cover image Free Radicals

Free Radicals

Lila Riesen. Penguin/Paulsen, $19.99 (400p) ISBN 978-0-593-40771-4

Sixteen-year-old, prank-loving Mafi Shahin, who is white and Afghan American, doles out justice on her classmates’ behalf as an enigmatic vigilante called Ghost. The process is simple: the aggrieved leave a note with Mafi’s 12-year-old neighbor, Cole, who delivers it to Mafi. As Ghost, Mafi then seeks revenge in the form of harmless, but effective, pranks. Mafi only has four rules for herself: don’t get caught; never reveal your identity; avoid police involvement; and don’t get emotionally invested. But keeping her superhero-esque identity a secret means she must lie to her friends, family, and even her childhood crush. When Mafi’s mistruths compromise a family secret and jeopardize relatives in Afghanistan, she must decide whether to continue upholding her charades and deceptions, or own up to the truth. The vigilante plot device introduces an electrifying complication to the emotionally grounded, interpersonally focused conflict, adding textured layers to this anticipatory read. By deploying a healthy dose of sharp humor across a pacey plot that’s populated by an intersectionally diverse cast, Riesen crafts an emphatic and empathetic debut that doesn’t shy away from exploring grave themes such as imperialism, intergenerational trauma, war, and xenophobia. Ages 12–up. (Mar.)