As we close 2014, it’s heartening to see that the new year will be filled with novels featuring diverse teens, including Cindy Rodriguez’s When Reason Breaks, Hannah Moskowitz’s Not Otherwise Specified, and Stacy Lee’s Under a Painted Sky. Magical realism also continues to make its stamp with Elana Arnold’s Infandous and Laura Ruby’s Bone Gap. And for those teens searching for swoon-inducing reads, check out Emery Lord’s The Start of Me and You and Andrea Siegel’s & Brent Bradshaw Everybody Knows Your Name. For readers of meatier fare, nonfiction and Adult Books for Teens might strike their fancy, instead.
The original reviews of the following works appeared in SLJ’s December print magazine.
Abrams, Amir. Caught Up. 336p. ebook available. Dafina/Kensington. Dec. 2014. pap. $9.95. ISBN 9780758294784.
Gr 10 Up –Teens looking to read about romance, sex, drug use, and urban drama will find it in the story of 16-year-old Kennedy Simms, a suburban girl who longs for the excitement of life in the ‘hood. She’s attracted to boys who wear sagging jeans and smell of marijuana smoke—boys her more conservative friends disapprovingly call “thugs” and “hoodlums.” But Kennedy’s bored with dating the nerds her parents and friends like; she’s determined to break out of her safe world in a gated community and experience life. Soon, she is defying her mother, staying out all night, drinking, partying, and generally making poor decisions. Kennedy falls for Malik, who thrills and romances her. She ignores all of the warning signs, choosing Malik over her friends when they try to warn her against him. It takes a catastrophic event and serious consequences to help Kennedy see the error of her ways, though by then it may be too late. Fans of YA street lit authors, such as Ni-Ni Simone and L. Divine will enjoy this, and despite the mature content, it’s more suitable for the majority of high school libraries than adult titles in this genre.
Arnett, Mindee. Polaris. 432p. HarperCollins/Balzer & Bray. Jan. 2015. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780062235626; ebk. $9.99. ISBN 9780062235640.
Gr 9 Up –Picking up where Avalon (HarperCollins, 2014) left off, this novel has Jeth Seagrave, along with his newly discovered sister and his crew, the Malleus Shades—a bunch of teen outlaws working jobs for an intergalactic crime lord—on the run from the ITA, who are still holding his scientist mother captive. Long-thought dead, she had been imprisoned for years by the galactic organization because she and her unborn child were radically changed by their time in deep space, gaining the ability to manipulate time and space mentally. Jeth’s otherworldly sister Cora holds the key to restoring the failed Metadrives that hold the Confederation together. In order to reunite his family, and ensure their continued freedom, Jeth must rely on his crew and enter into an extremely dangerous partnership with the galaxy’s newest crime lord, as he takes the fight to the heart of the ITA itself. With its high-octane plot, multidimensional characters, witty banter, and lots of heart, Polaris will appeal to fans of science fiction and action/adventure alike.
Arnold, Elana. Infandous. 200p. ebook available. Carolrhoda Lab. Feb. 2015. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9781467738491. LC 2014008998.
Gr 10 Up –Sixteen-year-old Sephora Golding is the daughter of the incomparable former model Rebecca Golding. Seph lives a less-than-admirable life on the shadier side of Venice Beach, California. Her artwork keeps her grounded, but her meager lifestyle can’t compare to the lap of luxury that she could have living with her mother’s family across the country. Even with all of the negative aspects, the truly special connection that she has with her mother, one that stretches far beyond the typical mother-daughter relationship, keeps her tied to the place and the life that she has always known. Interspersed with Seph’s coming-of-age narrative are snippets of a fantastical fairy tale about a mermaid and a wolf that bear a striking resemblance to the teen’s own family drama. Arnold’s fresh and exciting plot twist is unexpected, elevated by the lyrical writing style. A well-written and evenly paced dramatic tale about finding peace in ones own situation.
Bell, Cathleen Davitt. I Remember You. 320p. Knopf. Feb. 2015. lib. ed. $20.99. ISBN 9780385754569; Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780385754552; ebk. $10.99. ISBN 9780385754576. LC 2014004789.
Gr 10 Up –It’s 1994 in an East Coast suburban town. Juliet is a junior in high school, focusing on her future goals (law school). Lucas is a hockey player, who is from a less-affluent part of town, and has his future planned out: he’s joining the Marines. When Lucas walks into Physics class and sees Juliet, he knows they are going to date. He claims to have visions and memories that seem to be coming from his future. As these become more frequent, Juliet finds herself lost in his pain, unfocused on her goals, as she tries to hang on to their relationship in the present. Bell weaves an intensely passionate love story with a creative structure in which the present-day and future time lines eventually meet by its end. Well-developed and multidimensional supporting characters contribute to the book’s even pace. Strong imagery and realistic dialogue work seamlessly to create the ambiance of 1994, where pay phones were only a quarter and houses still had corded landlines. This romance novel has elements of science fiction, yet remains true and authentic to the intensity of feelings adolescents experience with their first loves. Recommended for fans of Jay Asher and Carolyn Mackler’s The Future of Us (Penguin, 2011).
Bredes, Don. Polly and the One and Only World. 336p. Green Writers. 2014. Tr $14.95. ISBN 9780989983891; ebk. ISBN 9780996087247.
Gr 9 Up –The “one and only world” referenced in the title is that of a near-future United States—magical, post-catastrophe, almost familiar, yet chillingly changed. Polly has been sent to the relative safety of her aunt and uncle in Florida to escape the Christian Protectorate government’s purge of her village in Vermont. But safety is not possible for a hereditary witch in the fundamentalist police state that America has become. The teen manages to escape capture by the guard with the aid of her familiar, Balthazar the crow. She sets off to find her family, but discovers travel through the wilds of climate cataclysm and institutionalized zealotry is not an easy course. With the help of friends she meets along the way, particularly the freethinking Leon, Polly struggles through betrayal, loss, and capture. With captivating language that draws readers in, Bredes’s writing will inspire teens to revere current freedoms. A thrilling journey, full of peril, exploit, friendship, and sorrow, this book is sure to find readers.
Brooks, Kevin. The Bunker Diary. 264p. ebook available. Carolrhoda Lab. Mar. 2015. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781467754200.
Gr 10 Up –Linus is a 16-year-old runaway living on the harsh English streets who wakes up one day in an unfamiliar underground bunker with no water or food while under constant surveillance by an unknown kidnapper. As each day passes, more people are kidnapped and are subjected to the same brutal conditions. When Linus and the rest try to escape and find out more about their situation and their kidnapper, they realize that, with their options dwindling, they may have to resort to the ultimate horror to survive. Brooks’s controversial Carnegie Medal-winner is truly a psychologically disturbing book that will leave readers with a deep sense of unease. It’s not a title for everyone: some may be unsettled by the harsh realities the protagonist faces, while others will be fascinated by the simple complexity of Brooks’s prose and truly effective storytelling. A unique choice that will get teens talking.
Cousins, Dave. Waiting for Gonzo. 288p. Flux. Jan. 2015. Tr $9.99. ISBN 9780738741994.
Gr 7 Up –Oz has just moved from his home in London to a small, sleepy village hours away from the big city. He misses his friends, does not like his family’s fixer-upper farmhouse, and is not doing a great job making friends. On the first day of school he realizes that instead of bringing his school bag, he has brought his sister’s dirty laundry, and, to make matters worse, he has decided that drawing a mustache and glasses on a girl’s photo in the school display case is a good idea. Sadly, Oz is unaware that the girl is the school bully who terrifies everyone, even the other bullies. Oz never thinks his plans through and Waiting for Gonzo is like watching one botched attempt after another to fix what has gone wrong: trying to make friends with the school bully by feeding her dog (good) chicken bones (bad); or helpfully telling his sister’s boyfriend all of her “flaws,” causing him to leave her. But Oz remains hopeful and fairly optimistic that eventually he will get something right, so he keeps trying. The protagonist is well rounded and true to the awkwardness of a teenage boy trying to find his way.
Doyle, Catherine. Vendetta. 352p. Scholastic/Chicken House. Feb. 2015. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9780545699822; ebk. ISBN 9780545699839. LC 2014020255.
Gr 9 Up –Since her father’s murder trial, Sophie Gracewell has become a social pariah. Instead of attending parties and spending time with friends, she works at her father’s diner with her only remaining friend, Millie. Currently managed by her mysterious uncle, the diner will pass to Sophie when she turns 18. Reluctantly resigned to her fate, Sophie’s world suddenly gets shaken up by the mysterious arrival of a jar of honey left at the diner by gangster known as “The Sting.” Also, an immediate attraction develops between Sophie and Nicoli Falcone, one of the five brothers in a new family that moved in to a long abandoned neighborhood mansion. However, their relationship is initially complicated by his overbearing brothers and then later prohibited once the link between the Falcones and Gracewells is discovered. The protagonist must reconcile her affection for Nic with the violent role he plays in his family’s business, while also accepting the truth of her father’s incarceration and the reasons for her uncle’s sudden disappearance. Readers will be drawn in by the star-crossed romance and the compelling plot. For collections that can’t keep enough teen romances on the shelf.
