the heart… He is dead in seconds.” The scene is described over three pages.
  • Alosa “escapes” from the ship, and Riden finds her. They have a short fight. “I cut him on his arm. Riden is going a bit easy because he doesn’t actually want to hurt me.” Finally, Riden grabs Alosa’s wrist “with his free hand, and raises my sword to my neck. Before I can blink, the hand at my wrist grabs my sword, and he’s pointing both blades at me.” The scene is described over two pages.
  • As punishment, Alosa is put into shackles and hung. “Blood starts to slide down my arms… Every once in a while, I’ll start to regain my strength enough to pull the pressure off my wrist for a brief moment.”
  • Riden explains why he killed his father. Riden’s brother, Draxen “pitched his skill with the sword against our father. . .He [his father] disarmed Draxen and was about to kill him. But I picked up my brother’s fallen sword. And I killed him.”
  • Draxen interrogates Alosa. “Draxen gets behind me and yanks my head backward by my hair. I grimace at the pain. He strikes the side of my face with a closed fist. . . Draxen hits me with his other hand. This one bites more deeply.” Riden steps in and stops Draxen.
  • Alosa and Riden are captured by a pirate named Vordan. Vordan wants to learn about Alosa’s siren abilities. In order to get her to obey, Vordan has someone hurt Riden every time she refuses. A pirate “pulls out his cutlass and rakes it across Riden’s upper arm, cutting through his shirt and sending blood streaming down.” Later, a pirate “steps forward and kicks Riden in the face. Blood trickled out of his nose, staining the sand red… Riden is now unconscious and can’t feel any pain.” During Vordan’s experiments, Riden is injured repeatedly and he is shot twice.
  • Alosa’s crew comes to her rescue. Alosa takes some of the pirates captive and orders her crew to kill the rest. Sorinda “starts stepping behind the men and slitting their throats one after the other. Killing is practically an art for her. The way she moves is magical.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • One of the pirates, Kearan, carries a flask of rum and drinks often. Someone tells Alosa, “He’s an ugly drunk because it takes away the pain. He has no desire to live, yet no desire to die, either. It’s a tough spot to be in.”
  • Riden finds a sleeping tonic hidden in Alosa’s belongings.

Language

  • Profanity is used rarely. Profanity includes arse, bastard, bloody, damn, hell, and piss.
  • Alosa thinks Riden is a “cocky bastard.”
  • Someone calls Alosa a whore.

 Supernatural

  • Alosa’s mother is a siren and Alosa is able to “use the gifts my mother gave me.” She uses her song on Riden. “He follows, captured by my spell. I know what Riden wants in life. Love and acceptance. I weave those into the song and command him to sleep and forget that he ever heard me sing.”
  • Alosa explains her parentage, “for a child who is conceived by a siren on land will be more human than not.”
  • When Alosa uses her siren abilities, “I lose myself in others if I’m focused on their feelings and desires too long. They start to become my own, and I forget who I am.”
  • Alosa can read people’s feelings, but “I can’t read minds. . . I never know the whys behind people’s intentions.”
  • Alosa makes Riden and another pirate see things that are not there. “I imagine a magical world full of new colors and sounds. Butterflies with brightly lit wings flutter around me… Riden bears a look of sheer wonder and astonishment. He reaches out in front of him as if to touch the invisible creatures I’ve placed in front of him.”

Spiritual Content

  • None

 

I Am Alfonso Jones

Fifteen-year-old Alfonso Jones has had an interesting life. His class plans to put on a hip-hop rendition of Shakespeare’s Hamlet with Alfonso starring as King Claudius and his crush, Danetta, as Queen Gertrude. Danetta is also Alfonso’s best friend, and he wants to let her know how he really feels about her.

To complicate matters, Alfonso’s father is in prison after being wrongfully accused of murdering and raping a white woman. But now his father is finally being released from prison after being proven innocent! Alfonso’s mother sends him to buy a suit for his father’s return.

While shopping and changing jackets, a police officer fatally shoots Alfonso, thinking the coat hanger was a gun, despite the two objects having no similarity in appearance. Alfonso is transported onto a ghost train where he meets victims of police brutality. In the world of the living, Alfonso’s friends, family, and classmates struggle to come to terms with his death, and his death sparks massive protests throughout the world.

I Am Alfonso Jones is a touching novel about the Black Lives Matter movement and why the movement matters. The graphic novel uses a striking art style and simple, but effective prose, that allows the point to come across well; black lives do matter, and the loss of black life is a human rights issue. The novel also shows the different realities black people, especially boys and men, face. A mundane activity, such as buying a suit for a special event, can instantly turn into another death plastered all over news media outlets.

In America, there are unwritten rules for black people to follow. This is depicted in a scene where Alfonso’s grandfather, Velasco, gives his grandson “the Talk”—a conversation about race. Velasco tells Alfonso, “Son, this ‘talk’ is not what you think it would be. This is not about birds—or bees—flowers or any of that mess! This is about what it means to be black in America. You have to learn how to conduct—I mean, protect—yourself, especially in the presence of police officers. This is not a country that values black boys, men—women or girls, for that matter. Too many of our people are getting vacuumed into the prison industry or killed for no rational reason whatsoever but the skin they’re living in….”

I Am Alfonso Jones is told from the perspective of Alfonso and readers follow his daily life up to his death and beyond into the afterlife. The reader will experience the stories of other victims of police brutality from their point of view. The reader also sees the world of the living through the perspectives of Alfonso’s friends and family, most notably Danetta and his mother, as they struggle to get justice for Alfonso in a system that is rigged against them. They become organizers for Black Lives Matter, showing that the foundation of BLM is BIPOC women.

Because the story is told from the perspective of the BIPOC characters, the reader gets to see firsthand how the justice system fails marginalized groups. The plot even showcases the demonization of BIPOC for the system’s own failings and its ways of upholding white supremacy.

The graphic novel’s art uses black and white. The lack of color minimizes the violence committed by the police to prevent readers from seeing any real blood or injuries. The lack of color, however, centers the narrative and the violence toward black people. The character’s faces are expressive. The prose and emotional dialogue are easy to understand because it appears in speech bubbles, while the character’s thoughts are in air bubbles. The pages are heavy with words, averaging about 300 words per page.

I Am Alfonso Jones is a quick read that holds a lot of emotional weight. It encompasses why the Black Lives Matter movement is extremely important, especially in America, where massive injustices have been carried out to victims of color. If readers are confused as to why Black Lives Matter is an important movement, then I Am Alfonso Jones will answer that question.

Sexual Content

  • Alfonso and Danetta almost kiss once. Danetta wants Alfonso to make a move, while Alfonso is worried about getting rejected. Eventually, he thinks, “Oh, forget it! I’m just gonna do it —” before he’s interrupted. He doesn’t kiss Danetta because of being interrupted.

Violence

  • The book displays multiple events of police brutality, which usually end with the deaths of black people. Alfonso is shot and there are multiple flashbacks dedicated to what happened to him. One ghost was also shot by the police, and another was beaten to death. These scenes don’t last for more than four pages. The book opens with a page showing Alfonso running away from the bullet and the bullet eventually hitting him in the back. He shows a strong expression of intense pain. Unlike the other scenes, this is the most brutal because it was done to Alfonso, who is 15 years old.
  • Alfonso’s dad, Ishmael, returns home from work and is beaten by a police officer because he’s the main suspect for the rape and murder of a white woman. The scene lasts for a page. The officer slams Ishmael to the ground after Ismael saves his wife, Cynthia, from a fire in their apartment complex. After being slammed onto the concrete, Ishmael cries out, “Wait a minute! Wait! That’s my wife! That’s my wife! And my baby! My baby!”
  • During a peaceful protest, police throw tear gas into the crowd and the tear gas affects Alfonso’s classmates and Danetta. The scene lasts for two pages and shows police in full body armor, throwing the canister of tear gas. Panels show shots of Alfonso’s friends, who are teenagers, being hurt by the tear gas and punched by police. Danetta yells out, “My eyes are burning! I can’t breathe!” The police are attempting to take in some of Alfonso’s friends amidst the chaos.
  • An arsonist sets the store Alfonso was shot at on fire with a molotov cocktail. The scene lasts for a page and shows the lit bottle in midair before progressing into a panel with an explosion. A reporter recounts the incident, saying, “Markman’s department store, where African American teen Alfonso Jones was shot and killed, was the scene of a fire. Fire department officials suspect arson.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • When he was a child, Alfonso smoked a cigarette which quickly caused an asthma attack.

Language

  • Danetta calls the character of Gertrude from Hamlet “a skank” twice.

Supernatural

  • Alfonso is turned into a ghost who rides on a train with other ghosts – all victims of police brutality. A few times he travels to the world of the living to check on his family and friends.

Spiritual

  • Alfonso’s grandfather, Velasco, is a reverend.

by Emma Hua

I’ll Never Tell

Friends for life. Or death. Spring break. Aruba.

Swimming, sunshine, and golden beaches. It was supposed to be the best time of Anna’s life. Paradise. But then the unthinkable happens. Anna’s best friend is found brutally murdered. And when the local police begin to investigate the gruesome crime, suspicion falls on one person—Anna.

They think she’s dangerous, and they’re determined to prove her guilt. With the police and media sparking a witch-hunt against her, Anna is running out of time to prove her innocence. But as she digs deeper into her friend’s final moments, she finds a tangled web of secrets, lies, and betrayal.

Will she clear her name in time? When the truth is finally revealed, it’s more shocking than anyone could have imagined.

Originally published as Dangerous Girls in 2013, I’ll Never Tell portrays a group of friends as partying rich kids, who spend their free time drinking, doing drugs, and having sex. The story is told through Anna’s point of view and jumps to various timeframes including when Anna meets her best friend Elise, a trip to Aruba during spring break, various points of the investigation, and Anna’s current experiences in jail. The shifting time periods are not confusing because they are clearly labeled, however, the format doesn’t allow any of the supporting characters to be well developed. As a result, it’s hard to sympathize with any of the characters, including Elise who is murdered.

Even though the story is a mystery, a large portion of the plot focuses on Anna’s jail experiences and explores how the wealthy escape the arms of the law. While this story thread is interesting, it is not well-developed, and in the end, none of the rich suspects are guilty of the crime. Another flaw in the story is the conclusion, which has several inconsistencies that take away from the murder reveal. When the murderer finally is uncovered, there is little shock value, but plenty of confusion.

In a world full of good books, readers can find engaging mysteries without the over-the-top partying and gratuitous sexual content. Unfortunately, I’ll Never Tell falls short in both mystery and entertainment. Readers looking for an excellent mystery should read Six Months Later by Natalie D. Richards, Heartwood Box by Ann Aguirre, and the Jess Tennant Mysteries Series by Jane Casey.

 Sexual Content

  • While at a bar, Chelsea tries to get a boy to dance with her. “She grinds above him like a lap dancer, laughing, until he finally catches her around the waist and follows her into the dark, one hand draped possessively across her shoulder.”
  • Anna and her boyfriend, Tate, kiss often. For example, Anna reaches up “to kiss him, and this time, there’s no tension, just a familiar low heat building, and Tate’s hands sliding along the edge of my shirt—”
  • Anna, Tate, and Elise dance. “Tate brings me (Anna) tight against him, and then it’s the three of us, me and Elise dancing up close to him and spinning away. . . Tate laughs between us, his hands linger on Elise’s waist as she grinds against him. . . I grab his hand away from her, pulling him wordlessly to the edge of the dance floor, my back finding some surface, his hands finding the curve of my hips, his lips finding mine.” The scene is described over two pages.
  • Elise says Tate is a “man-whore. He’s already dated four different girls this year.”
  • On Halloween, Tate likes Anna’s “sexy costume. . . His lips press against my neck again, but this time he bites down softly, playfully. . . he’s pulled me around so I’m facing him, his lips hard and searching on mine. . .” The scene is described over a page.
  • Elise says she dumped a guy because “he had a two-inch dick and no idea what to do with it.”
  • Elise and Tate plan their first time having sex. “He grinned, trailing his hand lower, down my throat, and across the sensitive skin of my breast. I felt my stomach flip over. . . Tate dipped his head, following the path of his hand with his lips now, kissing a winding trail down my body, while the other hand gently stroked, lower, in a slow rhythm that left me gasping.”
  • Elise has sex with several boys that she just met. Because of Elise, Anna realizes, “I could kiss a boy, breathless against the back wall of some club, and then just walk away not even knowing his name. Or, like Elise, do more. Do whatever we wanted.”
  • Elise and Anna have a sexual relationship, but their kisses are the only thing described.
  • While in Aruba, Tate and Anna share a room. One morning, “He pulls me back up, kissing me hard as he rolls over and crushes me in his embrace. . . then the kiss deepens, his hands reaching impatiently for the flesh of my thighs, easing them apart. I feel him harden against me.” When Anna asks Tate to wait, he decides to go for a run.
  • After hooking up with a boy, Elise complains about him. “You know he did this weird role-playing thing. . .He got off on the whole domination thing, you know, holding me down, trying to make me beg. I mean, I like getting thrown around as much as the next girl, but this was different.” Later, the boy tried to spike Elise’s drink with liquid Ecstasy.

Violence

  • While in jail, an inmate attacks Anna. “The girl lunges at me. I barely have time to get my hands up in defense before her body is on mine and she’s tearing at my hair, clawing at my face. . .The girl drives her elbow into my stomach, making me gulp for air. Her face is lit up, breathless and bright, nose bloody from one of my desperate blocks.” The fight is broken up when Anna is pulled off the inmate. Someone gives Anna a syringe that makes everything go black.
  • Elise and Anna get into an argument. Anna keeps “holding tight, until she shoves me away hard enough to send me flying to the ground among the shattered glass. . . there’s a dull pain in the back of my head, where it cracked against the floor.”
  • Elise slept with Niklas once. Later, he goes to see Anna in prison. Niklas says, “Found yourself a prison bitch yet? Some action in the shower?”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • Anna, Elise, and a group of friends go to Aruba over spring break. They drink beer, vodka, and other alcohol excessively throughout the trip.
  • During a trial, an attorney tries to “establish Miss Chevalier’s normal partying routine” by showing a picture of her and her friends drinking. Anna says, “We all drank. Just some wine, or vodka with mixers, you know? The guys had beer.”
  • During the trial, Anna’s attorney tells her that the prosecutor will “ask about the weed and the pills. About my mom’s Xanax, and the times Elise tried her dad’s Percocet, about the cocaine Melanie saw Elise try over Christmas break, and the liquid X Niklas tried to feed her in the club that night.”
  • Anna thinks the lawyers are trying to say “[she] led Elise astray. . . that [Anna] coerced her into skipping school, and staying out too late, and drinking dollar shots in dive bars until she screwed strange guys in the bathroom of clubs that should have never let [them] in.”
  • Elise and Anna go to a restaurant and “sip cocktails from sugar-rimmed glasses.”
  • Tate meets Anna at a college party where they both drink beer. Later, they “do lime Jell-O-shots together.”
  • Anna and her friends go to each other’s “big, empty houses, sneaking liquor and smoking weed.”
  • After Elise is murdered, one of her friends “spends most of the day curled up in his room with the blinds drawn, woozy on anti-anxiety meds.”
  • Elise takes prescription pills “sometimes. When I don’t’ want to deal with . . . feeling, like this.”
  • After Elise is murdered, Tate “was having panic attacks. . . so they put him on a bunch of meds. He was pretty out of it.”
  • While in prison, Anna is given sleeping pills.

Language

  • “Oh my God”, “God” and “Jesus” are used as explanations occasionally.
  • Profanity is used often. Profanity includes: ass, asshole, bitch, bastard, bullshit, dykes, hell, pissed, and shit.
  • When Elise ignores Anna at school, Anna thinks, “What was she going to do? Tell her friends to go fuck themselves, cast herself out of their world, all alone?”
  • Elise tells a girl she is a “skanky bitch with no soul.”
  • One of Anna’s friend’s posts, “So hungry, could murder a fucking rhino” on his social media account.
  • Elise flirts with a young vendor and then upsets him. He yells, “Fucking Americans! You are whores!”
  • Someone calls Anna a pussy.

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

The Heart and the Bottle

A young girl, much like any other, finds herself fascinated with the world surrounding her. From the sea to the sky and everything in between, the young girl finds herself continuously curious about everything the world carries—that is, until the world no longer carries something very important: a loved one who has recently passed away.

To reconcile the emotions that come with this passing, the young girl decides her best option is to bottle away her heart. But as she grows older, the girl quickly finds that lugging her heart around in a bottle is not just cumbersome, but it also drains the girl’s ability to stay curious about the world.

When the girl finally feels that it is time to free her heart from its bottle, it will take another curious, young girl to help her find the solution to freeing her heart.

The Heart and The Bottle tackles the complicated topic of grief through a touching metaphor. Bright illustrations show what words find hard to describe. For example, the passing of the main character’s loved one is not told explicitly through the story. Rather, it is conveyed through an illustration of the girl looking at an empty chair that the loved one sat on earlier in the book. In this way, the illustrations of the book capture the inarticulable moments in a child’s life, whether it’s a trip through their wide-reaching imagination or an attempt to conceptualize grief and death in a healing way.

Even though The Heart and The Bottle is a picture book, the story is intended to be read aloud to a child, rather than for the child to read it for the first time independently. The writing itself contains some larger words that may be harder for a young reader to work out on their own, but the number of words per page is sparse, averaging about one to eight sentences per page. Additionally, a number of pages in this narrative do not rely on words at all, but instead communicates the relationship with the young girl and her loved one through text bubbles filled with illustrations of plant life, galaxies, bees, whales, and other compelling aspects of the world.

The sparse text and elaborate illustrations show the ways in which this book seems to be a space for conversation; the illustrated pages without words grant room for parents and their children to talk about the images on the page. In so doing, The Heart and The Bottle gives all readers the chance to understand a way to move through grief while maintaining a fervor and love for the surrounding world.

Though perhaps a heavier read, The Heart and The Bottle tackles the difficult topic of grief in a kid-friendly manner. In addition, it gives a vital message to young readers experiencing grief for the first time. The Heart and The Bottle lets all readers know that it is okay to feel things intensely, it is okay to take time to heal, but most importantly, it’s okay to allow yourself to stay vulnerable and curious to the surrounding world despite the events that may come your way.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • There is no violence, but it should be noted that there is a reference of a family’s members death that is illustrated through an empty chair and the words, “She took delight in finding new things . . . until she found an empty chair.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

by Hannah Olsson

Wild Thing

Twelve-year-old Winnie Willis loves horses—just like her mother did. But since her mom died two years ago, Winnie, her sister, Lizzy, and her father have moved five times. Winnie never cared much—until now. She has a chance to buy the horse of her dreams at an upcoming action—but how will she even earn enough money? More importantly, how can she possibly convince her dad not to move them to another town. . . again?

