November 21, 2017

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YA: Quirky Romance, Tough Decisions, & a Timely “Tick Tock Man” | August 2017 Xpress Reviews

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Buxbaum, Julie. What To Say Next. 304p. Delacorte. Jul. 2017. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9780553535686.

Gr 7-10 –David is a middle-class high school student who describes himself as nonneurotypical, or having a “borderline case of Asperger’s.” He has a loving family, including an older sister who deftly helps him navigate social interaction, in part through a notebook wherein he describes his world and determines whom he can trust. One of the trusted few is a classmate named Kit, an ambitious only child wracked with grief over her father’s death. Fleeing devoted friends who suddenly seem ridiculously shallow and self-absorbed, Kit sits at David’s table one day for lunch. Tired of pity and platitudes, she warms to David’s “brutal honesty” about the death of her dad. Slowly, with pathos and humor, Kit and David develop a friendship on the outskirts of the high school milieu. Their story emerges from alternating first-person narratives that progress effortlessly. The pair’s friendship is tested by David’s inability to read cues and by closely held secrets that both of them are nursing. It blooms into first love, and both grow as a result of their challenges. With this layered novel, Buxbaum handles the theme of identity with rare genius. As narrator, David inspires love and respect, not because of his neurological and social struggles, but because he is an admirable human being. His neural challenges do not define him or his trajectory. Similarly, questions abut the meaning and importance of ethnicity (What does it mean to be Asian? Or Italian?) thread their way through the book without overwhelming it. VERDICT A must-have for YA collections.–Sheri Reda, Wilmette Public Library, IL

Clark, R.M. The Tick Tock Man. 237p. Month9Books. May 2017. pap. $13.99. ISBN 9781944816605.

Gr 5-7 –It’s Thanksgiving morning. Thirteen-year-old CJ just wants to sleep in, but the clock in his room keeps making weird noises. CJ reluctantly gets out of bed and starts helping his parents prepare the house for visiting relatives and Thanksgiving dinner. But throughout the day, CJ notices more odd behavior from the clocks in his house and around his neighborhood. The clocks throughout the Connecticut town all seem to be stuck at 2:00, the time when, earlier that day, CJ broke (and was subsequently sucked into) an heirloom family clock. The teen soon discovers a magical clock world in turmoil that needs his help. Along with a half-human girl named Fuzee, CJ learns he must find the Tick Tock Man to restore the world’s balance before it is too late. This is an unusual fantasy adventure about an alternate universe and a long-standing feud between two old-world German races. CJ’s first-person narration and conversational tone will appeal to reluctant readers looking for an action novel that isn’t based in romance or teen angst. The mystery of the Tick Tock Man will be solved early on, but it’s an entertaining journey anyway. Give this to fans of Suzanne Collins’s Gregor the Overlander or Marie Rutkoski’s The Cabinet of Wonders. VERDICT A fun, fast-paced adventure that will appeal to reluctant middle school readers, especially those interested in engineering and how things work.–Leigh Collazo, Dulwich College, Suzhou, China

Ella, Sara. Unblemished. 304p. Oct. 2016. pap. ISBN 9780718081010; ebk. ISBN 9780718081027.

––––. Unraveling. 320p. Jul. 2017. Tr ISBN 9780718081034.

ea vol: Thomas Nelson. $15.99.

Gr 8 Up –The first two books of a planned trilogy introduce readers to a fantasy world with glimpses of the familiar all around them. Unblemished finds 17-year-old Eliyana mourning the loss of her mother and somewhat secretly in love with the guy next door. All that changes when she discovers that her entire life has been built on half-truths and she is forcibly returned to the Second Reflection, a world that resembles, but isn’t quite, the New York City she knows and loves. In the Second Reflection, Eliyana discovers the birthmark across her face designates her as an important piece in the battle between good (the Verity) and evil (the Void). Unraveling picks up immediately after the first book and focuses on the love triangle between Eliyana, Joshua, and Kyaphus that began in book one. There is much to like in the start of this series—the adventure, the idea of multiple worlds and various powers (Callings) that the inhabitants have—but the world-building is at times overly complex. Rather than explaining the Verity, the Void, and other magical elements within the context of the story, the characters often stop all action and spell things out, which breaks any flow the author has built. Pop culture references are liberally sprinkled throughout both volumes and already feel dated (Shania Twain, Titanic, Phantom of the Opera), particularly in Unraveling. VERDICT Purchase only where readers clamor for world-bending, Christian fiction, and love triangles; otherwise, skip it.–Heather Webb, Worthington Libraries, OH

Elliott, Zetta. Mother of the Sea. 60p. Amazon/CreateSpace. Apr. 2017. pap. $7. ISBN 9781544263854.

Gr 8 Up –A timeless work weaving the fantastical with the brutality of the slave trade. This novelette blends Yoruba folklore with the horrors of the Middle Passage. A nameless girl finds herself aboard a ship to an unknown destination. As she carries a small child aboard the ship, she realizes that the harsh conditions she encounters make it difficult for her to care for herself, let alone her mysterious charge. Readers will find this story empowering as it is heartbreaking. The nuanced portrayal of Eja-keke, the wise young girl, and Olu, the accomplice of the captors, add depth to this short work. Lovers of Copper Sun by Sharon Draper or Good Fortune by Noni Carter will likely enjoy this book. This is a quick read that will leave readers wanting more. VERDICT Purchase where Elliott’s previous works and books by Nalo Hopkinson and Nnedi Okorafor are popular.–Christina Vortia, Hype Lit, Land O’Lakes, FL

Larson, Sara B. Dark Breaks the Dawn. 320p. Scholastic. Jun. 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781338068696.

