November 17, 2017

Subscribe to SLJ

Six Eclectic Debut Novels | Adult Books 4 Teens

Get the latest SLJ reviews every month, subscribe today and save up to 35%.

In this column, we look at six debut novels for adults with teen appeal—with an emphasis on “novels,” since all of these first-time novelists have already established themselves in other forms or writing. Anne Flett-Giordano, for example, has been writing and producing TV shows for the past 30 years, working on such shows as Kate & Allie, Frasier (for which she won an Emmy), Desperate Housewives, and Hot in Cleveland. Her debut novel, Marry, Kiss, Kill, is replete with up-to-the-minute references to her Hollywood cronies, but other than that, is a bit of a departure from her work in comedy toward light-weight mystery reminiscent of Janet Evanovich. Look for further entries in the series to come. Like Flett-Giordano, Robert Levy’s background is in performance: in his case, as an Off-Broadway playwright. Also like Flett-Giordano, Levy’s debut full-length work, The Glittering World, is dripping with teen appeal: a modern dark fairy tale, which our reviewer compares to Holly Black’s Tithe and Julie Kagawa’s The Iron Fey.

Robyn Cadwallader and Francesca Haig, on the other hand, both come from a very different world of writing: that of academia and poetry. The two Aussies each have PhDs and award-winning books of poetry to their names, but their first fiction titles are very different. Haig’s The Fire Sermon is a postapocalyptic thriller, based on the intriguing premise that everyone in the future is born as a twin, and that the twins are locked in a fatal connection: when one dies, so does the other. This is high-concept science fiction that teens will eat up. Cadwallader’s novel The Anchoress, on the other hand, is a quiet, contemplative book which seems to owe much to her dissertation on St. Margaret of Antioch: “about female virginity and agency.” In Cadwallader’s book, a young educated woman chooses to become an anchoress—an ascetic who lives apart from the world in prayer. As our reviewer notes, this is a thought-provoking novel for teens interested in questions of religion and faith.

Laura Van Den Berg has been honing her craft with short stories for the last several years, publishing two very well-received story collections, What the World Will Look Like When All the Water Leaves Us (Dzanc Bks., 2009), and Isle of Youth (Farrar, 2013). Find Me is another postapocalyptic story, this one focusing on the moments just after the apocalypse—caused by a deadly pandemic—as the protagonist discovers that she is immune to the illness. Mysterious, lyrical, and compelling, Find Me is an excellent pick for thoughtful teens ready to move on from typical YA dystopias.

Finally we have Ben Metcalf’s Against the Country. Unlike the above authors, Metcalf has not previously been published, aside from some short stories, but he has spent many years in the literary world as the literary editor at Harper’s. Against the Country is the kind of challenging, experimental work that one would expect from someone who has edited the great prose Metcalf has. It is a strange amalgamation of essay, diatribe, and novel, told in a decidedly nonlinear fashion. Some teens may run screaming from the seeming pretension within, but for others, it will be a breath of fresh air.

If it seems strange to see these authors from such different backgrounds—TV, plays, poetry, short stories, and editing—come up with novels with so much teen appeal, that should only be a reminder of what a wide range of styles and themes teens are interested in reading. Hopefully, all six of these authors will continue to produce such high quality work as their “debuts.”

cadwallader_anchoressCADWALLADER, Robyn. The Anchoress. 320p. Farrar/Sarah Crichton Bks. 2015. Tr $26. ISBN 9780374104252.
Sarah, a 17-year-old English girl who lives during the 13th-century, chooses to become an anchoress at her local church. This means that she is to live forever in a tiny, dank room attached to the church with only three windows and a door nailed shut. A priest receives her weekly confession and offers spiritual advice. Sarah counsels her two maids, who live in an adjacent room, and also advises local villagers. The rest of the time she prays for the welfare of the village and her patron, Sir Thomas, who provides for her care. What events led to an educated young woman becoming a holy woman? And can she possibly stay dedicated to God? While not for every teen, this lovely, spiritual novel is perfect for readers questioning or reaffirming their belief system. Sarah truly believes that becoming an anchoress will keep her from harm, but even a nailed door cannot prevent evil. The church and townsfolk have secrets, and young women during this time period were never safe or free to make their own decisions. There’s no romance in this novel, but the layered relationship that Sarah develops with the manuscript creator, Father Ranaulf, is well done and nuanced. Full of searching prayer, saints’ tales, mystery, and quiet rebellion, this is a unique literary novel that can be paired with John Boyne’s A History of Loneliness (Farrar, 2015). VERDICT Recommended for soul-searching literary teen readers.—Sarah Hill, Lake Land College, Mattoon, IL