After the death of Winnie’s mother, Winnie feels as if the accident that killed her mom was her fault. But when Winnie begins working with a frightened horse, Wild Thing, Winnie uses the same methods that her mother taught her. As Winnie shows Wild Thing unconditional love and trust, Winnie begins to process her own feelings. With the help of new friends, Winnie learns that “God in his gracious kindness declares us not guilty. Jesus didn’t die for nothing!”

Told from Winnie’s perspective, Wild Thing explores themes of friendship, death, unconditional love, and trust. Through prayer, Winnie explores her conflicting emotions. In addition, Winnie explains the methods that she uses to “gentle” Wild Thing. The connection between Wild Thing’s healing and Winnie’s healing is made clear—both of them need to learn that they are loved, and they can trust God.

One positive aspect of the story is that Winnie explains horse terms in a simple way that readers will understand. As Winnie works with the horse, she explains the horse terminology in a way that naturally blends with the text. Plus, the back of the book includes a diagram of the parts of a horse, a dictionary of the different ways horses talk, and includes other horse-related terms.

Wild Thing is an easy-to-read story that blends horse action with Winnie’s personal struggle. Along the way, Winnie meets a variety of people who are all a little bit quirky. While none of the supporting characters are well-developed, their kindness shows how a community of people can help each other. Through Winnie’s prayers and Bible verses, the story highlights God’s unconditional love without being preachy. Wild Thing will entertain readers as well as reinforce Biblical truths.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • None

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • A character is called an idiot three times. For example, when Winnie accidentally throws manure on a girl, the girl asks, “Did you see this idiot throw Towasco’s manure all over me?’

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • Winnie believes in God and often thinks about his words. For example, Winnie’s mom used to say, “Winnie Willis, in the beginning God created heaven and earth and horses. And sometimes I have to wonder if the good Lord shouldn’t have quit while he was ahead.”
  • Often, Winnie prays to God telling him about her emotions and her wants. For example, Winnie prays, “I know we haven’t had much to say to each other lately, since Mom’s. . .well, you know. . .it’s tough to talk to you. So I’m sorry to be coming just because I want something. But I guess you already know—I want that Arabian. I want to love her. I want her more than anything in my whole life. . .except for wanting Mom back.”
  • Winnie gives a prayer of thanks four times. For example, when Winnie thinks God answered a prayer, she prays, “Did you do this, God? If you did, thanks.”
  • Winnie and her sister have two framed needlepoints hanging on their wall. One says, “For your unfailing love is as high as the heavens. Your faithfulness reaches to the clouds. –Psalm 57:10.” The other needlepoint reads, “God in his gracious kindness declares us not guilty. Jesus didn’t die for nothing!”
  • When a neighbor drops by to see Winnie, the woman says, “I’ll be praying for you and that horse!”
  • Winnie doesn’t think God understands her pain. Her sister tells her, “Jesus lived inside skin like ours, so he’d understand. He knows, Winnie. And he loves you. You have to believe God loves you.”
  • When Winnie worries about the cost of raising a horse, her dad says, “Your mother always said God’s love could see us through anything. All things are possible with God, right?”

 

Ophie’s Ghosts

Ophelia Harrison used to live in a small house in the Georgia countryside. But that was before the night in November of 1922, and the cruel act that took her home and her father from her– which was the same night that Ophie learned she can see ghosts.

Now, Ophie and her mother are living in Pittsburgh with relatives they barely know. In the hopes of earning enough money to get their own place, Mama has gotten Ophie a job as a maid in the same old manor house where she works.

Daffodil Manor, like the wealthy Caruthers family who owns it, is haunted by memories and prejudices of the past and, as Ophie discovers, ghosts as well. It is filled with ghosts who have their own loves and hatreds and desires, ghosts who have wronged others, and ghosts who have themselves been wronged. And as Ophie forms a friendship with one spirit whose life ended suddenly and unjustly, she wonders if she might be able to help—even as she comes to realize that Daffodil Manor may hold more secrets than she bargained for.

Ophie’s Ghosts pulls the reader into the story from the very first page and will keep readers engaged until the very end. While Ophie’s tale shows the harsh realities of living in the 1920s, the story is spun using kid-friendly descriptions. However, younger readers could be disturbed by Ophie’s encounters with ghosts, many of whom died tragically. The ghosts are from every walk of life and include people of all ages and races. While Ophie interacts with many ghosts, none of the ghosts try to harm her. For Ophie, the danger comes from the living.

Readers will empathize with Ophie, who is thrown into servitude at a young age. Through Ophie’s experiences, readers will come to understand the difficulties African Americans faced during the 1920s. The story gives many examples of discrimination and explores the topic of passing as caucasian. In the end, Ophie cries because “girls who believed in happily ever afters could be murdered in attics, and because men who just wanted to have their voices heard could have their words choked off forever.”

Throughout the story, Ireland references people and events of the time. However, the text doesn’t explain the references and most readers will not understand their significance. For example, Ophie’s mother makes several comments about bootleggers, but the term is never explained. In addition, the story uses some difficult vocabulary such as irksome tomes, incandescent, tincture, fluffing, and blotto. Despite this, most readers can use context clues to understand the term.

Through Ophie’s point of view, Ophie’s Ghosts paints a vivid picture of life in the 1920s. Ophie points out the unfair circumstances that rob her of her childhood. However, despite the hardships Ophie faces, she is never bitter. Instead, she thinks about her Daddy. “Daddy had often said that when presented with two choices, a hard thing and an easy thing, the right thing was usually the more difficult one.” Because of her Daddy’s words, Ophie has the courage to listen to the ghosts and help them move on.

Readers who enjoy historical fiction, should also read Sweep: The Story of a Girl and Her Monster by Jonathan Auxie and The Player King by Avi. For readers who want to learn about history, but aren’t ready for more mature books, Survival Tails by Katrina Charman and American Horse Tales by Michelle Jabés Corpora would be good choices.

Sexual Content

  • Ophie asks Cook about a woman she saw. Cook replies, “Sometimes Mr. Richard likes to bring home . . . a bit of company, but those girls are not business of yours.”
  • Ophie likes to read romance books. “Mama would have had a fit if she knew her daughter was reading such things, stories of girls who were compromised, whatever that meant, and kissed boys who left them heartbroken.”
  • Sophie asks Clara, a ghost, about her beau. Clara said, “A lady never kisses and tells.”
  • A woman in a dressing room goes into the kitchen. Ophie wonders, “Did Clara know that Richard was having friends over, friends who walked around the house half-dressed after sleeping in most of the day?”

Violence

  • Ophie’s father is murdered because he voted. His death is not described.
  • After killing Ophie’s father, a group of men burn down Ophie’s family home. Ophie and her mother hide from the men. “The snap and crackle of fire slowly grew louder than the voices of the men, a roar of consumption, followed by thick smoke that twined sinuously through the treetops. . .”
  • When a group of men are standing around talking, Ophie thinks, “The men who were in her yard, yelling and laughing, were the kind of white men who had beat up Tommy Williams just because he accidentally looked the wrong way at a white lady from Atlanta. After they’d pummeled Tommy, they’d dropped him off in the woods near Ophie’s house, most likely because they’d figured no one would find him.”
  • Even though Ophie is young, she still understands that “Colored folks who’d broken some unspoken rule, gotten uppity and acted above their station, paid the price for such an error with their lives.”
  • Sophie meets a ghost who is just a boy. He has “bloody welts crisscrossing his back.”
  • When Ophie tries to help her cousin with her homework, “the result had been a vicious slap without any kind of warning.”
  • Caruther tells about a boy who was whipped “until the white meat showed.”
  • A man is hit by a trolley. “He boarded the trolley right through the closed door, his suit torn and bloody, his hat missing entirely. . . his gray suit and pale skin made the blood dripping from his head all the more vivid.”
  • The ghost of Clara possesses Penelope’s body. Clara goes after Penelope’s murderer with a pair of scissors. To prevent another death, Ophie throws salt. “The container burst into a shower of salt as it hit the girl in the chest. There was a sound like the room was inhaling, the air grew thick . . . Clara crumbled to the floor.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • Ophie sees a ghost who was “still wearing his service uniform and drinking to numb the pain of a heart broken by a war fought in trenches.” Later, Ophie finds out that the ghost died because of his drinking.
  • After Mrs. Caruther has a “fit,” “the doctor gives her laudanum.”
  • A ghost asks Ophie, “Do you think you could get your hands on a bottle of gin. Spirits for the spirit!”
  • One of Mrs. Caruther’s servants “snuck drinks from a flask tucked into her garter when she thought no one was looking.”
  • Caruther’s son has friends over to the house and they “spent most of their time all blotto.”
  • When Mrs. Caruther’s son announces his engagement, he serves champagne. One of the guests has red wine.

Language

  • Ophie’s cousins call her stupid and “a dope.”
  • Caruther calls a servant a “jigaboo.”
  • Ophie’s mother says she misses her husband “every damn day.”

Supernatural

  • Ophie and her aunt can both see and communicate with ghosts.
  • Ophie’s Aunt Rose tells her not to trust the dead. “You keep iron and salt in your pockets at all times. That way they can’t take hold of your body, which some of the more powerful ones will try to do.”
  • Aunt Rose educates Ophie about ghosts. Aunt Rose says, “Ghosts are attracted to feelings—sadness and happiness, and all the other betwixt and between.”
  • Ophie wonders if ghosts are “too terrible for Heaven.”
  • Aunt Rose tells Ophie about a ghost who was “stealing her husband’s breath, using it to make her stronger.”
  • The ghost of Clara possesses a young woman.
  • To keep a ghost out of a room, “someone had placed a thick band of salt across the threshold just inside the bedroom door.”

Spiritual Content

  • While at church, Ophie likes to watch the pastor and his wife. “It made Ophie feel that maybe some of those Bible words were actually true, even if she didn’t entirely believe they were meant for her.”
  • After Ophie’s father dies, the pastor tells her, “Your daddy has gone to heaven to be with Jesus.”
  • Ophie says a quick prayer several times. For example, when Ophie and her mother take a trolley car, Ophie “prayed for the trolley to hurry.”
  • Ophie wonders why Mrs. Caruther is so mean. Ophie thinks about the pastor’s wife who “once talked about sin as a heavy burden that folks carried around: ‘When you carry that sin around, when you let it weigh you down, you want to make sure that everyone around you is suffering as well . . .let Jesus take it and hold that burden so that you can carry on as a light in the world.’”
  • Ophie’s father told her, “The good Lord is always testing us, Ophie, in big ways and small. You do the thing you know to be right, always, no matter what.”
  • Ophie’s teacher told her that it was “the Christian thing to do to turn the other cheek.”
  • When someone steals, Ophie’s mother tells the lady, Jesus will give you yours.”

The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise

Twelve-year-old Coyote Sunrise and her dad, Rodeo, have lived in an old school bus named Yager for five years—the same amount of time it’s been since her mother and two sisters suddenly died in a car accident. Coyote and Rodeo haven’t gone back home since the accident. They’re only looking forward and never turning back. Then, Grandma calls Coyote and tells her that the city is tearing down the park in Coyote’s hometown—the same park where Coyote, her mom, and sisters buried a treasure chest.

Coyote devises a plan to trick Rodeo into driving home to Washington State to get the treasure chest. Along the way, Coyote and Rodeo pick up an eclectic cast of characters, all with their own stories and destinations in mind. Coyote and Rodeo both learn that to move forward, sometimes you must go back.

The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise is a funny, touching book that explores themes of grief and love. After the tragedy that strikes their family, Coyote and Rodeo never allowed themselves a moment to process their grief. They go so far as to pick new names for themselves, and they consider going back to their home in Washington State to be a major “no-go.”

When Rodeo figures out that Coyote has tricked him into taking them back, they must face each other not as companions on a school bus adventure, but as a father and daughter who lost the rest of their family. Coyote demands of him, “Why can’t you be my dad?” Coyote and Rodeo’s relationship is one of the most interesting dynamics because so much goes unsaid between them. Although Coyote helps explain certain rules and turns-of-phrase for the reader, Coyote and Rodeo’s relationship is more complicated than what’s initially expected.

Coyote is the narrator of this book, and she has a unique way of speaking to the other characters and to the reader. Coyote is funny and expressive, but much like with her relationship with Rodeo, there are certain things that are left unsaid until she’s comfortable thinking about them. For instance, she doesn’t even think about her sister’s names until late into the book. Through Coyote’s narration, the reader can see her complexity.

The supporting characters are striking and dynamic, and Rodeo and Coyote embrace their new friends with open arms. The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise is as much about putting the past to rest as it is about a found family. In the end, Coyote and Rodeo are happy to remember their loved ones while embracing their found family. The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise is for readers of all ages and is a must read because it handles the universal themes of grief, love, and family with an intelligent and kind hand. This isn’t a journey to miss.

 Sexual Content

  • Lester needs a ride to Boise, Idaho, to get his kind-of-ex girlfriend Tammy back. She wants him to get a “real job” while Lester wants to play in his jazz band. Lester tells Coyote, “If I get a real job, she’ll marry me.” This spawns a conversation between Coyote and Lester about love that lasts for a few pages.
  • Salvador asks Coyote why she’s really headed north, and Coyote responds, “I’ll show you mine if you show me yours.” Salvador’s “face flushed deep red” and then Coyote clarifies, “Geez. I mean, I’ll tell you where we’re going if you tell me why your mom and aunt lost their jobs.”
  • Salvador’s mom and aunt tell Coyote funny stories from their childhood. According to Coyote, one of the stories was about “something about their mom walking in on Salvador’s mom with a boy. They wouldn’t give [Coyote] all the details on that one, but the embarrassed blood running to [Salvador’s mom’s] face pretty much told [Coyote] what [she] needed to know.”
  • On their journey, Coyote and Rodeo pick up a girl named Val. Val tells them that she was kicked out of her parent’s house because she’s gay. Coyote relates that her mom’s sister, Jen “is gay, and her wife Sofia, is [Coyote’s] very favorite aunt-in-law, and the thought of having someone hating on them for who they love made [Coyote] want to put on boxing gloves.”

Violence

  • Coyote explains, “My heart stopped short like a motorcycle slamming into the back of a parked semi (which I actually saw once outside Stevenstown, Missouri . . . not a sight you’re likely to forget, I promise you).”
  • Coyote’s cat, Ivan, is startled when he wakes up on Rodeo’s neck. Ivan sinks “all ten of his razor kitten claws” into Rodeo’s neck. Eventually Ivan lets go, though Rodeo is bleeding a bit.
  • When her new friends ask where Coyote’s other family members are, Coyote responds, “They’re . . . they’re dead, ma’am. They were killed in a car accident five years ago.”
  • Salvador admits that his dad physically abuses Salvador and his mom. Salvador tells Coyote, “Sometimes he . . . hits.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Coyote describes the gas station’s contents, noting that beer is one of the drinks lining the coolers along the walls.
  • Rodeo buys a six-pack of beer at a gas station and sits out back, drinking it.

Language

  • A variety of creative language is used to show displeasure. Only adult characters use words like hell, badass, and damn. Everyone often uses words like darn, weirdo, freaky, heck, wimpy, holy heck, dang, crazy, idiots, stupid, shut up, morons, jerk, pee, crap, pissed, and freaking.
  • Coyote sometimes refers to Rodeo as “old man.”
  • While telling a story about two animals, Rodeo refers to the crow in the story as an “ornery old cuss.”
  • One girl at a campground says, “Oh. My. God” in response to how cute Ivan is.
  • The girl from the campground mentions that she’s reading Anne of Green Gables and Coyote responds, “Oh, lord, I love Anne of Green Gables!”
  • Coyote once uses the phrase “how on god’s green earth” as an exclamation.
  • When Rodeo and Lester accidentally leave Coyote behind at a gas station in Gainesville, Florida, Coyote says, “Oh god” and “Oh, lord.” Coyote and Lester use these sorts of exclamations often.
  • A few years back, Rodeo installed an old bell in the bus. Rodeo and Coyote named it the “Holy Hell Bell on account of if you really put your arm into it, that old bell made a holy hell of a racket.”
  • Coyote stands in a river and pees. She says, “if you’re already standing in a river and you’re getting out to go pee, you’re doing it wrong.”
  • When the brakes give out on Yager, Lester “said a couple words [Coyote] won’t repeat, but with which [Coyote] totally agreed.”

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • Coyote and Rodeo have a ceramic pug that sits on the dashboard of their bus. They call him the “Dog of Positivity, and Rodeo insisted he was a sort of canine guardian angel, keeping us happy.”
  • Coyote explains her beliefs just before a miracle happens. She says, “Now, here are some things I generally don’t believe in: fate, astrology, angels, magic, or the mystical power of wishes. Sorry, I just don’t. So there ain’t no easy explanation for what happened next. But that’s all right, ‘cause not everything in this world needs to be explained. We can just chalk it up to luck and call it good.”
  • Coyote mentions her mom on the bus. Coyote says that doing this is like “farting in church,” as in deeply inappropriate.
  • According to Coyote, Rodeo is “always saying how the universe seeks balance.” Coyote isn’t sure what this means.
  • Coyote says that “Rodeo says that anywhere outside can be a church, ‘cause anytime you’re in nature you can feel God.”
  • Rodeo, Coyote, and other characters say, “Help me, Jesus,” and other similar phrases.
  • Ms. Vega prays when the bus’s brakes give out.

by Alli Kestler

The Curse of King Tut’s Mummy

The desert hides many secrets. Day after day, Howard Carter and his crew search the sand for signs of Egypt’s ancient kings. Many tombs were looted long ago, but he was sure that one was still out there—the tomb of King Tut! But were the old stories true? Did King Tut’s mummy and the royal treasure come with a deadly curse?

Follow Howard Carter’s story, beginning when he was just a sickly child who fell in love with ancient Egypt. Through Carter’s experiences, readers will begin to see how education, perseverance, and endurance helped Carter find King Tut’s tomb. Even though Carter was thrilled to find King Tut’s treasures, he knew the importance of recording every artifact’s location and preserving the find for future generations. The end of the book contains Tut’s Mummy Timeline, photographs, and additional interesting facts.

The Curse of King Tut’s Mummy uses short chapters and easy vocabulary, which makes the book accessible to young readers. Large black and white illustrations appear every 3 to 7 pages and bring many of the ancient artifacts to life. While the book is easy enough for young fluent readers, the content will be interesting to older readers as well.

The Curse of King Tut’s Mummy explores ancient Egypt’s culture and beliefs in a way that makes archeology fun. The book is full of interesting facts. Detailed illustrations show the inside of many of the tombs. Anyone who is interested in Egypt’s ancient kings will enjoy The Curse of King Tut’s Mummy. Zoehfeld discusses some of the curses written on the tombs and some of the Egyptian superstitions, but she makes it clear that curses are not real. Younger readers who want to learn more about King Tut can jump back into time by reading Escape from Egypt by Wendy Mass.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • Carter was an archeologist who had to fight off rude tourists who came to visit a tomb. Carter “asked the rowdy visitors to leave. They demanded to be let into the tomb. The guards tried to block their way. The tourists threw chairs. They swung their walking sticks at the guards.” Two tourists were injured. The tourists also “damaged the walls and broke chairs.”
  • The reason King Tut died is still unknown, but “the bone just above his left knee was broken.” Some speculate that “the young king had a bad accident during a battle or a hunting trip. The accident that broke his leg might have also crushed his chest.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • During ancient times, there was a funeral for the dead king where the guests’ “cups had been filled with beer and wine.”

