November 22, 2017

The Advocate's Toolbox

Much-Anticipated Titles from Judy Blume, Ernest Cline, and More | Adult Books 4 Teens

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

In today’s column, I introduce you to eight books by favorite authors. Whose favorite? Well, teens, for one. Also: the Alex committee, AB4T columnists, and the world at large. These are some much-anticipated releases by authors we are always excited to see come out with new work. In an attempt to get through all eight, I’m going to try to pair them up to make sense of them. We’ll see how I do.

First up, we have two novels written by writers known primarily for their work for children and young adults: Ellen Hopkins and Judy Blume. Hopkins’s Love Lies Beneath breaks from her usual mold, not only by aiming for the adult market but also by abandoning her trusted verse-novel style for prose (though the novel still contains some poetry). What it keeps, though, is the meat of what teens love about Hopkins: scandalous situations, characters with deep psychological issues, and a lot of edgy fun. Blume’s In the Unlikely Event, too, hews fairly close to the traits that have made her a perennial favorite among young adults: deeply honest portrayals of teens coming of age, first loves, and frank discussions of troubling issues, such as anorexia. What makes this novel adult is Blume’s decision to expand her cast of characters beyond the young protagonist to encompass an entire community (closely modeled on the town in which Blume grew up), which is being affected by a horrific series of tragedies. Still, this expansion of views should not be a deterrent to teens—especially those who count Blume as one of their favorite authors.

Two other novels are new works by Alex Award winners. Ron Rash’s The World Made Straight won an Alex Award in 2007, and his The Cove was one of Adult Books 4 Teens’s favorite books of 2012. Above the Waterfall returns readers to Rash’s familiar North Carolina setting, beautifully evoked in his crisp, poetic style. Though some of the author’s earlier books contain more teen characters, his latest volume should draw teens in with its noirish mystery, only to keep them reading because of Rash’s signature lyricism—explicitly compared in the novel to the poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins. Ernest Cline’s jokey, high-concept style could hardly be further from Rash’s, but he, too, is an Alex winner—for 2011’s Ready Player One (Crown)—so into this paragraph he goes. Like its award-winning predecessor, Armada finds its inspiration in video games. This time, the conceit—with a nod toward the The Last Starfighter film—is that the video games that people have been playing for the last several decades were designed by the government to prepare us to fight real aliens, and sci-fi films and TV shows have been similarly designed to prepare the populous for the alien invasion. Another fun and funny showing from Cline.

A third pairing features two novels by particular favorites of Adult Books 4 Teens. Ted Kosmatka’s The Games (Del Rey) was one of our favorite books of the first half of 2012, and Jo Walton’s Among Others (Tor) was one of Angela and my favorite adult books for teens, period. Both are back with new teen-friendly books, both with strong ties to science and philosophy. Kosmatka’s The Flicker Men looks toward the very newest philosophy—quantum physics—while Walton’s The Just City reaches back toward ancient Greece and Plato’s ideas in The Republic. Both books should give teens much to ponder. I was particularly taken with Walton’s sneaky take on the ongoing trend of dystopian novels. Rather than trying to write a new dystopia, she looks back to one of the original Utopian projects and shows her teen readers how dystopias got that way in the first place—through good intentions. At the same time, Walton probes issues like free will and the existence of the soul, issues that Kosmatka is also intensely interested in. Kosmatka gets there through math and science, but the fundamentally philosophical questions remain—do humans have a soul? Do other creatures? Is there an afterlife? Weighty questions with which teens often find themselves struggling.