MarryKissKill_cover

FLETT-GIORDANO, Anne. Marry, Kiss, Kill. 298p. Prospect Park Bks. 2015. Tr $24.95. ISBN 9781938849534; pap. $15. ISBN 9781938849497
Nola MacIntire, age 37, is deputy chief of detectives, and though she is a fit, good-looking, tall blond, she still obsesses about aging, weight, and her single status. What does stop her from time to time is murder, and right now she and her gorgeous Italian partner, Tony Angelloti, are embroiled in several murders that are plaguing their hometown of Santa Barbara, CA. Intertwined with their brilliant crime-solving abilities is their equally smart, downright hilarious repartee. Tony is smart and teases Nola about her shoes, what she eats, and her obsession with age and looks. The perfect friend and sidekick to the smart, accomplished, and oh-so-funny protagonist, he’s also encouraging and understanding, , supporting her even in her romantic endeavors. The crimes are clever and involve relevant concerns, such as homelessness and the environment. Peppered with references to fashion and popular culture (that may date this book in years to come), this book will appeal to a wide range of young adults. VERDICT This title will be a huge hit with those who enjoy Janet Evanovich’s “Stephanie Plum” series (Bantam), and sequels will be anticipated with bated breath.—Jake Petit, Library Coordinator, Istanbul, Turkey

Haig_fire sermonHAIG, Francesca. The Fire Sermon. 384p. Gallery. 2015. Tr $26. ISBN 9781476767185.
A gifted teen stays one step ahead of a government determined to prevent her from changing the status quo. Four hundred years after a nuclear event, Cass and her brother, Zach, are born into a world in which everyone is a twin. One twin is an Alpha. The other is an Omega, born with a deformity or mutation, shunned and separated from its family. However, when one twin dies, the other does, too. Cass has a rare mutation, which she hides as long as she can. She is a seer—she can sense events before they happen. After Zach exposes her, Cass spends her teen years in an Omega settlement, while her brother joins the governing Council and starts working with a woman dubbed the Confessor, a rare Omega collaborating with the Alphas. Zach’s influence grows, and he kidnaps Cass and locks her in an underground cell where he can protect her from his enemies. Cass escapes and travels toward the sea in search of the island, a rumored safe haven for Omegas and a hotbed of rebellion. There are intimations that Cass has a special gift that makes her invaluable to the rebellion, but readers will have to wait for the next in the trilogy to find out just what that might be. Haig emphasizes ideas, character, and setting more than fast-paced action. VERDICT An original premise gives this otherwise run-of-the-mill postapocalyptic novel an interesting spark.—Angela Carstensen, Convent of the Sacred Heart, New York City

Levy_The Glittering WorldLEVY, Robert. The Glittering World. 352p. Gallery. 2015. Tr $26. ISBN 9781476774527.
A simple road trip to the island of Cape Breton, Canada, turns into much more when Blue and his three friends travel there so he can sell his deceased grandmother’s house. The area around Starling Cove is magical—the greens are greener, artists churn out more artwork, and the people are happier. Blue doesn’t remember much about his childhood at the artist’s colony, which burned down, but when he and his friends visit its charred remains, memories return in dreams and flashbacks. And then Blue and his friend Elisa disappear. The locals drop hints about The Other Kind, and Elisa’s husband and Blue’s friend must investigate to find the two missing friends. Magical realism and a dark fey world collide in this grown-up tale that readers of Holly Black’s Tithe (S. & S., 2002) will enjoy. It’s told in four sections, each from the point of view of the four main characters. Dark fairies live underground in Starling Cove, and their interactions with humans are more like horrific alien encounters than those with beautiful fairies in traditional tales. The main characters are adults who behave like confused young adults—partying and running away from reality—and many teens will find them relatable. Give to readers who grew up on Julie Kagawa’s “The Iron Fey” (Harlequin Teen) series and are looking for something more mature. VERDICT Recommended for fans of dark fairy tales.—Sarah Hill, Lake Land College, Mattoon, IL

