Review: Complicit by Stephanie Kuehn

complicit

Complicit by Stephanie Kuehn

Jamie and his sister Cate were adopted by a wealthy couple whose own children died.  But money can’t fix everything.  Two years ago Cate was sentenced to juvenile detention for burning down their neighbors horse barn and injuring a girl.  Now Cate is free and she’s returning to Jamie’s life though he wants nothing to do with her.  When Jamie had first heard of the barn burning down, his arms went completely numb and non-functional.  He’s gotten better in the last two years, but hearing that his sister is returning and looking for him specifically has his arms going numb again.  Cate bears a truth that Jamie might finally be ready to hear, and Jamie knows that there is something about the fire at the barn that just isn’t right.  This tense and twisting thriller will keep readers enthralled right to the incredible ending.

Kuehn won the William C. Morris Award for her first book, Charm & Strange.  Her skills is on display here too as this second book is a completely engrossing read that is one wild ride.  Told entirely from the point of view of Jamie, readers can only guess at what he is hiding from himself.  Tension builds as Jamie starts to piece together clues about Cate and what she was doing the night the barn burned and then why she turned herself in days later.   As Cate starts to call Jamie and provide hints herself, the tension creeps up higher.  The explosive ending will confirm some reader’s guesses but will also stun with its revelations.

Skillfully written and plotted, this novel explores mental illness in a very close and personal way.  Jamie is a wonderfully flawed narrator, filling the pages with his unique point of view that readers know from the beginning is skewed though they are not sure exactly how.  That is part of the brilliance of the book, that there are many ways in which Jamie can be misunderstanding his sister and his past.  That’s what keep readers turning the pages, the need to know what in the world is the truth.

A riveting and breathtaking read, this is a perfect summer read to share between friends.  Appropriate for ages 14-17.

Reviewed from digital galley received from NetGalley and Macmillan.

Review: All Different Now by Angela Johnson

all different now

All Different Now: Juneteenth the First Day of Freedom by Angela Johnson, illustrated by E. B. Lewis

Celebrate the beauty of freedom in this book dedicated to Juneteenth.  Told from the point of view of a young girl, the story is about the first Juneteenth, the day that freedom was first announced for the last of the slaves in the South.  Living in shacks on a plantation in Texas, the day is just another day for the girl and her family and the rest of the slaves.  They worked hard in the hot sun, not knowing that word of their freedom was steadily heading their way.  Then the news arrived and people reacted in different ways, but quickly they pulled their things together and left the plantation behind for freedom.  Now June 19th is celebrated as African American Emancipation Day across the United States.  It’s a joy to have such a beautiful picture book to give to children to explain Juneteenth and why it means so much.

Johnson manages somehow to show slavery in all of its bone-grinding hard work and lack of freedom but also infuse it with moments of beauty, like waking to the scent of honeysuckle.  Her words are poetry on the page, spare and important, speaking volumes in only a few phrases.  The book ends with a timeline of important events and a glossary of relevant terms, making this a very useful book as well as lovely.

Lewis’ illustrations are beautiful.  He plays with light and dark on the page, allowing the light of the hot Texas day to fill the tiny shack but also making sure that the barrenness is evident and the poverty.  The book is filled with light, the sky burned to a pale yellow.  Until darkness which has a richness and endlessness that is sumptuous.  There is such hope on these pages, almost achingly so, particularly as freedom is announced and they turn their faces to a new future.

Beautiful and timely, this book will be welcome in library collections across the country as one of the only picture books about this holiday.  Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from copy received from Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.