March 18, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

From Tearjerkers to Action-packed Superhero Thrillers | What’s Hot in YA

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Tear-inducing dramas have been young adult lit staples long before John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars, and they continue to grab teens’ attention (and hearts). Ava Dellaira’s debut, Love Letters to the Dead and Melissa Kantor’s luminous Maybe One Day, will have readers reaching for tissues long after turning the last page.

For those seeking adventure instead, Shannon Hale’s Dangerous features a diverse cast of aspiring astronauts who get infected by alien technology and gain superhuman powers. Debut novelist Lamar Giles showcases an African American teen under Witness protection who gets caught in the middle of a murder mystery in his Fake ID. And Kenneth Oppel’s The Boundless catapults fans into a fast-paced ride filled with intricate steampunk world-building.

For more of what’s hot in young adult literature (including the latest from Lauren Oliver, Beth Kephart, and Huntley Fitzpatrick), read on.

Love Letters to the DeadDellaira, Ava. Love Letters to the Dead. 336p. Farrar. Apr. 2014. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780374346676.

Gr 9 Up–Debut author Dellaira’s heart-wrenching epistolary novel begins with Laurel’s freshman assignment to write a letter to a dead person. She starts with a missive to Kurt Cobain, who had been a favorite of her recently deceased older sister, May. Gradually, through the teen’s letters to other dead celebrities, readers will begin to piece together the history of her splintered family life, including her parents’ divorce and mother’s virtual abandonment following May’s unexplained death. Beautifully written, this powerful novel deftly illustrates the concept that writing is an especially valuable form of healing for those dealing with overwhelming pain and grief. Best for teens who enjoyed Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower (MTV, 1999).–Susan Riley, Mamaroneck Public Library, NY

what I thought was trueFitzpatrick, Huntley. What I Thought Was True. 416p. Dial. Apr. 2014. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780803739093; ebk. $10.99. ISBN 9781101593912. LC 2013027029.

Gr 10 Up–Seventeen-year-old Gwen Castle has lived in Seashell, Connecticut her whole life, waiting hand and foot on the rich clientele who come to the island every year for a picturesque summer. And she’s tired of it. Suddenly, Gwen is given the opportunity to work as a caregiver for a rich elderly woman, and everything starts to change. She’s forced to spend more time with the well-off and charming Cass, with whom she had a one-night stand last year. Gwen begins to question what she thought was true–about Cass, about her family and friends, and about herself. Gwen’s character has the kind of depth and voice that will enchant teens. Those with regrets of their own will find hope in this coming-of-age romance that will appeal to fans of Deb Caletti and Sara Zarr.–Candyce Pruitt-Goddard, Hartford Public Library, CT

FakeIDGiles, Lamar. Fake ID. 303p. ebook available. HarperCollins/Amistad. 2014. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780062121844.

Gr 9 Up–Nick Pearson’s real name is Tony Bordeaux. A high schooler in Witness Protection, this is the fourth new identity and home for Nick in the last few years. It’s all because his father keeps falling into his old criminal habits. Despite this, Nick is trying his best to fit into his new life and school in Stepton, Georgia. He befriends his student guide, an eccentric aspiring journalist named Eli Cruz. Unexpectedly, Nick finds Eli dead one morning. The police rule his death a suicide, but Nick and Eli’s sister Reya suspect that he may have uncovered something that he shouldn’t have. Giles’s action-packed debut will have teens on the edge of their seats as they follow Nick’s journey to uncover why his friend was killed. A twist reveal at the novel’s climax will shock many and will leave fans of mystery and suspense books extremely satisfied.–Ryan P. Donovan, New York Public Library

dangerousHale, Shannon. Dangerous. 400p. Bloomsbury. Mar. 2014. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781599901688; ebk. $12.99. ISBN 9781619631557.

