November 17, 2017

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YA with Native Characters, Feminist Fantasy, and More | September 2017 Xpress Reviews

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Brennan, Sarah Rees. In Other Lands. 465p. Big Mouth House. Aug. 2017. Tr $19.95. ISBN 9781618731203.

Gr 8 Up –It would a bit of a misnomer to label Brennan’s latest book as fantasy. Readers looking for an epic tale full of magic and the like may initially find themselves a bit disappointed. However, if they stick with protagonist Elliot Schafer until the end, they’ll be duly rewarded. The story begins with Elliot at age 13 and follows the next four years of his life as a magic school student in a place called the Borderlands. With no friends in the real world, a mother who ran off when he was a baby, and a father who couldn’t care less, Elliot understandably has a few issues and uses sarcasm as a coping mechanism. Nevertheless, he befriends an elven warrior named Serene and a human named Luke. They work through the roller coaster of adolescence, all while dealing with an impending war. Though magical creatures and settings appear throughout, they serve merely as a backdrop to the characters as they struggle with their friendship, ideals, identity, and sexuality. The author turns sexist lingo usually used against women on its head and instead directs it at the male characters (in one instance among many, it’s mentioned that men are most desirable in their youth and are told to smile more). The feminist aspect of the novel sometimes comes off as a bit preachy. VERDICT This is a unique coming-of-age tale with strong messages about the complexities of love and life. A solid choice for YA collections.–Kimberly Castle-Alberts, Akron-Summit County Public Library, OH

Brignull, Irena. The Hawkweed Legacy. 384p. Perseus/Weinstein. Aug. 2017. Tr $18. ISBN 9781602863149.

Gr 8 Up –Poppy Hawkweed, now queen of her coven, avoids her expected leadership role by fleeing to an unspecified country in Africa. A healer and her great-grandson nurse her back to health, though their characterizations are unfortunately vague. Poppy is confronted with a vision of her impending death and decides that it would be better for her to stay away from the coven and from Leo, the boy she loves. Flashbacks from Poppy’s true mother, Charlock, and a former member of the coven, Betony, reveal their lives as teenage witches. Their story is built on friendship and romance with outsiders, much like Ember and Poppy’s tale from The Hawkweed Prophecy. The flashbacks are compelling and offer much-needed backstory. The former queen of the coven still finds ways to exert her control from beyond the grave. Her meddling provides much of the tension for the modern-day intrigue. Even though Ember and Leo are romantically involved, missing Poppy puts a strain on their relationship, as does a potential new love interest for Ember. The constant manipulations of the witches can get a little frustrating, though their range of ulterior motives does make for a fascinating cast of characters. Themes of motherhood and the bond between parent and child are particularly emphasized. Readers will be eager to keep turning pages in this rousing sequel. VERDICT Purchase where the first volume and paranormal romances are popular.–Gretchen Hardin, Sterling Municipal Library, Baytown, TX

Duell, Amber R. Fragile Chaos. 300p. Radiant Teen. Jul. 2017. pap. $13.99. ISBN 9781946024008.

Gr 8 Up –Mortal Cassia and god of war Theodric take turns telling their story as a loose tribute to “Beauty and the Beast.” As Cassia’s homeland is besieged by war and she is left without a family, Theodric struggles with the challenges of being rendered powerless by his brother. When a group of devoted followers kidnap Cassia and sacrifice her to the god of war, Cassia finds herself on the other side of life. She learns if she and Theodric “consummate” their relationship, he will owe her peace in her homeland. But there may be something else she wants, and she’s willing to play the game to get it. Meanwhile, Theodric faces power struggles among his siblings—gods of other concepts, including death. Although without a strong sense of place or time, this novel, with a political plot woven with romance, will engage fans of the postapocalyptic and fantasy genres. Theodric differs from typical male love interests; he’s more emotionally aware, if easily angered, than the usual brooding loner. While Cassia is somewhat less defined aside from her love of scavenger hunts and general feistiness, the chemistry between the pair is undeniable. This is an admirable debut with well-developed relationships in an uncertain setting and lots of romance to go around. VERDICT Fans of Cassandra Clare’s City of Bones and Holly Black’s Tithe will enjoy; purchase where reimaginings and urban fantasy are popular.–Abby Hargreaves, D.C. Public Library

Fine, Sarah. Beneath the Shine. 342p. Amazon/Skyscape. Apr. 2017. pap. $9.99. ISBN 9781477823279.

