November 21, 2017

The Advocate's Toolbox

Tales Dark and Grim | Adult Books 4 Teens

School is back in session, and Halloween is right around the corner, so this month I’ve collected various types of dark, horrific, and gritty reads. I’ve always been a fan of psychological horror, especially the kind that keeps me up at night. Years ago, I read Joe Hill’s Horns while on vacation and ended up using the hotel room’s desk furniture to further secure the sliding glass balcony door. Sure, I knew the character wasn’t going to break down my door, but I still wanted to protect myself. Just in case. Read on to find more titles, including one graphic novel and one nonfiction book, with components that will show up in your nightmares.

First up are four debut authors whom you’ll want to keep your eye on. The main character of Bill Beverly’s Dodgers is East, a 15-year-old street-savvy gang member who is sent from L.A. to Wisconsin to kill a judge. Spare and full of violence, the book has already been optioned for a movie by Gotham Group, with hip-hop music video guru Nabil Elderkin to direct.

In The Wolf Road, first-time author Beth Lewis relies on vernacular for the first-person narration of Elka, a young girl living in a technology-free postapocalyptic world. Elka’s survival skills and the forested rural setting will attract readers who are looking for a more literary thriller about the nature of evil.

Another debut that explores evil is Elnathan John’s phenomenal Born on a Tuesday. John has been shortlisted twice for the Caine Prize for African writing for short stories, and this coming-of-age novel is receiving rave reviews worldwide. Teenager Dantala, whose name means “born on a Tuesday,” is naive but not totally innocent, and he encounters the seedy side of religion, as well as the corruption of Nigerian politics, while becoming a man in Nigeria.

Indra Das is a science fiction and fantasy writer who lives in India and Canada. His first full-length novel, The Devourers, uses Indian folklore and shapeshifters to create a gory tale that isn’t for the squeamish.

For creepy, atmospheric selections, try Dana I. Wolff’s The Prisoner of Hell Gate. Wolff writes mysteries and thrillers as J.E. Fishman and has always been obsessed with eerie places around New York City. In this work, a group of friends trespass onto the island where Typhoid Mary was kept in isolation years ago, and, of course, things don’t go as planned. Our reviewer notes that it’s a “campy” read, so this wouldn’t be one to give to blood-seeking horror fans. Another unnerving location novel is Thomas Olde Heuvelt’s Hex. Originally published in Europe, the book was translated from Dutch to English and also rewritten by the author to make the American setting American. In a small town in the Hudson Valley, a group of high school seniors challenge a curse put on the town by a 17th-century witch. With a chilling cover, this selection is perfect for horror displays.

The next two dark and grisly reads are dystopian. Hill’s latest, The Fireman, centers on a disease called Dragonscale that is burning up people worldwide. A helpful nurse and a man who can shoot fire from his fingers make an unlikely alliance in an attempt to save the world. Canadian author Holly Jennings’s Arena, the first installment in a planned series, is full of teen appeal—virtual gaming, swords, and some seedy professional athletes. Blending urban fantasy with science fiction, Jennings also tackles heavier topics like addiction.

Next up is Ethan Hawke’s graphic novel Indeh: A Story of the Apache Wars. Originally a screenplay that couldn’t find funding, the work reads like a movie, and Greg Ruth’s illustrations are brutal and beautiful. I’m always leery of a non-Native writing Native stories, so I was glad to see that Hawke explains the years of research that went into the making of this title and also includes an introduction written by Douglas Miles, artist and founder of Apache Skateboards.

Last is the newest by an author who needs no introduction—Mary Roach. In Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War, she tackles different scientific problems in each chapter, ranging from flame-resistant fabrics to diarrhea in battle.

FICTION

dodgersBEVERLY, Bill. Dodgers. 304p. ebook available. Crown. Apr. 2016. Tr $26. ISBN 9781101903735.

