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Books in Brief: The Last Confession of Autumn Casterly by Meredith Tate; Under the Broken Sky by Mariko Nagai; Cezanne's Parrot by Amy Guglielmo


The Last Confession of Autumn Casterly by Meredith Tate; G.P. Putnam's Sons, 368 pages ($17.99). Ages 14 and up.


This well-crafted thriller, told from the alternating perspectives of two sisters, ratchets up the suspense all the way to the surprising and action-packed finale. It's a thriller with a timely and important message, a terrible secret that is revealed late in the tale.

Ivy is a band geek, a nerd who plays board games with her friends and has never had a boyfriend.

Older sister Autumn is the pretty, skinny one. She's also a juvenile delinquent who sells drugs, stays out all night, beats up people who cross her and has quite a reputation around school since word got out that she had sex at 15 with her stepbrother, a star football player, at a drunken party.

Autumn knows all the lowlifes in her hometown of Concord, N.H., but when one of them tries to talk her into robbing a convenience store, she backs out at the last minute. When an unknown party contacts her to buy drugs, she is badly beaten, tied up and held hostage. Hovering between life and death, she leaves her body trying to find help. But only Ivy can sense her presence. Ivy is certain something is wrong, but the police, aware of Autumn's bad-girl reputation, don't take Ivy's concerns seriously. So Ivy enlists her nerdy friends, including her best friend Jason, to help her track down Autumn.

Along with thrilling suspense and a well-crafted mystery, Tate offers a compelling portrait of the two sisters, their fractured relationship and the general wreckage of their home life since their mother died of cancer and their father remarried.

The novel is set in Tate's hometown of Concord, N.H., and mentions Red River Theater, Granite State Candies, True Brew Barista and Concord High School, where she says her experience was nothing like Autumn's.  She dedicates her book "to all the survivors/ who are shut down/ gaslighted/ silenced/ slut-shamed/ blamed and called liars, I see you. I believe you. You deserve the world. This one's for you."


Under the Broken Sky by Mariko Nagai; Henry Holt, 280 pages ($16.99) Ages 8 to 12.


This heart-rending tale, told in free verse, spotlights a little-known aspect of World War II, as it tells the story of a 12-year-old Japanese girl struggling to protect her little sister as they join a tide of Japanese settlers forced to flee occupied Manchuria in 1945.

Nagai in swift strokes paints a vivid picture of the countryside, where Natsu, 6-year-old Asa and their kindly widowed father Tochan live a quiet life on their small farm near the border of the Soviet Union. When Tochan is conscripted into the Japanese Army in the final months of the war, Natsu and Asa are left alone, destitute, in the care of an elderly neighbor they call Auntie. As the Soviets advance, the girls and Auntie set off with their neighbors on a terrifying journey on foot, taking only what they can carry. Nagai shines a light on the terror of the refugee experience through a child's eyes, in the terrible uncertainty, the hunger and thirst, the exposure to the elements, the danger (a Soviet plane drops bombs, the refugees must ford a dangerous river, hostile villagers deny them help). Forced to take shelter in an overcrowded building as winter arrives, Auntie falls ill. In desperation, as she herself falls ill, Natsu sells Asa to a Russian woman who lives in town and then tries to scheme to get her back. Nagai's tale is ultimately hopeful, and she includes additional historical information at the end.

(Note: Another excellent novel for this age group about a child's experience of forced migration is Veera Hiranandani's "The Night Diary" about a Hindu family fleeing their home in Pakistan after the partition of India in 1947.)


Cézanne's Parrot by Amy Guglielmo, illustrated by Brett Helquist; G.P. Putnam's Sons ($17.99)


This charming and inspiring picture book biography sympathetically and humorously depicts the artist's struggle to win recognition for his work and his perseverance in the face of ridicule of his post-Impressionist style. (Cézanne actually did teach his parrot to say: "Cézanne is a great painter.")

Guglielmo's lively narrative and Helquist's droll illustrations bring to life the artist, the times he lived in, his artistic contemporaries, and his slow process of painting (the flowers wilted, the fruit rotted, the human models got impatient and quit).  This is a wonderful introduction to the work of the artist Picasso called "My one and only master ... Cézanne was like the father of us all." The representations of Cézanne's paintings included in the illustrations are identified at the end.


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