Finally, we have two books which…don’t really go together. Neither is a novel? They are both compilations of short works? Well, I almost made it. Manhattan Mayhem: New Crime Stories from Mystery Writers of America is a short story collection edited by one of mystery fiction’s grande dames, Mary Higgins Clark, that includes a story by Clark herself. What else need be said? Fans of Clark and her mystery style will need no encouragement. Similarly, fans of Freakonomics probably don’t need my advice to pick up Stephen J. Dubner and Steven D. Levitt’s latest: When to Rob a Bank: And 131 More Warped Suggestions and Well-Intended Rants. Culled from the authors’ “Freakonomics” blog, these 150 or so short pieces are wildly uneven and not particularly well organized but make for fantastic browsing material, hitting on such important issues as how to cheat the Mumbai train system, why don’t flight attendants get tips, and, of course, when to rob a bank. Pair this with Randall Munroe’s What If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions (Mariner, 2014), and see how long it takes your average teen to come up for air.

FICTION

InTheUnlikelyEvent-BlumeBLUME, Judy. In the Unlikely Event. 432p. Knopf. 2015. Tr $27.95. ISBN 9781101875049.

In the winter of 1951–52, three separate airplanes crashed into Elizabeth, NJ, near Newark Airport. Blume was a young teenager at the time, and she revisits the events of those months in her latest novel told in the third person from multiple points of view. The main character, 15-year-old Miri Ammerman, lives in Elizabeth with her single mother, Rusty. Miri’s Uncle Henry is a small-town journalist who makes a name for himself writing about the crashes for the local paper. Miri’s grandmother Irene keeps the family fed and befriends a man who was widowed in the first crash. These and other protagonists’ viewpoints help to build a picture of life in New Jersey in the early 1950s. Although there are many voices, Blume skillfully weaves their stories together so that it is always clear who each character is and what their connections are to one another. Miri experiences first love (with a non-Jewish boy—gasp!) and begins to learn the truth about her father and his family. Her best friend Natalie, whose family and life Miri has always envied, begins a downward spiral into anorexia and believes that she is hearing messages from a dancer named Ruby who died on the first plane. This is a wonderful picture of a community living their lives while responding to not just one catastrophe but three. VERDICT Fans of Blume will clamor for this, but so, too, will any teen who enjoys a well-written coming-of-age novel that strongly evokes a specific time and place.–Sarah Flowers, formerly of Santa Clara County (CA) Library

Clark_Manhattan Mayhem_CLARK, Mary Higgins, ed. Manhattan Mayhem: New Crime Stories from Mystery Writers of America. 320p. photos. Quirk. 2015. Tr $24.95. ISBN 9781594747618.

This collection of mystery and crime stories set in Manhattan delivers some great short fiction by well-known and not-so-well-known authors. While the entries have a genre in common and cover the different boroughs of New York City, that is where the similarities end. They span different time frames and have a variety of voices and themes, from the creepy and disturbing to lighthearted and heartwarming. However, they come together cohesively. Julie Hyzy’s “White Rabbit,” set in Central Park, is a page-turner that flips expectations; set in Times Square where the famous picture of a kiss between a sailor and nurse at the end of World War II took place, “The Day After” by Brendan DuBoise will leave readers intrigued; and “Me and Mikey” by T. Jeerson Parker will be a popular booktalked hand-seller with Little Italy setting and focus on the mob. Brilliantly edited by Clark (her own submission is a nice treat), this book, with its black-and-white photos accompanying each of the selections, will attract students who are already fans of some of the authors and will have teens new to these writers eager to read their longer works. VERDICT A first purchase for schools where mysteries or some of the authors are popular.–Jake Pettit, Library Coordinator, Istanbul, Turkey

Cline_ArmadaCLINE, Ernest. Armada. 368p. Crown. 2015. Tr $26. ISBN 9780804137256.