metcalf_against the countryMETCALF, Ben. Against the Country. 328p. Random. 2015. Tr $26. ISBN 9781400062690; ebk. ISBN 9780812996531.
“Town” is the place left behind, the place where our narrator might have grown up in something approximate to sanity, if life had gone differently. Instead, this is the story of a boy taken from town and transported by his parents to rural Virginia, a hellish place where children are treated like mules and miseries are numerous as flies. The boy’s story is not told in a linear format. Rather, readers are sucked into winding, wordy paragraphs that pulse from eloquent reflections on topics as diverse as religion and whipping sticks. The experience of riding the school bus, for example, includes sentences like “I wonder: When the great root below us inspired in Thomas Jefferson his idyllic hallucinations, and began to grow its system westward under the Appalachian range (toward the Mississippi snake oil it would require to reach and pervert California), did it bestow upon him a vision of the roving metal stomach that would, a century and change after his presidency, gobble up the nation’s children by law each morning and vomit them into a freshly graveled parking lot?” For some teens, the innovative structure will be a refreshing change from traditional storytelling. Experimentation in art is often well appreciated by young, flexible minds. For others, the novelty of the text may be short-lived. VERDICT Metcalf demonstrates that literature can be a wild, untamed thing, constrained only by the limits of imagination and courage.—Diane Colson, Nashville Public Library, TN

van den berg_find meVAN DEN BERG, Laura. Find Me. 288p. Farrar. 2015. Tr $26. ISBN 9780374154714.
The world is starting to fall apart just as Joy begins putting herself back together. Abandoned by her mother at birth and raised in several foster care and group home situations, Joy has struggled to find direction. When a deadly sickness spreads across the country, first stripping people of their memories and then propelling them from dementia to death, Joy finds out she is immune to this disease and is admitted to a hospital that is looking for a cure. She uses this time to reflect on her life thus far and make a plan to track down her birth mother. The first-person narration allows readers to follow the story through Joy’s changing perspective, which creates a mood that subtly moves from ambivalence to determination. Teens will be compelled to discover more about the mystery of the illness, and themes of survival and self-discovery will resonate with them. This debut novel’s interesting exploration of how people behave during times of crisis mixed with the dynamics of hospital living is a combination of Susanna Kaysen’s Girl, Interrupted (Turtle Bay Bks., 1993) and Josh Malerman’s Bird Box (Ecco, 2014). VERDICT Give this to introspective teens who enjoy postapocalyptic stories and lyrical language.—Carrie Shaurette, Dwight-Englewood School, Englewood, NJ

SLJTeen header

This article was featured in our free SLJTeen enewsletter.
Subscribe today to have more articles like this delivered to you twice a month.

Mark Flowers About Mark Flowers

Mark Flowers is SLJ’s Adult Books 4 Teens cocolumnist and a supervising librarian at the Rio Vista (CA) Library.

Share
A Day-Long Celebration of Fandom-Beloved Stories and Characters
Join Library Journal and School Library Journal for our inaugural LibraryCon Live! We’re excited to offer this day-long virtual festival for book nerds, librarians, and fans of graphic novels, sci-fi, and fantasy. Network online with other fans and explore our virtual exhibit hall where you’ll hear directly from publishers about their newest books and engage in live chats with featured authors. You’ll also learn from librarians and industry insiders on how to plan and host your own Comic Con-style event.