November 20, 2017

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One Last Summer Trip | Adult Books 4 Teens

The end of summer is upon us, which means last-minute vacations! Today we’re embarking a journey, stopping in small towns, and taking the back roads. First stop? Idaho.

Kevin Canty’s The Underworld is based on a 1972 fire in Idaho in which 91 silver miners perished. Rural Idaho in the 1970s feels more like the 1950s, in that traditional gender roles prevailed. The book centers on a young man who is pressured to return home to mine, and, as our reviewer notes, many teens will relate to the weight of familial duty.

Last year I read and loved Taylor Brown’s hauntingly beautiful literary debut, Fallen Land, about a young couple on the run at the end of the U.S. Civil War. The setting of the South, starved and pillaged, was almost as much a character as the two young protagonists. In Brown’s latest work, The River of Kings, the Altamaha River in Georgia is one of the narrators. Two sons, one a college student and the other a Navy SEAL, journey down the river with their father’s ashes, trying to make sense of his death. With a touch of magical realism, the author integrates the tale of Jacques le Moyne, who traveled with French explorers in the mid-1500s down the Altamaha, as well as his illustrations, making this a novel that could easily be added to a U.S. history supplemental reading list.

Moving farther north over the mountains and into Pennsylvania, author Jim Minick also relies on magical realism in his Appalachian tale of faith and love, Fire Is Your Water. In 1953, 20-year-old Ada is a faith healer who suddenly loses her powers and has to confront her beliefs. It’s rare that an author can effectively write about faith and agnosticism in the same story, but Minick’s other character, Will, though nonreligious, grapples with similar issues.

Our next read takes us across the pond to Great Britain, with Paula Hawkins’s sophomore novel, Into the Water. Her The Girl on the Train was a huge best seller and popular with teens, so some students may clamor for her latest release, though others may find the use of multiple narrators confusing. I relied on a piece of scrap paper to keep track of the narrators as I read about drownings in a small English town, but didn’t have to refer to my notes by the end of the book—whew!

Next, it’s back to the states and off to the Southwest, with Kathy Hepinstall’s funny, character-driven The Book of Polly. Humorous and quirky Polly is an elderly mother to teenage Willow. Full of Texas charm and happy endings, this is a feel-good title about the parent/child bond. Plus our reviewer compares Polly to Richard Peck’s Grandma Dowdel from A Long Way from Chicago, so it’s a must-read for me.

We wrap up in San Francisco, with another positive and uplifting mother/daughter read: Meg Donohue’s Every Wild Heart. Gail’s online rant about her rough divorce goes viral, turning her into a popular radio talk show host, but her shy daughter, Nic, isn’t always comfortable with the attention. When a head injury results in a bolder Nic, the consequences strain their relationship. Paperback originals published through HarperCollins’s “P.S.” program are always a popular bet for high school libraries, and this warmhearted family read might be just what your patrons want.

FICTION

BROWN, Taylor. The River of Kings. 336p. reprods. St. Martin’s. Mar. 2017. Tr $25.99. ISBN 9781250111753.

The Altamaha River (sometimes known as the “Little Amazon”) takes center stage in a novel that weaves in and out of multiple plotlines and time periods. Over five days, Hunter and Lawton Loggins kayak downriver to spread their father’s ashes while looking for the truth behind his mysterious death. The young men’s journey becomes intertwined with the story of their father, a river shrimper, and the historical figure Jacques le Moyne, an artist who traveled with French colonists in an attempt to settle northern Florida in the 16th century. The specter of a mythological water serpent rears its head in both the past and the present as Brown artfully blends historical fiction, realistic literature, and magical realism. Though some readers might consider the narrative slow going, the graceful prose is effective and will have teens questioning what is real and what lives only in the subconscious. Reproductions of le Moyne’s art will spark discussion about historical perspective. VERDICT A strong choice for schools looking to beef up their literary fiction collections, especially for AP English or U.S. history courses.–Krystina Kelley, Belle Valley School, Belleville, IL

CANTY, Kevin. The Underworld. 256p. Norton. Mar. 2017. Tr $24.95. ISBN 9780393293050.

Loosely inspired by a real-life tragedy in 1972 Idaho, the novel follows several characters who dream of escaping life in a small town where men are expected to work in the mine and women to marry miners and have children. When a fire devastates the town, the characters grapple with change and loss. David, a young man obtaining a degree in a nearby city, is drawn back home even as he attempts to break free, and must find a way to support his parents while also realizing his dreams. Canty adroitly conveys the various perspectives and mental anguish of the richly drawn cast of characters. Teens will identify with David’s longing to carve out his own path. VERDICT Fans of emotional, character-driven stories will appreciate this powerful read.–April Sanders, Spring Hill College, Mobile, AL

DONOHUE, Meg. Every Wild Heart. 304p. Morrow. Mar. 2017. Tr $25.99. ISBN 9780062659583; pap. $14.99. ISBN 9780062429834.

