This week, we explore a motley crew of fan favorites—two Alex Award winners, a legendary editor who has appeared in this column before, a publisher whose work is familiar to all of us, and an old friend of this column (or at least of mine).
First up are our two Alex Award winners. Hannah Tinti won an Alex in 2009 for her phenomenal debut, The Good Thief. The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley is her first novel since then, and it follows in her previous book’s footsteps in a number of ways: most important for this column in that it is another hugely teen-friendly title. Her latest is fast-paced, with excellent characterization and a genre mix of thriller and coming-of-age; one would be hard-pressed to come up with a better combination for an Adult Books 4 Teens selection. Substantially less well known (my library system doesn’t even own a copy) is Kevin Wilson’s 2010 Alex winner Tunneling to the Center of the Earth. It’s a story collection, which might account for its lower profile (see: everything I’ve ever written about short stories). Nevertheless, an Alex pedigree is an Alex pedigree, and teens should be on the lookout for Wilson’s new novel, Perfect Little World, a psychologically complex family drama that all readers, especially teens, should find thought provoking.
Speaking of short stories, the acclaimed editor I mentioned above is Ellen Datlow, who has made a career of working on exquisite collections of fiction, usually in the genres of horror, sci-fi, and fairy tales. Readers of this column may remember many years ago my enthusiastic recommendation of her Haunted Legends, which against the odds has, at my library at least, circulated very well. So we can only hope for the same from her new volume, Black Feathers, Dark Avian Tales. The title seems to be a nod to Datlow’s famous series of fairy-tale retellings (coedited with Terri Windling) with short stories such as “Black Thorn, White Rose,” but entries skirt closer to horror, though they are more creepy than scary.
Unlike Datlow, Jason Rekulak may not be as well known, but readers of YA literature are familiar with his work. As a publisher at Quirk books, he helped bring into the world such teen favorites as Seth Grahame-Smith’s Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and Ransom Riggs’s Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. His debut novel, The Impossible Fortress, has already garnered accolades, and from what our reviewer says, every single one is well earned. Taking place in the ancient world of 1987 and revolving around a quest for a Playboy magazine, the story may not immediately strike a chord with all teens. But the celebration of nerd life—computer games and coding, failed dating, and the vicissitudes of high school—are more relevant to young adults today than ever.
According to the time stamp on my review, I’ve been pushing Carrie Vaughn’s fiction on my readers for almost six years now. Her two books on superheroes After the Golden Age and Dreams of the Golden Age are among my favorites, and I’m excited to introduce readers to her new novel, Martians Abroad. Moving from superheroes to a more pure sci-fi concept, this title looks at the possible implications of humans born or raised on another planet. Vaughn’s “human Martian” protagonists come back to Earth for school and encounter all manner of problems, from the different gravity to their classmates’ prejudice. At once a fascinating thought experiment and a metaphor for the immigrant experience, Vaughn’s work should be an easy sell to teens, especially fans of the film and novel The Martian.
ELLEN, Datlow, ed. Black Feathers: Dark Avian Tales: An Anthology. 320p. Pegasus Crime. Feb. 2017. Tr $25.95. ISBN 9781681773216.
Datlow’s latest collection could be the one to engage teens in the short story format. Fans of Edgar Allan Poe’s work or Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds (based on Daphne du Maurier’s classic short story) will find these more contemporary tales equally compelling. With their uncanny ability to mimic human speech and their reputation as portents and swallowers of human souls, the cold-blooded avian descendants of dinosaurs figure in some bone-chilling fashion in each story. These entries are more psychologically unsettling than scary, and many will prompt teens to recognize their own primal tendencies. The volume as a whole is a creative writing teacher’s dream, with its varied approaches to the format. While Joyce Carol Oates’s beautifully written “Great Blue Heron” is more traditional, Nicholas Royle’s “The Obscure Bird” is so spare that what is left out is more thought provoking than what’s included, and Pat Cadigan’s amusing “A Little Bird Told Me” waits until the last line to pack its psychological punch. Seanan McGuire’s “The Mathematical Inevitability of Corvids,” however, which focuses on a teenage girl with Asperger’s syndrome who is goaded into violence, may not sit well with some readers. VERDICT Though it may require a sales pitch, this riveting anthology should amply reward those who love eerie fare.–Cary Frostick, formerly at Mary Riley Styles Public Library, Falls Church, VA
REKULAK, Jason. The Impossible Fortress. 304p. S. & S. Feb. 2017. Tr $24. ISBN 9781501144417.
