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YA Xpress Reviews | October 2016

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Adams, Alane. Kalifus Rising. 365p. (Legends of Orkney: Bk. 2). ebook available. BookSparks/SparkPress. Sept. 2016. pap. $16.95. ISBN 9781940716848.

Gr 6-10 –This sequel to The Red Sun opens with hero Sam stranded on Orkney while his friends Howie, Keely, and Leo have returned home to Midgard (21st-century Earth). Prophetic dreams prepare them to be sucked back into the alternate realm where Odin rules, and upon arrival, each of the three is given a special name and a task to complete to prevent Sam from being compelled by the evil witch Catriona to accept the dark side of his magic and use it to kill Odin. Enemies close in; Howie, The Protector, tries to use his new skills to ensure that the witches don’t obliterate the city. Keely, The Seeker, must find the Moon Pearl before engaging the Varin frost giants—but, more important, she must find a way to free her own benign powers. As The Sacrifice, Leo must enter the underworld, where circumstances force him to free Loki as part of the setup for the next installment. Despite the author’s preference for short, choppy sentences, the story rises above the technical drawbacks, and readers will be intrigued by the friends’ quests. Familiarity with the previous novel is essential. VERDICT Purchase where The Red Sun is popular; this series will do well with the Percy Jackson crowd and fans of Norse mythology.–Elizabeth Friend, Wester Middle School, TX

redstarBardugo, Leigh. Crooked Kingdom. 560p. ebook available. Holt. Sept. 2016. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9781627792134.

Gr 7 Up –Teens will be excited to return to Bardugo’s marvelous world, first visited in her “Grisha Trilogy” and in this duology’s previous Six of Crows. They will be treated to a visit from old friends—the graceful (and deadly) Inej; Nina, the Grisha Heartrender; Wylan, the discarded, illiterate merchant’s son; and the mysterious and vengeful Kaz. Characters from the original trilogy (most notably Stormhund, prince-turned-privateer) also make an entrance in the heart of the slums of Ketterdam. Plots to take control of the city’s underworld abound as Kaz rallies his allies and takes on the might of the rapacious merchant class and Pekka Rollins, King of the Barrel and ruler of the dregs of the city. Following the death of his brother, the antihero has surrounded himself with the castoffs of Ketterdam, all of them very young, defective in some way, and abandoned. Together they will either rule the city victoriously or fail magnificently. While it isn’t absolutely necessary to have read the other titles in Bardugo’s series, readers will be better served by this continuation if they are already familiar with the complex world and characters. This fast-paced dive into the Barrel, where fortunes are made and lost and life itself hangs in the balance, will keep readers enthralled long past bedtime. VERDICT A must-purchase for all YA collections.–Jane Henriksen Baird, Anchorage Public Library, AK

Barrowman, John & Carole Barrowman. Conjuror. 320p. (Orion Chronicles: Bk. 1). ebook available. Trafalgar Square. Jul. 2016. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781781856376.

Gr 9 UpTorchwood and Doctor Who actor Barrowman collaborates with his sister on a new YA series. The first installment teams up twins Matt and Emily Calder, the heroes from the Barrowmans’ “Hollow Earth” trilogy, with a powerful teen, Rémy Dupree Rush, the last Conjuror capable of stopping two evil entities from bringing to fruition the Second Kingdom and the coming of the dead. This work skips around in the first half, making it difficult to get into, and there is a good deal of exposition, but once the narrative gets going, the novel hits some good notes. It is fast-paced and intelligently written, but the real strength is in the characterization, with even minor and one-off characters being fully fleshed out. As with their previous titles, there is a heavy influence of the arts throughout. Music and works of art are referenced, and the people responsible for those works also play a part in the narrative. These references will hopefully stimulate interest in great paintings and music and send teens off to the stacks looking for more information. While the siblings’ previous books were written for middle grade, this series is firmly YA. The Calder twins are now in their mid-teens, there is some strong language, and mature situations are implied. VERDICT A slow start gives way to a very strong first installment in this promising new series; purchase where fantasy is popular.–Erik Knapp, Davis Library, Plano, TX

Florence, Melanie. One Night. 192p. (SideStreets). ebook available. Lorimer. Aug. 2016. lib. ed. $27.99. ISBN 9781459409842.