Fourteen-year-old Nic has always been shy and anxious—the exact opposite of her outspoken radio talk show host mother, Gail. But everything changes when Nic makes a rash decision and is thrown from her horse. She’s a different high school freshman when she awakens in the hospital. Now Nic acts on her impulses, fearlessly quoting Shakespeare in class and pulling pranks on the senior bully. Chapters alternate between Gail’s first-person perspective and third-person narration centering on Nic. Romance blooms for both mother and daughter, but a mysterious stalker tries to thwart their plans. This accessible, light tale includes an interview between Donohue and Gail, a playlist, and recommendations of the author’s favorite mother/daughter novels, such as Maria Semple’s Where’d You Go, Bernadette and Megan Abbott’s You Will Know Me. VERDICT A quick, gentle vacation read for fans of contemporary fiction writers such as Kristin Hannah and Elin Hilderbrand.–Sarah Hill, Lake Land College, Mattoon, IL

HAWKINS, Paula. Into the Water. 400p. Riverhead. May 2017. Tr $28. ISBN 9780735211209.

The small British town of Beckford, known for its winding river and history of women drowning (by suicide or in a test of witchcraft) provides an eerie setting for this tale. Fifteen-year-old Lena’s mother, Nel, who has been researching the river’s mysteries, is found drowned a few months after Lena’s best friend’s body is discovered. Did they take their own lives? Or were they murdered? Multiple detectives are on the case, and chapters from the perspectives of the many characters slowly reveal clues. Hawkins’s sophomore effort after The Girl on the Train is bound to be a hit, but the plethora of characters and measured pace may deter some teens. Those who stick with the novel will be rewarded as the plot picks up toward the end of the book and builds to a satisfying denouement. VERDICT For literary readers of atmospheric mysteries.–Sarah Hill, Lake Land College, Mattoon, IL 

HEPINSTALL, Kathy. The Book of Polly. 336p. Viking/Pamela Dorman Bks. Mar. 2017. Tr $26. ISBN 9780399562099.

In this novel set in small-town Texas, Willow has always been fixated with the health of her elderly mother, who gave birth to her at age 57, following the death of Willow’s father. Though in her senior years, Polly is a spirited Southerner who enjoys a good margarita in addition to quarreling with her neighbors. Over the course of the story, narrator Willow matures from a young child who tells lies about her mother to a moody teenager with a boyfriend and a penchant for spying. However, Polly is the true star of the show, and much of the narrative is driven by Willow’s attempts to unearth secrets from her mother’s past, such as why Polly refuses to return to her hometown of Bethel, LA. The book cover, which features a blurry image of an adult woman holding a gardening tool, likely won’t entice teens, so this title will require hand selling. But those with older parents may share some of Willow’s thoughts and concerns and will enjoy this humorous, poignant tale of family and loss. VERDICT For those who appreciate quirky characters, especially fans of Grandma Dowdel in Richard Peck’s A Long Way from Chicago.–Carrie Shaurette, Dwight-Englewood School, Englewood, NJ 

MINICK, Jim. Fire Is Your Water. 352p. Swallow. Mar. 2017. Tr $26.95. ISBN 9780804011846.

When a fire consumes the Franklin barn, it appears to take more than lumber with it. Twenty-year-old Ada Franklin, accustomed to healing with her hands, is robbed of her curative powers. As she struggles with her loss of faith and abilities, she meets Will Burk, a young man who, though mostly on his own, is at peace with his place in the world. The shifting perspectives of this novel set in 1953 rural Pennsylvania provide great insight into not only the two main characters but also Will’s talking raven Cicero, whose astute perceptions of humans in love add to a sense of magical realism. Ada’s ability to “pow wow,” or heal, is treated as a fact of life, much like Will’s happily agnostic sensibilities. Teens reconsidering their beliefs and identity will relate to these well-crafted characters. This engrossing, original love story is an immersive glimpse at life in mid-century Appalachia. VERDICT A richly characterized work about faith and human connection, perfect for most high school collections.–Erinn Black Salge, Morristown-Beard School, Morristown, NJ

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Sarah Hill About Sarah Hill

Sarah Hill is SLJ's Adult Books 4 Teens cocolumnist and an information services librarian at Lake Land College in Mattoon, IL.

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