Eagland, Jane. The World Within: A Novel of Emily Brontë. 336p. ebook available. Scholastic/Arthur A. Levine. Mar. 2015. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780545492959. LC 2014004667.
Gr 6-9 –Eagland uses a line from an Emily Brontë poem as inspiration for the title of this novel to capture Emily’s introverted nature and to reference the fantastical worlds that she and her siblings created. Emily’s close-knit family—her father; siblings Branwell, Charlotte, and Anne; an aunt; and their housemaid—become real to readers. A scene where Emily’s pious aunt dips into her snuff jar while Charlotte’s friend is visiting is one example of Eagland’s skill in adding depth to the characters. The protagonist’s interactions with elders, siblings and their friends, and classmates at Roe Head reflect Emily’s complexity, and the emotions she experiences as she navigates these relationships are genuine. Emily and Anne struggle with their personal faith in God, and the author conveys this timeless issue with acuity. The themes of family, being true to oneself, rural vs. urban living, and coming of age are interwoven throughout without weighing down the story.
Furniss, Clare. The Year of the Rat. 304p. S. & S./Margaret K. McElderry Bks. 2014. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781481420990; ebk. $10.99. ISBN 9781481421010. LC 2014025392.
Gr 7 Up –Fifteen-year-old Pearl is left with a broken stepfather, a newborn sister, and grief that is nearly too much to bear after her mother dies during childbirth. Shocked into numbness, she finds herself lashing out at her family and friends. Worst of all, she can’t stand her sister, (whom she disdainfully labels The Rat), a constant reminder that her mother is gone. Except her mother isn’t gone—feisty, fabulous Stella crops up unexpectedly, equally ready with advice and admonishment from beyond the grave. The premise of the novel is intriguing; though bleak, Furniss buoys heavy emotional scenes with elements of wit and humor. Pearl is surrounded by a strong cast of supporting characters, including elderly neighbor Dulcie, loyal best friend Molly, and snooty yet loving Nan. This novel glosses over some grittier elements of its plot, but is overall a touching, well-written depiction of adolescence and the pervasive, perplexing nature of loss. School Library Journal
Gardner, Scot. The Dead I Know. 208p. ebook available. Houghton Harcourt. Mar. 2015. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780544232747. LC 2013050162.
Gr 9 Up– Aaron has trouble connecting with people. He suffers from recurring nightmares—horrific memories of a dead woman—that have been locked away, and most nights he sleepwalks away from his home and into a caravan park where the majority of residents are drug addicts. When the teen gets a funeral director apprenticeship with Mr. Barton, it is not the dead bodies that make him nervous, but Mr. Barton’s family and the grieving mourners instead. As his dreams become more intense and his Mam’s undiagnosed dementia becomes increasingly dangerous, Aaron must learn how to rely on the living if he wants to save his grandmother and himself. First published in Australia, this is a dark, psychological coming-of-age drama with memorable characters and believable dialogue. Gardner continuously keeps readers emotionally invested in the protagonist. Despite the heavy topics explored in the novel, including Aaron’s realization that his recurring dreams are actually repressed memories of a horrible event, and Aaron being the sole caretaker of his sick grandmother, Gardner writes with sensitivity and in a way that is accessible to teens. A darkly funny book.
Hall, Maggie. The Conspiracy of Us. 336p. ebook available. Putnam. Jan. 2015. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780399166501. LC 2014015540.
Gr 7 Up –Avery West has been very careful not to form strong friendships and bonds, knowing that they will be lost every time she has to move because of her mother’s job. When she meets Jack Bishop, a fellow new student at her school, everything changes. After a last-minute decision to attend prom with Jack, they are approached out of the blue by Stellan, who demands that Avery go with him and whom, strangely, Jack appears to know well. Soon Avery finds herself in a world of Keepers, the mandate, and The Circle of Twelve. Not only is her father alive and part of one of the secret families of The Circle, but he could possibly even be the head of one. There are secret societies Avery knows nothing about, and some of them want her out of the picture. Hall sweeps readers into a world of conspiracies, puzzles, and mystery from the first page, and provides a likable and intelligent narrator in Avery.
Harris, Rachel. The Fine Art of Pretending. 256p. Spencer Hill. 2014. pap. $9.95. ISBN 9781939392282; ebk. ISBN 9781939392275.
Gr 9 Up –Aly wants to lighten up and have more fun her senior year. To do this, she decides to shed her image as a serious girl and become a “casual.” She starts with skimpy clothes, makeup, and wearing her hair loose instead of in a ponytail. She makes more effort to get involved in social events. She jumps into the lake for a game of chicken and takes the stage for karaoke. And she asks her best friend, cute-boy Brandon, to be her pretend boyfriend so other boys will see her as datable. The friends soon begin to fall for each other, not realizing that the other feels the same way. Chapters alternate between the two teens. The voices are clearly distinct. There are mild references to sex, virginity, and drinking beer at a house party, but no serious or explicit exploration of these themes. There are also references to attending church, but only as a social, not religious, space. Fans of light teen romance will find just what they’re looking for in this confection.
Hensley, Joy N. Rites of Passage. 416p. HarperCollins/HarperTeen. 2014. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780062295194.
Gr 9 Up –Sam McKenna can never turn down a dare, and before one of her older brothers committed suicide, he proposed the ultimate challenge—be one of the first females to matriculate and graduate from prestigious Denmark Military School. Her military family can do little to help her as Sam faces harassment, sexism, and outright abuse from members of an all-male secret society on campus. This group is determined that no females will remain at the academy, but they have vastly underestimated the protagonist’s fortitude. Hensley’s contemporary novel is not an easy read because of the graphic depictions of hazing, but this worthwhile addition to the YA realm is notable for its portrayal of a strong female in the face of adversity.
Jones, P.T. Floating Boy and the Girl Who Couldn’t Fly. 272p. ChiTeen. 2014. pap. $12.99. ISBN 9781771481731.
Gr 7-10 –Mary, about to enter high school, was not expecting a cute boy to drift into her life at her little cousin’s birthday party. Or to float right out of it again. But, right before her eyes, the boy floats off into the sky. While other partygoers conjure excuses for what they witnessed, Mary believes in the phenomenon. Then her little brother, Terry, starts floating too. Desperate to save Terry, Mary searches for Floating Boy to learn about what is causing the strange occurrence. Soon, her friends, and other children in town, are floating as well, but Mary remains grounded. When Terry is kidnapped by Mr. Barron, the sinister guardian of Floating Boy, the protagonist embarks on a mission to rescue her little brother, and everyone else in town, from this mad scientist. This captivating, multilayered story immediately engages readers with Mary’s snarky, spunky narration. But hovering beneath the mystery of Floating Boy is the specter of Mary’s mental issues: anxiety attacks caused her to miss the end of the school year. An unusual book that will enthrall young teens.
Lake, Nick. There Will Be Lies. 400p. ebook available. Bloomsbury. Jan. 2015. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781619634404.
Gr 9 Up –“I have no words to describe how I am feeling—it’s like grief, maybe, but grief for myself. I was living my life, and then something came along and killed me, erased me.” Seventeen-year-old Shelby Jane Cooper’s world begins to come apart after she is hit by a car in Scottsdale, AZ. Her overprotective mother takes them on the run, and a coyote (who used to be a boy) begins to bring her into the Dreaming, a magical place where Shelby is no longer deaf and the animal inhabitants believe she can save them from an evil witch. What’s real, this world or the Dreaming? What are the “two lies” that Coyote warns Shelby about? What is the one truth? Lake’s new novel is perplexing and disorienting, full of the rich language and heady epiphanies. The plot draws on Native American mythology and the haunting vastness of the Southwest landscape. The battles between elks and wolves, narrow escapes from authorities, and the looming mystery (Who is Shelby?) will make teens want to tear through the pages.
Landers, Melissa. Alienated. 352p. Bk. 1. 2014. Tr. $16.99. ISBN 9781423170280. LC 2013032977.
––––. Invaded. 368p. Bk. 2. Tr. $17.99. ISBN 9781423169499.
ea vol: (Alienated). ebook available. Disney-Hyperion. Feb. 2015.