Gr 9 Up –Luna Begay is studious and has college plans, until she is drugged and raped at a party and ends up pregnant. Too far along for an abortion after confirming her pregnancy, she takes a Native American “miscarriage tea” that her younger sister Issy helps her brew. It doesn’t work. Shunned at school once her pregnancy is apparent, the teen is offered support and a secret from the school’s queen bee. Luna decides to put her child up for adoption. The book reads quickly and lightly, glossing over most of the emotional impact and trauma of the rape and resulting pregnancy. Luna, her sister, and her parents are one-note characters. Her parents are disappointed that she didn’t confide in them but remain supportive. The protagonist finds the perfect adoptive family with some “indigenous blood” in them, who took Native Studies courses in college. Powwows and relatives on the reservation are mentioned, along with a few Native terms sprinkled throughout, but there is no clear sense of place or tribal affiliation in this hi-lo work. Luna is called an “Indian slut,” but no context for the racial slur is provided, nor is violence against indigenous women addressed in a nuanced way. VERDICT A hi-lo title that reads like a Lifetime made-for-TV movie. An adequate choice for struggling readers.–Tamara Saarinen, Pierce County Library, WA

Ingram, Dayna. All Good Children. 202p. ebook available. Lethe. May 2016. pap. $15. ISBN 9781590215890.

Gr 8 Up –Jordan, a fearless and curious teenager, has heard stories of the ominous “Over” and “summer camp” stories her whole life. The Over are nine-foot tall birdlike creatures that have somehow taken over the entire world, watch humans from the sky, and are instilling fear into society just to “keep the peace.” They also make sure that their own existence is maintained. Summer camp isn’t quite what it sounds like, and Jordan’s rebellious behavior gets her noticed in the most unexpected way. While trying to figure out her own path in this world, Jordan finds herself in the middle of a life-altering process that could bring down the current establishment, and she figures out why all of her peers’ dreams are extinguished (quite literally) at birth. Ingram uses this beautifully written novel to bring Jordan and her family’s fears to life—separation, the possibility of aliens taking over the world, and the frightening but enticing idea of a revolution. This new and invigorating addition to the YA category spotlights the bond of family and explores women’s rights. Jordan develops from a naive teenager who is just trying to make it through her “special-needs” class to a very aware young woman, growing more and more skeptical of the government and her surroundings. This work ends with a cliff-hanger, as the protagonist finds herself at the beginning of a potential revolution. VERDICT A worthy selection for YA sci-fi collections.–Annette Muyumba, Purdue University, Lafayette, IN

Kanakia, Rahul. Enter Title Here. 352p. ebook available. Disney-Hyperion. Aug. 2016. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781484723876.

Gr 9 Up –Any student who has ever been the victim of a teacher’s favoritism toward a classmate or felt the sting of subtle but undeniable discrimination will love to hate Reshma Kapoor. Determined to get into Stanford despite her relatively low SAT scores, she’ll stop at nothing to be top of her class. But to guarantee her acceptance, Reshma needs to stand out from all of the other Silicon Valley overachievers, and she thinks she’s found the perfect hook. She’s going to publish a novel before the end of senior year. There’s just one problem; her publisher wants a story that young people will appreciate, but Reshma knows nothing about being a normal teen. So she assigns herself a six-week research project in which she must make a friend, attend a party, find a boyfriend, and have sex—and she is not afraid to use blackmail. Just as she’s beginning to accomplish her goals, however, she’s accused of plagiarism. Everything she’s worked so hard for her entire academic career is on the line. But there is not a defeatist bone in Reshma’s body, and she won’t go down without dragging everyone else with her. Teens will relate to the outrageous academic pressure, subjective bias, ethnic discrimination, and cutthroat business dealings that have led to Reshma’s deplorable behavior. Her encounters with friend Alex and her unbalanced therapist will keep readers laughing. VERDICT This book will do well among teens wherever academic expectations run high.–Cary Frostick, formerly at Mary Riley Styles Public Library, Falls Church, VA

Lundgren, Jodi. Gone Wild. 176p. ebook available. Lorimer. Aug. 2016. lib. ed. $27.99. ISBN 9781459409897.