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • When an ancient Egyptian official and his wife were buried, their tomb had a warning: “All people who enter this tomb. Who will make evil against this tomb. And destroy it: May the crocodile be against them on water, and snakes against them on land. May the hippopotamus be against them on water. The scorpion against them on land.” Many believed that anyone who destroyed the tomb would be cursed.
  • When Carter went to Egypt, he took his pet canary. Carter’s Egyptian housekeeper and his three foremen thought, “the bird of gold will bring us good luck!”
  • Later that summer, a cobra got into the canary’s cage. “The deadly snake was gulping the poor bird down, headfirst. . . Carter’s housekeeper and foremen were horrified. They thought it was a sign of terrible things to come.”
  • When there was a blackout, “many believed this blackout was a bad omen.”
  • King Tut’s tomb had a warning: “For those who enter the sacred tomb, the wings of death will visit them quickly.” There were many stories of curses, but they “were all made up.”

Spiritual Content

  • Ancient Egypt’s gods and goddesses are occasionally discussed because there were many statues of them. For example, “the Egyptian goddess of good health was always shown as a woman with a lion’s head.”
  • In the 14th century B.C., “Akhenaten felt that Egyptian priests were getting too powerful. So he banned all the gods the Egyptian people were used to worshiping. He created a new religion with only one god.”

They Both Die at the End

Mateo Torrez and Rufus Emeterio both receive a call from Death-Cast at around midnight on September 5, 2017. Death-Cast tells them that they will die sometime in the next 24 hours.

Until that day, the boys had nothing in common. Mateo has spent his life inside, fearing the day he gets the call and doing everything he can to avoid bringing it about early. Rufus, on the other hand, has seen death up close and personal. After losing his family in a car accident, he has vowed to live every day to the fullest.

Their paths cross when they each download the app Last Friend, designed to give people a chance to connect with someone on their End Day. The novel follows the boys as they try to make each final moment count, and learn to balance healthy fear with the pursuit of feeling truly alive one last time.

The spoilers are in the title, but knowing the ending makes the reading journey more valuable. The audience is given happy moments, not a happy ending. Readers must grapple with their own mortality and ask whether they have been living more like Mateo or Rufus. For these reasons, the book is recommended for older teenaged readers. While the message is valuable, it is at times difficult to confront, so readers should approach the book with caution. They Both Die in the End addresses death, illness, difficult upbringings, terrorism, spirituality, suicide, and first loves.

The story alternates between the first-person perspectives of Rufus and Mateo as well as a third-person view of characters whose stories intertwine with theirs. As their lives intertwine, characters who may seem unrelated at first, find themselves deeply affected by the boys. This unifies the plot and allows Silvera to explore a diverse collection of characters and their relationships with death without becoming too unfocused. Despite the sadness of a short life, the collective experiences of Rufus and, more particularly, Mateo, leave readers with the hope that though the boys may not have lived long lives, they each lived fully on their final days.

Sexual Content

  • Mateo wants to go do something outside, so he does not spend the day “masturbating because sex with an actual person scares [him].”
  • Mateo’s best friend Lidia is an 18-year-old single mother.
  • A man approaches a woman at a club and says, “Maybe you’ll live to see another day with some Vitamin Me in your system.” This causes her friend to “[swing] her purse at him until he backs up.”
  • Rufus’s foster home has a “bulletin board with information about sex, getting tested for HIV, abortion and adoption clinics, and other sheets of that nature”.
  • Aimee, Rufus’s ex-girlfriend wishes Rufus would “watch porn” rather than reality TV.
  • Rufus remembers when he and Aimee were dating, and they would “rest underneath the blanket together.”
  • Mateo distinguishes between the Last Friend app and Necro “which is intended for anyone who wants a one-night stand with a Decker—the ultimate no-strings-attached app.” Mateo says, “I’ve always been so disturbed by Necro, and not just because sex makes me nervous.” Mateo doesn’t like the app’s eight-dollar fee because he feels “as if a human is worth more than eight bucks.”
  • Rufus describes his outfit, including basketball shorts over gym tights to prevent his “package” from “poking out there like Spider-Man’s.”
  • A potential Last Friend reaches out to Mateo, but she reveals she does not really want a friend. She says, “do you have an open house then? I’m supposed to lose my virginity to my bf but i want to practice first and maybe u can help me out.” Mateo blocks her after he sees the message.
  • Another potential Last Friend tricks Mateo by implying he can save Mateo from death. When Mateo asks him how, he says he should come over to his apartment because he “[has] the cure to death in [his] pants.” Mateo blocks him as well. Rufus later receives the same message when he downloads the app.
  • After hearing Rufus is dying Aimee cries, holds Rufus’s hand and hugs him. He remembers how “she would relax on [his] chest whenever she was about to watch one of her historical documentaries.” After noticing that “she’s mad close,” Rufus “[leans] in” to kiss Aimee but is interrupted.
  • Mateo changes his profile to only allow sixteen- to eighteen-year-olds to message him, so “older men and women can no longer hit on [him].”
  • Mateo can hear the sounds coming from different apartments, including “one couple moaning” and laughter which he says could possibly be from “being tickled by a lover.”
  • Mateo considers the life of birds who “mate and nurture baby birds until they can fly.”
  • On the party train, Rufus notices “a girl . . . hops onto the bench seat to dance. Some dude is hitting on her, but her eyes are closed, and she’s just straight-up lost in her moment.”
  • A girl described as gorgeous, hazel-eyed, and black approaches Rufus on the party train and he feels “her breasts against [his] chest and her [lips] against [his] ear.” She asks if he wants to go home with her, and Rufus refers to her as his type, but he ultimately says no, due to him not having “much [he] can offer her, besides what she’s obviously suggesting.” He acknowledges that “sex with a college girl has gotta be on mad people’s bucket lists—young people, married-dude people, boys, girls . . .” However, he remembers Aimee and thinks, “I’m not trying to cheat that with something fake like this.”
  • The girl ultimately leaves with another guy, and Rufus suspects “they’ll just have sex tonight and he’ll call her ‘Kelly’ in the morning.”
  • Mateo tells Rufus about his parents’ proposal story. He explains, “My mother turned him down twice. He said she liked playing hard to get. Then she found out she was pregnant with me and he got down on one knee in the bathroom and she smiled and said yes.”
  • Mateo discusses his parent’s relationship in terms of songs, saying, “Another of Dad’s favorites is ‘Come What May,’ which my mother sang to him and womb-me during a shower they took together before her water broke.”
  • Delilah places her phone on the pillow “on the side of the bed that was Victor’s whenever he stayed over.”
  • Rufus tells Mateo, “Your Last Friend is gonna make sure you go out with a bang. Not a bad bang, or a you-know-what bang, but a good bang,”
  • Rufus jokes that if observing makes one able to do something, then “[he has] watched enough porn to make [him] a sex god.”
  • As Mateo looks at Rufus’s Instagram, Rufus says he feels “exposed.” Rufus likens it to “someone watching [him] wrap a towel around [his] boys” after a shower.
  • When Rufus was thirteen, he describes how “flipping through magazines, [he’d] scout for pictures of girls in skirts and dudes in shorts and would tilt the page to see what was underneath.”
  • At Make-A-Moment, Mateo notices that “a couple are kissing in a hot air balloon.”
  • Mateo meets a boy who “was pretty sure love didn’t mean that your father slept on the couch and that your mother didn’t care when her husband was caught cheating on her with younger girls in Atlantic City.”
  • After Mateo’s nightmare, he notices how Rufus “shifts closer…[Rufus’s] knee knocking against [his].”
  • Rufus explains that Althea Park is “where [he] kissed this girl, Cathy, for the first time.”
  • Mateo tells Rufus he’s never dated anyone, but he has had crushes. Then Mateo thinks to himself, “I sense there’s something more he wants to say; maybe he wants to crack a joke about how I should sign up for Necro so I don’t die a virgin, as if sex and love are the same thing.”
  • Mateo describes riding the bike with Rufus. He says, “I would lean against Rufus, shifting my weight against him . . .  keep holding him.” He determines that he is “going to do something small and brave.”
  • Rufus will not express his interest in Mateo, because, “He’s gotta make a move himself.”
  • When talking about the ending to his dream, Rufus says, “Nah, I think I started dreaming about sex or something and woke up from that.”
  • Mateo recognizes that Rufus is “probably not a virgin.”
  • While sitting next to each other on the train, Rufus “shifts, his body leaning against [Mateo’s].”
  • A comment could imply a history of sexual assault. A girl tells someone “all the heartbreaking [secrets] she always kept to herself because speaking up was too hard.”
  • Rufus, Mateo, and Lidia go swimming unexpectedly and strip down to their underwear. Rufus says, “[Mateo] avoids looking my way . . . unlike Lidia . . . who’s looking me up and down.”
  • When they prepare to jump into the pool, Rufus says, “I grab Mateo’s hand and lock my fingers in his. He turns to me with flushed cheeks . . . ” After they jump, they are still holding hands, and Rufus hugs Mateo in the water.
  • Later, Rufus thinks, “We don’t bring up the hand-holding or anything like that, but hopefully he gets where I’m coming from now in case he had any doubts.” Rufus says, “[The Plutos are] smiling at me like they wanna tag-team bang me.”
  • A girl “eyes [Rufus] up and down” and Mateo’s “face heats up.” He says, “But then Rufus catches up to me and pats my shoulder and the burn is different, like when he grabbed my hand back at the Travel Arena.”
  • Mateo and Rufus sing karaoke. Then Mateo drags Rufus “offstage, and once we’re behind the curtain, I look him in the eyes and he smiles like he knows what’s about to go down . . . I kiss the guy who brought me to life on the day we’re going to die.” Afterward, Rufus kisses Mateo.
  • Mateo and Rufus slow dance. “We place our hands on each other’s shoulders and waist; [Mateo’s] fingers dig into him a little, the first time I’m getting to touch someone else like this.” Mateo admits that “maintaining eye contact with Rufus is really hard” because it is “the most intense intimacy [he has] ever experienced.” They speak into each other’s ears and continue to dance before they kiss and part.
  • Rufus thinks, “Part of me can’t help but wonder if Mateo is bringing me home so we can have sex, but it’s probably safe to assume sex isn’t on the brain for him.”
  • Mateo sings “Your Song” for Rufus, and in the middle of the song, Rufus kisses his forehead.
  • Mateo and Rufus sit on the bed, “linking [their] arms and legs together.”
  • Rufus tells Mateo, “I would’ve loved you if we had more time . . .Maybe I already do . . .” Mateo then says, “I want to say it as many times as I want—I love you, I love you, I love you.” To which Rufus responds, “You know damn well I love you too . . . I don’t talk out of my dick, you know that’s not me.” He says he wants to kiss him again, but he doesn’t.
  • Rufus narrates as Mateo “climbs into [his] lap, bringing [them] closer.” They stay close together and kiss one more time before sleeping side by side.

Violence

  • After he finds out that he is going to die, Mateo wants to “curse into a pillow” because his dad is in a coma or “punch a wall because [his] mom marked [him] for an early death when she died giving birth to [him].”
  • Mateo tells the story of a President who “tried to hide from Death in an underground bunker four years ago and was assassinated by one of his own secret service agents.”
  • Frequently, Mateo and Rufus imagine the scenarios in which they could die. These are often worst-case scenarios, and some are gruesome. For instance, Mateo says, “I could choke on a cough drop; I could leave my apartment to do something with myself and fall down the stairs and snap my neck before I even make it outside; someone could break in and murder me.”
  • A fight between Rufus and Peck, Aimee’s new boyfriend, occurs over nine pages. Rufus repeatedly punches Peck, while pinning him down. Rufus fears he may kill Peck. He checks to make sure Peck doesn’t have a pocketknife, concerned that Peck may be the one to kill him. Rufus picks “Peck up by the back of his collar and then [slams] him against the brick wall . . . Blood slides from an open wound in [Peck’s] forehead.” Finally, a friend of Rufus’s looks like he is “about to kick [Peck] like his head’s a soccer ball.” Peck is not killed but walks away severely injured.
  • Rufus explains that his family’s car “flipped into the Hudson River” killing his sister and parents. Rufus later goes into more detail about the crash. He explains, “I’d sat shotgun because I thought it bettered our chances of surviving a head-on car crash if both my parents weren’t in front.” He says that it did not change anything “before going on about the screeching tires, the way we busted through the road’s safety rail and tumbled into the river. . .” Rufus says, though he forgets their voices, “I could recognize their screams anywhere.”
  • Victor, a Death-Cast employee, explains that his day included telling a mother her four-year-old daughter will die today and sending police to her home just in case the mother is responsible for the impending death.
  • While contemplating death, Rufus thinks “I’m praying that I don’t drown like my parents and sis.” He then says he’s “counting on not getting shot.”
  • Despite telling his friends he “wasn’t going to kill” Peck, Rufus internally admits, “I could’ve killed him.”
  • Rufus says that his survivor’s guilt after his family’s death was so strong that “there’s no way in hell [he] would’ve been chill with [himself] for beating someone to death.”
  • Wondering what happened to a blogger who died, Mateo considers looking into “muggings or murders in Central Park” to see if one victim was the blogger.
  • Rufus tells the readers that his friend “Malcom’s parents died in a house fire caused by some unidentified arsonist, and whoever it was, Malcolm hopes he’s burning in hell.” He later says Malcolm learned from “the flames that burned his house, parents, and favorite things” how to value people over things.
  • Rufus’s friend’s father “committed suicide.”
  • After telling Aimee that he promises not to die before he gets to see her again, she responds with the question, “How many Deckers make those promises and then pianos fall on their heads?”
  • Rufus warns Aimee that Peck “better not call the cops” so that Rufus doesn’t “find [himself] on the wrong end of some officer’s club.”
  • A picture in Rufus’s room is described as showing his friend with a bloody nose after an attempt to create a handshake went awry “because of a stupid head-butt.”
  • A man using the Last Friend app “unwittingly befriended the infamous Last Friend serial killer.”
  • The characters occasionally joke that another character could kill them from frustration. For instance, Rufus says, “It’s possible I’m gonna die at the hands of my foster father; if you’re not his alarm clock, you shouldn’t wake him up.”
  • Rufus describes how Aimee pushes him, and that, “She doesn’t play when it comes to violence because her parents got real extra when they tag-team-robbed a convenience store, assaulting the owner and his twenty-year-old son.” He clarifies that she will not be arrested like they were for “shoving [him] around.”
  • Peck is described after the fight as having “one eye shut, a cut on his lip, spots of dried blood on his swollen forehead.”
  • Playing a video game, Mateo watches his avatar “[step] on a land mine” which causes the virtual “arm to fly through a hut’s window, his head rockets into the sky, and his legs burst completely.” However, a moment later, the character returns “good as new,” which makes Mateo contemplate the finality of his own death.
  • Mateo has a panic attack and lashes out. He throws “these books across the room and even kick some of my favorites off their shelves . . . I rush over to my speakers and almost hurl them against the wall, stopping myself.” He stops because the electricity could kill him.
  • Rufus, while biking to Mateo’s home, says, “He better not be a serial killer or so help me . . . ”
  • Rufus’s friends, Malcolm and Tagoe, are arrested by the officers who are trying to track down Rufus, because “Malcolm argued with the police officer and resisted arrest” and “Tagoe jumped into the argument too with more aggression than Malcolm himself was using.”
  • The narrator explains that “Malcolm has never even been in a fight before, even though many paint him to be a violent young man because he’s six feet tall, black, and close to two hundred pounds.”
  • Mateo is concerned that Rufus is going to rob him when he first meets him. He checks the hallway “to see if he has some friends hiding against the walls, ready to jump me for the little I have.”
  • Mateo imagines his death again and cringes from the phantom feeling of “falling face-first onto spiked fences or having your teeth punched out of your mouth.” He runs through a list of scenarios with Rufus and their plan, should one of them occur. These scenarios include “some truck might run us down,” “someone pulls out a gun,” and “a train kills us.”
  • Mateo and Rufus come across a dead bird that “has been flattened; its severed head is a couple inches away.” Mateo thinks “it was run down by a car and then split by a bike.” When Mateo goes to bury the bird, he fears its head will “roll away.”
  • Mateo remembers seeing a baby bird fall out of its nest and how “its leg broke on impact.”
  • Rufus is grateful their train arrived because “we can safely rule out falling onto the exposed tracks, getting stuck while rats run by us, and straight chopped up and flattened by the train.”
  • Rufus says that getting Mateo “out of the apartment was one thing, but I’m probably gonna have to knock the dude out and drag him out of the hospital,”
  • Mateo tells Rufus about a childhood incident in which a bully took his lunch money, saying, “He punched me in the face and took it all.”
  • When Mateo goes to an ATM, he is “praying someone doesn’t come out of nowhere and hold [them] up at gunpoint for the money—we know how that would end.”
  • When exploring a ditch, Rufus tells Mateo, “If you find any toes in there, we’re jetting.” Mateo says there are no body parts, but in the past, he has found a “guy with a bloody nose and no sneakers. . . [he was] beat up and robbed.”
  • “Four six-foot-tall kids jumped [Kendrick] and stole” his sneakers. He ended up with a bloody nose and “walking home in his socks was painful.”
  • Mateo has a nightmare. “My skis disappeared and I flew straight off the mountain while headless birds circled overhead and I kept falling and falling.”
  • Rufus cries, mourning his own death, and becomes violent in response. He narrates, “I hammer at the railing with the bottom of my fist. I keep going and going. . . I stop, out of breath, like I just won a fight against ten dudes.”
  • An angry man, Vin, is said to “like to be feared” which is why he wrestles. However, he got sick and now cannot do that to take out his aggression. This results in him deciding to build a bomb to destroy the gym, those inside, and his coach, as his coach “suggested a new career route.” The narrator says, “Vin is going to die where he was made. And he’s not dying alone.”
  • Mateo and Rufus are caught in the explosion. “Glass shatters and we’re suddenly thrown backward through air as fire reaches out toward a screaming crowd. . . I slam against the driver’s side of a car, my shoulder banging into the rearview mirror. My vision fades—darkness, fire, darkness, fire.” He has no idea what happened, just that “Rufus is struggling to open his eyes and others are screaming. But not everyone. There are bodies on the ground, faces kissing cement.” He sees a woman whose “blood is staining a rain puddle.”
  • Deirdre is described “on the ledge of her apartment building” contemplating suicide. She sees people below and assumes they are betting on “if she’s a Decker,” or someone who knows they will die that day. Deidre says, “The blood and broken bones on the pavement will settle their wager.” It is said that this is not the first time she has thought about killing herself.
  • When Deidre was in a fight at school when she was young, someone called her “that lesbian with the dead parents.” This prompted her to go to a ledge, though her friend talked her out of killing herself.
  • Rufus seems to have struggled with suicidal thoughts before. He tells Mateo, “There was a point where I didn’t think any of this was worthwhile.” He goes on to say, “I would’ve been game with game over…but surviving showed me it’s better to be alive wishing I was dead than dying wishing I could live forever.”
  • Rufus tells Mateo he doesn’t deserve to die. Mateo responds that no one does. Rufus asks, “Except serial killers, right?” However, Mateo does not respond, implying he believes they are no exception.
  • Peck’s friend has been “stealing candy from the drugstore . . . fighting those who are the Goliath to his David. Starting a gang.”
  • Peck’s friend wants to hurt those who hurt Peck. He “imagines Rufus’s face where the dartboard is. He throws the dart and shoots bull’s-eye—right between Rufus’s eyes”.
  • The narrator says, “Peck will gain respect by unloading his gun into the one who disrespected him.”
  • Mateo hugs his best friend, Lidia. “She says everything in this hug—every thank-you, every i-love-you, every apology.” Mateo returns the hug. However, after a moment “Lidia steps back and slaps [him] hard across the face.”
  • A police officer is afraid of getting the call every night, “especially since losing his partner two months ago.” His partner died tracking someone participating in Bangers, which encourages Deckers to “kill themselves in the most unique way possible” and post videos that can win their family money. However, he says, most do not win, and “you don’t exactly get a second shot.” The Decker’s attempt to kill themselves resulted in the partner’s death.
  • There is a car crash. In the midst of a car ride, “Sandy’s eyes widen” then “the car jerks and Howie closes his eyes, a deep sinking in his chest.” The crash is narrated from the perspective of the boys who caused the accident. “The two boys laugh when one car bangs into another, spinning out of control until it crashes against the wall.” A girl survives the accident and remembers the “way [Howie’s] head banged against the reinforced window, heard the sickening crack that will stay with her forever—”
  • Peck pulls out the gun at the club, intending to kill Rufus. There is a stampede and Mateo says, “People are stepping on me and this is how I’m going to die, a minute before Rufus gets shot to death.”
  • There is a fight to get Peck to put the gun away. “Mateo punches Peck in the face.” Then, “Peck’s homie swings at Mateo” and someone runs “into Peck and his boy like a train, carrying them through the air as the gun drops, and he slams them against the wall.” Rufus is able to get the gun after he kicks “Peck’s other boy . . . in the face as he goes to grab it. . . Rufus unloaded the gun. All the bullets find their way into the wall.”
  • Mateo dies in a fire. “When I switch on the burner, my chest sinks with regret. Even when you know death is coming, the blaze of it all is still sudden.”
  • Rufus fights through the fire to try to find Mateo. He inhales a lot of smoke but reenters the apartment. He finds Mateo and grabs “Mateo, my fingers sink deep into boiled skin . . . half of his face is severely burned, the rest is deep red.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Mateo regrets that “no one will ever get high with [him].”
  • Rufus describes his appearance in a photo saying, “my eyes uneven, kind of like when I’m high, which I wasn’t (yet).”
  • Two potential Last Friends reach out to Mateo with the message subject line being “420?” Mateo narrates, “I ignore Kevin and Kelly’s message; not interested in pot.”
  • Rufus says the gas station “smells like piss and cheap beer.”
  • Mateo changes his profile to only allow Deckers to reach out, “so I don’t have to deal with anyone looking to buy a couch or pot.”
  • A girl approaches Rufus on the train who has “an extra can of beer” and asks, “Want one?” Rufus refuses.
  • Rufus later takes pictures of the “crushed beer cans and water bottles” on the train.
  • Mateo does not regret going to the party but thinks, “I don’t want to be around people who get so drunk they pass out and eventually black out the nights they’re lucky to be living.”
  • A girl has a cigarette at one point.
  • Officer Andrade and his partner “traded dad jokes over beers.”
  • Officer Andrade plans to “share a beer” with his partner in heaven.
  • Lidia says while drinking, “I wish this had some kick to it . . . I can’t be sober when I lose you.”
  • Rufus and Mateo sing “American Pie” which includes lyrics about “whisky and rye.”