High schooler Zack Lightman is staring out of the window during class one day and sees what appears to be a Glaive fighter, an alien ship from his favorite video game, Armada. Zack isn’t imagining things. The aliens are real, they are on the attack, and it’s up to the gamers of the world to save humanity. While some plot elements are unsurprising, Cline has created a fast-paced story with so much fun excitement and drama that readers will be happy to go along for the ride. The narrative informs us that some popular conspiracy theories are true: video games really have been used to train people to defend the earth against aliens, with the leaderboards used to find the best fighters; science fiction movies and television shows have been funded by the government with the intention of getting the general population used to the idea that aliens do exist; our most famous scientists, including Stephen Hawking, Neil deGrasse Tyson, and Carl Sagan, have all had a hand in it. This compelling story is made even richer through different perspectives brought by the diverse group of elite gamers tasked with leading the fight.  Fans of the author’s Ready Player One (Crown, 2011) will not be disappointed. VERDICT Although this is a great book for teen gamers, Cline’s sophomore effort with young protagonists and questions about alien civilizations and government secrets will also appeal to  fans of science fiction and conspiracy theories.–Carla Riemer, Claremont Middle School, CA

Hopkinds_love-lies-beneathHOPKINS, Ellen. Love Lies Beneath. 320p. S. & S./Atria. 2015. Tr $26. ISBN 9781476743653.

When 40-year-old Tara is injured in a skiing accident in Lake Tahoe, she doesn’t waste any time asking her gorgeous attending doctor, Calvin, for his phone number. This leads to a whirlwind romance and engagement, but as the wedding date gets closer, Tara grows more suspicious of her fiancé. His 17-year-old son is doing his best to flirt with Tara and to bring his father’s exes, all beautiful and leggy, to her house. Tara has already been married multiple times and has no desire to be a stepmother, but if the boy keeps feeding her mangoes (which she is deathly allergic to), the marriage might not happen. Tara is not a likable character—she’s pushy, rude, self-obsessed, and jealous. But she’s perfect for new adults who enjoy watching Bravo TV’s Real Housewives. After the multiple orgasms in the opening chapters, Tara tries to settle into her relationship, even as she hires a private detective to check up on her fiancé, and deals with threatening anonymous messages. The mystery about who is behind the scare tactics wraps up too easily, as does the entire book. But readers who have grown up reading Hopkins will appreciate Tara and her issues, which stem from her growing up in Las Vegas strip clubs with an inattentive mother. Written in prose with nine poems interspersed throughout, this work will have chick lit fans anticipating the sequel. VERDICT Like the author’s Triangles (S. & S., 2011), this title isn’t school library–friendly, but new adults will enjoy the sexy romp.–Sarah Hill, Lake Land College, Mattoon, IL

Kosmatka_FlickerMenKOSMATKA, Ted. The Flicker Men. 352p. Holt. 2015. Tr $27. ISBN 9780805096194.

Close to killing himself on a daily basis, broken, alcoholic Eric Argus is given one last chance. His friend from college, Jeremy, offers Eric an opportunity to restart the research he left behind years before after a mental breakdown. As a quantum physicist, Eric was precipitously close to the edge as he got closer to scientific discoveries that could change the way we think about humanity and the universe. With this second chance, Eric sets up shop again and regains his interest in work by replicating the famous double-slit experiment—an experiment that investigates the nature of light and matter. With research partner Satvik, he encounters a discovery with tremendous ramifications, as the results include the possibility that only human beings have souls. But there are those out there who want to control this kind of information. Eric finds himself in a life and death struggle, not knowing whom to trust and unable to discern anyone’s intentions. Math and physics logic is embedded throughout as the protagonist explains the theories behind his research. Teens who study physics, math, or philosophy will be able to grapple alongside Eric as he works his way through the logic of the theory. This story endeavors to overturn everything we’ve thought about life, death, the afterlife, and conception. VERDICT Action, adventure, and a ruthless villain who will stop at nothing to halt the progress of this discovery will leave readers on edge until the last page.–Connie Williams, Petaluma High School, CA

RAsh_Above the Waterfall_RASH, Ron. Above the Waterfall. 288p. HarperCollins/Ecco. Sept. 2015. Tr $26.99. ISBN 9780062349316.