Gr 8 Up –Two troubled teens meet by chance in a Vancouver wilderness park where they have gone to escape seemingly insurmountable personal problems. Eighteen-year-old Brooke fears that she is pregnant and will not go to university as her parents wish. A laid-back student but confident camper, she packs for a short trip to clear her head and think about the future. Nearly 16, Seth bolts from his house after his adoptive mother’s abusive boyfriend chides him about trying to locate his birth mother. With nothing but the clothes on his back, he enters the park with no forethought and is soon drinking untreated water and willing to steal food. The two come together out of necessity after Brooke has a bear encounter, gets stuck in the mud, and is suffering from cramps. Seth tends to her for a share of the food and thinks she looks like how he imagined his birth mother would look. The relentless chill of wet clothing, the metallic taste of iodine-treated water, and diarrhea and other personal hygiene issues are among the realistic and gritty survival details. Chapters alternate between characters, as the omniscient narration strives to provide the thoughts and actions of both, but neither character is fully developed. The isolated setting forces them to deal with their problems, though resolutions come too easily, in lightbulb revelations and tidy endings. VERDICT The low reading level will appeal to struggling teens who want quick reads about characters their own age dealing with problems.–Vicki Reutter, State University of New York at Cortland

Oakes, Colleen. Seas. 311p. (Wendy Darling: Bk. 2). ebook available. BookSparks/SparkPress. Sept. 2016. pap. $16.95. ISBN 9781940716886.

Gr 8 Up –This second installment in the series picks up the action without missing a pounding heartbeat. With Wendy and Michael now in the clutches of Hook, the pirate captain becomes the focal point of this volume. Life on board Hook’s boat, the Sudden Night, is harsh and cruel. Hook sees in Wendy a solution to his long-running feud with Peter Pan. He now possesses what Peter desperately desires: Wendy. But as Hook and Wendy plot a revenge that satisfies both of them, the heroine begins to see the cracks in Hook’s fierce facade. As the two scheme, and Michael sweetly worms his way into the affections of the crew, the pirate captain’s backstory emerges. Years ago, a mysterious client tricked his father into sailing through a portal leading to Neverland. Young Hook, aboard the ship, became friends with Peter Pan, until he realized that Peter intended to possess Hook’s father for himself. When the friendship ended in tragedy, the pirate swore revenge on Peter. The crux of the novel centers on the one element that keeps the battles between the pirates and Pan from being nothing more than a game of strategy: Pan’s shadow. Only when the identity of the shadow is revealed and conquered can Peter be defeated for good. Fully nuanced characters balance the riveting plot. The shocking ending will leave breathless readers anxious for the next book. VERDICT This series just gets better. But readers should start at the beginning to fully enjoy the ride.–Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor School District, Lancaster, PA

Peterson, Jay D. & Collette A. Morgan, eds. Sky Blue Water: Great Stories for Young Readers. 240p. Univ. of Minnesota. Sept. 2016. Tr $19.95. ISBN 9780816698769.

Gr 5 Up –A diverse range of authors with Minnesota ties present 20 stories and poems for tweens and teens. A few marvelously weave the supernatural into the everyday: a girl discovers a troublesome sprite in the schoolyard foliage; a boy gets caught in an ancient war between a lake and a road. Even the selections that are more grounded in reality often include a surprising twist, such as an unexpected and unearthly message from a grandfather or the fierce love of a boy for the doll his mother cherished. Those entries that do stick to realism are some of the most emotionally resonant: a young boy relishes the brief visits and fishing trips he has with his Mexican half brother; an Ojibwe teen stuck in the foster system connects to her father and her heritage for the first time. Featuring Joyce Sidman’s evocative, accessible poetry, this is a well-curated volume that expertly showcases the art and power of short form writing. The Minnesota theme is only lightly applied—readers in other regions will have no trouble relating to these common adolescent emotions and experiences. However, this may prove to be a difficult collection for libraries to classify. The first few pieces are clearly aimed at upper elementary readers, but those in the second half of the book transition quickly to more mature teen concerns. Extensive back matter contains author reflections on the writing process, writing prompts, and classroom activities paired with many of the stories. VERDICT A high-quality anthology full of classroom potential, sure to inspire budding writers and hook casual readers, too.–Chelsea Couillard-Smith, Hennepin County Library, MN

Rosen, Lev AC. The Memory Wall. 368p. ebook available. Knopf. Sept. 2016. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781101933237; lib. ed. $19.99. ISBN 9781101933244.