Language

  • Profanity is used often. Profanity includes asshole, god, dumbass, jacked up, damn, multiple forms of shit, hell, fuck, pissed, bullshit, ass, bitch/bitching, dope, dick, bastard, motherfucker, and piss.
  • Mateo says he’ll “feel ballsier” once he has said his goodbyes to those he loves.
  • Rufus says to Aimee, “There isn’t a bigger kick to the nuts than you turning your back on the Plutos for the punk-ass kid who got them locked up.”
  • After Mateo talks about wanting to “leave [their] mark,” Rufus jokes, “We going outside to piss on fire hydrants?”
  • When Rufus says he loves the Plutos, he notes that “No one cracks homo jokes.”
  • After Rufus refers to Malcolm and Tagoe as “shadows,” Malcolm jokingly responds, “That because we’re black?”

Supernatural

  • Rufus asks the Death-Cast employee about how they know when people will die. He guesses, “Crystal ball? Calendar from the future?” He remembers the theories told to him about Death-Cast being a “band of legit psychics and . . . an alien shackled to a bathtub and forced by the government to report End Days.”
  • Mateo believes Rufus is not a monster because monsters “trap you in your bed and eat you alive” rather than “come to your home and help you live.”
  • A boy was writing a book about a “demon doctor wearing a stethoscope that could read his patients’ minds.”

 

Spiritual Content

  • Rufus considers taking a picture of Aimee’s church to post to Instagram but decides his “nonbelieving ass” shouldn’t have that as his last post.
  • Aimee is described as “pretty Catholic.”
  • Rufus explains that “Malcom and Tagoe are always mocking the churches that shun Death-Cast and their ‘unholy visions from Satan.’” He goes on, saying that he finds it “dope how some nuns and priests keep busy way past midnight for Deckers trying to repent, get baptized, and all that good stuff.”
  • Rufus says, “If there’s a God guy out there like my mom believed, I hope he’s got my back right now.”
  • Mateo implies that his mother wanted to marry his father before he was born due to “her family’s traditions” believing him to be a “bastard” if she should not. He thinks “the whole bastard thing is stupid.”
  • Rufus and Mateo visit a graveyard and discuss how they, and others, view the afterlife. Rufus thinks that there are two afterlives: one “when Death-Cast tells us to live out our last day knowing it’s our last” and “then we enter the next and final afterlife without any regrets.” He also believes that if we live too long after knowing we will die then “we turn into ghosts who haunt and kill.” He thinks the final afterlife is “whatever you want.”
  • Mateo’s dad “believes in the usual golden-gated island in the sky”, which Lidia likes because “the popular afterlife is better than no afterlife”. Mateo thinks it will be “a home theater where you can rewatch your entire life from start to finish”.
  • Rufus says, “I’m not religious. I believe there’s some alien creator and somewhere for dead people to hang out, but I don’t credit that all as God and heaven.”
  • Mateo says, “I hope reincarnation is real.” This becomes a recurring wish for him. That in another life, he will be able to find Rufus again.
  • Mateo asks if Rufus believes in fate. Rufus says he doesn’t, but Mateo asks, “How else do you explain us meeting? . . . If you can believe in two afterlives, you can believe in the universe playing puppet master.”
  • A girl talks about the book that she is writing which is about reincarnation and a girl trying to find her sister after the sister’s death. The girl also mentions the origins of her name in “a heroine in Irish mythology who took her own life.”
  • Rufus says after cliff jumping, “It’s like I’ve been baptized or some shit, ditching more anger and sadness and blame and frustration beneath the surface.”

by Jennaly Nolan

The Sky is Everywhere

After seventeen-year-old Lennie’s sister Bailey dies suddenly, Lennie finds herself trying to navigate a new world without her sister. Lennie lives in California with her grandma, Gram, and her uncle, Big. Lennie is passionate about Wuthering Heights, writing poetry, and music, and playing the clarinet in her school band, where she meets a charismatic new boy named Joe Fontaine.

Another large part of Lennie’s life is her best friend Sarah and her sister’s boyfriend, Toby. Things become complicated when Toby and Lennie start a secret affair while Lennie also begins a relationship with Joe. When she’s with Toby, Lennie feels free from the inescapable loneliness that surrounds her, although she also feels that her relationship with Toby is wrong. Joe is the opposite, the only person in Lennie’s life who didn’t know Bailey, which provides Lennie with an escape from the grief that follows her and her family around.

Lennie finally decides to end her relationship with Toby, because it is causing more harm than good. Then they share a final, goodbye kiss. However, Joe catches the two of them. Joe immediately ends their relationship, especially hurt by Lennie’s actions because she knew he had been cheated on in the past.

Lennie and Sarah scheme ways for Lennie to win Joe back, ranging from seduction to chopping down her grandmother’s roses, which are known around town to cause people to fall in love. However, in the end, what causes Joe to forgive Lennie is a poem that she writes for him, in which she expresses her intense love for him. The novel ends with Joe and Lennie’s reconciliation, as well as a new, budding friendship between Toby and Lennie.

Told from Lennie’s perspective, The Sky is Everywhere presents an inside look into the transition to normality after experiencing grief. Although the plot contains a love triangle, in reality, it is much more focused on Lennie’s relationship with herself. Lennie grows to accept that although her sister is gone, Lennie will always be able to treasure her sister’s memory and love. Lennie comes into her own and in doing so, recognizes a passion for music, something she had become complacent in for fear of failure.

Lennie will be relatable to many individuals struggling through grief, experiencing love for the first time, or those on a journey to discover who they are and what they’re passionate about. Nelson’s language is beautiful, immediately drawing the reader in and causing them to care deeply about the characters and their struggles. Although the love between Joe and Lennie is rushed, overall, the plot flows well, creating a story that’s intricate and easy to follow. The story reinforces the idea that it is never too late to find your passion. It also emphasizes that it is human to make mistakes, and this doesn’t mean you should give up.

Sexual Content

  • At the beginning of the novel, Lennie mentions, “suddenly all I think about is sex.”
  • As Lennie and Toby hug, consoling each other, Lennie notes, “I feel a hardness against my hip, him, that.
  • When remembering her embrace with Toby, Lennie thinks, “I recall the sensation of him pressing into me, shivers race all through my body-definitely not the appropriate reaction to your sister’s boyfriend’s hard-on!”
  • When Lennie encounters Toby after their past meeting, all she can think is “boner, boner, erection, hard-on, woody, boner, boner.”
  • Lennie recalls a conversation with her sister, where Bailey says, “Toby and I did it, had sex last night.”
  • After drinking and talking about Bailey, Toby “kisses me—his mouth: soft, hot, so alive, it makes me moan.”
  • After Lennie tells Sarah about her kiss with Toby, Sarah remarks, “Grief sex is kind of a thing.”
  • Lennie wonders what is wrong with her, because she has romantic feelings for Toby and Joe. Sarah asks, “What kind of girl wants to kiss every boy at a funeral, wants to maul a guy in a tree after making out with her sister’s boyfriend the previous night?”
  • Lennie and Toby meet up and kiss. Lennie feels “his mouth crushing into mine, teeth and tongue and lips.”
  • Lennie and Toby almost have sex. She thinks Toby “must have eight hands because one is taking off my shirt, another two are holding my face while he kisses me . . . another two are one my breasts, a few are pulling my hips to his and then the last undoes the button on my jeans, unzips the fly and we are on the bed, his hand edging its way between my legs.”
  • After Joe almost catches Lennie and Toby together, Toby is described as “trying to cover a freaking hard-on.”
  • To stop Joe’s suspicion about her and Toby, Lennie kisses him. “I mean really kiss[es] him.”
  • In Joe’s bedroom, Lennie starts to imagine Joe naked, and then remarks, “I’ve never even seen a real live guy totally naked, ever. Only some internet porn Sarah and I devoured for a while.”
  • As they lay in a bed, Joe asks Lennie, “Are you a virgin?”
  • Lennie gives Toby a sort of goodbye, closure kiss. “I kiss him and keep kissing and holding and caressing him, because for whatever fucked-up reason, that is what I do.”
  • After daydreaming about Joe, Lennie thinks, “I’m so fed up with my virginity. It’s like the whole world is in on this ecstatic secret but me.”

Violence

  • None

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Lennie describes her uncle Big as the “resident pothead,” and “smoking so much weed that when he’s home he seems to hover.”
  • Lennie’s friend Sarah is often described as “smoking cigarettes,” and “trying to blow smoke rings, but blowing smoke blobs instead.”
  • Toby sneaks into Lennie’s room at night and “pulls a pint of tequila out of his jacket pocket.” The two proceed to take pulls from the bottle.
  • When Lennie sneaks off during lunch, Joe follows her, describing her hidden spot as the “perfect spot for a gingerbread house or maybe an opium den.”
  • Lennie imagines her and Joe drinking “red wine” in Paris.
  • While on a date, Lennie and Joe drink “some wine Joe swiped from his father.”
  • Sarah takes Lennie to see a movie and offers her some vodka. Later they are “passing the bottle of vodka back and forth.”

Language

  • Profanity is used occasionally. Profanity includes fuck, shit, damn, and ass.
  • When Lennie is in band class, her teacher encourages them to “stick your asses in the wind!”
  • As Lennie and Joe kiss, she says that she’s turned into “a total strumpet-harlot-trollop-wench-jezebel-tart-harridan-chippynymphet.”
  • After talking to Lennie about her mom, Joe calls himself a dickhead.

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • Gram believes that a certain household plant “reflects [Lennie’s] emotional, spiritual, and physical well-being.”
  • Both Lennie and Bailey compare Toby to St. Francis.
  • When talking with Joe, Lennie remarks, “My favorite saint of all time is a Joe . . . Joseph of Cupertino, he levitated. Whenever he thought of God, he would float into the air in a fit of ecstasy.”
  • While sitting at Bailey’s desk, Lennie notes that there is a statue of St. Anthony: Patron of Lost Things.
  • After clearing the house of things that Gram has deemed unlucky, Gram remarks to Lennie, “You know that mask Big brought back from South America… . . . I think that it might have a curse on it.”

by Sara Mansfield

The Disappearance of Sloane Sullivan

 No one wants me to tell you about the disappearance of Sloane Sullivan.

Not the lawyers or the cops. Not her friends or family. Not even the boy who loved her more than anyone. And most certainly not the United States Marshals Service. You know, the people who run the witness protection program? Yeah, those folks definitely don’t want me talking to you.

But I don’t care. I have to tell someone.

If I don’t, you’ll never know how completely wrong things can go. How a single decision can change everything. How, when it really comes down to it, you can’t trust anyone. Not even yourself. You have to understand, so it won’t happen to you next. Because you never know when the person sitting next to you isn’t who they claim to be…and because there are worse things than disappearing.

This story begins with Sloane once again changing her name and going to a new school. While Sloane is quickly brought into a group of friends, none of the characters are likable. By the end of the story, readers will wonder why Sloane let any of these people into her life. Each character is so full of secrets that it is difficult to distinguish the truth from rumors. While Sloane’s lies are understandable, the rest of the characters come off as self-centered, manipulating liars.

Sloane tells her own story, which allows the reader to understand her motivations. In addition to her thoughts, Sloane often has flashbacks. Readers will empathize with Sloane, who constantly has to move in order to keep safe. Her only stability is Marc, who is posing as a federal Marshal. Marc has taught Sloane the importance of being aware of her surroundings as well as how to protect herself. Despite this, Sloane makes so many mistakes that it’s amazing she is still alive.

While The Disappearance of Sloane Sullivan has a unique premise and suspenseful moments, by the end, none of the characters can be trusted. The complicated ending is not believable, and even Marc, Sloane’s protector, turns out to be a bit of a creep. At 400 pages, some of the high school drama and Sloane’s inner struggles could have been cut out. If you’re looking for a suspenseful mystery romance, some better options would be Six Months Later by Natalie D. Richards and Crossing the Line by Simone Elkeles.

Sexual Content

  • While talking about the senior trip, someone says, “I heard the chaperones go to bed early and everyone sneaks out and hooks up.”
  • When Sloane was a freshman, she skipped school to hang out with Ben, a senior. “Ben gave a throaty laugh as he pushed my brown hair off my shoulders and kissed the side of my neck. My heart jumped in my chest.” When Marc finds them, Ben “leaned in and kissed me right on the mouth, all the while glaring at Mar . . I’d done my fair share of imagining my first kiss, even the possibility it might happen with Ben, but I never thought it would happen just to taunt Mark.”
  • When Sloane enters a new school, she sees some students “making out in front of classrooms.”
  • Sloane thinks back to a time when she had a boyfriend named Duke. “He leaned in and kissed me. It was slow and sweet and steady, just like him.”
  • Sloane’s friend, Livie, is upset that her boyfriend broke up with her. Livie says, “But we were together for almost two months. We made out tons of times. . . That counts for something, right?”
  • According to rumors, Jason has “slept with half the girls in the school.”
  • Jason said he left a party because “I found my date making out with him [the host] in his bedroom?” Another time, he agreed to go to a party with Lauren, but “when I got there, she and her friends were already drunk. . . she kept trying to take me to her room so we could be ‘alone.’ She said she wanted to ring in the new year by doing something special and she wanted me to be her first.”
  • When a girl disappears, some people say that she’s “hooking up with a guy and she’s “holed up in a motel room somewhere.”
  • Even though Sawyer knew Sloane didn’t like him, he kissed her.
  • While on the senior trip, Livie implies she’s going to a boy’s room to have sex. Livie says she can ask the guy if “he has any lonely friends.” Sloane tells her, “I don’t want some random trip hookup, Livie.”
  • Sawyer and Livie “slept together.”
  • Once Jason knows who Sloane really is, they kiss. Sloane “grabbed a fistful of his shirt, pulling him the rest of the way to me. . . So when I finally pulled away from him, breathless and dizzy from the amazing softness of his lips and the feeling of his hands against my skin. . .” After this, they kiss several times, but the kisses aren’t described.
  • After months, Jason and Sloane are reunited. “And then Jason is kissing me. His kisses are urgent at first, insistent like he’s trying to erase the last eight months. Then they slowly turn soft and sweet and gentle. . .”

