January 18, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

6 Can’t-Miss Gems from 2017 | Adult Books 4 Teens

At the end of each year, I find myself looking through the reviews submitted by our contributors, making sure not to forget the “good ones.” Of course, in this column, we feature only books with positive reviews, but as the new year starts, I wanted to double-check we hadn’t missed any exceptional 2017 titles.

First up is the perfect high school graduation gift for the drama devotees in your life. Tim Federle is no stranger to writing about the theater (Better Nate Than Ever), and his hilarious self-help book, Life Is Like a Musical: How Broadway Can Help You Live Your Best Life, is chock-full of common sense advice on how to “adult” when you’d prefer to be singing show tunes.

Moving in a different direction, we have Linnea Hartsuyker’s historical fantasy The Half-Drowned King. Ninth-century Norway is violent but a familiar setting for fantasy readers, and fans of the History Channel’s series Vikings will love this saga that’s full of political intrigue and treachery. Another historical novel that involves political turmoil takes place in the Congo during the 1970s and 1980s—Alain Mabanckou’s Black Moses, translated from French. Longlisted for the Man Booker International Prize, the work follows a boy who is raised in an orphanage and surrounded by violence in his neighborhood. Eventually his mental health declines, conveyed by Mabanckou’s masterly prose.

The next two titles focus on the United States in the 1950s and 1960s. In Damian McNicholl’s The Moment of Truth, 19-year-old Kathleen aspires to become a matador, an unexpected path for most Texan women, so she heads across the border to Mexico to find a trainer. Similarly, the Owens siblings, in Alice Hoffman’s The Rules of Magic, have some learning to do, too. Growing up in New York City, they must discover how to be witches and warlocks from their aunt and banned magic books. I raved about Hoffman’s Faithful last year, and she has another teen-friendly winner with this paranormal coming-of-age story.

Last up is an unforgettable graphic novel. The people have spoken for The Hunting Accident: A True Story of Crime and Poetry, a Kickstarter success story. It had a limited edition run of only 500 copies back in 2015. Luckily, First Second noticed author David L. Carlson and illustrator Landis Blair’s potential and helped to create a masterpiece for the mass market. This fascinating true crime tale of gangster Chicago is hefty in size, as well as in concept, paying homage to Nietzsche, Plato, and Dante. I was fascinated by the tie-ins with the Leopold and Loeb murder—such a tangled web.

Sadly, this is the final Adult Books 4 Teens online column, but don’t worry—SLJ will still be reviewing adult titles in print. Mark Flowers and I appreciate your readership over the years, and many of our reviewers will continue their work. Scrolling through the archive of AB4T is bittersweet—so many familiar book titles, Alex Award contenders and winners, and reviews from some of my favorite “book people,” including Angela Carstensen. Angela inherited the print column from Pam Spenser Holley and Francisca Goldsmith, spearheaded its transition to the blog format, and then, along with Mark, helped develop the online column (which also ran in print). As the result of millennials’ reading patterns and a plethora of quality young adult titles, more and more crossover titles are being published, and it’s harder than ever to determine the line between a YA and an adult book. Please continue to use AB4T reviews for your collection development needs, and thank you for your readership over the years!

 

FICTION

HARTSUYKER, Linnea. The Half-Drowned King. 448p.  HarperCollins/Harper. Aug. 2017. Tr $27.99. ISBN 9780062563699.

In the ninth century, in the northern lands we now call Norway, lived fighting men who warred with one another and raided the southern lands. On the way home from one of these raids, Ragnvald Eysteinsson is unexpectedly attacked by Solvi, his convoy leader, and left for dead. Saved by a local fisherman, Ragnvald returns to his homeland, intent on revenge. He is also determined to demand his birthright from his stepfather, Olaf, and to make a good match for his sister Svanhild. When Olaf chooses a man Svanhild despises, she runs away in desperation only to be caught by Solvi, her brother’s nemesis. Chapters alternate between the brother and sister, of whom custom demands much. Ragnvald must align with others in order to defeat Olaf, gain his kingdom, and exact his revenge, while Svanhild has to choose between her brother and his sworn enemy. Ragnvald and Svanhild bring Old Norse legends to life, immersing readers in the fjords and valleys of the north. VERDICT A solid beginning to a saga well grounded in the culture of its time. Hartsuyker’s novel should attract those who enjoy “The Lord of the Rings” or other fantasies that draw heavily from Scandinavian and Northern European legend and culture.–Connie Williams, Petaluma High School, CA

redstarHOFFMAN, Alice. The Rules of Magic. 384p. S. & S. Oct. 2017. Tr $27.99. ISBN 9781501137471.

The gray-eyed Owens children have always been odd, and not just because they like black clothing and are oddly buoyant. Frances, the oldest, can communicate with birds; shy and beautiful middle sibling Bridget (nicknamed Jet for her black hair) can read minds; and the youngest, Vincent, is so winsome and irresistible that his obstetric nurse attempted to kidnap him. Growing up in New York City during the 1950s and 1960s, the children never fit in, until they visit Aunt Isabelle in Massachusetts and discover they are bloodline witches. Full of gifts and potential, the siblings are cursed with knowing too much about fate and the future. Though this coming-of-age tale is a prequel to Hoffman’s Practical Magic, readers need not have read the earlier book—but they’ll eagerly seek out the author’s other work. The clever Owenses handle major crises such as the Vietnam War, first loves, and the death of family members, all while learning how to cope with their special abilities in a world that doesn’t always value those who are different. Fans of magical realism and lyrical novels such as Leslye Walton’s 2015 Morris Award nominee The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender and Moïra Fowley-Doyle’s The Accident Season will appreciate Hoffman’s descriptive and succinct way with words. VERDICT Give to sophisticated teens who don’t mind a bit of magic in their love stories.–Sarah Hill, Lake Land College, Mattoon, IL 

MABANCKOU, Alain. Black Moses. tr. from French by Helen Stevenson. 208p. New Pr. Jun. 2017. Tr $23.95. ISBN 9781620972939.