Gr 7 Up –Nick is struggling to accept his mother’s diagnosis of early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. The story opens as Nick and his dad bring his mom to live at an assisted living facility—but Nick refuses to believe that his mother is truly ill. Severkin is the character Nick plays in Wellhall, a video game. Severkin is a courageous and adventurous gray elf. While Nick searches for connection with his mother, who may be slipping away more each day, Severkin discovers clues in the game world, and Nick believes they evidence of his mother trying to communicate with him. There are multiple layers and themes explored in this work. Nick’s mother’s family history links to East Berlin and the fall of the Berlin Wall. There are references to Germanic mythology. Themes about outsider experiences and racism (Nick is biracial) are woven throughout. Most poignant, the details and realities of Alzheimer’s are depicted with care and accuracy. The severity of the disease and the impact that it has on an entire family are brought into sharp focus. The video game world of Wellhall is well built, and Severkin’s story seamlessly ties into Nick’s own. VERDICT A complex and emotionally rich selection that offers a nuanced and needed perspective on the grieving process. A strong addition for middle and high school collections.–Chad Lane, Tulip Grove Elementary School, MD

Shrum, Brianna. How To Make Out. 240p. ebook available. Sky Pony. Sept. 2016. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781510701670.

Gr 9 Up –This laugh-out-loud coming-of- age novel engages readers immediately and never lets go. Renley’s best friend April and her neighbor Drew provide the protagonist with support as she decides to run a paid blog to raise money for a math club trip to New York. As Renley survives cooking class (she prefers classrooms she cannot set on fire and would rather be solving for x), she comes up with answers to common questions she finds on Google. Soon her anonymous blog is a bigger hit than she ever imagined, but there are some questions she finds that she will never answer. How far will she go to uncover answers to some of the other questions? This book distinguishes itself with peripheral characters who are also well-developed and support Renley and the fast-paced plot. Shrum addresses many bildungsroman issues throughout the narrative in a believable and interesting way and still manages to pull off a thought-provoking story that will let young adults understand and relate to Renley’s many crises and how she comes to handle them. VERDICT Readers of Carrie Jones’s Tips on Having a Gay (Ex) Boyfriend will love this.–Cathleen Ash, Manor High School, TX

Smith Meloche, Heather. Ripple. 336p. ebook available. Putnam. Sept. 2016. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780399175909.

Gr 9 Up –Tessa hangs out with her best friend Juliette, can be seen on the arm of her star football player boyfriend, and often hooks up with unknown guys in other towns, just far enough from the prying eyes of her own classmates. She knows full well that she’s walking a dangerous line but can’t seem to find any other escape from her drunken stepfather and her controlling grandmother. At her core, Tessa is an artist. She feels it in every inch of her being. But that doesn’t match up with Grandma Leighton’s plans for her. Jack just moved to town. He, too, shows the wider world only a small piece of himself and wears his reputation as a master prankster and authority “bucker” on his sleeve. Yet when he goes home at night, he assumes his self-prescribed primary role in life, his mother’s caregiver. His mom always had mental health issues and a drinking problem, but when her negligence caused Jack’s brother’s death, she was no longer able to keep it from unraveling her law career and marriage. Despite the dark underbelly and potential for gratuitousness, this is a well-crafted, sweet story of Tessa’s and Jack’s ability to bring out the best in the other. Both are fully realized, nuanced characters, and while their journeys to redemption are filled with some plot points that almost teeter on the edge of contrived, the tale works well. VERDICT Recommend this debut novel to fans of Ellen Hopkins.–Jill Heritage Maza, Montclair Kimberley Academy, NJ

Stampler, Laura. Little Black Dresses, Little White Lies. 352p. ebook available. S. & S./Simon Pulse. Jul. 2016. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781481459891.