Violence

  • Sloane was told her father committed suicide, but later she finds out he was murdered. The death is not described.
  • When a boy gives Sloane an unwanted kiss, she “yanked my knee up as hard as I could until it landed between Ben’s legs. He groaned and doubled over, and I shoved him with both hands. . . I watched him hit the ground.”
  • Sloane has a series of flashbacks. She saw two men kill a man. “The older man slumped against the warehouse at their feet. His blond curly hair was matted with blood and his face was swollen and bruised.” The flashback is described over two pages.
  • While at a birthday party, the girl’s father walks behind Sloane and scares her. “Without thinking, I crouched down and swung my leg around in an arc just like Mark taught, sweeping a man’s legs out from under him. He crashed onto his back with a loud oof . . .”
  • Sawyer gets angry at Jason. “Sawyer planted his hands on Jason’s chest and shoved with all his drunken might. Jason stumbled backward, but caught himself before he fell.” Sloane gets between them and stops the fight.
  • Sawyer taunts Jason and Sloane “grabbed Sawyer’s wrist with my right hand, pulled his arm across my chest, and flipped him over my shoulder in one impossibly fast movement. He hit the ground with a loud smack. . . Then he lunged at me. Faster than I could react, Jason jumped in front of Sawyer and punched him so hard his teeth clicked together as his head snapped back. . . He was out cold.”
  • When the “bad guy” shows up at Sloane’s school, she runs home only to find a man’s body. The man’s eyes “were dull and empty and I couldn’t look at them.”
  • Marc’s family is full of gangsters. He says, “For my tenth birthday, my uncle Gino taught me the best places to cut a person so it would hurt like hell but they wouldn’t bleed out before they confessed.”
  • A rival gangster, Reuben, killed Marc’s little sister. Reuben “told us where we could find her body. He even mocked the way she’d begged for her life.”
  • When Marc threatens Jason with a gun, Sloane “shot him.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • While talking about the senior trip, someone tells Sloane, “people smuggle alcohol along and party in their hotel rooms.”
  • In the past, Sawyer got drunk and “got pissed someone beat [him] at cards and punched a hole in the drywall in [his] basement.”
  • While at a party a girl is drugged. The doctors “think someone must’ve slipped something in her drink. . . No injuries or evidence of sexual assault or anything.”
  • At prom, Sawyer gets so drunk that he can’t stand up.

Language

  • Profanity is used frequently. Profanity includes ass, crap, damn, hell, holy hell, pissed, and shit. For example, a boy tells Sloane, “You’re getting ready to tell me we shouldn’t be friends, right? That you don’t want to be dragged into all of my crap.”
  • Christ, Jesus, oh Lord, God, and good God are used as exclamations occasionally. For example, when someone makes a sexual innuendo, Sloane says, “Oh my God! You did not just turn Harry Potter into something dirty.”

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • Occasionally, Sloane prays for something. For example, when Sloane sees someone from her past, she prays that her brown eyes “would be enough to throw him off.”
  • When Sloane and her friends sneak out of school, they go to a carousel. When the cops show up, Sloane introduces everyone. Sloane “prayed, prayed, he didn’t know the characters’ names from The Goonies.”

 

More Happy Than Not

Aaron struggles with his father’s seemingly meaningless suicide and his own attempted suicide. Through the process of coming to terms with his losses, Aaron leans on the support of his mother, brother, girlfriend, and friends. He has been with his girlfriend, Genevieve, since before his father’s suicide and she supported him after his own suicide attempt, solidifying her role as a central part of Aaron’s support system. Then, Aaron meets a boy from a nearby neighborhood, Thomas, who changes his entire life as he begins to fall in love with him.

Since Aaron can’t stay away from Thomas or turn off his newfound feelings for him, he considers turning to the Leteo Institute’s revolutionary memory-alteration procedure to straighten himself out, even if it means forgetting who he truly is.

More Happy Than Not follows Aaron’s journey of meeting a boy who changes his life in a way he has never experienced before. The story is told from Aaron’s perspective which allows the reader to understand Aaron’s internal struggles as he grapples with his sexuality. The reader follows Aaron’s feelings for his perfect girlfriend, which become complicated with his potential feelings for a new boy, Thomas. Aaron struggles with this internal battle of sexuality, his love and care for others, and internalized homophobia.

Following his regained memories, Aaron is upset that the Leteo procedure did not “fix” his sexuality. He confides in Genevieve, who reveals she was aware of his previous relationship a boy, and had helped him through the Leteo procedure in the hopes that it would help him love her the way she loved him. With the return of painful memories and a rejection by Thomas, the novel ends with Aaron considering whether or not he should undergo an additional Leteo procedure to take the pain away.

This raw novel highlights struggles of sexual identity, mental illness, suicide, grief, homophobia, and hate crimes. Aaron is a likable character with challenges that may be relatable to LGBTQ+ readers. More Happy Than Not is an engaging, suspenseful story that is difficult to put down. Yet Aaron’s experiences may be painful for some readers, especially those who have not yet come out. However, it is important that this story be told for LGBTQ+ youth who have faced discrimination as Aaron’s experiences explore how to move forward after painful experiences.

This sensitive and gruesomely realistic novel takes the reader on a journey of understanding Aaron’s inner conflicts. In the end, Aaron learns an important lesson and he decides, “I will do my best to always find the sun in the darkness because my life isn’t one sad ending – it’s a series of endless happy beginnings.”

Sexual Content

  • Aaron’s girlfriend, Genevieve, insinuates she wants to have sex with Aaron, to which he thinks, “A sexy lightbulb flashes on. . . I remember something very crucial: Fuck, I have no idea how to have sex.”
  • When preparing to have sex with Genevieve, Aaron thinks, “I am so screwed later on. Okay, poor choice of words . . . I was hoping I could watch an unhealthy amount of porn to memorize techniques. . . I’ve considered maybe watching porn in the morning while he’s [his older brother] knocked out, but even naked bodies can’t wake me up.”
  • When preparing to have sex, Aaron consults his friends. A friend states, “Fuck all that. I boned a bunch of girls just so I could get off and get better.”
  • When Aaron has sex with Genevieve, in-depth details aren’t given, but kissing and undressing are discussed. Aaron broke “free from her not-so-tight grip, slide up on her, and kiss her lips and neck…She pulls my shirt off and it sails over my shoulder. . . I take off her shirt and leave her in a bra. She unzips my jeans and I kick them off with much awkward difficulty.”
  • Aaron discusses having sex with Genevieve. “Skinny-Dave wanted to know how many times we did it (twice!) and how long I lasted (not long but I lied).”
  • Aaron thinks back to when his best friend said, “Yo! I just got my first blow job!”
  • In his recovered memories, Aaron recalls a previous romance with his classmate, Collin. As they grew closer Aaron wanted to move forward in their relationship physically. “Collin has already lost both of his virginities. He got it on with this girl Suria when he was fourteen, after she gave him a hand job under the bleachers in the gym. Then he let this guy plow him last year when he was vacationing in the Poconos. I still have both of my virginities to lose. . . I want to take it to the next level with Collin.”
  • Once Aaron recovers his memories, he remembers he had sex with Collin multiple times. Aaron thinks back to when he tackled Collin “against the wall, unbuttoning his shirt, and it’s all condoms and awkward first memories from there.”

Violence

  • The book opens with Aaron thinking of his father’s suicide and his own suicide attempt. “I trace the smiling scar, left to right and right to left, happy to have a reminder to not be such a dumbass again.”
  • Aaron shares a long hug with Thomas. When Aaron’s friends see him, they jump him. During the fight, Aaron thought, “I don’t know where we’re going until we crash through the glass door of my building and I am sprawled across the lobby floor. There’s an explosion in the back of my head, a delayed reaction. Blood fills my mouth. This is what death feels like, I think. I scream like someone is turning a hundred knives inside of me, spitting up blood as I do.”
  • When Aaron recovers his memories, he angrily remembers how his friend’s brother died. “Kenneth was fucking gunned down yesterday and it’s all Kyle’s fucking fault. Kyle couldn’t fucking help himself and just had to fucking fuck Jordan’s fucking sister, even though we all fucking knew Jordan is the kind of fucking guy who would fucking kill someone if you fucking crossed him. Those bullets were fucking meant for fucking Kyle but no, they fucking found their way into fucking Kenneth when he was fucking innocently coming home from his fucking clarinet lessons at school.”
  • When Aaron remembers coming out to his father, he recalls his father’s violence. Aaron’s father said, “ ‘I’ll fucking throw him out myself.’ My mom guards me. Dad wraps his big hands around her throat, shaking her. . . I run over, grab his TV remote, and hit him so hard in the back of his head with it that the batteries pop out. . . My dad – the man who fucking played catch with me – punches me in the back of my head. . .”
  • Aaron was sitting close to Collin in a park and two guys yell, “Yo. You two homos faggots?” Then the two guys jump Aaron and Collin. “One slams my head into the railing, and the other hammers Collin with punches. I try punching the first guy in his nose. . . I have no idea how many times he punches me or at what point I end up on the sticky floor with Collin trying to shield me before he’s kicked to the side. . . His kind brown eyes roll back when he’s kicked in the head.”
  • When Aaron gets home after being jumped, he enters his bathroom to find his dead father. “When I see who’s sitting in the bathtub, I drop the shirt and blood just spills down my face and chest. Holy shit. Dad. His eyes are open but he’s not looking at me. He didn’t take his clothes off before getting into the tub. The water is a deep red, stained by the blood spilling from his slit wrists. He came home to kill himself. He came home to kill himself before I could bring a boy here. He came home to kill himself because of me. All this blood. All this red makes me black out.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Aaron and his friends frequently drink together. For example, Aaron and his friends are in high school and sneak onto the roof top of Thomas’s apartment complex to drink and party together. During one of these parties, Genevieve goes to find Thomas and Aaron, who are talking in Thomas’s room, and she shouts, “Is party central happening down here now? Let’s go up and drink! Wooooo!”
  • In addition, Aaron and his friends drink in excess. However, when they drink in excess they make a point to not drive. Aaron noticed Genevieve had been drinking heavily and says, “Genevieve is pretty damn drunk and needs to get home.” Then Aaron calls a taxi to drive her home.

Language

  • Dumbass is used frequently by Aaron and his friends. For example, Aaron uses the word “dumbass” to refer to himself after attempting suicide.
  • When jokingly trying to get his girlfriend to break up with him, Aaron calls her a “bitch.”
  • Profanity is used excessively. Profanity includes ass, fuck, dick, holy shit, and shit. For example, when asking his friends how to properly have sex with his girlfriend, he responds to their remarks by saying, “Thanks, asshole. Help me not fuck this up.”
  • Aaron says, “It feels like a dick move to take a girl’s virginity without some kind of present.”
  • The term “faggot” is routinely used in a derogatory manner. For example, Aaron’s friends call him a “faggot” and Aaron’s dad yells, “I’ll be damned if I’m alive the day you bring a boy home you fucking faggot.”

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

by Paige Smith

The Canyon’s Edge

Nora’s birthday marks the one-year anniversary of the worst day of her life. To distract them both from the memories of a horrible mass shooting that killed Nora’s mom, her dad surprises her with a trip to explore a slot canyon deep in the Arizona desert. Nora hopes they’ll find some remnants of the happiness they felt when her mother was alive.

But in the twisting, winding depths, the unthinkable happens. Suddenly Nora finds herself lost and alone, at the bottom of a canyon, in the middle of a desert. Separated from her supplies, she faces dehydration, venomous scorpions, deadly snakes, and worst of all, the Beast who has terrorized her dreams for the last year. To save herself and her father, Nora must conquer her fears—and outsmart the canyon’s dangers.

The middle part of Nora’s story is told through poetry that uses repetition, alliteration, and other types of figurative langue to convey Nora’s emotions. Nora’s fear of “the Beast” becomes apparent as she imagines the man who killed her mother. “Now I feel the Beast below me, / sneering, sniping, snapping/ his snarling mouth / his claws outstretched, / waiting, patiently waiting, / for me to fall.” The poetry has an emotional impact and also creates a sense of panic, suspense, and fear.

The poetry creates wonderfully descriptive passages and the text often is placed to create a visual element that enhances the story’s emotion. For example, when a flash flood takes Nora’s father, the descriptive words are placed in the form of a whirlpool. The visual effect of the words helps the reader imagine the story’s events and the emotion behind them.

Nora’s story begins with Nora and her father building protective walls around themselves in order to shut out all other people. Nora suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, nightmares, and loneliness. Even though Nora struggles with understanding why her mother died, the story never explains why a man killed strangers. Yet the terrifying events in the canyon allow Nora to deal with her past and her story ends on a hopeful note as she begins to heal.

Even though the story uses Nora’s stream-of-consciousness narration, The Canyon’s Edge is not a character-driven story. Instead, the story focuses on 48 hours of heart-stopping tension as Nora fights to survive scorpions, dehydration, and other dangers. Nora’s emotional trauma, the death of her mother, and the life-and-death struggle she faces may upset younger readers, but will be enjoyed by older readers. The Canyon’s Edge will take readers on a twisting emotional ride that will stay with them for a long time after they put the book down.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • One year ago, Nora’s mother was killed in a mass shooting. Nora thinks back to the event. “First come the tremendous booms. My mother, singing to me seconds ago is shoving me under the table so frantically, so desperately, that I bash my head on the edge and her fingers leave bruises on my body.”
  • Sofia Moreno, a woman in the restaurant, tackles the shooter. “Sofia Moreno, / who died / while giving her two boys, / while giving everyone, / while giving me, a chance / a bigger chance. . . to flee, / to hide, / to act, / to survive.” Sofia is able to stop the shooter before she dies.

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • Damn is used once.

 

Supernatural

  • None

 

Spiritual Content

  • Nora’s psychologist tells her about Gerald Manley Hopkins, a poet. “He was searching for a pattern. He believed if he sketched the same wave twice, it would be proof. . . That there was a god.”
  • When Nora sleeps in a cave, she prays “for help, though I don’t know who or what could possibly help me here inside a hole in the wall on the side of a canyon.”
  • As Nora walks through the desert, she prays “for help.”

Deception

When Baalboden is destroyed, the survivors are left to fend for themselves. The ragtag group elect Logan as their leader. With Rachel by his side, Logan is determined to get the survivors to the safety of another city-state. The survivors must leave the ruins of their home and take their chances in the Wasteland. But the Commander and a rival city-state’s army both want to take the device that controls the Cursed One for themselves.

Soon, it becomes clear that the survivors have a traitor among their ranks, who is killing them. Both Rachel and Logan are put under an unbearable strain, causing Logan and Rachel to wonder if their love will be shattered. Soon, everyone is questioning if they can survive the Wasteland.

The second book of the Defiance Series has wide plot holes, long and unrealistic fight scenes, and underdeveloped characters. Even though the story’s point of view alternates between Logan and Rachel, the two are frustrating characters to follow.

Rachel’s father trained her to defend herself, and Rachel is portrayed as an excellent fighter who can defeat male soldiers. Her daring acts in battle are described in long descriptive scenes that are completely unrealistic. In addition, Rachel is amazingly self-centered. When Rachel’s best friend Sylph dies, Rachel is distraught and only thinks about how Sylph’s death will affect her. Instead of being a heart-wrenching moment, Sylph is so underdeveloped that her death has little impact on the reader.

Most of the time, Logan only thinks about keeping Rachel alive. He feels guilty about everything and doesn’t trust anyone in his inner circle to help him keep the survivors safe. Even though Logan is surrounded by others who are older and more knowledgeable, Logan acts as if he is the only one intelligent enough to save the survivors. He over-thinks every situation and doubts his own abilities, but is still arrogant enough to think only he can find the solution to every problem. Plus, Logan’s repetitive inner dialogue is annoying.

This dystopian novel blends action and romance together; however, the story’s many flaws will leave readers wishing that they had left the book on the shelf. If you’re looking for an entertaining dystopian romance, you should read The Selection Series by Kiera Cass and the Matched Trilogy by Ally Condie.

Sexual Content

  • Rachel and Logan kiss several times. For example, Rachel gives Logan a “quick kiss.”
  • Logan thinks “kissing Rachel is like discovering a new element—one that turns my blood into lava and sends sparks shooting straight through every logical thought still lingering in my head.”
  • Rachel has a bad dream. When Logan wakes her, Rachel “raise[s] my head to kiss him, swallowing the rest of his words. My lips are harsh. My hands grip his arms. Claw his shoulders. . . This is what I need. This will make it better. I wrap my leg around his. . . I kiss him hard enough to hurt.” The scene is described over three pages.
  • Rachel and another girl have a short conversation about Logan’s kissing abilities. Rachel thinks, “I lose myself for a moment in the thought of his callused fingers gently sliding over my back, his lips pressing urgently against mine, his breath quickening against my skin.”
  • Rachel and Logan walk into a bedroom and see a husband and wife in bed together. Both the woman’s and man’s chest are exposed.
  • Logan helps Rachel, who is injured, change clothes. Rachel’s skin “glows, my breath hitches in my throat, and a feeling just as real as the pain in my arm but infinitely more delicious spreads through my stomach in lazy spirals. . . His chest scrapes the sensitive skin along my back as he breathes in quick, little jerks as if he’s been running.” Logan admits being tempted by Rachel.

Violence

  • The story begins with a multi-chapter battle. After Baalboden is destroyed, a group of soldiers try to enter the town to attack the survivors. “The first wave of soldiers crashes into the tiny band of survivors and the scream of metal against metal shivers through the air. . . Logan slams into another man, and their swords clash. We lunge, swing, hack, and parry with the Wall at our backs, and slowly gaining ground toward the gate.”
  • During the above fight, Rachel “leap[s] to my feet, and he [a soldier] lunges toward me on legs suddenly too weak to hold him. I follow his gaze as he stares down at the deep cut on his thigh, at the blood gushing out of his artery with every beat of his heart.” Another soldier attacks and Rachel “slice[s] my knife across his neck as he turns. Blood spurts, and I stagger back as it arcs toward me.”
  • A soldier pens Rachel down. Rachel jabs “the knife into the soft meat of the soldier’s leg, and he stiffens, his grip on my Switch arm loosening slightly. Before he can recover, I snap my head back, smashing my skull into his nose.” A man helps Rachel “as he wrenches the man’s sword arm to an impossible angle. The soldier screams in agony as the sickening crack of a bone ripping apart from its tendons fill the air.”
  • During the battle, Willow uses a bow and arrow and “takes them [soldiers] both down in less than ten seconds.” Rachel looks “away before I can see the blood that pours out of their wounds and spreads across the soot-stained cobblestones beneath them.” After the fighting, Logan gives an order “to strip the soldiers’ bodies of anything we can use.”
  • Rachel thinks back to when she killed a man. “My knife. His chest. Blood covering me as I sat horrified.”
  • When soldiers attack, Rachel tries to keep them away from the others. “I plant my right foot, lean back slightly, and snap my left leg into the air, kicking his windpipe with my boot. He drops to the floor. . .” She kills the man, but other soldiers attack her. “I slash my knife, sticking into a soldier’s neck. A line of brilliant red spills across his coat and splashes onto my hand.” Many of the soldiers are killed in bloody detail.
  • The Cursed One attacks a group of survivors. “A thick stream of red-gold fire spews out of its snout. Frankie dives beneath it, but flames grab hold of his tunic and his clothing ignites. He rolls across the grass, extinguishing the flames.” Frankie dies.
  • Someone slits a man’s throat. Logan finds the body. “I shake him and watch in horror as his head tips back, revealing the thick crimson slice across the base of his neck.”
  • While in the forest, someone throws a rock at Logan, making his head bleed.
  • As the group of survivors flees, highwaymen attack. Rachel leads their counterattack. “The highwaymen are converging on me. . . I dive out from under his feet before he can finish swinging his sword at me. His momentum carries him past me, and I slash the tendons behind his knees with my blade.” When the man is down, Rachel goes after another one. “I snatch my knife and lunge to my feet, bringing my weapon in his sternum as I stand. He deflates slowly, and I shove him away as he crumples. . .” Twenty-three of the highwaymen are killed.
  • An army attacks the group. The survivors throw jars full of acid and “the cypress explodes in a shower of splinters, branches, and shards of bark the size of my arm. . . A handful of soldiers are crushed beneath the trunks. Still more are bleeding from gaping wounds to their heads, arms, and legs. . . The soldiers closest to the explosion are thrown onto their backs, their skin riddled with cuts.” The survivors escape by blowing up a bridge. The fight takes place over eight pages.
  • One of the survivors, Willow, jumps into the river to save someone. When a solider goes after her, Rachel shoots him with an arrow. “He staggers, reaches up to grab the arrow, and falls backward into the river. Three more arrows fly, and all of the injured soldiers stop moving.”
  • As the survivors are resting, the rocks near them begin to explode. “Before they can move, another piece of the ground bursts into flames, right beneath the feet of an older man. . . He screams, a long, high wail of agony that tapers off into silence as his body twists away from the fire and falls to the grass in a smoldering heap.” Rachel pushes a child out of danger’s way. The stone explodes and “pain—searing, vicious pain unlike any I’ve ever felt—blazes a trail of agony down my right forearm. I scream and belly crawl away from the terrible heat that reaches for me.” Many people die or are injured. The scene is described over seven pages.
  • Two of the characters reveal that they killed their father. The father’s death is not described.
  • Rachel is kidnapped. Quinn tires to stop the traitor. “He drags me to my feet, but Quinn is already there, crouched and shaking, his breath rattling in the back of his throat like a trapped animal. . . Quinn falls to the ground and disappears beneath the cloud of smoke.” Rachel tries to escape, but the traitor finally “balls up his fist and slams it into the side of my head. . . then my ears ring, my eyes close, and darkness takes me.” The scene is described over eight pages.
  • When Rachel insults the traitor, “the knife plunges down, slicing through my bandage and digging into burned flesh. I scream as raw agony blisters my arm.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Someone poisons the survivors with castor seed poison, which cannot be cured.
  • Several times people are injured and are given pain medication.

