No romantic love triangles or paranormal interspecies trysts included—instead I’ve pulled together eight titles about love gone wrong or love missing from where it should have been. Today’s column promises something for everything: memoir, nonfiction, graphic novels, historical fiction, contemporary fiction, and even sci-fi.
Young adults know that they won’t marry as early in life as their grandparents did, and journalist Rebecca Traister’s All the Single Ladies: Unmarried Women and the Rise of an Independent Nation explains why. While not a call for young women to remain single, this readable title uses statistics and personal stories to provide historical context for the phenomenon of women marrying later in life and the political and social implications.
Speaking of historical context, not all mail order brides end up dying by firing squad, but Mata Hari’s roller-coaster of a life will certainly encourage readers to think twice before answering a spousal advertisement in a newspaper. Young adults may not know who the dancing diva is, but they may have heard of Michelle Moran (Rebel Queen was a 2015 SLJ Adult Books 4 Teens Best Book) and will eagerly read about another strong female historical figure in Mata Hari’s Last Dance.
Next up is a memoir published in January that I’m glad we didn’t miss. Ruth Wariner’s The Sound of Gravel is a gut-wrenching account about growing up in a fundamentalist Mormon family in Mexico. Poor, often hungry, and raising her siblings with severe disabilities, Wariner, like Jeannette Walls (Alex Award–winning author of The Glass Castle), never disparages her family but starkly documents her stepfather’s abuse, her mother’s constant rationalizing of his behavior, and her own escape from marriage at an early age.
Teens may have been introduced to the code-breaking Alan Turing in the 2014 movie The Imitation Game (starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley), but Jim Ottaviani’s biographical graphic novel The Imitation Game: Alan Turing Decoding is a perfect addition to a high school collection. Readers will be shocked to find that homosexuality was illegal in 1950s England and to discover how Turing’s life was destroyed by his so-called “illness.”
In Daniel Clowes’s oversize and bizarre graphic novel Patience, the main character travels back in time to prevent his wife’s death. While the time-travel love story will attract some readers, teens will likely pick up the book because of the full-color, mind-blowing illustrations.
Literary science fiction is a unique genre, and Dexter Palmer’s Version Control creates a near future where magical realism and time travel take center stage. Rebecca met her husband while working customer service at an online-dating site, and now his causality violation device (do not call it time travel) might help save their son. This is not your typical fast-paced sci-fi read, but give it to young adults who enjoy deep thoughts about social commentary and the pitfalls of technology.
Politics and love don’t mix. Weina Dai Randel’s The Moon in the Palace: A Novel of Empress Wu demonstrates how although young Mei may be trained in The Art of War, she still finds the complexities of seventh-century palace life confusing. Born in China and now living in Texas, Randel didn’t let 82 rejection letters stop her, and the second part of the duology, The Empress of Bright Moon, was published in April. Both are perfect for historical fiction and romance readers.
Finally, a novel taken straight from the headlines. In Allison Leotta’s The Last Good Girl, college freshman Emily Shapiro is stunned when her university president father doesn’t swing into action to help her after she is drugged and raped by a frat boy. But the accused is the son of Michigan’s lieutenant governor and a donor to the college—so everything is stacked against Emily. Easily paired with Jon Krakauer’s Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town (a 2015 SLJ Adult Books 4 Teens Best Book), this fast-paced social thriller will rally readers to fight sexual injustice on college campuses.
LEOTTA, Allison.The Last Good Girl. 288p. Touchstone. May 2016. Tr $25. ISBN 9781476761114.
When Emily Shapiro attends her first frat party as a college freshman, she is raped. She believes fraternity president Dylan put something in her drink, but no one believes her. He is the son of Michigan’s lieutenant governor and a campus do-gooder, while she is the university president’s daughter. Months later, an argument between Emily and Dylan is caught on security footage and Emily goes missing. Luckily, assistant U.S. attorney Anna Curtis is visiting her hometown and agrees to prosecute the case against Dylan as part of a Department of Justice task force investigating sexual assaults on college campuses. With the help of FBI Agent Samantha Randazzo and the rest of her team, Anna fights small-town corruption, college donor privilege, and campus sexism to find justice for the young women who have been hurt by the fraternity known on campus as the “rape factory.” While this book is the fifth in the series, it can also be read as a stand-alone. Teens will identify with Emily—she has such high hopes for her freshman year at a school she’s always loved. Teens will vilify Dylan, too, and they’ll root for Anna to take him and the fraternity down. VERDICT Teen fans of Jodi Picoult’s novels and Jon Krakauer’s Missoula will speed through this riveting tale about campus rape.–Sarah Hill, Lake Land College, Mattoon IL
MORAN, Michelle. Mata Hari’s Last Dance. 288p. Touchstone. Jul. 2016. Tr $25. ISBN 9781476716398; pap. ISBN 9781476716381.