Gr 10 Up –Harper Anderson isn’t looking forward to spending the summer making smoothies and going to boring backyard parties, so when she receives the call from the editor of a popular teen magazine offering her a summer internship as the magazine’s dating blogger, Harper says yes, and she’s on a plane to New York City 48 hours later. However, Harper forgot one tiny detail in her application—she knows nothing about dating. The protagonist is quickly thrown into the high fashion, calorie counting, and glamorous world of magazine publishing in the digital age. Under the watchful eye of her editor McKayla (who would give Miranda Priestly a run for her money), Harper writes whatever it takes to get the most clicks on the magazine’s website. The teen has it all under control…until she doesn’t. Debut author Stampler shows she knows her stuff in this first work that can be described only as The Devil Wears Prada for the teen set. She accurately depicts the glitz and glam of New York City while seamlessly creating a fun story where consequences are real and there is no such thing as perfection. Full of pop culture references, well-known landmarks, fleshed-out characters, and multiple well-crafted plotlines, this novel will be devoured by teens. VERDICT A great addition for collections where contemporary teen fiction is popular.–Erin Holt, Williamson City Public Library, Franklin, TN

Trevayne, Emma. Gamescape: Overworld. 416p. ebook available. HarperCollins/ Greenwillow. Sept. 2016. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780062408761.

Gr 9 Up –Miguel Anderson spends all his free time playing Chimera, a virtual reality game, just like everyone else in his dying world, a futuristic Earth. But whereas others are playing for fun, fame, or prizes, Miguel is trying to save his life. He is in need of a biometric heart and the only way to get one is to earn it through the game. When the mysterious Gamerunners announce a team-based competition to test a new version of Chimera, Miguel knows this is his chance. As the protagonist and his team progress through the new Chimera, they start to uncover the sinister truth behind it. First in a duology, this fast-paced story keeps readers guessing until the end. Although answers to most questions are slowly unraveled, a fantasy twist leaves the narrative far from complete. While readers looking for a straight science fiction novel may be let down by the ending, others might find that this differentiates it from other, similar stories. The portrayal of the game is complex and inventive, but the secondary characters don’t have this same level of depth. Names and minor physical descriptions imply a racially diverse cast, but any sense of culture seems to be a thing of the past. Relationships all feel underdeveloped. VERDICT A suitable choice for sci-fi/fantasy readers looking for an action-packed story.–Jenna Friebel, Oak Park Public Library, IL

Triana, Gaby. Wake the Hollow. 304p. ebook available. Entangled Teen. Aug. 2016. pap. $9.99. ISBN 9781633753518.

Gr 7 Up –From the opening pages, this spooky YA immerses readers in an atmosphere reminiscent of the “real” Sleepy Hollow—a dark train station, late at night, a chilly wind, mysterious voices echoing in the air. Micaela Burgos, a prodigal daughter of the town Washington Irving’s headless horseman made famous, returns to belatedly make things right with her mother, who died six weeks earlier. Mica has been living the good life with her father in Miami; her mother stayed behind to pursue her obsession with Irving; she claims to be a direct descendant of him (though her parents were both Cuban exiles). She and Mica have barely spoken since, and the teen’s grief at the nature of this loss gives the book a strong emotional core to hang some of its more haunting happenings on (a haunted graveyard, Micaela’s own encounters with ghosts). The complicated narrative includes lost literary masterpieces and generational grudges. Frankenstein author Mary Shelley even makes an appearance. The work’s literary hook may be lost on some teens not as well acquainted with these figures, but the thoroughly modern heroine and prominent love triangle will keep most of them reading. The protagonist’s ethnic background serves the plot well, adding nuance to her status as an outsider in the small, mostly homogeneous town. VERDICT A good addition to any YA mystery collection.–Bobbi Parry, East Baton Rouge Parish School System, LA

Vick, Christopher. Kook. 400p. ebook available. HarperCollins. Aug. 2016. pap. $9.99. ISBN 9780008185374.