Gr 9 Up –In Alienated, Cara Sweeney, high school overachiever and class valedictorian, has been selected to host the first L’eihr exchange student. Initial excitement and pride are quickly overshadowed by doubt and unease upon meeting the alien Aelyx. Although almost genetically identical, the two cultures are as different as night and day and the level of discomfort is evident. Further complicating matters is anti-alien paranoia and violence directed not only at Aelyx and the other exchange students, but also at Cara and her family. Drawn together due to circumstance, the teens start falling for each other. In Invaded, the couple continues to try to forge an alliance between the two planets, as mutual survival of both populations are depending on it. Excellent character development and a nice integration between modern reality and science fiction drive the plot in a satisfying story arc. Continuation of the story line is seamless between series installments, giving readers a continued interest in and connection to the protagonists. Teens will be rooting for the galactic couple while enjoying the action and suspense that runs through the two volumes. A fun pick for fans of sci-fi with a bit of romance.
Larbalestier, Justine. Razorhurst. 280p. Soho Teen. Mar. 2015. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781616955441; ebk. $17.99. ISBN 9781616955458.
Gr 9 Up –Larbalestier’s latest features gritty historical fiction with a paranormal twist. The grim tale takes place in 1932 in a fictionalized version of Surry Hills neighborhood of Sydney, Australia. The neighborhood is dominated by two rival gangs, but because guns are illegal, violence is done using razor blades and gruesome scars are a common sight. The novel takes place over the course of one day and tells the story of two very different young women: Kelpie, a feral child raised by ghosts, and Dympha, a prostitute with a violent past who seems older than her years. Razorhurst introduces a historical period with which many North American readers may not be familiar. Though some of the events and character backstories border on improbable, the short chapters and multiple viewpoints keep things interesting. The ghosts emphasize the bloody nature of the time period and provides occasional humor.
Lee, Stacey. Under a Painted Sky. 384p. ebook available. Putnam. Mar. 2015. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780399168031. LC 2014015976.
Gr 7 Up–Although Samantha and her father have a successful dry goods store in Saint Joseph, Missouri, they long to escape: Samantha yearns to return to New York in hopes of a music career, while her father dreams of moving west to California. After her father dies in a fire, the teen is left grief-stricken and vulnerable. Their landlord, Ty Yorkshire, offers her accommodation at the town hotel, where she befriends Annamae, a slave housekeeper. After Samantha kills Ty during a rape attempt, she and Annamae create disguises and join a caravan traveling to California in search of gold. The ever-present fear of being caught, whether by police or fellow travelers becoming wise to their disguises, is effectively created, as is the primitive life on the trail. As the girls learn cowboy techniques such as using dried buffalo scat to make a campfire and roping horses, readers are introduced to authentic cowboy life. Complications arise for Samantha when she develops a crush on a fellow cowboy; while Annamae falls for a vaquero (Mexican cowboy). High drama, tension, romantic longings, and touches of humor will entice historical fiction fans, and will be a perfect tie-in to social studies curriculum.
Littman, Sarah Darer. Backlash. 336p. Scholastic. Mar. 2015. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780545651264; ebk. ISBN 9780545651271.
Gr 7 Up –For sophomore Lara Kelly, things are finally looking up—she’s feeling more confident after losing weight and she made the varsity cheerleading team, which she never would have imagined two years earlier when she was overweight and severely depressed. Best of all, Lara has caught the attention of a cute guy on Facebook, and he has been hinting at asking her to the homecoming dance. But when she sees horrible comments from her crush on social media, she spirals into a dangerous mental state and suicide seems like the only escape. Bree is Lara’s former best friend from middle school, but they drifted apart when Bree couldn’t take Lara’s depression and self-involvement. The new Lara is suddenly getting everything that Bree is supposed to have—the popularity, and even the spot on the cheer team. Sydney and Liam are the younger siblings, who are caught up in the horror of a tragic event, and trying to figure out how to cope with their siblings’ issues while living their own lives. This novel thoughtfully balances the four alternating perspectives, giving an element of humanity even to the perpetrators of severe bullying while maintaining a strong moral judgment. Share with fans of Lane Davis’s I Swear (S. & S. 2012). School Library Journal
Liu, Liana. The Memory Key. 368p. HarperCollins/HarperTeen. Mar. 2015. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780062306647; ebk. $10.99. ISBN 9780062306661.
Gr 7 Up –Lora Mint’s mother died in a car accident five years ago, and the pain of losing her hasn’t diminished. Worse, Lora’s memories of her are fading, even though she has a Memory Key, because the Keys aren’t meant to preserve memories perfectly, just mimic the brain’s ability to remember. Her mom was a top scientist at Keep Corp, the morally questionable company that developed Memory Keys to combat the widespread Alzheimer’s-like Vergets Disease. After Lora’s key begins malfunctioning, she suddenly has crystal-clear memories of her mother—memories that make the teen wonder whether the accident actually ended her mom’s life. Now she must sort through her past to discover her mother’s true fate, before Keep Corp fixes her Memory Key and takes away her perfect recall forever. Liu has crafted a story with elements of mystery, corporate and government conspiracy, romance, and friendship. The narrative moves along at a quick enough pace that even reluctant readers will stay engaged. Lora is a mostly likable protagonist and her BFF Wendy adds comic relief and a voice of reason. Give this one to teens looking for suspense sprinkled with a little dystopia, lacking violence or mature content.
Lord, Emery. The Start of Me and You. 336p. ebook available. Bloomsbury. Mar. 2015. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781619633599. LC 2014014376.
Gr 7 Up –Aspiring screenwriter Paige Hancock is determined to redefine herself one year after her boyfriend, Aaron, drowned. Paige creates a checklist of tasks that she intends to accomplish during her junior year to finally shake off the label of “the girl whose boyfriend drowned” in small-town Oakhurst, IN. With the support of a solid core of best friends, Paige succeeds in her “plan to become normal again.” The crew also helps her recover from the devastating loss of her beloved and supportive grandmother and to cope with her divorced parents dating each other. She also finds a budding romance in an unexpected place—with Max Watson, nerdy cousin of heartthrob Ryan Chase. In sharp contrast to darker, more issue-driven YA books, this title keeps truer to the problems that most teens face. The protagonist’s upbeat attitude will inspire readers to persevere even during the low points in life.
McGann, Oisin. Rat Runners. 319p. Open Road. Jan. 2015. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781497665804; ebk. ISBN 9781497665729.
Gr 6-9 –An engrossing dystopian thriller, perfect for fans of the genre. McGann draws readers in from the start with an exciting chase scene, and the excitement just keeps building. Nimmo, Scope, Manikin, and FX are four young thieves living in a version of London that is controlled by a corporation called WatchWorld. London’s streets are littered with cameras and patrolled by Safe-Guards, half-human, half-robot patrols that keep the citizens in check. But the criminal underworld still exists. Move-Easy is one of many gang members who has gone underground, away from all and any cameras in order to avoid detection. After Brundle’s murder, Nimmo must go into hiding and prevent whatever is in the case from falling into the wrong hands. Rat Runners has all the elements that dystopian readers are looking for, while still remaining a unique contribution to the genre, combining action, mystery, and suspense.
McStay, Moriah. Everything That Makes You. 352p. HarperCollins/Katherine Tegen Bks. Feb. 2015. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780062295484.
Gr 9 Up –As a child, Fiona Doyle was in a horrible accident that left part of her face permanently scarred. Now in high school, she is an excellent student, has a family who loves her, enjoys talking to her best friend, Lucy, and has a crush on Trent McKinnon. In alternating chapters, readers meet Fi Doyle, the imaginary girl who escaped that horrible childhood accident. Now in high school, Fi is the best lacrosse player, has a family who loves her, and enjoys talking to her best friend, Trent McKinnon. In both versions of this story, Fiona and Fi successfully navigate through school, fall in love, go to college, and struggle with the conflict. As expected, Fi’s life goes down a different path than Fiona’s, but readers will see that they have much in common after all. McStay weaves similar characters and circumstances throughout their worlds. It is interesting to see how each girl interacts with these people and reacts to her environment. The author consistently builds the plot without breaking the pace of the narrative. McStay’s debut explores the theme of choices and how those choices become the framework for the person who makes them.
Meadows, Jodi. The Orphan Queen. 400p. HarperCollins/Katherine Tegen Bks. Mar. 2015. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780062317384; ebk. $10.99. ISBN 9780062317407.
Gr 7 Up –Wilhelmina—more frequently known as Wil—is a princess. However, she’s a royal who’s more used to stealing food than curtsying in a palace. Wil’s homeland of Aecor was conquered 10 years earlier by the Indigo Kingdom and Wil and a band of other orphaned children of Aecor nobility have been living secretly as refugees in Skyvale, the capital of the Indigo Kingdom. The teen and the other refugees have plans to take back their home by infiltrating the palace. As Wilhelmina’s mission inside the palace proceeds, it is complicated not just by her secret ability to practice magic—which has been forbidden for almost a century—but also by her connection to the vigilante Black Knife, a masked figure who helps the poor and the weak in the streets of Skyvale. Fans of Katniss and the Sisters of St. Mortain from Robin LaFevers’s “His Fair Assassin” series (Houghton Harcourt) and other strong, vengeful female heroines will root for Wil, as she plots revolution, struggles with her conflicted feelings for Black Knife, and discovers more about wraith, the toxic by-product of magic.
