4 out of 4 stars
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Autumn Drawings by Kelli Huffman is a YA novella blending the genres of suspense and romance. Other girls her age may be fixated on their wardrobes and weekend plans, but seventeen-year-old Xo (Zoe) is wrestling with more serious issues. She filed for emancipation at the age of sixteen due to her parents' drug abuse. Xo supports herself by working as a waitress. She's bullied at school and is counting the days until the end of the school year. Despite Xo's efforts to sever ties with her parents' dysfunctional lifestyle, once again, their actions place her in danger. Kit is a classmate, and she learns that he is also the son of her parents' dealer. As the story unfolds, Xo becomes conflicted. She is drawn to Kit's gentle nature but suspicious of his motives. Xo is doubtful about whether she should trust Kit, but does she have a choice?
I read this 60-page novella in an afternoon. However, despite the book's brevity, Ms. Huffman tackled some weighty issues, including drug abuse, bullying, abandonment, suicide, and low self-esteem. Described as a "young writer who seeks to open the eyes of her readers and truly make them think," Ms. Huffman accomplished her mission. The issues raised in the book have stayed with me. Her realistic portrayal of Xo's low self-worth due to circumstances that were beyond her control tugged at my heartstrings; I found myself hoping that her accuracy was born of creativity and not through experience.
Likewise, I would not have guessed that the author is a high school student. Although the book is self-published, its presentation is professional from the artistic cover to the meticulous editing. I particularly like how Ms. Huffman utilizes the timeline and flashbacks from Xo's past to propel the plot. During the shifts from present to past, the narrative alternates from first-person to third-person, which seems fitting when Xo is reliving painful memories. The timeline shifts and alternating narratives are executed seamlessly, which is a credit to the young author's skill.
The only thing I disliked was Ms. Huffman's unusual spelling of the protagonist's name. At first glance, I found "Xo" too similar to the popular acronym for "hugs and kisses." However, on the first page, Ms. Huffman clarified the pronunciation by referring to the more conventional spelling of the name, Zoe. Overall, this minor detail didn't detract from the book.
I'm pleased to rate this poignant YA novella 4 out of 4 stars. Ms. Huffman is an author to watch, and I look forward to more of her writing. The book is refreshingly free from profanity. Although it grapples with serious topics, sadly, they are relevant in today's culture. I recommend it to the target audience as well as parents of teens and young adults.
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