Working for one of his uncle’s drug houses in South Central L.A., East takes his 12-hour shifts of watching the street and managing the drug users with a level of seriousness and perspicacity that would make him the envy of any fresh MBA. When the cops raid and begin to unravel the organization with arrests, East’s house shuts down. Instead of receiving a bullet to the brain as he’s expecting, 15-year-old East is sent by his uncle beyond the neighborhood he’s always known to the wilds of Wisconsin as one of an unlikely team of urban boy soldiers on a mission to take out a judge who poses a danger to boss Fin. Characterization of East and those who accompany him is masterly. Beverly presents an unflinching third-person glimpse through the jaded eyes of East at college wheeler-dealer Michael, physically flabby but mentally sharp Walter, and Ty, East’s younger and frighteningly volatile trigger man and half brother. The protagonist has seen so much darkness and crime that the naïveté he conveys is miraculous. This man-boy from the mean streets is still able to experience watershed moments that open his eyes to a world and people beyond his ken and his kin. His rites of passage are atypical compared with many other antiheroes; in some ways, he washes clean rather than becoming dirtied by the world at large. VERDICT At once gritty and literary, this novel is sure to please YA readers, who, like East, know—or seek to know—more about life than is sometimes comfortable.–Suzanne Gordon, Lanier High School, Gwinnett County, GA

devourersDAS, Indra. The Devourers. 320p. ebook available. Ballantine/Del Rey. Jul. 2016. Tr $26. ISBN 9781101967515.

Told through transcription, flashbacks, and beautiful language, this novel subverts the typical werewolf story to weave an elaborate narrative built on history and mythology, creating an impressive and gripping work of fantasy. Filled with violence and love, this tale moves beyond expectations of the genre. Readers will dive head first into the plot along with Alok, a college professor who meets a man who relates an odd series of accounts, and will become obsessed with each and every turn. Covering a myriad of mature topics, including rape and violence, this title will appeal to mature teens who will appreciate the depth and honesty of Das’s captivating writing. However, many will be unwilling to follow through to the finish. Alok’s adventures are not for the squeamish; Das’s descriptions are unrelenting. VERDICT A lyrical and unique offering that may entice more mature readers, this unusual work will likely be beyond the scope of most teens.–Ashley Prior, Lincoln Public Library, RI

hexHEUVELT, Thomas Olde. HEX. tr. from Dutch by Nancy Forest-Flier. 384p. ebook available. Tor. Apr. 2016. Tr $25.99. ISBN 9780765378804.

In his acknowledgements at the end of the book, Heuvelt discusses how he rewrote his original story (published in the Netherlands in 2013) while it was being translated into English. He changed the setting to a small town in the Hudson Valley and gave the work a completely new ending. Although he provided his characters with American names, he allowed them to retain their “Dutchness,” which makes for a charming, quirky, and humorous cast. They seem amazingly well-adjusted considering the restrictions that govern their lives. But when a group of Internet and social media savvy high school seniors confront the reality of being trapped forever in Black Spring by a 17th-century witch’s curse, town law is no obstacle to their determination to change the status quo. Unfortunately, well-intentioned, testosterone-fueled teen bravado can quickly turn ugly. The teens pursue a series of activities that awaken the witch’s wrath, but it is the townsfolk’s dehumanizing descent into fear that turns Heuvelt’s charming, don’t-turn-out-the-lights ghost story into a bona fide tale of horror. Teens will relate to the characters’ dilemma and appreciate how decisions made in the grip of either fear or love can have disastrous consequences. VERDICT Definitely not for the faint of heart, Heuvelt’s cinematic descriptions will appeal to horror movie fans and lovers of psychological thrillers.–Cary Frostick, formerly at Mary Riley Styles Public Library, Falls Church, VA

thefiremanHILL, Joe. The Fireman. 768. ebook available. Morrow. May 2016. Tr $28.99. ISBN 9780062200631.

America is burning—people and entire cities are going up in flames, thanks to a spore called Dragonscale that is infecting humans worldwide. Nurse Harper Grayson is in her element trying to help the afflicted at the local hospital, but when she becomes infected around the same time she discovers she is pregnant, her husband goes insane and tries to kill her. Harper escapes and finds refuge with other infected people at a rural camp. With the help of The Fireman (a mysterious man who can shoot fire from his fingertips) and others, Harper discovers the cause of Dragonscale and how to control it. While this entry is not as scary as Hill’s Horns or Heart-Shaped Box, the horror of mob mentality will remind teens of Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery,” William Golding’s The Lord of the Flies, and the author’s father Stephen King’s The Stand. With likable characters, glib dialogue, suspense, and inevitable doom, the book feels like a popular television series script, and teens will appreciate the pop culture references—Harry Potter, Narnia, The Walking Dead, Mary Poppins, and more. VERDICT An apocalyptic tale for fans of suspense and horror, even though the long length will deter reluctant readers.–Sarah Hill, Lake Land College, Mattoon, IL

arenaJENNINGS, Holly. Arena. 336p. ebook available. Berkley/Ace. Apr. 2016. Tr $26. ISBN 9781101988763.