Gr 7 Up–Her middle name may be Danger, but Maisie “Danger” Brown doesn’t seem a likely action heroine. She is a homeschooled half-Latina science geek with a special love for physics and astronomy, and she has an artificial arm. When she wins a contest to go to astronaut camp with other teens, her life changes dramatically. Her team gets an opportunity to go up in a space elevator, and she and four others are exposed to alien artifacts or “tokens,” which enter their bodies and give them superpowers. But what is the group’s ultimate purpose? And will they be able to escape the grasp of the humans competing to exploit them and the alien technology? This fast-paced science fiction novel with echoes of the “Fantastic Four” comics doesn’t let up for a moment. Maisie is a strong, smart heroine with a wry sense of humor, and readers will be rooting for her to save the world. A must-read for fans of superhero adventures.–Kathleen E. Gruver, Burlington County Library, Westampton, NJ

maybe one dayKantor, Melissa. Maybe One Day. 304p. HarperCollins/HarperTeen. Mar. 2014. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780062279200; ebk. $9.99. ISBN 9780062279224.

Gr 9 Up–In the fall of junior year, Olivia and Zoe are dealing with typical issues: school, family, and trying to figure out how to channel the energy and passion that had previously gone to pre-professional ballet studies. The teens are perfect complements to each other  and have been inseparable since they met as children in a local New Jersey ballet class. As a team, they now face the ultimate challenge–Olivia’s surprising and aggressive leukemia.  Kantor expertly creates a balanced novel that conveys heartfelt emotion without veering toward the maudlin. The dialogue is fresh and authentic, and Zoe is a layered narrator in Kantor’s hands–she is at once angry, sad, optimistic, and confused. While this novel will certainly appeal to teens seeking a good cry along the lines of John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars (Dutton, 2012) or Jenny Downham’s Before I Die (Random, 2007), Maybe One Day will also resonate with those looking for a faithful portrayal of female friendship.–Susannah Goldstein, Convent of the Sacred Heart, New York City

Going Over KephartKephart, Beth. Going Over. 272p. maps. notes. websites. Chronicle. Apr. 2014. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781452124575. LC 2012046894.

Gr 8 Up–Stefan and Ada love each other, but they can only see each other four times a year. That is how often Ada and her grandmother can cross the border into East Berlin to visit the matriarch’s best friend, Stefan’s grandmother. As time passes, Ada obsesses about people who have escaped to freedom, but Stefan worries about those who tried and failed. He spends his days looking through his grandfather’s telescope at the world around him, while Ada spends her nights creating graffiti artwork on her side of the Berlin Wall. One of Kephart’s strengths is her ability to immerse readers in 1980s Berlin, a time period that does not receive a lot of attention in most history textbooks. Kephart also uses plenty of sensual language to help readers feel the characters’ aches and pains and to smell the smoke, dill, baked wool, and leather. An excellent example of historical fiction focusing on an unusual time period.–Andrea Lipinski, New York Public Library

cracks in kingdomMoriarty, Jaclyn. The Cracks in the Kingdom. Bk. 2. 499p. (The Colors of Madeleine Series). Scholastic/Arthur A. Levine. Mar. 2014. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9780545397384; ebk. $18.99. ISBN 9780545633697.

Gr 7 Up–In this lively follow-up to A Corner of White (Scholastic, 2013), Moriarty chronicles the ever-intertwining lives of Cambridge resident Madeline Tully and her secret correspondent Elliot Baranski, a quick-witted farm boy from the Kingdom of Cello. The stakes are higher in this second installment, with Elliot recruited to help save the missing royalty of Cello, who were pushed into Madeline’s world in an attempt to destabilize the monarchy. Mixed in with the regal intrigue is a complex, moving look at families, friendship, and loss. The blossoming relationship between the pen pals, told in letters and through omniscient narration, is but one of the many charms this novel has to offer. Readers will be clamoring for the next title after the thrilling yet satisfying conclusion.–Elisabeth Gattullo Marrocolla, Darien Library, CT

panicOliver, Lauren. Panic. 416p. HarperCollins/Harper. Mar. 2014. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780062014559; ebk. $11.99. ISBN 9780062285591. LC 2013008472.

