July 23, 2017

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Suspenseful Settings | SLJ Spotlight

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Boarding schools have been the backdrop for some of the most popular recent youth titles. It’s no wonder that novelists find these ready-made worlds so appealing, with their contained settings, off-site parents, and rich traditions. These offerings make the most of evocative boarding school settings in stories woven with mystery and suspense.

Chesterman, Simon. Raising Arcadia. 200p. ebook available. Marshall Cavendish. Dec. 2016. pap. $14.99. ISBN 9789814751506.

ya-ms-chesterman-raisingarcadiaGr 6 Up –Arcadia Greentree, a 16-year-old student at the exclusive Priory School, is surrounded by mysteries, beginning with the disappearance of her sort-of friend Henry. Through her uncanny powers of observation and deduction, honed by puzzles, Arcadia collects a great deal of information about the people around her, even if she isn’t quite able to connect all that she notices. But can she apply her unusual insights to herself? How much of her life has been a carefully constructed lie? First-time novelist Chesterman creates an engrossing story that keeps readers chasing the truth. Arcadia is strikingly similar to Sherlock Holmes, with her sharp assessment of people’s problems, her love of the violin, and her smug, equally intelligent older brother. At the same time, her endearing brashness is reminiscent of Sophronia Temminnick’s in Gail Carriger’s “Finishing School” series. A full cast of secondary characters, from well-meaning parents to a mysterious headmaster, help to move Arcadia along on her journey of discovery. A graphically depicted murder might challenge sensitive readers. VERDICT Fans of quirky protagonists, puzzling mysteries, and spy craft will enjoy this. A solid addition to any middle school, high school, or public library.–Holly Boyer, Reston, VA

Howard, A.G. RoseBlood. 432p. ebook available. Abrams/Amulet. Jan. 2017. Tr $18.95. ISBN 9781419719097. POP

ya-spotlight-howard-rosebloodGr 7 Up –Rune Germain has sung opera since she was four years old, as her father played arias on his violin. She sings beautifully, and often the music becomes so strong that it bursts out of her, but each performance leaves her feeling ill, especially following her father’s death. After Rune has a devastating encounter with a boy at a party, her mother sends her to her aunt’s music conservatory, RoseBlood, near Paris, hoping that it will cure Rune of her “affliction.” The school has a past that scares Rune. Originally a theater modeled after the one in Gaston Leroux’s The Phantom of the Opera, the building burned down and has been partially rebuilt with funds from an anonymous benefactor. At RoseBlood, Rune experiences cruelty from jealous classmates, but she also makes good friends, and at night, lovely violin music lulls her to sleep. Then, in a secret encounter, she meets violin- playing Etalon, who helps her understand the mysteries surrounding the school as well as her own identity. In a complex interweaving of teen school story, romance, and horror, the novel combines Phantom narrative elements with a cast of energy-sucking psychic vampires. Rune is a multifaceted, artistic character whose actions and reactions feel believably young adult as she confronts questions about family secrets and heredity. This is an accomplished undertaking, although the slow reveal may fail to engage some readers, especially those unfamiliar with the source material. VERDICT A good purchase for paranormal romance collections, and the connections to a classic work of literature add appeal.–Janet Hilbun, University of North Texas, Denton

Monir, Alexandra. The Girl in the Picture. 272p. ebook available. Delacorte. Dec. 2016. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780385743907.

ya-spotlight-monir-girlinthepictureGr 9 Up –The hallowed halls of Oyster Bay Preparatory School are rocked with scandal and tragedy after senior soccer star Chace Porter, son of a U.S. Congressman, is found dead in the woods. A full-scale murder investigation begins, and police narrow their suspects to Chace’s closest friends. At the top of the list are his beautiful, popular girlfriend, Lana Rivera, and the girl whose picture was found in the victim’s pocket: Nicole Morgan, a brilliant nobody. No one seems to know why Lana and Nicole, former roommates and friends, stopped talking months before Chace was found, or the reasons why Chace was always sneaking off somewhere. Monir constructs multiple backstories that piece together remnants of events that Lana and Nicole are struggling to remember but would rather forget. And she coaxes individualistic characters out of common tropes: Lana, the “girl everyone wants to be,” has a frank internal monologue that prevents her from coming across as a typical mean girl. Nicole wears her low self-esteem like a cloak, much like an eccentric savant would in a “Gossip Girl” high school setting, but her interior discourse is searching and endearing. The strongest pull for readers, though, will be solving the mystery, and although the actions of the police and the culprit occasionally feel unrealistic, Monir effectively keeps readers guessing until nearly the end. VERDICT Teens will enjoy the cleverly crafted ride of this whodunit. Purchase for libraries looking to bolster their YA mystery collections.–Michael Marie Jacobs, Darlington School, GA

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