Mills, Wendy. Positively Beautiful. 368p. ebook available. Bloomsbury. Mar. 2015. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781619633414.
Gr 8 Up –Hit with the news of her beloved mother’s cancer diagnosis, Erin is further rocked by the discovery that she may be at risk for a similar struggle. As she comes to terms with her new normal, the decisions she makes have great implications in her formerly quiet life. The teen’s behavior occasionally skirts the line of plausibility, but readers will be sympathetic to her extreme emotional conflict. The subject matter transcends the typical “cancer novel” material by including conflict over testing for the BRCA gene but still goes for the emotional jugular throughout. The novel will be highly appealing to teens who would be interested in a more modern take on a well-trod genre.
Moskowitz, Hannah. Not Otherwise Specified. 304p. ebook available. S. & S./Simon Pulse. Mar. 2015. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781481405966; pap. $11.99. ISBN 9781481405959.
Gr 9 Up –High school junior Etta juggles many identities, none of which seem to fit quite right. She’s bisexual, but shunned by her group of friends, the self-named Disco Dykes, who can’t forgive her for dating a boy. She has an eating disorder, but never weighs little enough to qualify as officially anorexic. She’s a dancer, but just tap these days, not ballet, because as a short, curvy, African American teen, she doesn’t seem to have the right look for ballet. She feels like she’s never enough—not gay enough, straight enough, sick enough, or healthy enough. More than anything, she just wants to get out of Nebraska and hopes auditioning for the prestigious Brentwood arts high school will be her ticket to New York. A rehearsal group introduces her to Bianca, a quiet (and extremely sick) 14-year-old from her eating disorder support group. Together, they prepare for the auditions and form a surprising friendship, one that embraces flaws, transcends identities, and is rooted in genuine caring. Moskowitz masterfully negotiates all of the issues, never letting them overwhelm the story, and shows the intersectionality of the many aspects of Etta’s identity. The characters here are imperfect and complicated, but ultimately hopeful. Etta’s candid and vulnerable narrative voice will immediately draw in readers, making them root for her as she strives to embrace her identity free from labels and expectations.
Nielsen, Jennifer A. Mark of the Thief. 352p. ebook available. Scholastic. Mar. 2015. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780545561549.
Gr 6-9 –A fantastical alternate history set in ancient Rome. Nicolas Calva and his sister are slaves in the mines outside of Rome. When Nic is forced to retrieve treasure from Julius Caesar’s cave, he assumes he is going to his death. But inside the cave he finds a bulla, a magical amulet thought to have given Caesar great power, and takes it for himself. Suddenly, Nic is the most wanted fugitive in Rome. The emperor and a powerful general are after the amulet and they will kill Nic to get it. His only help is Aurelia, a plebian girl who is searching for her own family. With no one to trust and nowhere to hide, the protagonist must decide how he is going to save his sister and get out with his life. He doesn’t want the bulla or the responsibility of the magic it contains, but if the magical object gets into the wrong hands, Rome will be at war and Nic will be at the center of it all. Fans of Nielsen’s “Ascendance” trilogy (Scholastic) will be clamoring for this new series. This genre mash-up of history, fantasy, and action/adventure is fast-paced and explores themes such as class struggles, familial ties, and the immorality of slavery.
Niven, Jennifer. All the Bright Places. 400p. Knopf. Jan. 2015. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780385755887; lib. ed. $20.99. ISBN 9780385755894; ebk. ISBN 9780385755900. LC 2014002238.
Gr 10 Up –Violet Markey is on the ledge of her school’s bell tower, six stories up, and frozen in terror. Theodore Finch, the Freak, stands on the ledge nearby. Before she can panic, he calms her down and gets her back on solid ground. He even lets everyone think she’s the one who talked him out of jumping. Violet, until recently, was a popular cheerleader and Finch has a well-earned reputation for being manic, violent, and unpredictable. But Finch won’t let their encounter rest. He’s suddenly everywhere Violet goes and even signs her up as his partner on a “Wander the State” school project. He pushes and challenges the protagonist, and seems to understand the effect her sister’s death made on her. But though Violet begins to recover from the devastating grief that has cocooned her for almost a year, Finch’s demons refuse to let go. The writing in this heartrending novel is fluid, despite the difficult topics, as Niven relays the complex thought processes of the two teens. Finch and Violet, with their emotional turmoil and insecurities, will ring true to teens. Finch in particular will linger in readers’ minds long after the last page is turned.
Oseman, Alice. Solitaire. 368p. HarperCollins/ HarperTeen. Mar. 2015. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780062335685; ebk. $10.99. ISBN 9780062335708.
Gr 9 Up –Sixteen-year-old Victoria “Tori” Spring is the personification of angst, slowly slipping, day by day, into the depths of despair. On a good day, she can convince herself she feels nothing. Her best friend has become preoccupied with boys; her brother, Charlie, is recovering from an episode of mental illness and attempted suicide; a former childhood friend has suddenly resurfaced with expectations that she can’t fulfill; and her mother cannot tear herself away from the computer long enough to notice Tori’s decline. Then, there’s Michael Holden, the crazy new student who refuses to let Tori alienate herself from him the way she is doing with everyone else. He forces himself into her life at the same time as a bizarre prank is unleashed to instigate rebellion among the students at Higgs. Solitaire.co.uk delivers messages via blog posts and by commandeering the schools’ computers and PA system, touting a rallying cry of “Patience Kills.” Strangely, all of its enigmatic messages seem to bear some resemblance to episodes in Tori’s past. When the pranks begin to turn dangerous, Tori convinces herself that she’s the only one who can put a stop to it. Told in the first person, Tori’s wry voice and dark humor provide a counterpoint to her descent into depression. A fascinating debut from an author to watch.
Rodriguez, Cindy L. When Reason Breaks. 304p. Bloomsbury. Feb. 2015. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781619634121. LC 2014009109.
Gr 9 Up –This realistic novel invites readers into the lives of two high schoolers, Elizabeth Davis and Emily Delgado, as they struggle with unrelated painful events, reacting in ways as different as their personalities. Artistic Elizabeth changes her appearance to look goth, skips class, fights with her mother, and sometimes experiences uncontrollable rage. Emily tends toward a preppy, academic style, but bouts of anxiety impact her studies and relationships. The two young women are brought together in their English class, where teacher Mrs. Diaz engages students with authentic care and a curricular focus on Emily Dickinson. Deep analysis of the poet’s life and writings results in personal insights for the protagonists. The use of foreshadowing at the beginning of the book alerts to future trauma without spoiling the plot, and a reference to the board game Clue provides a subtle tool for making meaning of the quick shifts in narrative perspective and form. Latino culture, and bicultural and gay family relationships are woven easily into the story. Overall, this text provides important insights into the various stressors that can lead to depression and suicide, as well as the type of support required to move toward potential healing.
Ruby, Laura. Bone Gap. 368p. HarperCollins/ Balzer & Bray. Mar. 2015. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780062317605; ebk. $10.99. ISBN 9780062317636.
Gr 10 Up –It is a rare book that sits comfortably on the shelf with the works of Twain, McCullers, Conroy, Stephen King, and D’Aulaires’ Greek Myths–rarer still that a novel combines elements of these authors together. Bone Gap does just this, to superb effect. We start with a boy named Finn and his brother, Sean. Sean is the classic hero: strong, silent, great at everything he does. Finn is a pretty boy whose otherworldly goofiness has earned him the nicknames Spaceman, Sidetrack, and Moonface. Along comes Rosza, a beautiful and damaged young woman, fleeing from some unknown evil. When she disappears, only Finn witnesses her abduction and he is unable to describe her captor. He is also unsure whether she left by force or choice. The author defies readers’ expectations at every turn. In this world, the evidence of one’s senses counts for little; appearances, even less. Evil happens, embodied in a timeless, nameless horror that survives on the mere idea of beauty. A powerful novel.
Saeed, Aisha. Written in the Stars. 304p. Penguin/Nancy Paulsen Bks. Mar. 2015. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780399171703.