Gr 9 Up–There’s not much to do in tiny Carp, New York, so a group of teenagers take it upon themselves to create their own excitement through Panic, a risky game with potentially deadly sets of challenges. Panic is all about facing fears, and this year’s winner will take home a pot of $67,000. The large cast of characters slowly reveals secrets, schemes, and fears that complicate the competition and its outcome as they participate in increasingly dangerous trials. Oliver maintains a high level of tension throughout, starting right in the middle of the action and relentlessly building momentum. The bleak setting, tenacious characters, and anxiety-filled atmosphere will draw readers right into this unique story. Oliver’s powerful return to a contemporary realistic setting will find wide a readership with this fast-paced and captivating book.–Amanda MacGregor, formerly at Apollo High School Library, St. Cloud, MN

boundlessOppel, Kenneth. The Boundless. 336p. S & S. Apr. 2014. Tr $15.99. ISBN 9781442472884; ebk. $10.99. ISBN 9781442472907. LC 2013009879.

Gr 5-8–All aboard for an exciting tale of steam-powered automatons, a bloodthirsty sasquatch, colorful circuses, and magical paintings. Aspiring artist Will Everett knows he’s not cut out to follow in the footsteps of his railroad manager father, but his pampered life leaves little opportunity for adventure. Then he boards The Boundless, the world’s largest and most luxurious train. After acquiring the key to the railway owner’s funeral car, Will is running for his life, pursued by deadly enemies who will do anything to possess the car’s valuable contents. Will must decide who to trust, if anyone. Along the way, he is on the adventure of a lifetime. With its imaginative plot, cast of colorful, well-rounded characters, and nonstop action, Oppel’s latest is a delight to read from the first page right through the satisfying conclusion.–Alissa J. Bach, Oxford Public Library, MI

I have a bad feeling about thisStrand, Jeff. I Have a Bad Feeling About This. 256p. Sourcebooks/Fire. Mar. 2014. pap. $8.99. ISBN 9781402284557.

Gr 9 Up–Humor and hijinks are the name of the survival game for 16-year-old Henry Lambert. He finds himself shipped off to Strongwoods Survival Camp alongside his similarly nerdy best friend, Randy, and three other boys. The camp director, Max, is the typical drill instructor doling out challenges and punishments to whip the boys into fighting shape for the Strongwoods Survival Games. The antics are increased even more when a man named Mr. Grand and his thugs show up to collect on a debt and the boys find themselves having to put their survival skills (or lack thereof) to good use. Purposefully bad wilderness survival tips at the end of each chapter add a bit of sarcastic comedy. The short chapters, writing style, and humor make this a good choice for reluctant readers. Give this one to fans of the Home Alone movies and readers who love caper stories.–Kimberly Castle-Alberts, Hudson Library & Historical Society, OH

museum of intangible thingsWunder, Wendy. The Museum of Intangible Things. 304p. Penguin/Razorbill. Apr. 2014. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781595145147.

Gr 9 Up–Hannah and Zoe are smart and creative teens living in a New Jersey lake community. Unfortunately, neither girl has the same fun-filled, picturesque lifestyle typical of other teens in the area. Hannah looks after her alcoholic parents and works hard selling hot dogs to save money for college. Zoe has bipolar disorder and struggles with manic and depressive periods. Things begin to spiral out of control after they crash a party hosted by a student at Sussex Country Day. Zoe shifts into total mania and urges Hannah to travel with her on a cross-country car trip where they can escape, find adventure, take risks, and discover themselves. The often-humorous cultural references to clothing styles and retail stores, music, national landmarks, and television will resonate with teens who are trying like Hannah and Zoe to manage life’s challenges. The characters are well developed, and Hannah’s fluid narration will keep the pages turning until the novel’s complex and bittersweet conclusion.–Anne Jung-Mathews, Plymouth State University, NH

The following graphic novels will entice fans who are new and familiar with the manga format.

VoiceoverMinami, Maki. Voice Over! illus. by Maki Minami. 208p. (Seiyu Academy Series: Vol. 1). Viz Media. 2013. pap. $9.99. ISBN 9781421559704.