In this riveting story of professional athleticism, players make their names known in the virtual arena rather than the stadium. Their challenges are far from typical: they face opponents and fight in the virtual world with swords and medieval fervor and then slam back into reality. Death feels real, pain echoes even after they unplug, and these athletes cope in the most dangerous of ways. Kali must lead her team to redemption in the arena following a surprising and devastating loss but also keep them alive as they navigate the seedier side of professional gaming after a teammate dies. This title is mystifyingly slow; though it kicks off with fast-paced action, it drags until the “second act.” Readers will sympathize with Kali’s struggles with personal loss, and as the story progresses and new characters are introduced, this quickly becomes an addictive read. VERDICT Those who make it through the lengthy exposition will delight in this real-world gaming tale that blends sports, video games, friendship, and just a dash of dystopia.–Ashley Prior, Lincoln Public Library, RI

bornredstarJOHN, Elnathan. Born on a Tuesday. 272p. ebook available. Grove/Black Cat. May 2016. pap. $16. ISBN 9780802124821.

After leaving his Koranic training, Dantala is sidetracked and lives on the streets with friends who provide him with “wee-wee” (marijuana). But when his world erupts in violence, Dantala takes shelter in a mosque. The imam, Sheikh Jamal, informally adopts him, and Dantala spends years working with his mentor, learning English, calling prayers, and becoming his official assistant. Northern Nigeria is a violent place—different factions of Islam are at war with one another, and the only constancy is political corruption and savagery. Dantala’s naive, sincere teen voice will ring true with young adults, especially as he falls in love and confronts the death of loved ones. Ultimately, this novel, based on the author’s award-winning short story, “Bayan Layi,” is about the terrors of war and the children who suffer. Dantala may wander down the wrong path, but his religious faith serves as his guide when all hope is lost. Fundamentalism is the antagonist here, and Nigerian author John’s beautiful, literary coming-of-age debut will resonate with readers; teens will also come away with a strong understanding of Nigeria and Islam. Pair with Alex Award winner Ishmael Baeh’s child soldier memoir A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier for a discussion about choices and redemption. VERDICT A rich and nuanced work for school libraries needing quality contemporary fiction.–Sarah Hill, Lake Land College, Mattoon, IL

wolfLEWIS, Beth. The Wolf Road. 368p. Crown. Jul. 2016. Tr $26. ISBN 9781101906125; ebk. $12.99. ISBN 9781101906132.

In a postapocalyptic world where nature has become just as violent as humanity, and humanity even more violent after the ”Fall,” or as the protagonist’s nana called it, the “Big Damn Stupid,” dangerous storms called thunderheads are potentially deadly. Lost after barely surviving a thunderhead, Elka is sheltered by a man she eventually calls “Daddy.” But he is so much more than a father, and eventually Elka realizes that she has a debt to pay—and he is the payment. This is a riveting tale of evil, horror, survival, retribution, and redemption. Teens will get caught up in the story as Elka crosses the blighted land and her equally blighted mind in search of the truth. However, thanks to Daddy’s inadvertent teaching, the protagonist is nothing if not a survivor, and she and her companion wolf strike out to do what needs to be done. Elka has an original voice that reads naturally. This is destined to join favorites like Sasha Dawn’s Oblivion and Lisa McMann’s Dead to You. VERDICT A wild ride that will draw readers down the road and through a gamut of psychological suspense and danger to the very last word. For young adults who appreciate the distinctive and different.–Gretchen Crowley, formerly at Alexandria City Public Libraries, VA

prisonerWOLFF, Dana. The Prisoner of Hell Gate. 224p. ebook available. Picador. Jul. 2016. pap. $16. ISBN 9781250089700.

