Fiction for teens continues to evolve, and authors are pushing the boundaries of the genre in creative ways. Whether it’s a heavily illustrated volume or a multi-perspective narrative, YA books have taken lives of their own, especially evident in these novels in verse, poetic prose picks, and diary-format entries.
Aronson, Marc & Charles R. Smith Jr., eds. One Death, Nine Stories. 160p. Candlewick. Aug. 2014. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780763652852; ebk. ISBN 9780763670832. LC 2013957275.
Gr 9 Up –Kevin Nicholas, a popular high school football player, has committed suicide, though readers don’t know that at first. In fact, through nine stories, each told by a different author and from a different point of view, readers come to know only a little about Kevin himself. Instead, readers observe the reactions of Kevin’s sister, his best friends, people who barely knew him, even of the funeral home workers who handles his body. The death of a teenager, especially by his own hand, can be impossible to understand, but lives don’t stop just because one life did. Each chapter deals with the process of initiation, acceptance, growing up, and moving on even in the face of death. The authors included are all well-known young adult writers, such as Ellen Hopkins, Rita Williams-Garcia, and A. S. King, and it is clear that they know and understand their audience. Despite the differing perspectives and characters, the writing is remarkably consistent in tone. The vignette feel of each section may appeal to reluctant readers who can manage a narrative in small chunks without losing the arc of the story itself. More enthusiastic readers will devour it whole. Keep it in mind as bibliotherapy, should the unfortunate need arise, or as a springboard for journaling or creative writing.
Hall, Sandy. A Little Something Different. 224p. ebook available. Feiwel and Friends/Swoon Reads. Aug. 2014. pap. $9.99. ISBN 9781250061454.
Gr 9 Up –If ever two people should get together, it’s Gabe and Lea. They share a love of creative writing, watch the same TV reruns, order the same Chinese take-out on the same nights, and repeatedly wind up in the same place at the same time as if by magic. But Gabe is painfully shy and full of self-doubt, and Lea is so lacking in confidence that neither of them can give voice to the obvious chemistry that radiates between them. The magnetic pull is so strong, in fact, that everyone they come in contact with can feel it, and it is through Gabe and Lea’s interactions with others that their stories unfold. In a progressive series of month-by-month vignettes, their creative writing teacher, college classmates, roommates and friends, a coffee shop barista, diner waitress, bus driver, and even the resident park bench and squirrel relate their impressions and conversations with the protagonists as they take part in a “one step forward, two steps back” dance of attraction and avoidance. Gabe’s silence around Lea seems overplayed, but this is a small quibble with what is overall a fun, light romance that will appeal to male and female readers alike. A good choice for reluctant readers as well.
Hopkins, Ellen. Rumble. 560p. S. & S./Margaret K. McElderry Bks. Aug. 2014. Tr $19.99. ISBN 9781442482845; ebk. $10.99. ISBN 9781442482869.
Gr 9 Up –Matt’s gay brother Luke committed suicide because he couldn’t take the bullying any more. Matt blames everyone for his brother’s death: his friends, his dysfunctional parents, and the middle school teachers and counselors who did nothing to halt the torment Luke experienced daily. The protagonist’s temper is perpetually balanced on a knife’s edge, and it takes very little to push him into a rage. Matt’s only peace comes when he is with his girlfriend, Hayden. However, she seems to be pulling away to spend more time with God and her youth group, many members of whom were Luke’s worst bullies. Matt has no faith in an imaginary deity and no forgiveness for those who used their theology to justify their abuse of his brother. His hatred is eating him up inside, but he can’t let it go or he’ll have to confront the real reason for his anger. Hopkins’s latest novel in verse is timely and poignant. Matt is a wonderfully faceted character that readers will alternately sympathize with and dislike. His actions are directly related to his emotional turmoil, and teens will understand his pain and admire his intellect, even while shaking their heads over his actions. The work doesn’t gloss over uncomfortable or difficult topics. Hopkins’s realistic, truthful approach to bullying, religion, and homosexuality make this a powerful story for even the most reluctant readers.
Magoon, Kekla. How It Went Down. 336p. ebook available. Holt. Oct. 2014. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780805098693.
Gr 9 Up –When 16-year-old Tariq, a black teen, is shot and killed by a white man, every witness has a slightly different perception of the chain of events leading up to the murder. Family, friends, gang members, neighbors, and a well-meaning but self-serving minster make up the broad cast of characters. The police bring their own personal biases to their investigation of the case. When all points of view are combined, the story of a young man emerges and with it, a narrative that plays out in communities across the country every day. Heartbreaking and unputdownable, this is an important book about perception and race. How It Went Down reads very much like Julius Lester’s Day of Tears (Hyperion, 2005) in a modern setting and for an older audience. With a great hook and relatable characters, this will be popular for fans of realistic fiction. The unique storytelling style and thematic relevance will make it a potentially intriguing pick for classroom discussion.
Pattou, Edith. Ghosting. 392p. Amazon/Skyscape. Aug. 2014. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781477847749; ebk. $9.99. ISBN 9781477897744.