Gr 6 Up–Hime Kino, 15, aspires to become a famous voice actor like her idol, Sakura Aoyama. She has just entered Holly Academy’s voice-acting department, the school from which all of her idols graduated, and Hime is determined to be as successful as they are. Hime makes friends with other struggling students who become known as the stragglers. The book is designed to introduce readers to the original Japanese comic format. Interspersed throughout are Minami’s side notes covering everything from her editor’s suggestions to her first kiss. The author writes from firsthand experience with anime voice actors, and the story is based on her fieldwork. A great choice for anime fans.–Lisa Gieskes, Richland County Public Library, Columbia, SC

47 roninWilson, Sean Michael. The 47 Ronin: A Graphic Novel. illus. by Akiko Shimojima. 160p. ebook available. Shambhala. 2013. pap. $14.95. ISBN 9781611801378. LC 2013018738.

Gr 7 Up–The story of 47 warriors who stage an elaborate plan to avenge their fallen master is legendary in Japan, exemplifying the ideals of samurai loyalty and perseverance. While many details of this historical event have been lost through numerous retellings, this work aims to represent it accurately. This book offers a dramatic tale of intrigue and action. Readers will enjoy the fast-paced action and intricate plotting once the revenge plan unfolds. Traditional manga-style art enriches the story, bringing Japan’s Edo era to life through detailed depictions of period costume and architecture. Grisly scenes of ritual suicide and battles may deter the faint of heart, but most will be undaunted. While this title will hold greatest appeal for those who have an interest in Japanese history, it will also attract fans of the recent Hollywood screen adaptation, providing an engaging way to learn about the film’s inspiration.–Allison Tran, Mission Viejo Library, CA

For those interested in nonfiction, take a look at these stellar offerings that range in subject from fashion guides to untold stories in the Civil Rights movement.

Fashion Drawing Studio_revisedBolte, Mari. Fashion Drawing Studio: A Guide to Sketching Stylish Fashions. 144p. (Drawing Fun Fashions Series). illus. Capstone. 2013. pap. $14.95. ISBN 9781623700058. LC 2012028361.

Gr 5 Up–In this solid overview of clothing styles, past and present, tweens and teens who love to draw and create their own fashions will find a variety of styles, plenty of bling, and a few unique drawing tips, though not much depth. Each design is presented in four steps. The illustrations are colorful and fun, and the book is clearly organized, with pages depicting a wide variety of casual and formal styles. Bolte’s entertaining and useful tips are the highlight of the book, for example, using eye shadow as a tool to create soft lines in fashion drawing. Readers will enjoy flipping through and picking up drawing advice.–Paige Bentley-Flannery, Deschutes Public Library, Bend, OR

Every body's talkingJackson, Donna M. with Carol Kinsey Goman. Every Body’s Talking: What We Say Without Words. 64p. bibliog. diag. further reading. glossary. index. notes. photos. websites. Twenty-First Century. Apr. 2014. lib. ed. $30.60. ISBN 9781467708586; ebk. $22.95. ISBN 9781467711203. LC 2013019674.

Gr 5 Up–Fascinating information about body language is clearly presented in six detailed yet easily understood chapters. Learning how to “read” others through keen observation can help with understanding emotions, nonverbal messages, and truthfulness. Interspersed throughout the large-type text, with plenty of white space, are photographed examples of various forms of body language (hair twirling, wide-open eyes, lip biting, and mouth covering) and what they usually signify. The text provides useful advice on how to appear more confident and how to show agreement by mirroring body language. A brief, cautionary section explains how acceptable gestures in this country may mean something entirely different, or even rude, in another culture. This intriguing title will enlighten readers about how much we say without saying a word.–Maryann H. Owen, Children’s Literature Specialist, Mt. Pleasant, WI

The Girl from the Tar Paper SchoolKanefield, Teri. The Girl from the Tar Paper School: Barbara Rose Johns and the Advent of the Civil Rights Movement. 56p. chron. index. notes. photos. reprods. Abrams. 2014. RTE $19.95. ISBN 9781419707964. LC 2012040990.