It all starts with 14-year-old Billy and his friends scheming to get their hands on the Vanna White edition of Playboy magazine, and, not surprisingly, it all goes downhill from there, as Billy readily admits. It’s 1987, when computers are still running BASIC and the Internet as we know it does not exist. But there’s sex, drugs, and rock and roll—and computer games. During the boys’ first harebrained scheme to acquire the magazine, Billy is intrigued by Mary, a girl he notices programming on one of the display computers in the store. The two strike up a tentative friendship as they rewrite Billy’s computer game, the Impossible Fortress, for submission in a gaming contest. By now Billy has completely lost interest in the magazine heist and begins to believe that he might have a chance at winning the contest and the girl. But his buddies get caught up in ever more elaborate and ultimately dangerous scenarios, eventually dragging Billy down with them. Teens will relate to the protagonist and his friends as they stumble their way through the byzantine world of high school, girls, and their own dawning sexuality. Chapter headings include a section of code, which will attract aspiring programmers, and there is a live version of the game available on the author’s website. VERDICT Strongly recommended for fans of nerd culture and 1980s throwbacks such as Stranger Things, though Billy’s wry narration and the novel’s crazy shenanigans may draw in a broader audience of readers looking for irreverent humor.–Gretchen Crowley, formerly at Alexandria City Public Libraries, VA
TINTI, Hannah. The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley. 400p. Dial. Apr. 2017. Tr $27. ISBN 9780812989885.
With her first novel since her Alex Award–winning The Good Thief, Tinti has produced another excellent, teen-friendly narrative, a blend of thriller and coming-of-age that’s full of fascinating characters. Samuel has led a dangerous life, which began with petty crime as an adolescent and became more difficult as he grew older. He bears the scars of 12 bullets, and the story behind each injury is revealed in exciting flashbacks. Samuel and his daughter, Loo, move often to avoid enemies who are looking for him. When Loo is ready for high school, Samuel feels safe enough to settle in Loo’s mother’s Massachusetts hometown, where he becomes a fisherman. At school, Loo is bullied until she attacks her tormentors, and a romance with a bright classmate eases her loneliness and lightens the tense plot. She is a clever, courageous teen who surprises her father when his past catches up with him. The pace of the novel is incredibly fast, and the characters are well developed. VERDICT Tinti’s deft combination of gripping action and deep characterization will attract high school readers, especially those with a literary bent.–Karlan Sick, formerly at New York Public Library
VAUGHN, Carrie. Martians Abroad. 288p. Starscape/Tor. Jan. 2017. Tr $24.99. ISBN 9780765382207.
Twins Polly and Charles Newton are part of the second generation of human Martians. Polly, a natural-born risk taker, is consumed by the desire to become a first-class starship pilot and has landed an internship with the astrodome flight school, but her dream is derailed when her mother uses her position as Mars One Operations Director to enroll the twins in Earth’s prestigious Galileo Academy, where all the best, brightest, and richest send their children. Polly and Charles have a steep learning curve, as they will be the first Martian children ever to attend the school. The twins must learn to adapt to Earth’s stronger gravity, an Earth-based curriculum, and Earth-born students with superiority complexes. Charles unobtrusively observes the school’s director, Ms. Stanton, in an attempt to discover the real purpose for their presence at the academy, while Polly slowly makes friends with outlanders and Earth-born kids as they try to find out who’s behind sabotaged field trips. The world-building is completely plausible and will thrill fantasy readers. Polly is a likable character, although readers don’t get to know her until the end of the book; Charles, on the other hand, is more of a peripheral character and is slightly underdeveloped. VERDICT A great option for tween fantasy readers, this novel will delight fans of Orson Scott Card’s “Ender’s Game” titles or Neil Gaiman’s “InterWorld” series.–Desiree Thomas, Worthington Library, OH
WILSON, Kevin. Perfect Little World. 352p. HarperCollins/Ecco. Jan. 2017. Tr $26.99. ISBN 9780062450326.
Eighteen-year-old Izzy Poole’s mother died when she was young, and her father drowned his grief in alcohol. Just before her high school graduation, she learns she is pregnant by her emotionally unstable art teacher. Confronted with the prospect of raising her baby alone, Izzy joins a research study that promises support for her and her son. Dr. Preston Grind, a famous child psychologist, has created the Infinite Family Project. For 10 years, 10 babies and their parents will live in a complex. The adults will raise the children together as a collective family while pursuing their professional goals, with all living expenses covered by an eccentric benefactor; however, none of the children will know who their biological parents are. While many of the participants find the setup strange, the project is successful for a long time. But when the utopian arrangement begins to fall apart, Izzy is faced with the fear of once again being without a family. Teens will identify with Izzy’s complicated relationship with her father and her hopes and fears for the future. What makes this story stand out is the questions it raises about current family structures as well as the benefits and drawbacks of the “it takes a village” approach to raising children. VERDICT Recommend this engaging, thought-provoking novel to teens interested in psychology or family studies.–Lynn Rashid, Marriotts Ridge High School, Marriottsville, MD
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