Gr 9 Up –Naila is a Pakistani American high school senior. As the story opens, her greatest trouble is the risk of going to the prom with her high school sweetheart against the wishes of her protective and conservative parents. She does anyway, her parents find out, and their reaction is swift and extreme: the family departs immediately for Pakistan and negotiates an arranged marriage for Naila. Her impassioned struggle against the constraints of an arranged marriage is a compelling story. This is a cross-cultural eye opener; since Naila had never left the US until she was 18, her first-person account resonates in its explanations of the rituals, especially how they would look and feel from an American point of view. Yet the setting is pure Pakistani, with culturally rich descriptions of Naila’s extended family, their cuisine, and strongly held beliefs. The prose is simple and straightforward. The spare prose is evocative: Saeed shows rather than tells, allowing readers to imagine how Naila must feel. A good choice for libraries looking to diversify their shelves.
Sedgwick, Marcus. The Ghosts of Heaven. 256p. Roaring Brook. Jan. 2015. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781626721258; ebk. $9.99. ISBN 9781626721265.
Gr 7 Up –Sedgwick’s latest work consists of individual tales spanning centuries of time connected only by a single thread—in this case a shape; the spiral. From a mark scribbled in the dust by a girl of prehistoric times to the strands of the rope used to hang a medieval girl accused of witchcraft; from a poet plagued by madness who finds the spiral with its never-ending pattern horrifying to the one person left awake to watch over a ship full of sleepers in a state of suspended animation as they spiral through the universe looking for a new earth, each story carries a message of loss and discovery. Tying all four stories together is this one mysterious symbol, which can be found throughout nature in the shells of snails, the patterns of birds in flight, the seeds in a sunflower, and the strands of the double helix of DNA and comes to signify in these tales, a dance of death (and life). At once prosaic and wondrously metaphysical, Sedgwick’s novel will draw teens in and invite them to share in the awe-inspiring (and sometimes terrifying) order and mystery that surround us all.
Seigel, Andrea & Brent Bradshaw. Everybody Knows Your Name. 352p. Viking. Mar. 2015. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780670015627; ebk. $10.99. ISBN 9781101631621.
Gr 7 Up –When 10 assorted and unlikely teens are chosen to appear on a Big Brother-meets-American Idol reality TV show called Spotlight, personalities are bound to spark. These participants will live together in a fabulous mansion in the Hollywood Hills, and after each performance one will be eliminated by the panel of celebrity judges and the voting American public. In alternating chapters, Seigel and Bradshaw flesh out a distinct and often quirky personality for each of the performers, family members, and program employees through their interaction with the main characters, Magnolia and Ford. She is a pretty young Californian whose father died after leaving her and her fame-obsessed mother, and whose surfer boyfriend pops in and out of her life. Magnolia wants to change—and this show might be a terrific way to reinvent herself. Ford’s family in Arkansas spends more time in jail than in their broken-down home, and needs to win Spotlight in order to pull himself out of the family’s cycle of self-destruction. The teens make an unlikely couple, but their relationship makes great publicity for the show. They soon learn the price of fame, and the consequences of their actions. A must-read for fans of light romance and reality TV.
Shabazz, Ilyasah with Kekla Magoon. X: A Novel. 384p. bibliog. chart. chron. ebook available. Candlewick. Jan. 2015. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780763669676.
Gr 8 Up –Malcolm X was born Malcolm Little. The story opens with his departure from Michigan as a teen, though there are flashbacks to his younger years. It follows Malcolm through his time in Boston and Harlem, culminating with his conversion to Islam and his decision to change his name while in prison in 1948. The story does contain some gritty situations, most notably the use of the “n” word, non-graphic sex, drug and alcohol abuse, and criminal behavior. This was the reality of Malcolm X’s early life, and make the later scenes that more authentic. This is an eye-opening look at an important historical figure. The author’s honesty about his early troubles serves to convey that it is possible to rise through adversity to make a positive difference in this world. A worthwhile addition to any collection.
Simmons, Kristen. The Glass Arrow. 336p. Tor Teen. Feb. 2015. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780765336613; ebk. $9.99. ISBN 9781466828780.
Gr 9 Up –In a not-too-distant future, void of the belief in prayer and God, prayer is outlawed. Each public auction of available young girls raised for breeding purposes begins with a moment of silence to give thanks to the rich men who seek out subjects to purchase. Not only are women denied basic human rights in this caste society, but no one is given the opportunity to rise out of their assigned station. Lower caste men are neurologically altered to serve as either mindless, fashion-conscious baby-sitters for the chatteled young girls or emotionless security guards to keep the girls in line. Sixteen-year-old Aya, an educated renegade raised to think independently, is captured for sport by a rich young magnate and turned over to the capital city of Glasscaster for auction to the highest bidder. Aya is valuable because she has lived her life free, with natural foods, unlike the chemical substitutes given to the young girls raised within the city walls. This means that Aya has a higher chance of giving birth to a male child. Despite her attempts to sabotage her auctions, Aya finds herself not only sold, but also transferred to the highest household in town, Mayor Rykor’s home. There’s a much of Katniss Everdeen in Aya—a familiar strength and determination. Aya is an independent thinker, strong and self-reliant. Despite some slow pacing in the middle, fans of dystopian and postapocalyptic YA fiction will thoroughly enjoy this read.
Smale, Holly. Geek Girl. 384p. ebook available. HarperCollins/HarperTeen. Feb. 2015. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780062333575; ebk. $10.99. ISBN 9780062333599.
Gr 7-10 –Harriet Manners, star of this British import, is a geek through and through. She has no idea how to dress, is awkward and clumsy, spouts off facts at every opportunity, is bullied mercilessly at school, and has one friend, Nat, and one stalker, Toby. Nat dreams of becoming a fashion model and drags a completely uninterested Harriet along to Clothes Week, hoping to get discovered. As soon as they arrive, Nat runs off to find an agent leaving Harriet to her own devices. While looking at hats, Harriet manages to knock over several stalls, which creates quite a commotion and leads to her unwanted discovery by a modeling agent. Insert hilarity, deception, misunderstanding, fashion, makeup, and hairstyles. Quirky, likable, and geeky, Harriet is an outsider to the modeling world but possesses a natural charm that is everything the fashion world needs. Pure fun.
Thomas, Rhiannon. A Wicked Thing. 352p. ebook available. HarperCollins/HarperTeen. Feb. 2015. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780062303530.
Gr 7 Up –Feminist blogger Thomas’s debut novel takes the happily-ever-after out of the “Sleeping Beauty” fairy tale, and explores the fallout that takes place after Aurora is brought out of her deep sleep. Awakened after her 100-year nap, her friends and family long-dead, Aurora is thrust into an engagement with the stranger whose kiss roused her, Prince Rodric, the only son in the royal family currently governing the kingdom of Alysse. Her home is by no means the peaceful place it was: angry factions combat against the cruel and totalitarian King John, and the country seems to be teetering on the brink of a civil war. Aurora’s tale has been a symbol of hope for many, and the pressure to live up to the expectations that her awakening, and in turn, her intended marriage will bring about a change for the better, are immense. Uncomfortable with her new role, Aurora secretly makes nightly escapes to the city, where she meets Tristan, one of the rebels, to whom she forms an intense attraction, until the violence of his convictions drives her away. On the day her wedding is to take place, she makes a break for it, unsure of where she is headed, but content to be “nothing but herself.” The book is welcome twist on the classic helpless-princess-saved-by-dashing-prince. Aurora is a relatable character and fairy tale and fantasy fans alike will breeze through this retelling.
Wagner, Laura Rose. Hold Tight, Don’t Let Go. 272p. Abrams/Amulet. Jan. 2015. Tr $17.95. ISBN 9781419712043.
Gr 9 Up –When a natural disaster strikes, what happens after the telethons, after the donations, and after the media attention has disappeared? This powerful debut novel follows Magdalie in the two years following the 2010 earthquake in Haiti as she grieves for her manman, adapts to life in the tent camps, and tries to find a place and a community that feels like home. Magdalie seeks to live a normal life in an impermanent society where “my memories are out to get me.” People she loves appear and disappear, her home is made of plywood and plastic tarps, she ducks for cover at the slightest sound, and she has no hope of returning to school. She faces the tenuous circumstances with her beloved cousin Nadine, but then must brave them alone after Nadine is granted a U.S. visa. Wagner creates a portrait of post-earthquake Haiti that is a study of contrasts—hopeful and bleak, warm and lonely. Magdalie searches for connections and solutions, but is also afraid of loving anybody when they might disappear at any moment. Wagner effectively highlights the nuances of urban poverty and rural poverty. Wagner provides a helpful glossary and brief history of Haiti.
Watson, Renée. This Side of Home. 304p. ebook available. Bloomsbury. Feb. 2015. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781599906683.