In a rugged mountain North Carolina county, Les is the sheriff with just a few weeks before retirement. His tenure has been marked with the sorrows of the country people whom he’s known since birth. For example, Les witnessed old-timer Gerald burn down his son’s home after the boy was killed overseas. Lately, Gerald has been wandering on the property of a downstream resort to the frustration of the resort’s manager. When someone pours kerosene in the water, poisoning the fish stocked for the resort’s guests, Gerald seems to be the culprit. It doesn’t sit right with Les or with Becky, a woman with a traumatic past who has befriended Gerald. As Les, who has his own demons, attempts to solve the mystery of the poisoned stream, his investigation is complicated by the interlacing bonds of a community long insulated from outside intrusion. The whodunit here is not terribly confounding and is secondary to the intricate relationship of the characters and the beauty of the surrounding mountains. Without teen protagonists to pull young readers in, the novel’s chief appeal is the eloquent voice of nature, expressed by a moonlight view of black-eyed Susans or the movements of a trout. Rarely will readers find such gorgeous poetry in the guise of a novel. VERDICT Teens may be more readily attracted to Rash’s 2012 novel, The Cove (Ecco), also set in the mountains of North Carolina but featuring youthful characters.–Diane Colson, Nashville Public Library

The Just City by Jo WaltonWALTON, Jo. The Just City. 368p. 2015. Tr $25.99. ISBN 9780765332660; ebk. ISBN 9781466800823.

The Goddess Athene has an idea that seems foolproof: What if she could create a real-life version of Plato’s Republic by bringing together all of those throughout history who have ever prayed to her and have them build and govern the Just City? Her brother Apollo is not so certain of the possible outcome but is intrigued enough by the idea—and worried enough by a recent romantic rejection by a human—to turn himself into a human and take part in the experiment. And so Walton’s novel follows the creation of this city, as told by three narrators at three different levels of the society: an Egyptian slave bought by the Republic to be one of the children who will be taught and trained to become philosopher kings; a young woman from Victorian England who will be one of the first set of teachers of the young children; and Apollo himself, in his guise as one of the children. From these three perspectives, readers see the various successes and failures of the Republic and the eventual crisis that comes from the central question of what it means to be truly Just. No knowledge of Plato’s Republic is necessary to follow this powerful work, and teens who enjoy dystopian novels should be particularly interested in Walton’s account of how a dystopia forms: by beginning as a utopia. VERDICT A fast-moving yet thought-provoking novel.—Mark Flowers, Rio Vista Library, CA

NONFICTION

Levitt_when-to-rob-a-bankLEVITT, Steven & Stephen J. Dubner. When to Rob a Bank: …and 131 More Warped Suggestions and Well-Intended Rants. 400p. index. notes. Morrow. 2015. Tr $25.99. ISBN 9780062385321; ebk. ISBN 9780062218322.

After the success of their first book, Freakonomics (William Morrow, 2005), Levitt and Dubner started a blog on freakonomics.com as a place for their readers to interact with them and as a site to pose questions and offer, well, as the subtitle of this book states, “warped suggestions and well-intended rants.” This book is a compilation of the best of those blog posts over the past 10 years. The advantages to this approach are that it culls from the blog and puts these entries in one place, is easy to browse, and gives the authors a chance to update some of the posts with new information. The disadvantages are that there isn’t any methodical organization and some of the topics are so old as to be irrelevant (do we really care that in 2006 Levitt predicted that Obama would one day be president?). However, it’s a great introduction for teens to the general idea of looking more deeply into our assumptions: about terrorism, cheating, endangered species, and the locavore movement, to name just a few. Levitt and Dubner’s writing is breezy and often laugh-out-loud funny as well as thought provoking and eye-opening. VERDICT Leave a copy of this book sitting on a table in the teen section, and wait for them to start reading snippets of it aloud to one another.–Sarah Flowers, formerly of Santa Clara County Library

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.