Gr 6 Up–This is the story of a Farmville, Virginia high schooler, who, in 1953, led a student strike for a better-built school on par with the building for white students. Although she was known as a quiet, reserved student, Johns was so incensed about the terrible conditions in which she and her classmates were required to learn that she engineered the exit of the principal from her school, mocked up a call to assembly, and then led students out on strike. Once the community aligned behind integration as the eventual goal and a lawsuit was filed, students returned to class. The suit filed on behalf of the Farmville students ended up in the Supreme Court, one of the four cases that comprised the historic Brown v. Board of Education ruling. Beautifully and clearly written, this story of a teen who refused to be deterred in her pursuit of educational equality is matched by period photos and primary source quotations.–Ann Welton, Grant Elementary School, Tacoma, WA

A Volcano Beneath the SnowMarrin, Albert. A Volcano Beneath the Snow: John Brown’s War Against Slavery. 256p. further reading. index. maps. notes. photos. reprods. websites. Knopf. Apr. 2014. Tr $19.99. ISBN 9780307981523; lib. ed. $22.99. ISBN 9780307981530; ebk. $10.99. ISBN 9780385753401. LC 2012043231.

Gr 7 Up–Marrin offers a multisided look at the events and controversy surrounding John Brown’s role in the banishment of slavery and his ongoing inspiration for current events. Chapters present the history of the “peculiar institution” (slavery) both here and abroad, details of Brown’s life and family, his relationship with the abolitionists, his radicalization leading to the killings at Pottawatomie, Kansas, and, eventually, the uprising at Harper’s Ferry and his trial and hanging. Brown’s motivations, his religious fervor, charisma, and leadership skills are all examined. From beginning to end, readers are asked to consider the philosophical questions Brown raised regarding “breaking a ‘bad’ law in democracy.” The double-column text is rich with relevant excerpts from writings, speeches, songs, and poetry of the era. Well-chosen captioned and dated black-and-white illustrations include period photos, portraits, artwork, maps, fliers, and posters. This will be an excellent resource for U.S. history collections.–Carol S. Surges, formerly at Longfellow Middle School, Wauwatosa, WI

And from SLJ’s Adult Books 4 Teens blog, award-winning author Ishmael Beah’s latest offers a stunning look at the complex world of child soldiers in Sierra Leone.

BEAH, Ishmael. Radiance of Tomorrow. 256p. Sarah Crichton: Farrar. 2014. Tr $25. ISBN 9780374246020; ebk. ISBN 9780374709433.

Radiance of TomorrowAdult/High School–Beah’s second book is richly complex, exploring the moral and ethical dilemmas facing a variety of characters in the aftermath of war. The novel opens with two elders coming back to the devastated village they called home, Imperi, Sierra Leone. Corruption abounds. Teens Colonel and Ernest are in the background, but they are key. Two of the most empowered characters, they clearly see and ingeniously navigate the corruption. Colonel puts himself in charge of the former child soldiers and orphans. He houses and feeds them, creates order, and finds a way to pay for them to go to school. He creatively and outrageously solves some of the more dismal problems facing the village, providing hope and real change. During the war, Ernest was forced to chop off not only his family’s arms and hands, but also those of many others. Directly responsible for maiming one such family, he follows them to Imperi. Without their knowing, he takes care of them by fetching water and setting it by their door. Teens who loved A Long Way Gone ( Sarah Crichton, 2007) will find this one slower moving yet equally powerful.–Amy Cheney, Alameda County Library, Juvenile Hall, CA

The original reviews of the above works appeared in SLJ‘s March 2014 print magazine.

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Shelley Diaz About Shelley Diaz

Shelley M. Diaz ( is School Library Journal's Reviews Team Manager and SLJTeen newsletter editor. She has her MLIS in Public Librarianship with a Certificate in Children’s & YA Services from Queens College, and can be found on Twitter @sdiaz101.

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