Four Letter Word

Disney-Hyperion. Mar. 2024. 320p. bibliog. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9781368097437.
Gr 9 Up–An Italian foreign exchange student comes to stay with her family, and Izzy hopes it will brighten up her home life. Her mom’s mental health struggles have worn on Izzy over the years, as well as her expectation that Izzy will follow through with her abandoned dreams to study abroad in Italy. Alberto’s arrival is a part of that plan, to help Izzy practice Italian before she becomes an exchange student herself. Unfortunately, a few things don’t seem quite right about their handsome new guest—his clothes don’t fit quite right, his accent seems a little over the top, and he has a violent temper. When a death linked to an at-large serial killer occurs in their town shortly after his arrival, Izzy becomes suspicious. She knows she listens to a lot of podcasts, but she’s beginning to wonder if she’s living with a murderer. Seasoned mystery readers will quickly guess the story’s gradual reveals, but this book isn’t so much of a “whodunit” as an action-packed coming-of-age story about a girl learning to find her voice and trust her instincts. Readers will be cheering Izzy on as she uses wits and grit to outmaneuver a killer who is determined to make her the next victim as she gets closer to the truth. McNeil adeptly creates believable characters and a detailed portrait of a small Northwestern town.
VERDICT A story of personal growth wrapped up in high-stakes thrills. Recommended for libraries with many teen thrill-seekers.

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