Gr 10 Up –Fifteen-year-old Sam, his mother, and his younger sister have recently moved back to England’s Cornwall coast, where Sam’s father lost his life at sea years before. Sam’s paternal grandmother still lives there, battling cancer. His mother is attempting to reestablish a family connection, although the relationship between the two women is strained. Sam’s mother is also motivated by her desire to raise her children in a wholesome environment, away from the temptations of London. Sam finds his own trouble, however, as he falls in with the teasing, enigmatic Jade and her band of hard-partying surfer friends. Largely to impress Jade, Sam takes up surfing, earning the nickname Kook, slang for a newcomer to the sport. He quickly falls in love with surfing, and the rapturous descriptions of the thrill of riding a great wave are the highlight of the book. As he becomes more involved in the surfing scene, Sam is inevitably drawn into the accompanying drug culture. Armed with his father’s charts of the local waters, which he discovered in his grandmother’s house, Sam leads the band to a dangerous area called the Devil’s Horns, where they surf mammoth waves in treacherous conditions. None of the characters in the novel are likable—and the author perhaps overreaches in his attempt to lend significance to Sam’s teen angst. VERDICT While not a first purchase, this book may have appeal to those interested in exploring the nature of this exciting sport.–Richard Luzer, formerly at Fair Haven Union High School, VT

Wright, David & Luc Bouchard. Away Running. 312p. ebook available. Orca. May 2016. pap. $14.95. ISBN 9781459810464.

Gr 9 Up –Matt and Free are in Paris for different reasons. Matt, a wealthy white Canadian football player, has fled Montreal to get away from parental pressure to take a collegiate and career route that will not fulfill him. While staying with his cousin, he meets up with Moose, an Algerian kid who lives in the projects in Paris. Moose had stayed with Matt’s dad as an exchange student the previous summer. Freeman is African American and has earned a scholarship to study abroad in Paris for the summer. He feels guilty for leaving his family behind in San Antonio, especially because they are going through a tough time, but he couldn’t pass up the chance of a lifetime. When the two main characters meet, Matt convinces Free to extend his stay in Paris to play for the Diables Rouges, the under-20 team from Moose’s neighborhood. As the two foreigners learn more about their teammates and the neighborhood they represent, they see a darker side of Paris than they ever knew existed. Through the lens of football, readers learn about prejudice and racism in Paris. The alternating points of view of Matt and Free add a richness to the story that makes it relatable to a wide variety of readers. The language and some violence, while not overly graphic, make this a choice for mature readers looking for a change of pace. VERDICT This eye-opening offering deserves a spot on most high school library shelves. Hand to readers who seek to broaden their perspectives of the world.–Carli Worthman, Carmel Middle School, IN

Zarins, Kim. Sometimes We Tell the Truth. 448p. ebook available. S. & S./Simon Pulse. Sept. 2016. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781481464994.

Gr 8 Up –This updated version of The Canterbury Tales is a compelling LGBTQ coming-of-age story. When things get rowdy on a class trip to Washington, DC, English teacher and chaperone Mr. Bailey tells the students they each have a chance at an A—all they have to do is tell a story. Jeff Chaucer, a student on the bus, writes down the tales as they are told and compiles them. Though the frame of the narrative is the same as the classic, between the pieces there are interludes focusing on Jeff, and this is where Zarins’s novel really shines. Jeff is a self-conscious writer who just wants to get to DC and see Georgetown, where he is matriculating in the fall. Through hearing his classmates’ tales, the protagonist begins to question who he is, what he believes, and whether he is as alone as he thinks. Zarins is adept at giving the students their own voices, making the entries genuinely feel like the product of many different narrators. Each individual selection matches up with a story in The Canterbury Tales, sometimes down to the names of the characters and every plot point. This could frustrate readers of the original, but the more tongue-in-cheek references should keep these teens grinning. For new readers, it should serve as an enticing entry point into the original. VERDICT An updated version of Chaucer’s classic that will appeal to fans of Rainbow Rowell and David Levithan.–Alexandra Patterson, Mercersburg Academy, PA

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