March 22, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

From Swashbuckling Space Opera to Thrilling Murder Mystery | What’s Hot in YA

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Teens looking for a hilarious, but poignant twist to the post-apocalyptic genre will gravitate toward Andrew Smith’s boundary-pushing Grasshopper Jungle. For sci-fi fans, Mindee Arnett’s Avalon captures the complexity of family dynamics set among the stars. Sharon Biggs Waller’s A Mad, Wicked Folly will entice readers who can’t get enough of Downton Abbey and other period dramas. And debut authors Jason Reynolds and Elle Cosimano have each produced a tour de force that is unputdownable. For more of what’s hot in young adult literature, read on.

Arnett, Mindee. Avalon. 432p. ebook available. HarperCollins/Balzer & Bray. Feb. 2014. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780062235596. LC 2013005155.

AvalonGr 9 Up—Jeth’s parents were the preeminent scientists of the Confederation until their final mission ended in tragedy and they were suddenly charged with treason and executed. Since then, Jeth has been in the forced employ of an interstellar crime lord, aboard the Avalon. This is an exciting piece of science fiction that keeps up its energy from beginning to end. Fans of the short-lived but beloved Joss Whedon television show Firefly will find this book especially enjoyable, and it is sure to be one of the most popular releases in the genre this year.–Ryan F. Paulsen, New Rochelle High School, NY

Cosimano, Elle. Nearly Gone. 400p. ebook available. Penguin/Kathy Dawson Bks. Mar. 2014. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780 803739260. LC 2013010335.

Nearly GoneGr 9 Up—In this suspenseful and thrilling murder mystery, high school junior Nearly Boswell is struggling to get by in a Washington, DC trailer park with her single mother, who works the night shift at a local strip club. Nearly spots an eerie personal ad in the local newspaper—an ad that ends up being a clue in the attempted murder of one of her classmates. She soon finds another clue in the following week’s paper leading to another murder. The clock is ticking, and Nearly must hurry to solve the homicides, and prove her own innocence, before it is too late. There is a hint of the paranormal in this murder mystery, as Nearly has an unusual gift that allows her to “taste” the emotions of others when she touches their skin. Eloquently written and packed full of suspense, debut author Cosimano strikes gold with this page-turning thriller. Give this to fans of Kimberly Derting’s The Body Finder (HarperCollins, 2010) or anyone else who is looking for a captivating murder mystery.—Candyce Pruitt-Goddard, Hartford Public Library, CT

Reynolds, Jason. When I Was the Greatest. 240p. S & S/Atheneum. 2014. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781442459472; ebk. $10.99. ISBN 9781442459496. LC 2012045734.

When I was the greatestGr 7-10 –Ali lives with his mother, Doris, and kid sister, Jazz, in the Bed-Stuy neighborhood of Brooklyn and spends all of his free time with best friends Noodles and Needles, brothers who live in a run-down brownstone next door. When their friend Tasha gets them into a party—and not just any party, an exclusive, adults-only party—trouble escalates. How will the trio deal with the fallout of that eventful night? Reynolds’s debut oozes with authenticity—details about bodegas, barbershops, and local streets flesh out the setting—and builds with great tempo, starting in a slow groove and picking up to a swift beat. Reynolds is an author to watch.—Emily Moore, Camden County Library System, NJ

Smith, Andrew. Grasshopper Jungle. 464p. ebook available. Dutton. Feb. 2014. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9780525426035; pap. ISBN 9781405273411.

Grasshopper JungleGr 10 Up—It used to be that the only interesting events to occur in crumbling Ealing, Iowa happened between the pages of 16-year-old Austin Szerba’s “history” journals. Austin’s journals are elaborate and uncensored records about sex; his love for his girlfriend, Shann; his growing attraction for his best friend, Robby; his unique Polish ancestors; even Ealing’s decrepit mini-mall where he and Robby hang out. Austin narrates the end of the world when a twist of fate sparks the birth of mutant, people-eating praying mantises. Austin not only records the hilarious and bizarre tale of giant, copulating bugs but his own sexual confusion and his fear about hurting the people he loves. Award-winning author Smith has cleverly used a B movie science fiction plot to explore the intricacies of teenage sexuality, love, and friendship.—Kimberly Garnick Giarratano, Rockaway Township Public Library, NJ

Waller, Sharon Biggs. A Mad, Wicked Folly. 448p. Viking. 2014. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780670014682.