Gr 9 Up –Maya is heading into her senior year at Richmond High, but it’s nothing like she’d thought it would be. Her Portland neighborhood is changing—along with her twin sister Nikki, her relationship with her boyfriend Tevin, and Maya’s plans with Nikki and their BFF Essence to attend the same historically black college. Rent goes up, forcing Essence and her family to move further away from the twins. Tony and his family move in. Maya and Nikki deal with their changing “up-and-coming neighborhood” in different ways as they’re forced to blend their ethnic and cultural identities and traditions with a changing community. Maya has a fantastic voice—honest, passionate, and multidimensional. On top of all the “normal” teenage issues dealing with friends, romance, and the future, Maya has to deal with the changes her neighborhood is going through. She’s compelled to act to make sure the original people, stores, and history don’t disappear so quickly. Gentrification can be extremely difficult to discuss, but Watson delivers a well-rounded, delicate, and important story without sacrificing any heart. An engrossing and timely coming-of-age story.
Jamieson, Victoria. Roller Girl. illus. by Victoria Jamieson. 240p. Dial. Mar. 2015. pap. $12.99. ISBN 9780803740167; ebk. $9.99. ISBN 9780698190610.
Gr 4-8 –Twelve-year-old Astrid realizes that her interests are distinctly different from those of her best friend. Mesmerized while viewing a roller derby, she dreams of becoming a “Roller Girl” but discovers that the sport is considerably more daunting than she imagined and is not without physical, social, and emotional pain. Nevertheless, Astrid is determined to succeed. While this graphic novel provides interesting information about the sport, at its heart it is a story of friendship, exploring the tensions which test the girls’ relationship as they move from childhood to adolescence. Astrid learns to be honest with herself, her mother, and her friends through a series of stressful events. Jamieson’s clever use of imagery is noteworthy. A prologue effectively frames the story and the realistic style with full-color art is reminiscent of the work of Raina Telgemeier. The story will engage readers who will identify with Astrid as she deals with frustrations and disappointments. It will especially appeal to those whose aspirations fly in the face of convention. Offer this comic to fans of Telgemeier’s Smile (Scholastic, 2010) and Laura Lee Gulledge’s Page by Paige (Abrams, 2011).
PEETERS, Benoît. The Leaning Girl. tr. from French by Stephen D. Smith. illus. by François Schuiten. photos. by Marie-Françoise Plissart. 176p. ebook available. Alaxis Pr. 2014. pap. $29.99. ISBN 9781628472271.
Gr 10 Up– After an eclipselike phenomenon and a thrilling ride on The Star Express, “the most spectacular attraction” in the city of Alaxis, young Mary von Rathen has inexplicably started to lean. Having studied the mysterious phenomenon from his observatory on Mont Michelson, Dr. Axel Wappendorf theorizes that the Sun was blacked out by an “anti-planet” and proposes building a rocket ship to get closer to this strange planet. Driven from Paris by the harsh words of his critics, Augustin Desombres finds himself compelled to purchase an abandoned estate and to paint mural after mural and a young figure he cannot seem to put a face to. The narratives are set among The Obscure Cities, a group of separate cities located in an invisible world positioned directly on the other side of the Sun. Mostly black and white, with some color and even photography, Schuiten’s artwork is wonderfully appropriate to the sci-fi genre and beautifully evocative. The images, some of which include full frontal nudity, support the text, especially in the sometimes clunky translation. The well-written story is propelled forward by the three main characters as they each try to make sense of the unexplainable and affect each other along the way. The science is incorporated in a comprehensible and fascinating way that will engage teens.–
For those interested in nonfiction, take a look at these stellar offerings with subjects as diverse as a biography on Arthur Miller, a comprehensive history on sneakers, and a graphic novel on a little-known African American historical figure.
Carstairs, Sue. Saving Turtles: A Kid’s Guide to Helping Endangered Creatures. 64p. glossary. index. photos. websites. Firefly. 2014. lib. ed. $19.95. ISBN 9781770854345; pap. $9.95. ISBN 9781770852907.
Gr 5 Up –Written by a veterinarian working directly in the field of turtle rescue, this title focuses on the efforts made to save and, eventually, release wild turtles that have been injured, primarily as a result of human interactions. A basic introduction to turtles and tortoises, including anatomy, habitat, and diet, provide enough background for readers to understand how fragile and susceptible these creatures are to changes in their environment. Carstairs takes children through the process of treating turtles, describing the most common types of injuries and the various medical techniques used. A lengthy explanation of the importance of releasing turtles back into their original habitat makes it clear that some turtles can never be returned to the wild if their original location is unknown. The straightforward, accessible text is accompanied by many photographs, some depicting fairly graphic injuries that are not for the faint of heart, with the occasional sidebar highlighting specific turtle-rescue practices. The book ends with information about field research being done on turtles, their living conditions, and worldwide efforts to save them, especially the protection of nesting areas, and how readers can help.
Concepión, Patrick & Traci Concepión. Alphabetics: An Aesthetically Awesome Alliterated Alphabet Anthology. illus. by Dawid Ryski. 64p. glossary. Die Gestalten Verlag/Little Gestalten. 2014. Tr $16.95. ISBN 9783899557282.
Gr 4-8 –Not your typical ABC book, this artsy work is printed on high-quality paper and each letter is accompanied by alliterative text and retro-modern illustrations that demonstrate, for the most part, what the text is describing (though more literal readers may take umbrage that the “yuppie Yeti” is actually eating a cup of “fro yo” in the Yukon rather than the stated yard). The style of the font is simple and attractive, but very small. The descriptors for each letter use advanced, creative vocabulary that younger children will enjoy hearing read aloud. Older students can expand their vocabularies using the glossary to help them with unfamiliar words: “colossal Cornelius/captures curious carnie companions/on his classic Contaflex camera.” “Paris the pretentious peacock/puffs on a Peterson pipe/while perched upon a penny-farthing.” The illustrations are unique; the heads of subjects are disproportionately small for their bodies. Ryski uses a limited palette for each illustration, which is then set against a solid white background. An unusual offering.
Conkling, Winifred. Passenger on the Pearl: The True Story of Emily Edmonson’s Flight from Slavery. 176p. bibliog. chart. chron. index. maps. notes. reprods. Algonquin. Jan. 2015. Tr $17.95. ISBN 9781616201968.
Gr 7-10 –This title is an in-depth historical narrative concerning several people involved in an attempted slave escape in 1848. The Pearl was to ferry 13-year-old Emily Edmonson and scores of other runaway slaves from Washington DC down the Potomac River and up the Chesapeake Bay. However, the ship was captured before reaching free soil. Conkling narrates the tumultuous stories of Edmonson, her family, and the others involved, tracing their lives from their ill-fated jail escape to the slave auctions, the Deep South, and finally to freedom. Readers will discover how Edmonson came into contact with important figures in the antislavery movement, including Frederick Douglass, Rev. Henry Ward Beecher, and Harriet Beecher Stowe. Primary documents give an authentic voice to the text, including excerpts from Frederick Douglass’s autobiography. Historical photographs of slaves and slave pens are particularly moving. Maps clearly outline the geography relevant to the narratives, and frequent text blocks separate contextual information from the primary narrative. This work covers information about slavery that is often not found in other volumes, such as the Second Middle Passage—the transportation of slaves from the Upper South to the Lower South—and the uncomfortable reality of slaves as “second wives” to white men. Conkling’s work is intricate and detailed, and is a strong and well-sourced resource.
Gray, Nick with Laura Scandiffio. Escape from Tibet: A True Story. 154p. chron. glossary. maps. photos. Annick. 2014. Tr $21.95. ISBN 9781554516636; pap. $12.95. ISBN 9781554516629.
Gr 5-8 –Documentary filmmaker Gray and writer Scandiffio have collaborated on this account of two brothers who fled from their native Tibet to India. The story begins in the middle of the night, when 10-year-old Tenzin’s older brother Pasang returned to his impoverished family home in occupied Tibet, years after escaping his monastery for greater freedom in India. Pasang convinced their mother to allow him to sneak the younger boy into India, a country with better prospects for Tibetans. But their journey was far from easy. The authors describe the dangerous voyage as the brothers begged for money in unfriendly towns, evaded border police, and crossed the Himalayas on foot with only blankets to keep warm. The book emphasizes Tenzin’s perspective on the events, effectively highlighting his bewilderment and distress at every stage of their journey, from the bustling city of Lhasa to the terrifying heights of the icy Death Pass and finally to the vagaries of refugee bureaucracy. The brothers’ triumph makes for a heartwarming tale, and their story offers a glimpse at a corner of the world too little explored in works for this audience.
Johnson, Rebecca L. Chernobyl’s Wild Kingdom: Life in the Dead Zone. 64p. bibliog. further reading. glossary. index. maps. notes. photos. websites. Twenty-First Century. 2014. RTE $34.60. ISBN 9781467711548. LC 2013039471.