Gr 9 Up –This swift, free-verse page-turner follows seven teens and the events before, during, and after an evening that permanently alters their lives. Once childhood friends, they have gone their separate ways. Maxie moved away with her family and recently came back; Chloe is pretty and popular; Emma and Brendan play varsity sports; and Felix smokes marijuana to escape his unhappy family life. They are reunited (joined by Chloe’s boyfriend Anil) on a late summer night right before the beginning of school year, and a series of bad decisions lead to a terrible tragedy. The story features increasing tension coupled with first-person narration that moves the plot along rapidly as each character picks up the story line left off by another. The narration gives readers the chance to see exactly what all of the characters are thinking and a glimpse of their families and homes. After the tragic event, the characters all demonstrate personal growth and maturity. Pattou is even generous with the young man responsible for the tragedy, giving him somewhat sympathetic and recognizable “Boo Radley” (Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird) characteristics. What begins as a story featuring typical teens haunted by the past, and dismayed by the present, turns into one where everyone is reminded that mistakes can be learning experiences and that people can adjust to what one character concludes is a “new now time.” Recommended for reluctant readers given the book’s realistic portrayal of a Midwestern town, the lyrical narrative, and the readily relatable protagonists.
Qitsualik-Tinsley, Rachel & Sean Qitsualik-Tinsley. Skraelings. illus. by Andrew Trabbold. 89p. (Arctic Moon Magick: Bk. 1). Inhabit Media. Oct. 2014. pap. $10.95. ISBN 9781927095546.
Gr 7 Up –Kannujaq’s life revolves with the seasons, moving with his dog sled to follow the hunts that make life sustainable for the Inuit people. This nomadic lifestyle contrasts sharply with the villages of the Tuniit, who stay in one place in homes that cannot be moved. When Kannujaq comes upon a Tuniit village under siege by giant-men in enormous boats, he becomes drawn into their dispute and it changes his world forever. The authors, both scholars of Inuit language, history, and cosmology, have selected a singularly important and interesting time for Skraelings: the sunset of the ancient Dorset (Tuniit) culture and the dawn of contact and colonization for the Inuit. Told by a conversational third-person narrator, this novella captures the fear and wonder of the age. Heavy graphic illustrations further reinforce the gravity of the tale and an Inukittut pronunciation guide is included. Skraelings is a well-written, engaging introduction to the complex history of the peoples of the Arctic and their struggles for survival against the environment and each other.
Quintero, Isabel. Gabi: A Girl in Pieces. 378p. Cinco Puntos. Sept. 2014. Tr $17.95. ISBN 9781935955948; pap. $11.95. ISBN 9781935955955; ebk. $11.95. ISBN 9781935955962. LC 2014007658.
Gr 9 Up –Sixteen-year-old Gabi Hernandez has a lot to deal with during her senior year. Her best friend Cindy is pregnant; her other best friend Sebastian just got kicked out of his house for coming out to his strict parents; her meth addict dad is trying to quit, again; and her super religious Tía Bertha is constantly putting a damper on Gabi’s love life. In lyrical diary entries peppered with the burgeoning poet’s writing, Spanglish, and phone conversations, Quintero gives voice to a complex, not always likable but totally believable teen who struggles to figure out her own place in the world. Believing she’s not Mexican enough for her family and not white enough for Berkeley, Gabi still meets every challenge head-on with vulgar humor and raw honesty. In moments, the diary format may come across as clunky, but the choppy delivery feels purposeful. While the narrative is chock-full of issues, they never bog down the story, interwoven with the usual teen trials, from underwhelming first dates to an unabashed treatment of sex, religion, and family strife. The teen isn’t all snark; there’s still a naiveté about whether her father will ever kick his addiction to meth, especially evident in her heartfelt letters to him. When tragedy strikes, readers will mourn with Gabi and connect with her fears about college acceptance and her first sexual experience. A refreshing take on slut- and fat-shaming, Quintero’s work ranks with Meg Medina’s Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass (Candlewick, 2013) and Junot Diaz’s Drown (Riverhead, 1996) as a coming-of-age novel with Latino protagonists. School Library Journal
Walrath, Dana. Like Water on Stone. 368p. further reading. glossary. maps. Delacorte. Nov. 2014. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780385743976; lib. ed. $19.99. ISBN 9780375991424; ebk. ISBN 9780385373296. LC 2013026323.
Gr 8 Up –Thirteen-year-old Aremenian twins Shahen and his sister, Sosi, live in the 1914 Ottoman Empire with their loving parents; younger sister, Miriam; and older brothers Misak and Kevorg. A Christian like the rest of their family, their 19-year-old sister, Anahid, is married to Asan, a Kurd, and is expecting a baby. Life is pleasant in their mixed religious community where their family makes its living as millers. However, when the cruel and hateful leaders of the Ottoman Empire decide at the start of World War I that the Armenians are “traitors” and should be eliminated, genocide ensues. Anahid is hidden by her in-laws at the risk of their own lives. Forced to leave their parents and brothers behind to certain death, Shahen, Sosi, and little Miriam barely escape and make a harrowing journey across the mountains, hoping for rescue and to somehow reach their uncle who lives in America. As Ardziv, an eagle, soars above, he adds a note of magical realism and a sense of omnipresent poetic narration to the authentic voices of the family members as he witnesses their joys, shock, and heartbreak. This beautiful, yet at times brutally vivid, historical verse novel will bring this horrifying, tragic period to life for astute, mature readers who enjoy books in this format or genre such as The Surrender Tree by Margarita Engle (Holt, 2008) and Between Shades of Gray by Ruth Sepetys (Philomel, 2011). A cast of characters, and author note with historical background are thoughtfully included.