cover image Forty Words for Love

Forty Words for Love

Aisha Saeed. Kokila, $18.99 (304p) ISBN 978-0-593-32646-6

Two teens navigate grief and first love in this romantic fantasy by Saeed (Omar Rising), set in a magical world. Moonlight Bay local Yas and Raf—who has a leaf-shaped birthmark and is part of the Golub people—have been friends since Raf and his family moved to town as climate refugees when he was young. Determined to confess his feelings for Yas, Raf seeks her out, only to catch her in a seemingly tender moment with Moses Holler, the heir of Moonlight Bay’s most influential family. Raf later stumbles upon the corpse of five-year-old Sammy Holler, setting into motion a chain of events with disastrous implications for everyone in town. Moses and his family move away, taking with them the town’s economic security, and the ocean, once a soothing pink and lavender, becomes a grimy gray. Thin worldbuilding deflate the intriguingly rendered landscape and a jam-packed plot stymie Yas and Raf’s budding, Romeo and Juliet–esque romance. Still, skillful characterizations keep readers invested as Saeed weaves a tale of a grieving town on the brink of financial collapse and the resourceful, minimally described protagonists intent on saving it. Ages 12–up. (Aug.)