Gr 9 Up –Marguerite is like any other 17-year-old. She wonders if her clothes are stylish enough. She’s constantly checking the latest texts from her friends back home; moving to Washington, DC, from Houston has been a major adjustment. Marguerite’s already butting heads with the popular crowd at school and battling Internet trolls in her free time. Except she’s living seven decades in the future, in an America where the whole world is now constantly connected by physical tech implants. There’s another major difference: Marguerite is a viral vlogging celebrity with thousands of followers, and the newly elected president’s techno-darling, stirring up the youth vote in an election that has highlighted the acrimonious division between the technocratic elite and the struggling underclasses. At first, Marguerite is in total agreement with the new administration, which promises “tech for all” and a redistribution of the vast wealth and information access currently controlled by ultrawealthy CEOs. But a terror attack and a slew of mysterious deaths push her faith to its limits. The premise is fascinating, and the swift pacing will keep readers engaged. At times, though, the writing is heavy-handed and morally prescriptive. Like an Internet troll, it sometimes assumes that its readers lack the basic intelligence to draw their own conclusions. VERDICT If teens can overlook the cumbersome prose, they’ll find an imaginative and original adventure unique among current YA offerings. A good choice for most collections.–Chelsea Woods, New Brunswick Free Public Library, NJ

Florence, Melanie. Rez Rebel. 176p. Lorimer. Aug. 2017. lib. ed. $27.99. ISBN 9781459412309.

Gr 7-10 –Floyd Twofeathers is like any teen: he has big dreams, a crush on a pretty girl, and a group of friends always ready for adventure. He lives on Bitter Lake Reserve, and his community is facing a frightening epidemic of suicides. Floyd is the son of the tribe’s hereditary chief and a respected medicine woman. Although speaking out about the suicides occurring in his community causes serious conflict with his parents, Floyd knows he must push for dialogue to help the people and place he loves. This title will appeal to Indigenous youths looking to read about the struggles faced by many in their communities. For non-Indigenous readers, the story will provide an understanding of the unique challenges Native young people confront in the modern world. The author has created characters and settings that depict a tight-knit community. The novel adeptly explores the stigma around depression and the importance of youth involvement in community issues and activism. VERDICT A strong addition to teen collections. This thoughtful look at youth suicide from a young person’s perspective offers hope and understanding of those dealing with difficult circumstances.–Meaghan Nichols, Archaeological Research Associates, Ont.

Lee, MC. Bait and Switch. 266p. (The Center: Bk. 5). Dreamspinner. Jul. 2017. pap. $16.99. ISBN 9781635334234.

Gr 9 Up –This series installment finds teen operative Alex in trouble with his Guardian and his Handlers for bumbling his previous assignment. His espionage training and secret agent schooling intensify, but more punitive is his separation from fellow teen spy and boyfriend Leo. Also traumatic is Alex’s recent discovery that one of the strangers who raised him in isolation at The Center is actually his biological uncle. Meanwhile, Leo’s latest undercover mission is jeopardized, and The Center has no choice but to send in Alex as backup. Alex and Leo fervently reunite, but their relationship plays right into the enemy’s hands. The mysterious purposes of The Center and its assignments are perplexing rather than alluring. Alex and Leo’s steamy encounters are sometimes abrupt and feel gratuitous. Readers get hints of the previous books’ plots, but they’ll need to be familiar with the earlier installments. VERDICT An additional purchase unless the series has been popular or if there is a demand for romance or suspense stories starring gay teens.–Elaine Fultz, Madison Junior-Senior High School, Middletown, OH

Littleson, Lindsay. The Awkward Autumn of Lily McLean. 192p. Floris/Kelpies. Aug. 2017. pap. $9.95. ISBN 9781782503545.