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • When soldiers try to ram their way into the city, Logan prays that the survivors have time to escape.
  • When the Cursed One attacks a group of survivors, Frankie gives his life to save them. “I [Rachel] close my eyes, praying that Frankie dies quick and that the pain is over in seconds. Praying that the monster leaves once he’s satisfied his prey is dead. Praying that everyone else has the good sense to honor Frankie’s sacrifice by remaining silent.”
  • While holding an infant, Rachel prays “that I don’t break her.”
  • When Rachel is kidnapped, Logan prays that she is okay.

Defiance #1

Girls in Baalboden learn to be submissive and obey their male Protectors. While other girls learn how to sew dresses, Rachel’s father has been teaching her to survive in the wilderness and wield a sword. When her father, Jared, doesn’t return from a courier mission, everything changes for Rachel. When her father is declared dead, Rachel is assigned a new protector: her father’s apprentice. Now Rachel is commanded to obey Logan, the boy who rejected her two years ago. Rather than meekly obey, Rachel is determined to find her father and prove that he survived the Wasteland.

Logan is many things: orphan, outcast, inventor, apprentice to the city’s top courier. Logan is focused on learning his trade so he can escape the tyranny of Baalboden. But his plan never included being responsible for his mentor’s impulsive daughter. Logan is determined to protect her, but when his escape plan goes wrong and Rachel pays the price, he realizes he has more at stake than disappointing his mentor.

As Rachel and Logan battle their way through the Wasteland, stalked by a monster that can’t be killed and an army of assassins out for blood, they discover romance, heartbreak, and a truth that will incite a war decades in the making.

Even though Rachel is headstrong and capable of defending herself, she is not a very likable character. Rachel often acts impulsively, which almost leads to her death. She is forced to go into the Wasteland with Melkin. When Melkin attacks her, Rachel kills him. Afterwards, she is overcome by guilt because she believes that Melkin wouldn’t have killed her. Although Rachel’s feeling of guilt is understandable, her reasoning doesn’t make sense. This is just one of many frustrating inconsistencies in this story that just don’t make sense.

While Defiance has some action-packed scenes, too much time is devoted to Rachel finding her father and then returning to the city. When Rachel finally makes it to her destination, she learns that her father has died, but left her a package, which Logan is supposed to destroy. Because of this, Rachel’s long journey into the Wasteland and back to Baalboden seems pointless.

Defiance jumps back and forth between Rachel’s and Logan’s points of view. Even though this allows the reader to understand both of their thoughts, readers may still have a hard time relating to either character. Much of the plot is devoted to the characters’ inner monologues, which revolve around their feelings for each other. Many of their troubles could have been easily prevented if they would have talked to each other. In addition, Logan is inconsiderate, controlling, and only thinks about himself. Unfortunately, there is little to like about Rachel or Logan.

The predictable villain, the characters’ inner monologues, and the plot inconsistencies will frustrate readers. The world building is so vague that it does little to add to the dystopian plot. Unfortunately, Defiance is an underdeveloped, forgettable story. If you’re looking for a must read end-of-the-world novel, you should leave Defiance on the shelf and instead read The Host by Stephanie Myer.

 Sexual Content

  • Logan almost kisses Rachel. His “gaze wanders to her lips, and I can’t see anything but a thin trail of water gliding over her skin, gathering at the corner of her mouth, then slowly drifting toward her neck. . . I ache to press her against the wall and taste her.”
  • Rachel thinks about Logan. “I remember the intensity in Logan’s eyes as we leaned close to each other in his kitchen. The way his hand felt pressed against my skin.”
  • When Rachel is too distraught to speak, Logan is worried that she’s “been violated.”
  • Logan notices Rachel’s breast. “The neckline dips down and curves over breasts I didn’t realize until just this minute were so . . . substantial. I force my eyes to scrape over her trim waist, but in seconds I’m staring once more at the way the glittering line of thread along her neckline barely contains her.”
  • Logan and Rachel kiss multiple times. For example, while cleaning off in a lake, Rachel and Logan kiss. “His kiss is rough, tastes like lake water. . . and is the best thing I’ve ever felt. I press against him, consuming him like I’ll never get enough, and when we break apart, my pulse pounds against my ear. . .” The scene is described over a page.
  • Logan grabs Rachel and pulls her close. Logan “can’t hear anything beyond the pounding of my heart and the soft catch of Rachel’s breath as I fist my hands in the back of her tunic and pull her against me like I can’t stand to have a single sliver of air between us.” The three pages of description imply that Logan and Rachel have sex.

Violence

  • When Rachel argues with the Commander, “he grabs a handful of her hair and twists her around to face him. . . She hisses a quick gasp of pain but meets his eyes without flinching.”
  • Logan frequently thinks back to his mother’s death. She was killed when she left the house without male supervision. Logan thinks about the Commander’s “whip falling in cruel precision across my mother’s back . . . my mother’s broken body lying lifeless at the Commander’s feet.”
  • Rachel attempts to leave the compound. A guard begins to follow her. Logan takes a “leap forward, slam my fist into the side of his head, and drag his unconscious body back under the lip of the roof.” Both Rachel and Logan are captured.
  • After the Commander captures Rachel and Logan, a guard “lays the edge of his sword against my [Rachel’s] neck. I raise my chin as the silver bites into my skin, but I refuse to beg for mercy.” At one point, the commander “swings his sword until the tip digs into the soft skin beneath my [Rachel’s] chin. . . The pain is sharp and quick, and a hot trickle of blood slowly snakes its way down my neck.” The Commander eventually lets the two go. The scene is described over five pages.
  • Rachel and Logan ignore the Commander’s orders and the Brute Squad grabs Rachel. “The Commander’s sword plunges deep into the chest of the guard beside me. The man makes a wet gurgling noise in the back of his throat as he reaches up to grasp the blade embedded in his chest. Blood pools beneath his palm and slides along the silver in a single, sinuous streak as he slowly crumples to the floor.”
  • The Cursed One attacks. “It looks like a huge wingless dragon, nearly half the height of the wall, and just as thick. . .” The citizens try to get back into the city wall. The Commander “slashes with the whip, driving people into the side of the wall. One man can’t move out of his way fast enough, and the Commander rides over the top of him. The man lies crumpled and still in the Commander’s wake.” Many people are killed, but their deaths are not described.
  • In order to get Rachel to obey, the Commander shows Rachel someone covered in cloth. He “smiles and drives his sword into the lump. Whoever is trapped beneath the cloth sucks in a raspy breath and moans. Blood blossoms beneath the cloth and spreads like a fast-blooming rose.” When the cloth is removed, Rachel sees her grandfather Oliver, who dies from his wounds.
  • Rachel and Logan are walking home when three drunk men try to rob them. Rachel freaks out and “she whips her knife out of its sheath, raises it above her head, and rushes toward the men. . .” Logan jumps in and “slam[s] the butt of my sword into the man closest to me, whirl to block a blow from the other. . .” After a brief struggle, the men run away.
  • While at a ceremony, Rachel defies the Commander. He “let’s go of my arm to backhand me across the face. I tumble to the floor and see Logan, sword raised, face ablaze, charge the Commander.” People begin to run as Logan “drives his shoulder into the first guard who reaches him, sends the man flying off the stage, and whirls to block the sword thrust of another.”
  • Rachel joins the fight and “a guard jumps in front of me. I drive my knife through his stomach, twist it to the right, and yank it free while he’s still in the act of telling me to halt. Crimson splashes onto my pretty blue skirt.”
  • The Commander catches Logan and, “In seconds, he has his sword against Logan’s neck, and his vicious smile twists his scar into an ugly, knotted ball of picked flesh.” Several guards die. Rachel threatens to kill herself, so the Commander doesn’t kill Logan.
  • The Commander throws Logan into prison. The two men argue and the Commander “lunges for me [Logan], but I duck back. Swinging the chains up, I wrap them around his arm. One swift jerk and I fling him onto the filthy floor of the cell. He lands hard, and I drive my knee into his back, but the guards outside the cell are already on me.” The guards repeatedly hit Logan. “Pain flares to life within me, and it’s all I can do to curl up in a ball and endure as the guards use me as their punching bag.”
  • The Commander brands Logan’s neck. “The smell of scorched skin fills the air, and I retch as brilliant spots dance in front of my eyes. I drag in a deep breath and try to ride out the worst of the agony, but it refuses to abate.”
  • While looking for Rachel in the wasteland, Logan finds a soldier on guard duty. When the man hears him, Logan drops “to my knees, grab the dagger in my boot, and thrust it up as his momentum drives his abdomen onto my blade.”
  • The Commander sends Rachel and Melkin into the Wasteland to retrieve a package. Once they find the package, Melkin tries to take it from Rachel. “He’s in the air, long legs dropping down, his face a mask of murderous intent. I broke his right wrist. The weapon must be in his left hand. . . Flipping my blade around, I push myself off the ground and bury my knife deep into his chest. . . His blood seeps along the knife hilt, thick and warm, and coats my hand.” Melkin dies.
  • Logan knows that a tracker is hunting Rachel. The tracker “turns, but he’s too late. I slam into him, wrap my hands around his throat, and drive both of us onto the ground. . . His knife arm goes up, and his eyes lock on mine, but before I can react, an arrow sinks into the narrow space between his eyes with a soft thud. He shudders, his body sags. . .”
  • The Cursed One attacks a battalion. “The beast rears back, swings its head to the left, and strafes the line of Rowansmark soldiers with fire. The flames incinerate most of them on the spot, but a few fall to the ground wailing in agony.”
  • In the multi-chapter conclusion, the Cursed One attacks a city. “Fire leaps from the creature’s mouth. Two members of the Brute Squad are incinerated and then crushed beneath the thing’s monstrous length as it races forward.”
  • Logan can hear “the citizens in the East Quarter are screaming in agony . . . And through it all, the monstrous shape of the Cursed One coils, lashing out with its tail to crush wagons, buildings, and people.”
  • Logan and a group of people throw jars filled with explosives. When they hit the Cursed One the explosives “blow a section of its tail to pieces.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • When Logan goes into a tavern, the owner, “slaps a heavy wooden mug filled with ale in front of me, though I haven’t ordered a drink.”
  • Logan mentions a man who “can’t hold his liquor.”
  • While in prison, someone gives Logan medicine to help relieve his pain.

Language

  • Rachel wants Oliver to leave the city. Oliver says, “I aim to be great-granddaddy, if that takes riding an ass across a godforsaken wilderness. I guess that’s what I’ll do.”
  • Hell is used once.

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • When the Commander forces Rachel to agree to his plan, she prays that “I’m not making the biggest mistake of my life.”
  • When the Commander shows Rachel a man covered in a cloth, she “prayed it would be a stranger.”
  • During a fight, Rachel prays “Logan isn’t already dead.”
  • Rachel accidentally tells Logan that he is handsome. Then she prays “he’ll change the subject.”
  • When the Cursed One attacks, Logan prays “the citizens there heard the screaming of their neighbors and had enough warning to start running.”

 

Remarkables

One minute, they’re laughing and having fun at the house next door. The next minute, they’re gone. Like magic. Marin can’t believe her eyes. Who are these teenagers, and how are they able to appear and disappear?

Marin spots the mysterious neighbors the first day after moving to a new house, in a new town. She wonders if she’s the only one who can see the teenagers, but then she meets a boy named Charley, who reluctantly reveals that he knows about them too. He calls them “Remarkables.”

Charley warns her to stay away from the Remarkables—and to stay away from him. Life hasn’t been kind to Charley, and Marin can’t stop thinking about something that happened in her old town. Could the Remarkables help? Or. . . is she supposed to help them? Maybe Marin and Charley can fix everything if they can work together long enough to figure out the mystery of the Remarkables.

Full of mystery, Remarkables is a story about family, friendship, and forgiveness. Readers will relate to the protagonist Marin, who is insecure and wonders if she will be able to make friends in her new town. Because of past friendship drama, Marin wonders if there is something wrong with her. However, by the end of the story, she realizes the importance of communication and forgiveness.

Haddix expertly weaves several plot lines into an easy-to-understand, engaging story. Marin’s family is funny, caring, and a bit overwhelmed with all the changes in their lives. When Marin meets Charley, she learns about a tragic accident that happened in the past and how it still impacts Charley’s present. This connects with an incident that happened to Marin before her move. The conclusion of the story merges all of these subplots and shows that “You can have a good future because the past is over. All you can do is learn from it.”

Remarkables will make readers consider the questions: If you could go back in time and change an event, what would it be? Both Marin and Charley consider the question, and they realize that changing the past could cause unintended consequences. When Marin looks at a past tragedy, she realizes the tragedy ended up inspiring others to do good in the world. The relatable characters, mystery, and message all combine to create a story that is entertaining and thought provoking. The story ends on a positive note as it highlights that despite a past mistake, the future still holds the promise of happiness.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • During a party at the neighbor’s, Charley’s dad put food in the oven and it began to smoke. He didn’t want the fire detector to go off so he removed the batteries. Later that week, a fire broke out and Charley’s friend died. The death is not described.

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • Charley and his brothers live with their grandmother because his parents are on drugs. His dad “started using drugs. And then my mom did, too. Because he made her unhappy, too. And they wouldn’t stop.”

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • Marin and Charlie see a group of teens. Charlie thinks the teens are time travelers from the past. Marin thinks the teens are from the future.
  • At one point, Marin wonders if “it was a message from God—a vision, like the kind Marin heard about in church.”
  • Charlie “decided that [a dead girl’s] psychic energy lingered in the place where she’d died. . . Her way of haunting people was to show them good things they needed to see.”

Spiritual Content

  • Marin goes to church with her family. When they go to a new church, Marin is afraid no one will like her. She prays, “Please, God. Please, please, please don’t let me start crying here in front of everyone. . .”
  • During church, the pastor starts “reading a Bible passage, one about Jesus being tempted in the desert. ‘So I’m going to hear about even Jesus messing up?’ Marin thought.”
  • Marin’s father prays that the baby begins to sleep through the night.
  • Marin and her friends were having a sleepover. The girls had a fight so Marin went to sleep in the guest room. While there, she prayed, “Please let someone come and I’ll apologize. Please.”
  • One of Marin’s friends was sick. When Marin asked, “Did she have cancer?” Her father replied, “Thank God, no.”
  • Marin’s father has a difficult time finding a job. He tells Marin, “I will quit whining about how my life isn’t going the way I planned it, and I will get back out of bed and try something new! And. . . I’ll accept that God is maybe trying to send me a sign that he needs me in a different place than I thought, and I’ll quit fighting that message. . .”

The Unbound

In the sequel to Victoria Schwab’s The Archived, Mackenzie Bishop’s adventures as a Keeper of the Archive continue. At the same time, she must balance going back to school and figure out her relationship with Wes, her best friend, and fellow Keeper. But Mackenzie is still haunted by Owen Chris Clarke, the History who almost killed her and nearly brought the end of the Archive. Owen frequently visits her all-too-realistic dreams, and Mackenzie starts to question her sanity as the Archive’s other mysteries close in around her.

But her dreams aren’t the only things haunting Mackenzie. A string of disappearances follows her path, where she was the last person to interact with each of the missing persons. Plus a mysterious man keeps watching her while she’s traveling to and from school. As if that wasn’t enough, she keeps blacking out and waking up with no recollection of what happened. Is a lack of sleep, or something more sinister haunting Mackenzie?

The Unbound is shades darker than The Archived both in atmosphere and content, which helps to enhance the mystery of the Archive and its employees. As the stakes rise, it becomes clear that the reader knows little more than Mackenzie, who struggles with the trauma of almost dying and being manipulated by Owen in the last installment. Some plot points revolve around Mackenzie’s parents, who fear that Mackenzie is depressed, self-harming, and acting out. However, much of the trouble that Mackenzie encounters is because of the Archive and her nightmares. By the end of the novel, Mackenzie is ready to heal her relationships with her parents, Wes, and, most importantly, herself.

The back-to-school setting helps balance the darkness of the Archive and Mackenzie’s nightmares. Although school is not a completely safe location for Mackenzie, school is the one truly normal place that she and Wes experience. At times, their friends provide comic relief and tell Mackenzie more about Wes, who is notoriously secretive.

School also helps bring Mackenzie out of her inner world and the world of the Archive. In many ways, having friends and going to school pulls Mackenzie back into the realm of the living. In both The Archived and The Unbound, Mackenzie spends her time straddling the line between living and dead, between the real and imagined. But in this installment, Mackenzie becomes a more seasoned Keeper while also learning how to live her life.