Gr 7-10 –Much shorter and with less painstaking world-building than most high fantasy, this tale is a bit light on substance but full of the drama and expected tropes craved by many young readers more interested in light romance and adventure. While specific terms like elves or fairies don’t appear, the glossed-over history of Princess Evelayn’s land is one of royalty channeling the magical power of the kingdoms of light and darkness. Having lost her father to the light kingdom’s decade-long war with dastardly King Bain of the dark land, Evelayn must face down the stereotypically malevolent and sadistic ruler when her mother’s strength is also fed to the flame of battle. The day she turns 18, the young queen is allowed full access to her powers. Weaponized balls of light and her ability to channel the sun’s rays complement the years of mental and physical training she has completed. A handsome young soldier visiting from the front lines soon becomes more to her than a sparring companion. Tarvin comforts the princess and accompanies her on an expedited but dangerous quest to obtain a magical boon that could catch their enemy at a disadvantage and restore the balance of Lachalonia. Plot and character development suffer from too much telling rather than showing. VERDICT Purchase where readers clamor for fantasy-light and enjoy slavering at cliffhangers.–Suzanne Gordon, Lanier High School, Sugar Hill, GA

Maness, Rowan. Bombshell. 320p. S. & S./Simon Pulse. Jul. 2017. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9781481441643.

Gr 9 Up –Joss Wyatt is a storyteller. Stifled by the boredom of her privileged life in suburban Phoenix, she creates sexy yet vulnerable characters and uses them to lure guys on social media. Juggling several of these relationships at once, she carefully develops each character’s story while concealing her true identity. More than just a pastime, these stories also distract Joss from some deep personal issues, making it all the more threatening when an anonymous blogger begins exposing her false personas. Prickly, superstitious, and unreliable, Joss’s narration will draw readers in even as the dissonance of her mental state keeps them at arm’s length. Though this psychological push-pull is tantalizing, it also hampers the suspense: the consequences of the protagonist’s exposure are mostly emotional, yet her emotions and motivations are never fully explored, making it difficult for readers to become invested. Also unexplored is the positive potential of social media, which is depicted as a vice, with only the faintest suggestion that Joss might use it as a means for healthy connection or creativity. Casual drug use and brief sexual content make this title best suited for high schoolers. Additionally, an uncritical portrayal of an inappropriate teacher-student relationship may leave readers feeling unsettled, as might the use of “lame” and “autistic” as insults. VERDICT Provocative but ultimately unsatisfying, this is an additional purchase for libraries where psychological suspense is in demand.–Rebecca Honeycutt, NoveList, Durham, NC

Paulson, Ingrid. Why I Loathe Sterling Lane. 150p. Entangled. Jun. 2017. pap. $9.99. ISBN 9781633757004.

Gr 6 Up –Harper Campbell is a headstrong, straight-A, independent teen. She has her daily schedule set by the minute, and any deviation sends her in a tailspin. So, when mischievous Sterling Lane, who has been expelled from almost all the prestigious prep schools in the area, joins her at Sablebrook Academy, her life is turned upside down. Meanwhile, her twin brother Cole finds himself in a bit of trouble due to his new gambling addiction. In Harper’s quest to save her brother from the seedy underbelly in their small town and possible expulsion from school, she finds an unlikely ally in Sterling. Will she be able to save her brother without losing herself in the process? Paulson has the makings of a good story here, but she falls short. The tension between Harper and Sterling is not quite believable, the conflict with her brother and his gambling issues are confusing with no real resolution, and at points the narrative shifts from noir fiction to romance novel. The character development stays at surface level, which hurts the overall story. VERDICT Readers should skip this one and pick up a Stephanie Perkins novel instead.–Davia Schmidt, Brooklyn Public Library

Pipkin, Bonnie. Aftercare Instructions. 368p. Flatiron. Jun. 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781250114846.

Gr 10 Up –A new voice in contemporary fiction introduces a cast of characters and a story line that will stick with readers long after they are done. Genesis struggles to put her life together when everything falls apart. She is adrift after her father dies tragically, but Gen thinks she has found someone to hold her broken pieces together once she meets Peter. After a year and a half of a seemingly harmonious relationship, the religious Peter vanishes while at Planned Parenthood, where the couple is terminating an unintended pregnancy. Following his departure, the protagonist must rely on her best friend, Rose, cousin Delilah, and baggage-heavy mother to see her through. While finding her way, the teen deals with issues from her past that she has kept buried deep. Readers will discover the story of Gen’s past in the form of a script as she comes to terms with Peter’s abandonment. Scenes involving theater in New York City are peppered throughout and add a refreshing twist to the setting. This novel will appeal to teens that are struggling to find themselves after a loss. This debut novel touches upon many heavy issues, including drug use, abortion, and suicide. A compelling and relatable novel with realistic characters and situations. VERDICT Purchase where contemporary YA fiction authors like Rainbow Rowell and John Green are popular.–Tegan Anclade, Lake Villa District Library, IL

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