Five friends, academics in the field of public health, take a boat ride to celebrate the end of summer. Kara identifies a tiny bit of land off the coast of the Bronx in the dangerous tides known as the Hell Gate of the East River as North Brother Island. The isolated island has a dismal history: it once housed a quarantine hospital for smallpox, typhoid, and other communicable disease sufferers, including the infamous “Typhoid Mary” Mallon. Karalee is particularly interested, since she is a descendant of the famous public health official George A. Soper—the man who tracked down Mallon, one of the first known symptom-free carriers of typhoid fever. Today the island is off-limits to the public—but someone is living there. Chapters alternate between Karalee and the mysterious woman on the island. This story starts off, like many horror tales, as an adventurous lark. The friends, who playfully call themselves the “sewer rats,” anchor their boat and walk around, chatting about the island’s history while swigging beers and smoking joints. When day fades to evening and the summer temperatures begin to cool down, the group prepare to leave but find the boat damaged and unseaworthy. Assuming a benign accident, the sewer rats don’t panic—but know they are, for the time being, trapped on the island. As night falls, the island’s true nature reveals itself. Artfully incorporating germophobia, Wolff offers a campy work of horror that is uniquely frightening. The creep factor and fascinating history help readers overlook some of the less-than-believable plot elements, awkward exposition, and stock characters. VERDICT For fans of horror and suspense.–Tara Kehoe, New Jersey State Library Talking Book & Braille Center, Trenton, NJ 

GRAPHIC NOVELS

indehHAWKE, Ethan. Indeh: A Story of the Apache War. illus. by Greg Ruth. 240p. bibliog. ebook available. Grand Central. Jun. 2016. Tr $25. ISBN 9781401310998.

After burying his massacred family, Goyahkla leads an attack on a Mexican village, where he gets a new name—Geronimo. What follows are years of brutal attacks and counterattacks as the Apache fight for their way of life and the U.S. government tries to subdue them. Hawke focuses mostly on the Apache side of the story, telling it through their eyes to balance the years of historical inaccuracies and Hollywood romanticism. However, he pulls no punches in portraying the violence from both sides and highlights the divided opinions as all involved try to figure out next steps. Ruth’s haunting and poignant black-and-white watercolors capture the desolate grandeur of the Southwestern landscape as well as the violence, death, grief, and loss of war. This gut punch of a novel is a necessary addition and serves as a good introduction to the realities of Manifest Destiny and the resulting American westward expansion. Some elements may be confusing to those unfamiliar with the history of the Apache Wars, but a bibliography is included for citations and further reading. VERDICT Beautiful and brutal, this is a heartbreaking look at how the West was really “won.”–Jennifer Rothschild, Arlington Public Library, Arlington, VA

NONFICTION

gruntROACH, Mary. Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War. 288p. bibliog. ebook available. Norton. Jun. 2016. Tr $26.95. ISBN 9780393245448.

Roach does it again. Amid all the debates about the military-industrial complex in our country, its impact on medicine, invention, and other scientific pursuits is often overlooked. Roach interviews those in science-related military careers, employing her cockeyed sense of humor and awing readers with what she uncovers. Entire chapters are spent on topics as diverse as vehicle and submarine design, the effects of noise, and bodily fluids. The author’s ability to ask questions and follow the path of answers wherever they go makes her one of the best science writers for laypeople. In the chapter set at the Natick Soldier Research, Development and Emergency Center, located in Massachusetts, teens will learn about uniforms that are not only the right color but also designed to wick away moisture, resist flames, and prevent insect bites. Every one of Roach’s digressions is given as much weight as the main topics. The shark repellent chapter is a great example of how an idea can become a “solution in search of a problem.” This chapter also questions whether bears and sharks are really attracted to menstrual blood. If that sentence makes readers queasy, Roach is not for them, but if they’re dying to find out more, they’ll want to read on. VERDICT Anyone with an interest in the military or STEM-related topics will find endlessly fascinating tidbits here. Reluctant readers can also dip in and out.–Jamie Watson, Baltimore County Public Library

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Sarah Hill About Sarah Hill

Sarah Hill is SLJ's Adult Books 4 Teens cocolumnist and an information services librarian at Lake Land College in Mattoon, IL.

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