The Unbound is an exciting follow-up to the darkly magical The Archived. The end neatly wraps up this book and provides a bridge to a potential third book. This book does continue the adventures from The Archived, so The Archived needs to be read first. This book is a must-read because Schwab’s creative prose wonderfully captures the world of the Archive and Mackenzie’s journey, through interesting discussions about grief, trauma, and the scars that we all carry. The dead never truly leave us, but as Mackenzie learns, sometimes it’s necessary to let go and embrace the living as tightly as we can.

Sexual Content

  • Mackenzie and another Keeper, Wes, are friends who spend a lot of time haplessly flirting, though Mackenzie insists that they aren’t dating. However, they do act like they’re dating and Wes sleeps in Mackenzie’s bed. Mackenzie narrates, “I catch his hand, music flaring through me as I draw him to the bed.” They do not have sex.
  • Since Mackenzie and other Keepers have the power to “read” people and objects, another person’s touch tends to be really noisy and overwhelming for Mackenzie. Wes kisses her regardless, and she describes, “The way his lips smiled against my jaw, his now-familiar noise—that cacophony of drum and bass—pressing through me with his touch before I could find the strength to tell him no.”
  • Cash kisses Mackenzie. She says, “His lips are warm and soft, and my head fills with jazz and laughter; for an instant, it feels sweet and safe and simple. But my life is none of those things, and I realize as the kiss ends that I don’t want to pretend it is, and that there is only one person I want to kiss me like this.”
  • Wes and Mackenzie kiss again. Mackenzie describes, “I kiss him, not gently but desperately.” The description lasts for a page.

Violence

  • Mackenzie has frequent nightmares about Owen, the History who tried to kill her in the previous novel. Mackenzie says, “I dream of him dragging the jagged side of his blade across my skin as he murmurs that the ‘real’ Mackenzie Bishop must be hidden somewhere under all that flesh.” This nightmare happens often, and he usually stabs her in the dream, “[driving] the knife forward into [her] chest.”
  • Mackenzie’s little brother Ben “was killed last year on his way to school” in a hit-and-run. His death plagues the family.
  • Wes has a rough home life, and Cash describes Wes’ parents’ divorce as “brutal.” When Wes retreated for a year, not contacting his friends at all, and then returned, Cash gave him a “black eye” for abandoning them. They are still good friends.
  • Mackenzie dislikes the family therapist because she assumes incorrect things about Mackenzie and she convinced Mackenzie’s mother to throw out Ben’s stuff after he died. Mackenzie recalls once that “the one time we met face-to-face, she saw a scratch on my wrist from a pissed-off History and was convinced I did it to myself to feel things.”
  • On her way home from school, two guys attack Mackenzie with a pipe and a knife. She blacks out and wakes up to the two men laying on the ground, “covered in blood.” Mackenzie has no recollection of what she’s done. She notes that one man’s “nose is broken. Blood is gushing down his face, and one of his legs looks like it’s bent at the wrong angle.”
  • Mackenzie runs over a jogger with her bike by accident. “The collision is a tangle of handles and wheels and limbs, and we both go down hard on the concrete.” Other than scrapes and scratches, both are ok.
  • A girl named Bethany goes missing, and Mackenzie learns from her classmates that Bethany’s home life was rough. Her mom had remarried and the situation was turbulent. One girl notes that “sleazy dude [the stepfather] has been there all of a week when he’s home alone with Bethany and takes a go at her . . . She did what any self-respecting Hyde schoolgirl would do. She punched him in the face. But when she tried to tell her mom what happened, she said it was Bethany’s fault.”
  • Someone attacked Cash, and he shows up to school with a “cut beside his eye [and] a bruise darkening his jaw.”
  • Owen, the History that tried to kill Mackenzie in the previous novel, is back, though Mackenzie doesn’t know how. He attacks her at school and kills a passerby. Mackenzie describes, “I hit the ground and roll over and up onto my feet again as he lunges forward and I lunge back. Or at least I mean to, but I misjudge the distance and the toppled shelves come up against my shoulders an instant before he forces the bat beneath my chin.” This continues for several pages.
  • Owen kills one of the Crew, another Archive employee, at the dance. The Crew “crumples, and before he can recover, Owen takes his head in his hands and snaps his neck.” A fight scene with Owen, Wes, Mackenzie, and several other Crew continues for several pages after this death.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Mackenzie takes medication for her headache and then promptly blacks out. When she wakes, “the drinking glass is lying in glittering pieces on the counter, my hand wrapped around the largest shard. Blood runs between my fingers where I’ve gripped it and down my other arm where I’ve carved a single deep line.” She has no recollection of what happened.
  • Mackenzie’s mother drugs Mackenzie to make her sleep. Mackenzie describes the moment when she realizes that her mom slipped a sleeping pill into her drink. She says, “At first I think I’m about to have another blackout, but those happen fast, and this is slow like syrup.”

Language

  • Dallas, the therapist, says to one Crew member, “I’d tell you not to be such an ass, Zachary, but it would be a waste of my breath.”

Supernatural

  • Mackenzie is a Keeper who returns wandering Histories, or ghosts, back to the Archive. The Archive is “a library of the dead, vast and warm, wood and stone and colored glass, and all throughout, a sense of peace.” Mackenzie travels between worlds and encounters quite a few dead people.

Spiritual Content

  • none

by Alli Kestler

Losers Bracket

Annie’s two worlds collide when her biological family and foster family both come to watch her swim meet. A fight breaks out between the two families resulting in Annie’s nephew, Frankie, running away. Annie must rely on her friends, her foster brother, and her social service worker to help her better understand her biological family. In the end, Annie vows to help Frankie find a safe home.

Annie finds refuge from her troubles when attending a book club. In the book club, Annie and other high school students engage in discussions about heroism, family, and stories. These discussions help Annie make sense of her life. Annie also finds support and comfort in her best friend, Leah, and in Walter, a good-hearted biker.

Although Annie partakes in basketball and swimming, there are no play-by-play sports scenes and hardly any sports terminology is used. While sports give Annie an outlet to let off some steam, their main function is to give Annie’s mother an opportunity to see her. Sports fans may be disappointed by the lack of sports scenes.

Crutcher portrays a realistic take on the life of a foster child, and clearly and realistically communicates Annie’s intense feelings. The book is told in the first person, and Annie does not sugarcoat any of her feelings or experiences. Annie constantly disregards her foster parents’ rules, but she is very empathetic. Throughout the book, Annie learns that people can be immeasurably kind and selfless. She also learns to appreciate and love her biological family, even if they behave poorly. Loser Bracket teaches that everyone deserves to tell their own story.

Even though Loser Bracket is written at a fifth-grade reading level, the story hits on tough, mature topics such as abortion, obesity, domestic violence, and suicide. For example, Annie’s sister tries to kill herself and her son by driving her car into a lake. A must-read for mature readers, Losers Bracket is a thought-provoking book about what it means to call someone “family.”

Sexual Content

  • When Annie says she is going to suck at the butterfly stroke, Leah tells her it doesn’t have to be pretty because Annie “gets to dazzle some young horny Michael Phelps never-be studs laying out on a blanket in your skimpy Speedo two-piece between races.”
  • Annie thinks, “There is something powerful about making guys drool, even if they’re doughy little boys three to six years younger, walking around between races with their beach towels high up under their boy boobs to hide their cottage cheese handles. I’m pretty sure this sick little part of me has something to do with what Nancy calls my ‘Boots wiring,’ which is designed to ‘git yourself a man.’”
  • Annie talks about past experiences where she realized she could use her body to her advantage.
  • Annie’s mother encouraged Annie to use her body to her advantage. Annie’s mother “told me every chance she got that ‘them titties’ could get me all of what I needed and most of what I wanted. I’m not going into it, but mostly they got me fingerprints and lies.” Annie goes on to say she is “not going down that road,” and she only dates a guy “if he keeps his hands in his pockets.”
  • Annie thinks her swim coach’s girlfriend “doesn’t like the way I twitch my bikini butt at her boyfriend.”
  • At book club, Annie thinks a boy will remember Maddy because of her “outstanding cleavage.”
  • During book club, Maddy tells a boy to speak up and, “make your voice like your pecs.” Annie explains, “If he does make his voice like his pecs, it will be loud and clear . . . almost any T-shirt fits him like a coat of paint.”
  • Marvin, Annie’s foster brother, tells Annie he can hear his parents talking in their room through the heat grate in his room. He says, “Unfortunately, that’s not all you hear,” hinting that he can hear his parents having sex.
  • Although the word “masturbation” is never used, Marvin hints that he does it. He tells Annie, “Hey, everyone thinks guys my age are stumbling into puberty trying to figure out what to do with our di. . . private parts. I know exactly what to do with my private parts; I just don’t know who to do it with. Except for, you know, myself.” He goes on to tell Annie how his dad got him a kitten to “keep him from practicing” because “when a kitten sees something moving under the covers, he pounces.”
  • Annie describes the show The Leftovers. “On October 14 of whatever year, at the exact same moment, two percent of the population of Earth vanished . . . if you were some guy making love with one of the two percent, you better be on a soft mattress because you’re going to fall about a foot. Farther if it happened to be Nancy. . . these ‘leftover’ people screw like rabbits, because who knows when it will happen again.”
  • Annie jokingly tells Marvin to “memorize the naked scenes” on the show they’re watching because “there will be a test.” Marvin answers, “Which I will pass with flying colors. I may even go on the Internet afterward to pick up some extra credit.”
  • Someone tells Annie, “You’re almost eighteen. In some cultures, you’d be a sex slave by now.”

Violence

  • When Annie’s mom doesn’t show up to her swim practices, Annie feels an emptiness. But when she does show up, Annie is ready for a fight. Annie thinks her brain is “wired backwards,” and compares this phenomenon to “those chicks who cut on themselves; no obvious upside, but every one of them says there’s relief when the blade or the piece of glass slices through.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Walter says Annie’s mom didn’t show up to the basketball game because “Something urgent came up.” Annie asks, “Was it in a pill bottle?”
  • Annie watches her nephew Frankie play with two stuffed animals. He makes them talk, saying they “don’t need no dads ‘cause they do drugs and go to jail. And they hurted our mom.”
  • At Annie’s swim meet, her biological and foster families get into a fight. Annie recounts, “Sheila [Annie’s sister], who must be high, is convinced these people [her foster family] are actually here to taunt me.”
  • Annie and her best friend, Leah, spend hours looking for Frankie. When Leah tries to reassure her, Annie says, “Yeah, well, tell you what’s about to happen with my drug-crazed whore of a sister. She’ll get on TV and cry and say what a wonderful little guy her Frankie was and how desperate and brokenhearted she is, and when it dies down she’ll double her drug use and Frankie will just be another awful Boots memory.”
  • Leah says humans “get a nine-month head start with our mothers, no matter how messed up they are . . . We eat what they eat, share their fluids. . . Biology doesn’t separate vitamins from drugs.”
  • Someone tells Annie that her sister is dropping weight fast. Annie asks, “Like a meth user? Does she still have teeth?”
  • The family goes to Quik Mart every year for Thanksgiving dinner. “Though Quik Mart sells wine, you’re not allowed to drink on the premises, so Walter buys a few bottles and hides them in the toilet tank in each restroom, where you sneak in to fill the Diet Pepsi can you brought inside your backpack.”

Language

  • Profanity is used frequently. Profanity includes: crappy, crap, bitch, bitchy, son-of-a-bitch, ass, asshole, hard-ass, dumb-ass, kick-ass, shitty, shit, shithole, bullshit, damn, damned, hell, bastard, goddamn, fuckin, fuck, bigot, and piss off.
  • Lord, Jesus, God, Oh my God, and For Chrissake are all used several times as exclamations.
  • One of the characters is referred to as a dyke.
  • When Annie is losing a swim race, she was “cursing Janine like she’s the Antichrist.”
  • A woman says she is married with two kids that she would “murder Jesus for.”
  • Annie thanks her coach for “kicking my butt this summer. For keeping me swimming this god-awful butterfly until I got it.”

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • Walter tells Wiz, a social worker, “I’m not a religious man, Wiz; don’t know God from no God from Christian God from Muslim God from Star Wars God.”
  • At book club, the members talk about heroes. Mark asks about Jesus, and Annie thinks, “Very little of what we discuss doesn’t go back through Nazareth for Mark.” When someone says Jesus isn’t real, Mark says, “Nobody more real than Jesus.”
  • Annie thinks, “Mark . . . holds tight to his Christian beliefs, though he never pushes them on you like some people. He also acts on them.”
  • Someone tells Mark, “Pinocchio is more real than Jesus.”
  • When students in the book club try to place Jesus in the same category of popular culture heroes, Mark says, “I’ve been in church every Sunday and Wednesday night since, like, before I can remember. . . that’s where all my heroes come from, starting with Jesus…I just couldn’t leave Him in with Yoda and Obi-Wan.”
  • During the book club’s debate on heroism, someone explains the dilemma of The Last Temptation of Christ.
  • When someone searches the river for Frankie but doesn’t find him, Annie thinks, “Thank God.”
  • Walter tells Annie how he struggled with PTSD. “I’d tried everything . . . Every church told me something different – didn’t know whether to let Jesus save me or save myself.” He goes on to say how he almost went “out the easy way,” but realized “if I jump and there’s a god, I’m going to have to account for myself.”
  • Walter tells Annie he wanted to help her biological mother, and Annie asks if he thought God was testing him. Walter answers, “The world tests you, Annie. If there’s a god, he has bigger fish to fry.”
  • Mark tells the book club about his sister who had an abortion and was thus banished from his religious family. Annie tells Mark, “If you do go to [your sister] you lose seven other people, all family.” Mark adds, “And Jesus.”
  • Another book club member says, “I go to church, too, and the Jesus I know would treat your mother like a money changer, no offense to your mother.”
  • Annie thinks, “I remember talking with Mark about God one night after book club last year, walking away thinking I hope he’s right. I hoped some great big entity is watching, some entity who wants things to turn out right . . . and who has the power to make that happen. But at the same time I was afraid to want it, because of how much it hurts to not get it.”

by Jill Johnson

The New Year’s Party

It’s five minutes to 1965. Beth should be at the party having fun with her boyfriend. Instead, she’s looking for her best friend, Karen. Suddenly, a group of men barge into the house with guns—they’re attempting a robbery. One man grabs Jeremy, Beth’s shy brother, puts a gun to his head and pulls the trigger. However, nothing happens because the gun is fake. The robbery was just a prank pulled by Karen and some seniors. Upset, Jeremy runs off. Beth follows him into his car. They’re driving recklessly in the snow when suddenly they hit a boy. They swerve, then crash.

The story jumps in time to the present day. Reenie, Greta, Archie, and Sean are all friends who enjoy playing pranks on each other. For example, Archie hides in Reenie’s closet pretending to be a corpse. Reenie starts to get the idea that their pranks are going too far, though, when she falls off a cliff and nearly drowns in a frozen lake. She has an uneasy feeling when Archie suggests she throw a house party but ultimately agrees.

Archie and his friend Marc come up with the perfect prank to pull at Reenie’s party. They will get Sandi, the most popular girl in school, to ask P.J., the new quiet kid, to the party. At the party, Sandi will kiss P.J., then pretend to die. This prank goes too far when P.J. actually dies from shock. Reenie and her friends are horrified, but the horror turns to confusion when P.J.’s body disappears. In the next couple of weeks, Marc and Sandi are both murdered. Someone is taking revenge on Reenie and her friends, but they can’t figure out who.

 In addition to the supernatural elements, The New Year’s Party has relatable characters, who are not perfect. Like many typical teens, the characters try to justify their wrongdoings. In addition, the story includes fighting couples, friends who party together, and friends that have trouble with trigonometry. The story jumps back and forth in time, but the time differences are separated by chapters.

In the climax of the story, Liz, P.J.’s sister, invites Reenie and her friends to a New Year’s party. At the party, Liz reveals who killed Marc and Sandi, and chaos ensues. This exciting conclusion that connects the past to the present will shock readers.

The New Year’s Party is a gripping story that will keep readers turning the pages. Every chapter ends on a cliffhanger. The vocabulary is simple, and the plot moves quickly. Reenie’s friends play multiple pranks that always seem real, keeping the readers on the edge of their seats. In true R.L. Stine fashion, the book ends with a twist. The New Year’s Party is a good book for readers of all types who are looking for a quick, enjoyable read.

Sexual Content

  • Beth is at a party scanning the room for her friend when she sees a couple who “were making out in the corner.”
  • When the clock strikes midnight, Beth’s boyfriend, Todd, “pulled Beth to him and kissed her.”
  • Todd asks Beth if she wants to move to the stairs, where “four couples sat on the carpeted steps, making out.” Beth “didn’t want to make out in front of the entire party.”
  • At Reenie’s house, Artie sat next to Gret, then “leaned forward and gave her a long kiss.”
  • Sandi, a pretty, popular girl, slow dances with P.J. When the song ends, she “pulled P.J.’s face to hers. Kissed him. A long, slow kiss.” Reenie observes Sandi “kissing the helpless P.J. so intensely. . . her mouth moving over his, her arms wrapped tightly around his slender shoulders.”
  • Before he leaves the party, Sean “pulled [Reenie] close and kissed her. Reenie wished the kiss would never end. She didn’t want to think about anything but the way Sean’s lips felt against hers.”
  • Reenie is hiding under the bleachers in the gym so she can listen to Liz and Ty’s conversation. Reenie watches as “Liz gently pulled Ty’s head to hers and kissed him. A long, serious kiss.”