A Mad Wicked FollyGr 9 Up—In 1870, Queen Victoria made the astonishing declaration that women’s rights were a “mad, wicked folly.” This statement was the inspiration for Waller’s impeccable debut novel about a young English woman who is talented, beautiful, passionate, and wealthy. Despite these advantages, Victoria Darling struggles with the harsh limitations imposed upon women prior to and during the Edwardian era of 1901-1910, which curtail her attempts to attend art school. While Victoria does not initially associate with the Suffragette Movement, she ultimately discovers that her fate is intertwined with the cause. At equal turns humorous and heartbreaking, readers will chuckle at Victoria’s exploits (climbing out a bedroom window, being stuck mid-curtsey before King Edward in court) and admire the brave sacrifices she makes to pursue her dreams.—Etta Anton, Yeshiva of Central Queens, NY

Walton, Leslye.* The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender. 320p. Candlewick. Mar. 2014. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780763665661.

Strange and Beautiful sorrowsGr 9 Up—Walton’s novel is both strange and beautiful in the best of ways. Though the titular Ava serves as narrator and ultimately the tale’s heroine, her story spans multiple generations, starting with her great-grandmother, remembered only as Maman, an immigrant to “Manhatine” two generations earlier. Through the eyes of her grandmother Emilienne, and then her mother Vivianne, Ava’s lineage unfolds. Ava is a normal girl with one notable exception: she was born with the wings of a bird. Ava looks to the stories of her matriarchs to make sense of her own life and to understand how to navigate the world as both an “other” and a typical teenage girl. This multigenerational tale examines love and considers the conflicting facets of loving and being loved—desire, despair, depression, obsession, self-love, and courage. Difficult to categorize, this is a mystical tale, a historical novel, a coming-of-age story, laced with folkloric qualities and magic realism, often evocative of great narratives like Erin Morgenstern’s transcendent The Night Circus (Doubleday, 2011) or the classic Like Water for Chocolate (Anchor, 1995) by Laura Esquivel.—Jill Heritage Maza, Montclair Kimberley Academy, Montclair, NJ

*Watch for an interview with author Leslye Walton in the March 5 issue of SLJTeen

For those interested in nonfiction, take a look at these stellar offerings from creators with proven track records.

Sheinkin, Steve. The Port Chicago 50: Disaster, Mutiny, and the Fight for Civil Rights. 208p. bibliog. index. notes. photos. reprods. Roaring Brook. 2014. Tr $19.99. ISBN 9781596437968.

Port ChicagoGr 7 Up—In the summer of 1944, 50 sailors, all of them African American, were tried and convicted of mutiny by the U.S. Navy. They had refused to follow a direct order of loading dangerous rockets and munitions on ships bound for battle in the Pacific after an enormous explosion had killed more than 300 of their fellow sailors and other civilians working on the dock. At the heart of this story is the rampant racism that permeated the military at all levels, leaving minority sailors and soldiers to do the drudge work almost exclusively while their white counterparts served on the front lines. This is a story that remains largely unknown to many Americans, and is one of the many from World War II about segregation and race that is important to explore.—Jody Kopple, Shady Hill School, Cambridge, MA

Gevinson, Tavi, ed. Rookie Yearbook Two. 352p. illus. photos. reprods. Drawn & Quarterly. 2013. pap. $29.95. ISBN 9781770461482.

Rookie YearbookGr 7 Up—Brimming with the social and cultural insights that made the first volume so remarkable, Rookie Yearbook Two anthologizes the best of the online magazine’s June 2012-May 2013 offerings, and it does so with a style, wit, and panache that surpass the original. Gevinson has produced a vibrant, playful chronicle of today’s youth that beautifully captures their minds and spirits in lavish detail. Filled with a dizzying amount of photographs, illustrations, and collages, the visual impact of the artwork and design is irresistible, providing the readers with an abundance of vintage cut-outs, pop art, and densely layered images to explore. The inclusion of extras, such as sticker pages and punch-out cards, add to the whimsy. If this was all that the Yearbook contained, it could easily be written off as inconsequential fluff, but the anthology is more than just eye candy: it contains smart, sassy, and shrewd articles and interviews that resonate. Even the themed playlists that appear throughout the collection provide readers with musical touchstones that may stimulate further exploration. There is something for every reader here.—Audrey Sumser, Cuyahoga County Public Library, Mayfield, OH

The original reviews of the above works appeared in SLJ‘s February print magazine.


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