Born in the Netherlands, Margaretha Zelle was abandoned by her father after the death of her mother and sent to a school where an unwelcome flirtation led her to answer an ad for a wife. Married at 18 to Dutch officer Rudolph McLeod, she discovers in Java that he is not what he seems, and she takes refuge in learning the art of Indonesian dancing. After the death of her son, she divorces her husband, only to have him kidnap her daughter. With no resources to fight him, she returns to Europe as Mata Hari. Teens may not be familiar with the name Mata Hari beyond a brief mention in history class, but she was a captivating woman who used the power of her beauty and body to insinuate herself into the finest European salons of her time. Because she was the mistress of military officers in many different countries, it is not a leap to suggest that she may have been in a position to pass along intelligence to the Germans during World War I, but this is more than a book about the exchange of wartime information. Moran creates a character who makes naive decisions with powerful men that lead her to suspicion and, ultimately, her demise. VERDICT In this latest in her series of strong women who succeed only to fall victim to that triumph, Moran invites teen readers to look behind the story at a legend: the enigmatic Mata Hari. Hand this one to lovers of historical fiction and to those who appreciate complex female protagonists.–Connie Williams, Petaluma High School, CA
PALMER, Dexter. Version Control. 512p. Pantheon. Feb. 2016. Tr $27.95. ISBN 9780307907592.
In the very near future, self-driving cars and the use of artificial intelligence are becoming increasingly commonplace, social media has expanded its dominating role in people’s lives, and a small group of physicists are close to producing the first quantitative proof of space-time anomalies. The main characters are millennials in their early to late 30s, and the story revolves around their day-to-day lives and interactions. Palmer takes his time building a world that at first seems only slightly futuristic and even somewhat mundane in its similarities to the present day. Some teens will find the slow start difficult, but those who make it through the first half of the story will begin to recognize the all-too-real possibilities for what their own futures might hold. Quantum physics, race relations, the power of social media, amoral technology, and politics are all topics of high interest among many teens. Palmer shines a disturbing spotlight on these issues, exposing the ease with which our lives can be manipulated without our awareness. VERDICT Teens with a keen interest in physical science or social psychology will find this a particularly satisfying, albeit disturbing, read.–Cary Frostick, formerly at Mary Riley Styles Public Library, Falls Church, VA
RANDEL, Weina. The Moon in the Palace. 400p. Sourcebooks Landmark. Mar. 2016. pap. $14.99. ISBN 9781492613565.
The first of a duology based on the life of China’s Empress Wu (624–705). Mei is her doting father’s favorite, until his sudden death forces her family out of their luxurious life to live with uncaring relatives. Summoned to serve the emperor at 13, she wants to appeal on behalf of her family but is quickly thrust into a world of palace intrigue and treachery. Despite being trained in The Art of War, Mei is unprepared to chart this complex world. Her successful navigation owes much to good mentoring and being in the right place at the right time. The mutual attraction she has for the emperor’s eighth son, their clandestine relationship, and Mei’s conflicting desires to follow her heart or save her family further complicate matters. Randel excels at the twists, turns, machinations, and alliances of the palace ladies and greater political forces, creating a page-turning volume as Mei learns to navigate the harshness of both worlds. A compelling look at the outside forces and inner determination that shape the protagonist to become a formidable force in her own right, painting a very different portrait of a women than we saw in Shan Sa’s Empress or unflattering depictions in the histories written by her political detractors. Luckily, readers will not have to wait to see the rest of Mei’s story, as The Empress of Bright Moon is already available. VERDICT Full of politics and intrigue, this is a fascinating must-read for fans of historical fiction and romance.–Jennifer Rothschild, Arlington Public Library, Arlington VA
CLOWES, Daniel.Patience. illus. by Daniel Clowes. 177p. Fantagraphics. Mar. 2016. Tr $29.99. ISBN 9781606999059.