Gr 5-8 –In April 1986, Reactor Number 4 in the Chernobyl nuclear power plant exploded, emitting a flood of radioactive material that devastated the surrounding countryside. The residual radioactivity permeating soil, water, plants and animals led to the creation of a miles-wide Exclusion Zone closed to human residents and dubbed the Dead Zone by the press, the general public, and scientists alike. Scientists have continued to study the ecology of this site during the intervening years, and Johnson’s lucid text describes their methods and findings in this chunk of land on the border between the Ukraine and Belarus. The readable text is interspersed with dark red sidebars on such topics as how the researchers maintain safety in hot zones, the resistance of some plants to effects of long-term radiation, and reports of the damage suffered by human evacuees from the contaminated zone. Small color photos and maps provide visual evidence and geographical information. A final chapter reports on the tsunami-driven nuclear failure in the 2011 Fukushima disaster and ponders the future for similar “accidents.” Thought-provoking.
Keyser, Amber J. Sneaker Century: A History of Athletic Shoes. 64p. bibliog. ebook available. further reading. index. notes. photos. reprods. websites. Twenty-First Century. Jan. 2015. lib. ed. $34.65. ISBN 9781467726405. LC 2014003214.
Gr 5 Up –Trainers. Tennies. Kicks. No matter what they’re called, athletic shoes have played an important role in American culture and the global economy during the past century, and this insightful look at the history of sneakers traces the shoes, from their humble origins in the Industrial Revolution to their current status as part of a multibillion dollar industry. Keyser peppers the narrative with lesser-known human interest stories, such as the sibling rivalry between shoe manufacturers Adi and Rudolf Dassler that spawned Adidas and Puma. Equally fascinating is Keyser’s examination of the role youth culture has played in the athletic shoe industry (and vice versa) as well as her look at the seamier side of shoe manufacturing, including the extreme disparity between foreign labor costs and the price of the final product. The text provides readers with a solid understanding of sneaker culture. The graphics complement the text without overshadowing it, though there’s a lot of white space on some pages. Readers of all stripes will appreciate the role sneakers play in our lives. A fun and informative addition.
Kurlansky, Mark. Frozen in Time: Clarence Birdseye’s Outrageous Idea About Frozen Food. 165p. bibliog. ebook available. index. photos. reprods. websites. Delacorte. 2014. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780385743884; lib. ed. $19.99. ISBN 9780375991356; pap. $8.99. ISBN 9780385372442.
Gr 6-10 –Based on Kurlansky’s book for adults Birdseye: Adventures of a Curious Man (Random, 2012), this biography examines Birdseye founder Clarence Birdseye, who patented the process of freezing foods. Kurlansky describes how Birdseye dropped out of college for financial reasons, later working as a government field researcher. Between 1912 and 1915, he spent time on Canada’s remote Labrador coast, where he found an opportunity in the fur business. There, he noticed that the native Inuit people could freeze food almost instantly in the frigid temperatures and that the food tasted fresh when thawed out. His curiosity about frozen foods never waned, and in the 1920s, he patented a machine that used salt water to freeze food rapidly. Birdseye caught the break of a lifetime when cereal magnate Marjorie Merriweather Post took an interest in his invention. When Post bought him out with her creation of the new company General Foods, Birdseye made a fortune, sealing the deal only three months before the stock market crash of 1929. Kurlansky provides ample context, detailing relevant social and economic conditions and crediting a wide selection of contemporary and competing inventors. This is a compellingly told story with obvious curriculum connections.
McCarney, Rosemary & others. Because I Am a Girl I Can Change the World. 96p. ebook available. photos. Second Story. 2014. Tr $16.95. ISBN 9781927583449.
Gr 6-10 –Most young people are familiar with Malala Yousafzai, advocate for girls’ education and Nobel Peace Prize winner. McCarney, founder of Plan International’s Because I Am a Girl movement, introduces other girls in developing nations who are striving to overcome the many barriers that prevent them from reaching their full potential, such as poverty, hunger, gender discrimination, slavery, forced marriage, unsafe communities, and violence. The book’s framework is based around the organization’s empowering eight-point manifesto (which includes statements such as “Because I am a girl…I will share what I know”). The book lets the girls describe their often heartbreaking stories in their own words but emphasizes how, with education and training, young people have become advocates for girls’ rights within their communities, speaking to the United Nations and similar organizations to continue raising awareness. The authors underscore that educating girls also benefits their families, communities, and countries, leading to decreased levels of poverty, better health, and stronger communities. The interviews, personal stories, and photographs lend immediacy to the text. An uplifting book that’s as inspiring as it is informative.
Mills, James Edward. The Adventure Gap: Changing the Face of the Outdoors. 208p. index. maps. Mountaineers Bks./Mountaineers. 2014. pap. $19.95. ISBN 9781594858680.
Gr 5 Up –In his experiences camping, hiking, and mountain climbing, Mills noticed that he was often the only African American participating in these activities. As he explains here, the outdoors community never made him feel unwelcome, but he became concerned that so few people of color were involved. He emphasizes the importance of encouraging youths from a variety of backgrounds to take part, not only to broaden their horizons but also to help protect the environment by raising a new generation of outdoor enthusiasts who will work to save it. The author’s description of [an] expedition is gripping, and these exciting segments are nicely balanced with the profiles, which give historical and cultural context to the goals of Expedition Denali. With journalistic clarity, Mills sheds light on a previously overlooked segment of history and culture.
Reef, Catherine. Arthur Miller. 128p. (World Writers). bibliog. chron. index. notes. photos. reprods. websites. Morgan Reynolds. 2014. lib. ed. $28.95. ISBN 9781599354002. LC 2013009857.
Gr 9 Up –This well-written book paints a portrait of playwright Miller that high school students will appreciate and even enjoy. Reef describes the man not simply as a respected literary figure but also as a rebel. She discusses how, as a student at the University of Michigan, Miller was outspoken about his views, publishing pieces in the Michigan Daily on topics such as labor laws and whether college professors should bring up controversial subjects in their classrooms. A survivor of the Great Depression, Miller gravitated toward radical politics, which inspired some of his greatest plays. Always a scholar, Miller also found ideas for his works in his travels abroad and his studies of history. This slim, compelling biography reads like a novel, and though informative, the content is condensed enough that it won’t overwhelm. An appealing look at one of America’s most celebrated playwrights.
Rivera, Mariano & Wayne Coffey. The Closer: Young Readers Edition. adapted by Sue Corbett. 336p. ebook available. glossary. photos. Little, Brown. 2014. Tr $17. ISBN 9780316404808. LC 2014015176.
Gr 5-8 –In this autobiography, Rivera describes how he went from a poor boy in a humble fishing village in Panama to one of the greatest New York Yankee baseball heroes. A ninth-grade high school dropout who worked on his father’s fishing boat, Rivera played pickup baseball with improvised bats, balls, and gloves because there was no money for sports equipment. When he joined a local team, his outstanding pitching skill was discovered by professional baseball scouts, and eventually he was hired by the Yankees as a closing pitcher—a career that spanned 18 years. Baseball fans will appreciate and enjoy relevant play-by-play details of significant games and championship competitions. A must for young baseball fans, especially those who follow the Yankees.
Ross, Michael Elsohn. A World of Her Own: 24 Amazing Women Explorers and Adventurers. 272p. (Women of Action). bibliog. index. notes. photos. reprods. websites. Chicago Review. 2014. Tr $19.95. ISBN 9781613744383. LC 2013024947.
Gr 7-10 –This addition certainly lives up to its series name. Naturalist and author Ross tells the stories of different women who stepped outside their comfort zones, overcame hardships, and earned advanced degrees all in order to explore nature, seek adventure, and find personal fulfillment. Divided into four parts, the book profiles women such as Sophia Danenberg, who summited Everest in 2006; Constanza Ceruti, who climbs mountains to visit high-elevation archaeological sites; Ynes Mexia, who traversed South America in the 1930s; and homemaker and mother Helga Estby, who with her daughter Clara walked across America in 1896. These are fascinating, well-told stories, sure to intrigue readers. Photographs are scattered throughout the text. A solid collection of inspiring individuals.
Smith, Rachelle Lee. Speaking Out: Queer Youth in Focus. photos by Rachelle Lee Smith. 128p. PM Pr. Feb. 2015. Tr $14.95. ISBN 9781629630410. LC 2014908062.
Gr 10 Up –This gorgeously produced photo-essay book takes a unique spin on showcasing LGBTQ youth. The young people in the photographs speak for themselves, some in longer form essays, others by writing, scrawling, or drawing directly onto the images themselves. Their words seem truly their own, not edited or filtered through an adult editorial lens, which allows them to be messy, contradictory, inspiring, well spoken, frustrating, occasionally graphic, and interesting, sometimes all at the same time. The photographs are beautifully presented, and the technique of including the subject’s writing upon them is compelling. Smith includes an impressive array of youth, diverse in age, race, sexual orientation, and gender identity. One noticeable lack is that none of the subjects clearly identify as trans women, though trans men were well represented. Overall, this is a stunning and unique addition to the existing literature, with an immediately relevant approach.
