In these recent titles, the world is a canvas for teen artists whose work ranges from street and collage art and graffiti to collage assemblages made from found objects. As they push past the boundaries of traditional art forms, these protagonists also find self-expression, self-discovery, and a glimpse of the complex grown-ups they are becoming.
Amato, Danielle Mages. The Hidden Memory of Objects. 336p. ebook available. HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray. Mar. 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780062445889.
Gr 9 Up–Fifteen-year-old Megan’s older brother, Tyler, is dead. Megan knows that what the police are saying, that Tyler died of a possibly self-inflicted drug overdose, cannot possibly be true. Her brother was laid-back and fun-loving; suicide just didn’t seem to make sense. Determined to uncover the truth, Megan delves into the objects that Tyler left behind, and the discovered items become part of Megan’s ongoing art projects. A talented collage artist, she is constantly collecting found objects as raw materials. However, instead of simply speculating on the meaning of Tyler’s belongings, Megan is inexplicably transported to a moment in Tyler’s past whenever she touches something that was meaningful to him. With her new ability, Megan is thrust into a world of painful memories, both personal and national. It turns out that Tyler was in possession of various stolen items associated with the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. With the help of her classmate Eric and her brother’s charming friend Nathan, Megan chases the truth about her brother’s death all over Washington, DC. This debut novel is fast-paced and engaging, and the diverse characters, though slightly underdeveloped, are endearing. The elements of U.S. history add layers to this unique and enjoyable read. VERDICT For general YA collections. This will have particular appeal for fans of speculative fiction and mysteries.–Ariel Birdoff, New York Public Library
Gardner, Whitney. You’re Welcome, Universe. 304p. ebook available. Knopf. Mar. 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780399551413.
Gr 8 Up–After executing her best-ever graffiti, to cover up an insult written about her friend, Julia is kicked out of her Deaf school and mainstreamed. Frustrated by trying to connect with her hearing peers, Julia delves deeper into her art, only to find a rival defacing her finest creations. This debut novel is a dive into self-discovery for Julia and a compelling, engaging read for a wide variety of teens, including those interested in graffiti and street art. The author has clearly done her research on both Deaf and graffiti culture, and she incorporates details about both communities organically into the narrative. The translation of American Sign Language and Deafspeak to the page is done effectively, although it takes a backseat to native English narration. Julia, who has two mothers and resembles her parent of South Asian descent, inhabits many minority identities (disabled, a person of color, the child of same-sex parents, an English language learner) without any one of them being the engine for the story. She is a complex protagonist, and the secondary characters are well-developed, too. A few plot threads aren’t fully explored, but overall, this is a well-told, artsy coming-of-age tale that is also an excellent representation of a Deaf protagonist. VERDICT The rich characterizations and focus on often underrepresented cultural communities make this a noteworthy debut for both school and public libraries.–L. Lee Butler, Hart Middle School, Washington, DC
Nelson, Colleen. Blood Brothers. 216p. Dundurn. Feb. 2017. pap. $12.99. ISBN 9781459737464; ebk. $8.99. ISBN 9781459737488.
Gr 8 Up–A friendship forged in the streets is put to the ultimate test in Nelson’s urban drama. By day, Jakub and Lincoln are seemingly ordinary teenagers in their down-on-its-luck neighborhood. By night, they assume alternate identities—graffiti artists Morf and Scar—as they paint and tag their way across the city. But then things change: Lincoln’s bad-tempered older brother, Henry, comes home from prison at the same time that Jakub is accepted on a scholarship to an exclusive prep school on the other side of town. From there, the two boys go down predictable paths. Jakub buys a secondhand blazer and tries to fit in at the school, while Lincoln begins running the streets for Henry. The story focuses primarily on Lincoln as he follows his brother into a seedy underworld of drugs, stolen cars, and, eventually, murder. Jakub’s fish-out-of-water tale at the prep school is almost entirely abandoned as he concentrates instead on dealing with the fallout from Lincoln’s bad decision-making. There are no surprises with the plot and characters, some of whom fall into typecast roles: Henry is all bad; Jakub’s Polish immigrant father, purely noble. Lincoln’s moral dilemmas feel believable, though, as do Jakub’s frustrated attempts to help him, and readers who stick with this bleak narrative will be rewarded with an aptly dark ending that gives the book extra emotional weight. VERDICT A good supplement to a high-interest collection for reluctant teen readers.–Bobbi Parry, East Baton Rouge Parish School System, LA
Watson, Renée. Piecing Me Together. 272p. Bloomsbury. Feb. 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781681191058.
Gr 7 Up–High school junior Jade is an “at-risk” student from a rough neighborhood in Portland, OR. She is also a talented collage artist, and she attends an elite private school on scholarship. More than anything, she wants to go on a study abroad week offered at her school to use her Spanish skills. Instead, she is given an invitation to join Woman to Woman, a mentorship program for young women like her: poor and black. Her mentor, Maxine, is from a more privileged background, and Jade doesn’t see what she can learn from her. But in spite of her early resistance to Maxine, Jade begins to open up and gain confidence, and, eventually, she is able to express the importance of her family, her community, and her art. The two strong female characters and the ways in which they struggle with and support each other form the center of this tale. Most young people will relate to Jade’s search to find her voice and learn to advocate for herself in appropriate ways. The lack of a romantic lead may leave some young teen readers disappointed, but there is a real, refreshing strength in a fully fleshed-out female character whose story is her own. This is a memorable novel that demonstrates that a happy ending doesn’t require a romantic subplot. VERDICT This unique and thought-provoking title offers a nuanced meditation on race, privilege, and intersectionality. A first purchase for YA collections.–Kristin Anderson, Columbus Metropolitan Library System, OH
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