Violence

  • A group of men with pistols crash a house party. One of the men grabbed Jeremy and “pressed the gun barrel against Jeremy’s head. Then he pulled the trigger.” The gun didn’t fire because it was plastic. The whole thing was a prank played by a group of high school seniors.
  • Jeremy is driving recklessly on icy roads with Beth in the car. They saw a “dim figure” in the road before “something bounced on the hood with a heavy thud. A face appeared through the foggy windshield. A boys’ face, his mouth open in a scream of surprise. The boy dropped to the ground. The car rolled over him with a hard bump.” Because they are scared of facing the fact they just killed a boy, they do not stop to help him and keep driving.
  • Jeremy lost control of the car on the icy roads. “The car smashed hard into the snowbank. . . [Beth’s] scream ended in a grunt as she was thrown forward and her head cracked against the dashboard . . . Beth felt warm blood trickle down her forehead.” Beth watches the car break “through the snowbank” and feels “shock after shock of pain.” Beth is able to crawl out of the car, but she later realizes she is just a spirit, and her body is still in the car, dead.
  • As Reenie puts her sweater in her closet, she sees “bulging, blank eyes.” At first she believes it to be a “corpse” with “gooey blood, dark and caked, oozed over his head.” The corpse is actually Sean, and he was pulling a prank on Reenie.
  • Reenie falls off the edge of a drop-off that overlooks a lake. “She was falling, sliding and tumbling, down the snowy hillside. It knocked the breath out of her. She struggled to gasp in air.” She falls onto the frozen lake, and her “hip smashed against the hard surface. She let out a small moan of pain.” As she is walking to the bank, “the ice beneath her gave way with a groan. She slid into the freezing, black water.” Struggling to get out, “she thrashed her arms, trying to pull herself back up to the surface. . . her head hit the underside of the ice. ‘I can’t breathe,’ she realized. She pounded on the ice with her fists. Clawed at it.” Reenie passes out, but Sean rescues her.
  • As Artie speeds into an intersection with Reenie in the car, another car hits them. Reenie heard “metal slam against metal. Shattering glass. The car spun, slamming her into the door. . . She felt the seat belt biting into her stomach, as she was thrown forward. Then she lurched back against the seat.”
  • After Sandi kisses P.J., she shoves him away and “uttered a long, frightening moan. . . She sank to her knees, her eyes wide, her mouth hanging open. . . Sandi crumpled into a heap on the floor.”
  • Artie and Marc are working in the garage when Reenie and Greta come over. Artie leaves Marc alone in the garage. Marc’s friends hear “a high, ragged scream of terror” come from the garage. When they rush to the garage, they see “a body lay sprawled over the shiny red hood. Marc’s body. Blood dripped from his mouth and nose and his head . . . was twisted around on his neck . . . completely backward.” Marc was murdered.
  • Reenie leaves Sandi alone at the Burger Shack. When Reenie comes back, she finds Sandi dead in a trashcan. “Sandi’s eyes stared blankly at the ceiling. But she lay on her chest . . . Her head had been twisted around backward. And her face held the same terrified expression. Her blue eyes wide with horror.”
  • Liz is holding Sean, Greta, Archie, and Reenie captive. Sean holds a knife as he demands that Liz open the door to let them go. Liz “threw herself at Sean,” who “toppled to the floor with Liz on top of him. . . His body twisted and thrashed as he tried to throw Liz off.” Liz “tried to choke” Sean but Reenie “grabbed Liz by the shoulders and struggled to pull her off Sean.” Liz “tore at Sean’s wrist with her teeth,” causing him to drop the knife.
  • Once she regains the knife, Liz “grabbed Sean and pressed the blade against his throat . . . Reenie saw a drop of red blood roll down Sean’s neck.”
  • While Reenie distracts Liz, Sean “grabbed Liz around the waist. He pinned her against him with one arm—and grabbed the knife away with his other hand.” Liz “stumbled into [Sean]. And the knife plunged deep into her chest.” Everyone is frightened, especially when, “No blood poured from the wound.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Reenie has a house party and runs into Marc. “He stood so close she could smell the beer on his breath.”
  • At the party, Reenie notices Artie’s eyes look watery, and thinks, “Great. They’ve both been drinking.”

Language

  • Artie threatens P.J. after P.J. dropped a weight on him. Artie says, “I’m going to get that little creep, P.J.” Artie goes on to call P.J., “You little jerk!”
  • After he describes their “dumb practical jokes” to a police officer, Sean admits he sounded like a “total jerk.”

Supernatural

  • After they crash the car, Beth and Jeremy realize they are dead. They can see their bodies in the car. Jeremy tries to get back inside his body, but he can’t. He cries, “My arms passed right through my body!” Beth realizes Jeremy is starting to fade. Beth feels herself fading too. “Only the darkness remained. Everywhere. Closing on her. Claiming her.”
  • It is revealed that Liz and P.J. are the same people as Beth and Jeremy; they just changed names. Their spirits somehow reappeared solidly enough for them to act like real people. They died in a car crash thirty years ago, and they were trapped for years in a “cold, gray place.” Liz explains, “As the years passed, we grew stronger. And then suddenly we were back. Back in our old bodies. People could see us and hear us again.”
  • Ty confesses he was the boy Beth and Jeremy ran over, and he was also brought back to life to get revenge.
  • As the clock strikes midnight, Beth, Jeremy, and Ty fight with each other. “Liz and Ty and P.J. whirled around, tugging each other as if in a mad dance. Faster and faster. Waves of icy air swept off their bodies. . . A ghostly whirlwind.”
  • Beth, Jeremy, and Ty disappear once the clock strikes midnight. “A high, shrill whistle pieced Reenie’s ears. Louder. Shriller. Until Reenie covered both ears to shut it out. And the three ghosts began to fade. . . They faded to shadows. Then the shadows faded to smoke. A spinning column of smoke . . . The smoke faded. And floated away.”

Spiritual Content

  • None

by Jill Johnson

Long Way Down

Somebody shot and killed Will’s brother Shawn, and Will thinks he knows who did it. The morning after Shawn’s death, Will picks up his brother’s gun and gets in the elevator of the apartment building with his heart set on revenge. That’s when things get weird.

Sixty seconds. That’s how long it takes Will to reach the bottom and exit the elevator, but in those sixty seconds Jason Reynolds crafts a story where Will confronts nasty truths about the events that killed not only his brother but his other relatives and friends over the years. Will faces literal ghosts in the elevator that he never thought he’d have to confront. In those sixty seconds, Will must shape the course of his life.

Although Long Way Down takes place over a course of a minute, the story is packed with twists and turns. Early on, Will learns that the other people who entered the elevator are ghosts come to warn him. Each ghost is someone from Will’s past, and through discussion and memories, Will forms new understandings about the violent, revenge-hungry world that has shaped him and his ideas of justice.

The ending is ambiguous and the reader does not find out if Will follows through on his revenge plot. It is clear from the ghosts’ stories and Will’s code of justice that if he takes vengeance, he’ll end up dead like the ghosts. It could be insinuated that they are asking Will if he’s ready to join their ranks by making the same mistakes. Will learns that violence is cyclical and feeds itself. Long Way Down has a heavy message but shows that Will has the power to choose a different path. Even though he and his family have been wronged, the themes within the story make it clear that revenge is never the way out. And, most importantly, Will is the only person in charge of his own destiny. The ghosts give him the tools to determine his fate, but only he makes his own destiny.

Will’s story is told free-verse which highlights the speed at which Will learns from the ghosts and the speed of the descending elevator. Long Way Down packs a punch because it’s short and moves quickly. In this way, the message never leaves center stage, but it’s also never beaten like a dead horse.

Long Way Down is one of Reynolds’ more serious stories, and the plot works well with the somber tone. It’s a hard-hitting tale that demands that each person evaluates the meaning of justice and the consequences of their actions. Some of the events described are dark and may upset younger readers, but these scenes all highlight the main themes. Long Way Down is an excellent story that presents the power of choice and compassion in the lives of everyone, including the people we never get the chance to meet. Fans of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol will appreciate the similarities that appear in Long Way Down. While Reynolds doesn’t mold his story around the Christmas season, both stories show how one event can drastically change a person’s life.  Readers can also find Long Way Down in graphic novel format.

Sexual Content

  • Will and Shawn’s mom prayed that Shawn “wouldn’t get Leticia pregnant.”
  • Shawn gives Will some of his cologne and said that “[Will’s] first girlfriend—/ would like it.”
  • A girl enters the elevator, and Will describes her as “Fine as heaven… [Will] was/ walking [his] eyes/ up her legs,/ the ruffle and fold/ of her flower/ dress, her/ arms, her/ neck, her/ cheek, her/ hair.”
  • Will doesn’t want to flirt with the girl in the elevator because “it’s hard to think about/ kissing and killing/ at the same time.”
  • The girl knows Will’s name. Will thinks, “if a girl says she knows you/ but ain’t never met her/ then she’s been/ watching you./ Clockin’ you./ Checkin/ you.” He continues to “load up [his] flirts.”
  • The mystery girl’s name is Dani; she and Will were childhood friends. Dani says to Will, “You remember, on this day,/ I kissed you?”

Violence

  • Will’s brother Shawn “was shot/ and killed.” Will has flashes where he describes Shawn’s death. Once, Will narrates, “And then there were shots./ Everybody /ran, /ducked, /hid, / tucked/ themselves tight . . . the buzz of a bullet,/ ain’t meet us.”
  • Will lists off “The Rules” for when someone is killed in their neighborhood. The third rule is “If someone you love/ gets killed,/ find the person/ who killed/ them and/ kill them.”
  • Shawn’s side of the bedroom is all neat and clean except for one drawer that “was jacked up on purpose to keep [Will] and Mom out/ and Shawn’s gun in.”
  • Will thinks that Shawn’s so-called friend, Carlson Riggs, shot Shawn. Will has a few theories for why, including that Carlson moved and joined a gang called Dark Suns. Will thinks Carlson shot Shawn because Shawn crossed into their turf “as the corner store/ that sells that special soap/ my mother sent Shawn/ out to get for her the/ day before yesterday.”
  • Will plans to kill Carlson with Shawn’s gun. Will would “pull my/ shirt over my mouth and nose/ and do it.”
  • While playing in the park, Dani was shot and killed by unnamed gunmen. “Gunshots,/ she said . . . Dani said her body burned/ and all she wanted to do was/ jump outside of herself,/ swing to somewhere else.”
  • Will saw Dani die. “Her eyes wide, the brightness/ dimming. Her mouth, open./ Bubble gum/ and blood.”
  • Another ghost enters the elevator and accosts Will. “Two large hands . . . snatched fistfuls of my shirt,/ yoking me by the neck,/ holding me there until/ the elevator door closed.”
  • Uncle Mark videotaped everything he could, including, “gang fights,/ block parties.”
  • In order to take Uncle Mark’s drug-dealing corner, a guy killed him. Will says, “Unfortunately,/ [Uncle Mark] never shot nothing/ ever again./ But my father did.”
  • Will narrates, “Shawn always said/ our dad was killed/ for killing the man/ who killed our uncle./ Said he was at a pay/ phone, probably talking/ to Mom, when a guy/ walked up on him,/ put pistol to head . . . But that was the end/ of that story.”
  • Will’s dad tells Will about how he killed Uncle Mark’s killer. Will’s dad says, “Hood over my head./ Gun from my waist/ and by the time he saw me/ I was already squeezing.” Later Will’s dad discovered that he killed the wrong guy.
  • Will’s dad takes Will’s gun and puts it up to Will’s head. “Pop stood over me,/ the gun pressed against/ the side of my face.” Will freaks out and Pop backs up, giving the gun back to Will.
  • A ghost named Frick enters the elevator. Buck says, “This is the man/ who murdered me.”
  • Frick “shot [Buck]/ twice/ in the stomach,/ in the street.”  Frick was only supposed to rob Buck, but Buck “swings at [Frick]… I got scared./ So I pulled/ the trigger.”
  • To be a Dark Sun, one must have “a cigarette burn under the right eye” and rob, beat, or kill someone.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Buck smokes a cigarette in the elevator. Buck offers one to Dani, who takes “one/ from the box.”
  • Uncle Mark is seen in family photos with a “cigarette tucked/ behind ear.” He also smokes in the elevator.
  • Will says of smoking, “I don’t smoke./ Shit is gross.”
  • Uncle Mark lost his camera. To get another, he decided “to sell [drugs] for one day. . . Uncle Mark/ took a corner,/ pockets full/ of rocks to/ become rolls.” One day turned into months.
  • Will’s Mom “cried and drank” herself to sleep.
  • Will talks about Buck. Will remembers that Buck was “a small-time hustler,/ dime bags on the corner” until Will’s dad was killed.

Language

  • Profanity is used often. Profanity includes damn, asshole, and hell.
  • The word “fuck” is used once. Shawn has his gold chain on him when he’s shot. Will says about the chain, “Them fuckers ain’t even/ snatch it.”
  • After Shawn’s death, Will sees himself in the mirror and says “I looked and/ felt like/ shit.”

Supernatural

  • A childhood friend of Shawn’s, Buck, appears in the elevator. Buck is a ghost because he was shot and killed years previous. When Buck smokes, there’s “Fire./ Smoke./ But no ash.” As new people enter the elevator, it becomes clear that several ghosts are visiting Will to give him guidance and warnings.

Spiritual Content

  • Will thinks about God and says, “I swear sometimes/ it feels like God/ be flashing photos/ of his children,/ awkward,/ amazing,/ tucked in his wallet/ for the world to see… God ain’t/ no pushy parent/ so he just folds/ and snaps/ us shut.”
  • Buck’s stepfather was a preacher, “praying for anyone,/ helping everyone.”

by Alli Kestler

 

The Archived #1

Contrary to the popular adage, the dead do in fact tell tales. Many of them. The dead, or Histories, are kept in a place hidden from the living world called the Archive, where only the Librarians can access them. But sometimes they wake, and they make it into the Narrows (the world between) and some are willing to kill to get back to the living world. Keepers are tasked with returning the lost Histories back to the Archive, and sometimes things get . . . messy.

When Da brought his twelve-year-old granddaughter, Mackenzie Bishop, into the Archive to have her take his place as Keeper, she quickly became a young, ruthless prodigy. After a tragedy, Mackenzie starts to see her brother in the eyes of the Histories that she has to return to the Archive. Mackenzie must confront the lines that separate the living and the dead. With the increases in disturbances in the Archive and someone erasing Histories, Mackenzie uncovers the secrets that keep the Archive in one piece.

Mackenzie and the other characters are extremely realistic, despite their fantastical stories. Headstrong and fiercely independent, Mackenzie struggles with grief over her brother’s death and the secrets about the Archive that she must keep from her family. She shows strength in her ability to own up to and correct her mistakes. Mackenzie’s struggles are wide-reaching and she is a sympathetic character. Her relationships with other characters, including the Librarian Roland and fellow Keeper Wes, help her improve as a person and bring some light to an otherwise somber story.

Despite the gothic nature of the titular place, the Archive itself is beautiful. Housing and tracking the Histories of the dead is a macabre business, and as one of the main locations in the novel, the Archive ironically has a life of its own. With a curious cast of Librarians and other personnel working within the structure, at times the Archive seems more alive than the outside world.

The Archived presents strong themes about grief, memories, and the line that separates life and death. Mackenzie, being only a teenager, tackles these topics that haunt all the characters—young, old, dead, and alive. The various ways her parents deal with death versus the ever-secretive Librarians’ ways of dealing with the dead serves to enhance the discussion about death and memories in particular. All the characters have regrets and push the line between the world of the living and the Archive, and their stories are ultimately determined by their abilities to deal with grief and the past.

Victoria Schwab paints an atmosphere that is equal parts magical and spooky in The Archived. Readers who want a darker book will be delighted by Schwab’s prose and wildly inventive world. The Archived sets up an interesting series with much to discover. In the sequel, The Unbound, more secrets are revealed through Mackenzie’s next adventures. The Archived shows that the dead never really leave us, as long as their memories live on in those that they loved.

Sexual Content

  • Mackenzie dreams of being normal, and in her dreams, she “kisses a boy.”
  • Mackenzie’s very elderly neighbor confuses Mackenzie for a kiss-a-gram. Mackenzie eventually tells him, “Sir, I’m not here to kiss you.”
  • One of the escaped Histories kisses Mackenzie. She says, “as his lips press against my skin, the silence flares in my head, blotting something out. Heat ripples through my body, pricking my senses as the quiet deadens my thoughts. He kisses my throat, my jaw. Each time his lips brush my skin, the heat and silence blossom side by side and spread, drowning a little bit of pain and anger and guilt, leaving only warmth and want and quiet in their place.” The description continues for a couple of pages, and this situation happens a couple of times.
  • Fellow Keeper Wes kisses Mackenzie. Mackenzie describes, “I’m about to speak, about to tell him that, tell him everything, when he brings his hand to the back of my neck, pulls me forward, and kisses me . . . all I can think is that he tastes like summer rain. His lips linger on mine, urgent and warm. Lasting.”

Violence

  • Mackenzie’s little brother Ben was killed in a hit-and-run accident. Mackenzie describes the accident. “It was a normal day, right up until the point a car ran a red light two blocks from Ben’s school just as he was stepping from the curb. And then drove away.” Later, she recalls a memory. “The cops are talking to Dad and the doctor is telling Mom that Ben died on impact, and that word—impact—makes me turn and retch into one of the hospital’s gray bins.”
  • Some Histories, or ghosts from the Archive, are called “Keeper-Killers, the Histories who manage to get out through the Narrows and into the real world.” As the name suggests, these Histories kill Keepers to escape.
  • Mackenzie had to face trials to become a Keeper. In a memory, Mackenzie narrates, “Da told me to be ready for anything, and it’s a good thing he did, because between one moment and the next, [the examiner’s] posture shifts . . . I dodge the first punch, but he’s fast, faster even than Da, and before I can strike back, a red Chuck connects with my chest.” This sequence continues for a couple of pages.
  • One of the Histories has a knife and attacks Mackenzie. She saw metal, “and jump[ed] back just in time, the knife in his hand arcing through the air, fast.” Other Histories escape and attack Mackenzie as well.
  • Da taught Mackenzie how to fight. In her memory, she recalls, “You take me out into the summer sun to show me how to fight. Your limbs are weapons, brutally fast. I spend hours figuring out how to avoid them, how to dodge, roll, anticipate, react. It’s get out of the way or get hit.”
  • With her Archive-granted ability to see into the past, Mackenzie sees the memory of a guy murdering a girl in a hotel. The guy swipes “a large shard of glass from the floor . . . He’s on top of her, and they are a tangle of glass and blood and fighting limbs, her slender bare feet kicking under him as he pins her down. And then the struggle slows. And stops . . . I can see her, the lines carved across her arms, the far deeper cut across her throat.”
  • A series of deaths occurred within months of each other, some look like suicides and some look like accidents. Mackenzie learns that the circumstances for each death are fuzzy at best. She wonders, “Did he jump or was he pushed? Did Marcus hang himself? Did Eileen trip?”
  • A History stabs Wes. Mackenzie watches as “Wes throws another fist, and Owen catches his hand, pulls him forward, and plunges the knife into his stomach.” Wes is severely injured but survives.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Da smokes “a cigarette.” He is a lifelong smoker.
  • Mackenzie can “read” objects by touching them. When she’s reading a bloodstained floor in the hotel, she sees a boy who “judging by his feverish face and the way he sways, he’s been drinking.”
  • Mackenzie’s very elderly neighbor shows up and “a thin stream of smoke drifts up from his mouth, where a narrow cigarette hangs.”

Language

  • Profanity is occasionally used. Profanity includes damn, ass, bastard, and hell.

Supernatural

  • Mackenzie is a Keeper who returns wandering Histories, or ghosts, back to the Archive, which is “a library of the dead, vast and warm, wood and stone and colored glass, and all throughout, a sense of peace.” Mackenzie travels between worlds and encounters quite a few dead people.

Spiritual Content

  • Da shows that he’s somewhat superstitious/spiritual, and Mackenzie has the same superstitions. Before entering the Narrows, Mackenzie says, “I pull Da’s key from around my neck, running a thumb over the teeth the way he used to. For luck, Da used to rub the key, cross himself, kiss his fingers and touch them to the wall—any number of things. He used to say he could use a little more luck.”
  • Wes refers to his dad’s new fiancée as “Satan in a skirt.”
  • Wes reads part of Dante’s Inferno. He says, “When you think about it, the Archive is kind of like a Hell.”

by Alli Kestler

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