Terry, Paul. Top 10 of Everything 2015. 320p. (Top 10 of Everything). chart. index. photos. reprods. Firefly. 2014. Tr $24.95. ISBN 9781770854697.
Gr 5 Up –This busy effort will appeal to list lovers. The glittery cover hints at the excitement to come within. There’s no resting the eyes here: lists, fact boxes, and photographs abound, with no absolutely no empty spaces. The volume is broken up into 10 sections, including mechanical marvels, the animal kingdom, and epic structures. Each section concludes with a word search, multiple-choice quiz, invitation to readers to come up with their own list, and other puzzles. Answers to the puzzles and two indexes (categorical and alphabetical) complete the text. It’s lots of fun.
Woolf, Alex. Children of the Holocaust. 64p. chron. further reading. glossary. index. photos. reprods. websites. Barron’s. 2014. lib. ed. $12.99. ISBN 9780764167584. LC 2014940649.
Gr 5-8 –Using simple vocabulary, Woolf presents a complicated and multidimensional issue through an accessible narrative supplemented with documentary material. Students will gain a better understanding of how the Holocaust unfolded through historical photos and quotes from young people, which are descriptive, though never graphic. The author defines the Holocaust, describes the effects that the Nazi rise to power had upon the Jews, discusses life in the concentration camps and ghettoes, and covers the struggles of those who went into hiding to avoid being sent to the camps. The book ends with “Memories and Consequences,” which looks at the creation of Israel, the Nuremberg trials, and the importance of Holocaust remembrance. As Holocaust survivors and World War II veterans are dwindling in number, it is imperative that young people receive an accurate, human depiction of this period, making this well-written title all the more relevant. A valuable addition.
Gill, Joel Christian. Bass Reeves: Tales of the Talented Tenth. Vol. 1. illus. by Joel Christian Gill. 158p. Fulcrum. 2014. pap. $25.95. ISBN 9781938486630.
Gr 7 Up –Expanding upon the short entry that appeared in his Strange Fruit: Uncelebrated Narratives from Black History (Fulcrum, 2014), Gill opens his new graphic novels series on African American heroes with a volume about Bass Reeves, a former slave and the first black U.S. Marshall. With alternating full-page spreads and varied panels, the tale switches between 1902 (during his time as a lawman) and the 1840s (when Reeves first learned how to shoot as an enslaved child). The narrative details Reeves’s adventures as his master’s prized possession, eventual escape, experiences living with Native Americans, fighting for the North in the Civil War, and then as a rough and tough officer of the law (rumored to be the inspiration for The Lone Ranger). The folkloric, tall tale tone of the text is enhanced by the earthy illustrations and the pictographs that serve as substitutes for racial slurs—a blackface-type head for the n-word and an American Indian in headdress for “redskins.” Even more striking is a man-size crow character who symbolizes Jim Crow racism and practices of the time and plagues the subject throughout his life. A much-needed offering and perspective. School Library Journal
Wilson, Sean Michael. Musashi. illus. by Michiru Morikawa. 176p. ebook available. Shambhala. 2014. pap. $16.95. ISBN 9781611801354. LC 2014000958.
Gr 10 Up –A graphic novel biography about the iconic samurai Musashi Miyamoto (c. 1584–1645). Renowned for his two-sword technique, Musashi was a legendary swordsman, artist, and author. Iori Miyamoto, his adopted son, recounts his late father’s life, from his humble beginnings raised and educated by a Buddhist monk, to his formative years, which focused on duels and his skills and reputation with the sword. Later years show his appreciation in arts. Near the end of his life, Musashi wrote The Book of Five Rings, a classic text on martial arts and military strategy that examined his life and philosophical teachings. The detailed black-and-white artwork provides a strong sense of the era. Well-drawn facial expressions and body language convey emotions in the often wordless art panels. Duels are very brief, often happening off-panel and there’s no gory violence. The author aims for “accuracy and subtlety.” Pacing is deliberate, examining milestones in Musashi’s life. Readers expecting only duels and bloodshed will be surprised by Musashi Miyamoto’s disciplined, meditative qualities. Recommended for graphic novel collections where more literary volumes circulate.
From the Adult Books 4 Teens
And from SLJ’s “Adult Books 4 Teens” blog, the following titles are perfect for teens looking to cross over to adult books.
APTOWICZ, Cristin O’Keefe. Dr. Mütter’s Marvels: A True Tale of Intrigue and Innovation at the Dawn of Modern Medicine. 371p. illus. index. notes. photos. Penguin/Gotham. 2014. Tr $27.50. ISBN 9781592408702. LC 2014014747.
You wouldn’t want to be a patient undergoing surgery in Philadelphia in the 1830s. Anesthesia hadn’t yet been invented, so a cup of wine would be used to dull your senses prior to the procedure. A crowd would watch in the operating theater, and the best you could hope for was a surgeon who was quick enough to lessen your stress and pain, but slow enough to do the job correctly. If you were really lucky, he might wash his hands. After the operation, you’d be promptly sent home in a carriage, bouncing on cobblestone streets. When Dr. Thomas Dent Mütter burst onto the scene, medicine was ripe for change. Aptowicz introduces readers to the pioneering young surgeon responsible for helping to lead a revolution. Mütter stood out in his field as much for his handsome good looks and colorful silk suits as his engaging, outsize personality. Known for his compassionate way with patients, he saw possibilities in the new field of plastic surgery for helping those with debilitating physical deformities. Informed by an abundance of research, Aptowicz’s crackling prose brings the surgeon to life, immersing readers in the shocking world of primitive medicine in the pre-Civil War era. She gives ample page time to his contemporaries, including those who held vastly opposing views on the best way to treat patients. Chock-full of fascinating facts and anecdotes, this page-turning biography will engage those teens who enjoy narrative nonfiction.
MCCULLOCH, Derek. Displaced Persons. illus. by Anthony Peruzzo. 168p. Image Comics. 2014. pap. $17.99. ISBN 9781632151216.
This graphic novel time travels through three generations of one family, whose connections are symbolized, and realized, by a house in the hills of San Francisco. The themes of politics, family, and crime are showcased in the intertwined narratives, changing through the years only in the details. During the Great Depression, a loving father, pressed by economic forces he’s unable to control, makes a shady deal to keep his loved ones together. Grandiose or ambitious, there’s a lot here to consume, and digest; readers may have to check the proffered time lines more than once to keep their bearings. The sins of the past destroy some characters and cast off others, leaving a faithful few to find their way home. Drug use and dealing cast a pall in the 1960s chapters, and César Chávez gets a mention through a well-meaning in-law as things fall apart in the 1990s. It seems a bit random, but in an interesting play-within-a-play conclusion, a friend writing a book and a time traveling relative find each other and some answers to the family saga. The work’s narrative held together by the art: Shaded in multiple sepia tones to signal different time periods, the drawings are roughly chiseled and remarkably detailed; whole rooms, complete with clues, appear in single frames. This part mystery, part sci-fi graphic novel was crafted over ten years.
SCHROEDER, Karl. Lockstep. 352p. 2014. Tor. Tr $26.99. ISBN 9780765337269.
For the last few years, young Toby McGonigal and his family have been homesteading on a small, icy exo-planet just outside of the Solar System. In order to maintain a monopoly, the family must claim stake to any orbiting moon they find. On his way to claim one such moon, Toby’s ship’s hull is breached, placing him into emergency deep hibernation. And there he sleeps, lost in space until his ship is pulled into orbit around a planet that appears dead. Luckily for Toby, the world below is not dead, frozen yes, but thriving nonetheless because it is part of the greatest and largest human civilization to ever exist, the Lockstep. The Lockstep has endured and thrived by institutionalizing a rigorous cycle of hibernation in which every member of the civilization lives together in 360 months of hibernation for every one month awake. Toby is shocked to discover that while he has been asleep for over 14,000 years, the Lockstep has been ruled by a single family since its creation: his own. Lockstep is one of the year’s best works of hard science fiction, based around an intergalactic civilization bound by the Speed of Light. Against the backdrop of Toby’s fight to rectify the sins of his family, Schroeder explores complicated topics such as the administration and economics of great empires, the effects of cultural diffusion, the relationship between governance and institutionalized religion, relativistic time, and the complications caused by functional immortality. This title will be especially appealing to advanced readers of science fiction, who will appreciate the opportunity to move out of the worlds of the “Force” and Warp Drives, and into a thriving empire that is well within the theoretical possibilities of human achievement.
The original reviews of the following works appeared in SLJ’s December print magazine.
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