Black Moses, the protagonist of this novel set in the 1970s and 1980s, was raised in an orphanage in Congo-Brazzaville, during a time of political upheaval. He and his best friend, Bonaventure, weather the changes the orphanage goes through as the director tries to align himself with the current political regime. Black Moses eventually runs away from the orphanage with twins Songi-Songi and Tala-Tala to Pointe-Noire, where he becomes part of their gang; later he takes refuge with Madame Fiat 500, the madame of a brothel, who helps him secure a house and job. However, mental illness takes its toll, and eventually, Black Moses finds himself in an institute built on the site of the old orphanage, and in the company of Bonaventure again. Slowly, his world becomes a jumble of past and present as he attempts to define his future. With well-crafted characters, this beautifully written, stark depiction of marginalized youth also highlights the stigma that mentally ill people face. VERDICT For sophisticated readers, especially fans of Natalie C. Anderson’s City of Saints and Thieves.Tamara Saarinen, Pierce County Library System, WA

MCNICHOLL, Damian. The Moment of Truth. 336p. Pegasus. Jun. 2017. Tr $25.95. ISBN 9781681774268.

In the 1950s, white middle-class American women were usually expected to stay home, raise children, and look after their husbands. Nineteen-year-old Kathleen Boyd wants those things someday, but today—today, she wants to become a matador. As a child she watched a bullfight with her beloved father and was entranced, spending all her days thereafter pretending to fight bulls with her best friend, Sally. After Kathleen’s father dies, Sally continues to dream of bullfighting even as her mother plans her life for her, including marriage to the ever-respectable Charles. But Kathleen heads over the border to jump into the ring. Barely escaping with her life, she catches the eye of Maestro Fermin, who agrees to take her on as her manager. Fermin works her hard, and with Kathleen’s determination and talent, he guides her into the bullring. When she captivates the young matador Julio (aka El Cabrito), he shows her that there are many paths to be followed in the bullring, including love. Kathleen soon discovers that Fermin’s management is not in her best interest, and she must draw on her own strength as she moves forward. VERDICT Give this fast-paced, action-packed book to teens interested in rodeos, horses, and bullfighting, as well as fans of works about resilient protagonists willing to fight in order to follow their dreams.–Connie Williams, Petaluma High School, CA

GRAPHIC NOVELS

CARLSON, David L. The Hunting Accident: A True Story of Crime and Poetry. illus. by Landis Blair. 464p. First Second. Sept. 2017. Tr $34.99. ISBN 9781626726765.

After his mother died, young Charlie Rizzo moved in with Matt, his blind, insurance-selling father in Chicago. When Charlie discovered as a teenager that his father wasn’t blinded in a hunting accident, as he’d always thought, Matt decided to come clean and reveal the real story, which involved the Chicago mafia and armed robbery. Matt told Charlie that he eventually went to prison in 1931, where, under the guidance of infamous murderer Nathan Leopold Jr. (who with Richard Loeb in 1924 kidnapped and killed a teenage boy), he developed a love of literature. This true account of gangster Matt Rizzo includes some of his prison artifacts, as well as snippets of his writing that is available online. The comic pays homage to Dante’s Inferno and other works, showing how those allegories are still relevant. Blair’s illustrations are stark and extremely detailed, and the book design is a masterpiece, complete with a ribbon marker and the title duplicated in braille on the cover. VERDICT While some teens may skim over the more “literary” portions, others will delight in this graphic homage to Dante. Perfect for inclusion on AP or college reading lists.–Sarah Hill, Lake Land College, Mattoon, IL 

NONFICTION

redstarFEDERLE, Tim. Life Is Like a Musical: How Broadway Can Help You Live Your Best Life. 224p.  Perseus/Running Pr. Oct. 2017. Tr $18. ISBN 9780762462643.

Award-winning author and Broadway expert Federle offers 50 hilarious self-help tips for drama geeks and beyond. In Federle’s own words, his book is “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff with jazz hands.” He stresses how his cheerful personality has helped him secure many gigs—after all, no one wants to collaborate with a grumpy or arrogant coworker. Federle shares various coming-of-age and theater experiences, from dancing in a polar bear costume at Radio City Music Hall to cowriting the Broadway musical Tuck Everlasting. Featuring star-studded theater references, this is an uplifting yet realistic look at living life to the fullest. There’s even a section noting how students voted most popular in middle school tend to plateau early in life. VERDICT Perfect for theater-focused teens, especially those who grew up on Federle’s Better Nate Than Ever and loved his young adult novel, The Great American Whatever.–Sarah Hill, Lake Land College Library, Mattoon, IL 

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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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Comments

  1. Angela Carstensen says:

    I’m so sorry to hear that the online reviews are ending, but thankful that the print will continue. A crucial resource for teens and the librarians who serve them!

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