Gr 8 Up –It’s the first day of high school for Lily McLean of Largs, a real town in Scotland. Lily is raised by a single mother, and she and her family eke by financially. Lily is the responsible daughter, who studies hard and helps care for her three younger stepsiblings, while older sister Jenna has turned into a Terrible Teen. Lily has a small group of close friends who are definitely not part of the “in” crowd, except for Rowan, whom she has known the longest but who lives next door to Georgia, one of the girls who treats Lily like scum. This follow-up to The Mixed-Up Summer of Lily McLean has potential, but the characters are badly drawn, and the plot requires plenty of suspension of disbelief. In the previous volume, Lily discovered that she was telepathic. So when she learns that Jenna is hanging out with a boy who was expelled from school, she decides to try to “reach” her sister and make her see reason. Unbelievably, Jenna claims she can hear Lily speaking to her. She listens to her sister’s warnings and runs away when the boy convinces her to help him break into the school. The author’s writing doesn’t quite pull off the premise. VERDICT Not recommended.–Marlyn Beebe, Long Beach Public Library, CA

McBride, Kristina. The Bakersville Dozen. 316p. Sky Pony. Jul. 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781510708051.

Gr 9 Up –The Bakersville Dozen video captivated the country in September of Bailey “Like a Virgin” Holzman’s senior year. The sexual exploits of Bailey and 11 other girls were broadcast in a scandalous video that went viral, and now the Bakersville Dozen are being kidnapped, one by one, raising questions about who shot the video and if that person is responsible for the disappearances, too. Bailey, who just wants to have a normal summer before college, receives clues from a mysterious source, leading her on a deadly scavenger hunt that forces her to question everyone—even the people she trusts the most. She must follow the clues to the end or else become the next victim. The plot of this thriller, though sometimes predictable, has compelling twists and turns that will make readers question their choice of villain several times before the end. The romantic subplot isn’t heavy-handed and is necessary to the story. McBride’s prose is vivid, creating a tense atmosphere tainted with secrecy and lies. Teens will devour this mystery. VERDICT For fans of “Gossip Girl” and “Pretty Little Liars,” this thriller is recommended for general purchase for YA shelves.–Jessica Holland, University of Kentucky, Lexington

Pendergast, G.S. Zero Repeat Forever. 496p. S. & S. Aug. 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781481481847.

Gr 9 Up –Teens will love the pace and dialogue of this sci-fi novel about an alien invasion, told alternately from the human and alien perspectives. Raven, 16, is doing community service at a wilderness summer camp with Tucker and Topher, twins. This is the only reason they live through the start of the invasion by the Nahx. “Our own stars betray us,” Raven thinks as she watches the meteor shower and jets race across the sky and try to stop the invasion. Readers meet Eighth before they meet Raven and know only that his mind is a void, but he remembers his directive, piece by piece: dart the humans. Leave them where they fall. Thus begins the fall of humans on planet Earth. Raven and the counselors at camp are able to survive because the kids haven’t arrived and all of the food was delivered early. There are guns for protection against wild animals. There is shelter. There is hope. Eighth’s mind seems to collapse on itself as readers follow him through his directive and his refusal to obey it. As Raven and Eighth find themselves on an intersecting path, readers will be sucked into humanity’s struggle to survive and the Nahx’s all too focused efforts to ensure that it doesn’t. VERDICT A first purchase for teen collections.–Cathleen Ash, Manor High School Library, TX

Tingle, Tim. No More No Name. 120p. 7th Generation. Aug. 2017. pap. $9.95. ISBN 9781939053176.

Gr 7 Up –Bobby Byington is a teenage Choctaw high school basketball star whose life has not been easy. The story opens as he returns to basketball practice after recovering from a serious automobile accident. Bobby has strong support from his father, who is a recovering alcoholic; his mother; Coach Robinson; teammates; best friend Johnny (who is Cherokee); and Lady Faye, his girlfriend. Bobby’s relationships with his family, friends, teammates, and coach are realistically portrayed and allow readers to walk with him as he makes decisions to navigate his emotions. The pace of the novel is much like a basketball game, packed with unexpected turnovers, angst, and the ultimate final-second victories. The narrative is not melodramatic, and yet it authentically portrays the complexity of a young adult’s emotional coming-of-age. This hopeful and redemptive book is not preachy and is sure to capture the imagination of readers who are drawn to stories about sports, courage, and romance. VERDICT Highly recommended for middle and high schoolers.–Naomi Caldwell, Alabama State University, Montgomery

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