After his pregnant wife, Patience, is killed, Jack lives in misery for decades until he discovers a way to travel through time in hopes of stopping the murder. When Jack visits the past, he learns things about his wife and her years as a young adult that she has kept from him, including several physically violent and emotionally damaging encounters with previous men. While some teens will empathize with the despondent Patience, who feels like she is trapped by her circumstances, others will get caught up in the time chase. Clowes uses time travel as a vehicle to create vivid, mind-blowing images with a bright and colorful palette. With a classic like Ghost World under his belt, Daniel Clowes already has a legion of graphic novel fans, and although the subject matter differs here, his signature drawing style is recognizable. VERDICT This time-travel love story will pick up fans of slow-burning thrillers and graphic novels, especially those already familiar with Clowes’s work.–Carrie Shaurette, Dwight-Englewood School, Englewood, NJ
OTTAVIANI, Jim. The Imitation Game: Alan Turing Decoded. illus. by Leland Purvis. 240p. notes. bibliog. Abrams ComicArts. Mar. 2016. Tr $24.95. ISBN 9781419718939.
Much like he did in Feynman (SLJ’s Best Adult Books 4 Teens title of 2011), Ottaviani delivers a substantial introduction of Alan Turing. Different parts of his life are introduced by family, friends, and colleagues who are being questioned by an unseen interrogator. These panels are in soft black-and-white, with the interviewer’s words in pink boxes; the main action is depicted in full color, with Turing’s own commentary in yellow. This structure may be initially confusing but works well once decoded. Starting with Turing’s troubles at school—untidiness and a lack of desire for much beyond advanced mathematics—the book moves through his days at Cambridge, Princeton, and then code breaking at Bletchley Park. After World War II, Turing tried to find an academic home but was arrested in 1952 for homosexuality, forced to undergo hormone treatments, and committed suicide. Readers will be shocked to learn how homosexuality was a punishable crime in England and how secret his war work had to be for the rest of his life. This secrecy is played for comic effect in a job interview but is shown to be devastating at his trial, as character witnesses were unable to say anything about how many lives were saved due to Turing’s efforts. Readers may not fully understand the explanations of Turing’s mathematics and its applications, but they’ll be in good company—most of the people to whom he explains his thought process in the book are equally confused, emphasizing how ahead of his time he was. VERDICT An excellent introduction to a long overlooked genius; a wonderful addition to graphic novel and biography collections.–Jennifer Rothschild, Arlington Public Library
TRAISTER, Rebecca. All the Single Ladies: Unmarried Women and the Rise of an Independent Nation. 352p. notes. bibliog. S. & S. Mar. 2016. Tr $27. ISBN 9781476716565.
In 1960, more than half of Americans were married to heterosexual partners before reaching the age of 30. That statistic has dramatically reversed in the years that followed, with only 20 percent reaching that same milestone in the present decade. Traister traces the roots of this phenomenon much further back, from 1960, and demonstrates how single women have typically made the decision to marry later or not marry at all when given advantages such as education and career options. The understanding of how single women affect politics and social change is startling to say the least, and young women will find clarification and confirmation in this read. Being single is not a failure, nor is it a death sentence. Media outlets and politicians are often the source of urging women toward heterosexual marriage. Even though this push is typically intended to subjugate women, the book does not condemn the institution of marriage; in fact, the author makes the opposite case. Marriage should be an informed choice, Traister argues, and it should not mean giving up on dreams or aspirations. By weaving anecdotes with detailed research (source information as well as updates on the profiled women are provided), this volume will draw in young adults and help them comprehend the quiet and steady evolution that women have been spearheading for quite some time. VERDICT A stand-out, empowering selection providing substantive research; for general readers as well as those with an interest in feminism and social justice issues.–April Sanders, Spring Hill College, Mobile, AL
WARINER, Ruth. The Sound of Gravel. 352p. Holt. Jan. 2016. Tr $27.99. ISBN 9781250077691.
Wariner, whose deceased father had 42 children, grew up in a polygamous Mormon cult town in Mexico. Even though it was the 1970s, having electricity and plumbing in the house was a struggle, and many of her siblings were developmentally disabled, and Ruth had to care for them. Her family moved often—California, Texas, New Mexico, and back to Mexico when all else failed. Schooling wasn’t important, but learning how to make fresh bread and to clean house for her future husband was. In honest, posttherapy fashion, Ruth explains how her mother didn’t divorce her stepfather after physical spousal abuse and repeated sexual abuse of his daughters; the girls were supposed to forgive him instead. With no self-pity, Ruth doesn’t apologize for her mother’s actions—she is grateful for the love of her mother and siblings, though she knows that escaping their stepfather is what ultimately saved them. Teens will root for Ruth and her siblings to survive, cry when the young woman is abused, and fear for the family when things go wrong. VERDICT Fast-paced, sincere, and gut-wrenching, just like Jeannette Walls’s The Glass Castle; this is a must-purchase memoir for high school libraries.–Sarah Hill, Lake Land College, Mattoon, IL
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