April 19, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Teens Review the Latest from Mercedes Lackey, Laura Amy Schlitz, and Roland Smith

Get the latest SLJ reviews every month, subscribe today and save up to 35%.

From a superhero-themed YA to a sci-fi retelling of Moby Dick, the following titles have the reviewers of the Kitsap (WA) Regional Library YA Book Group buzzing. Check out what these teens had to say about recent works by Newbery Medalist Laura Amy Schlitz and the survival story expert Roland Smith.

anne & henryIUS, Dawn. Anne & Henry. S. & S. Sept. 2015. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781481439411.
Gr 9 Up–
Henry Tudor has his life planned out—until new girl Anne Boleyn waltzes into his life at a masquerade ball. Anne is everything his current girlfriend Catherine is not, but she might also be the key to his destruction.

I absolutely despise the cover of Anne & Henry. For one, it’s this awful, grating shade of hot pink that can’t decide if it wants to look like pop art or every other book geared mainly towards the teenaged female audience. In addition, the “Henry” figure looks incredibly bored and is depicted from a completely unflattering angle. The “Anne” figure is shown biting his cheek, in other words playing into most of the negative Anne Boleyn stereotypes of her as a promiscuous temptress. Additionally, the font for the title is utterly boring and tries and fails to look chic. Unfortunately, this cover perfectly reflects the confused, bland contents of this rather sub-par book.

The most compelling aspect of this book is the complete audacity of the plot. Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII in high school? There are a million reasons why this won’t work, but sure, why not? Let’s give it a go. Unfortunately, that ridiculous and slightly intriguing plot idea falls flat on its face, because all the inherent problems with transposing a historical event into a teen novel set in the present day bubble to the surface. Nothing about this idea wound up working, and it’s quite regrettable, if predictable.

I was hugely and massively disappointed with Anne & Henry. Well, perhaps disappointed is the wrong word, because I rather expected the book to be unpleasant. In fact, it was worse than unpleasant, because I cannot forgive what happened to the characterization of Catherine Aragon (Katherine of Aragon). While Katherine of Aragon is by no means my favorite of the wives of Henry VIII, seeing her reduced to a clingy, overly attached cardboard cutout girlfriend from a strong-willed and interesting woman turned my stomach. Actually the entire characterization and the use of only the parts of history that suited the story made me angry. Why is Thomas Boleyn Anne’s stepfather in here anyways? And where are George and Mary Boleyn? Another thing that bugs me: why is this novel set in a suburb of Seattle and not, say, London? Finally, the novel claiming to be based on Henry and Anne seems rather off, as the author throws in historical detail willy-nilly as it is suitable. This angered me a lot, as by taking away the matters of children, Anne wanting to be queen rather than a disposable mistress, the Reformation, Mary’s relationship with Henry, Henry’s children, etc., you remove a lot having to deal with character motivation, and the author did a very poor job with replacing said motivations.

It is no secret among those who know me that I am slightly obsessed with Anne Boleyn, so there was really no reason why I wouldn’t read this book, even if it wound up being absolutely awful. Unfortunately, it did wind up being absolutely terrible, and the Anne/Henry meeting scene was awfully reminiscent of notes from a script for The Tudors, as quoted in Susan Bordo’s The Creation of Anne Boleyn. Ultimately, I’d recommend this book to no one, especially not Tudor history fans. —Ella W., 15

Lackey_hunterLACKEY, Mercedes. Hunter. Disney/Hyperion. Sept. 2015. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781484707845.
Gr 7 Up
–Joyeaux Charmand is happy in the primitive mountain village, where they quietly rebel against the government by not sending their Hunters, people born with powers, to help fight off the monsters that have plagued the world since the Diserey. However, when the government begins to get suspicious about the lack of Hunters, Joy is sent off to Apex City, which, despite its excess of Hunters is in even more dangerous than the tiny mountain village.

I liked how the monster on the cover is emerging out of the fog. In a way, that is symbolic of the monsters that appeared without warning. I also love the font of the title is, because it is elegant and medieval.

I thought that the viewpoint was incredibly compelling. It has the same appeal that is showcased in The Hunger Games: Someone lives in a primitive situation being transported to a high-tech metropolis that at first seems confusing but safe, which quickly turns out to be even more dangerous than the original setting. Joy’s perception of the world changes throughout the book, but her witty voice never changes. I was not disappointed in any aspect of this amazing book. While I loved this book, I suspect it will get a lot of flak over the portrayal of “Christers.”—Audrey C., 13


For Joyeaux, Hunting is life—mind, body, and soul. The Diseray left behind many things, many being the monsters she hunts called the Othersiders. She has her Hounds, led by the ever-faithful Bya, and lives in a remote village with her people. But everything changes when she is sent to Apex City. Everything is modern there, a total change for a mountain girl. The Hunters there are stars, filmed and all. But behind all that, something lurks, waiting. And Joy is about to meet it face to face.

I loved the plot of the book and the main character, Joyeaux. The plot is filled with action-packed hunts, hunter struggles, and also hints of romance and sadness (especially close to the end). One thing I think this book incorporates well is how Joy tries to fit in with the other Hunters. It just goes to show, she really is a teen. (Even though her trust issues really cause her to make life or death decisions!) The author did a great job keeping the plot active, and readers unsuspecting. I couldn’t put the book down!

In the summary on the back of the book, the plot hinted at what appears to have a much bigger climactic point than what the text actually has. I loved the plot, sure, and it was major that someone was trying to murder Joy, but after reading the book, I feel like there should have been something more; something not related to her really, but bigger. It was a great book though!—Kalea C., 14

petty_lock-mori-PETTY, Heather. Lock & Mori. S. & S. Sept. 2015. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781481423038.
Gr 9 Up–
Miss James “Mori” Moriarty has a lot of things to worry about, but she never expected a serial murder to be one of them. She also didn’t expect that she would be attempting to solve it along with Sherlock “Lock” Holmes, or discover her mother’s less than savory past.

I hated the cover of Lock & Mori. It’s got an ugly color palette, and uses pictures of the characters. I’m not hugely fond of photo covers, as I find they can limit how you picture the main characters of a work. Perhaps it’s just me, but I prefer coming up with my own mental picture of a character, rather than what the cover dictates. Additionally, I really don’t like the main title font, as it’s far too stereotypical mystery novel for me. It also clashes with the author’s name font. Finally, the cover composition isn’t very pleasing to the eye, as it’s halved instead of being a full image that could work on its own as a poster or something similar.

The most compelling part of the story is the voice of Mori. She’s got this dry, intelligent voice that really makes her come alive as a character. You can tell that she’s smart, that she cares about her siblings, without the author explicitly telling you that. It’s nice to have a character like that. Additionally, her non-romantic interactions with Lock are refreshing and fun, making me wish that the two of them had retained their platonic relationship from the beginning of the novel. Mori has many moments of being a truly strong and admirable character without having “Look! Strong Female Character!” painted across her, and I admire the author for creating her.

Quite a lot of things disappointed me about Lock & Mori. One was the insta-love between Mori and Lock. These two had great non-romantic interactions, and I think I really would have preferred the book if the two of them had merely stayed friends. Because honestly, romantic YA novels are everywhere, but YA novels with awesome boy-girl friendship teams solving murder mysteries? Rather rarer, and making the non-romance choice would have elevated this book to something more special than what we get. Additionally, the novel is just kind of dull. For a Sherlock Holmes spin-off, the mystery is frustratingly unoriginal. Finally, I had a lot of problems with Moriarty taking the Watson role. If the author wanted to write a novel with Sherlock Holmes and a female version of a Holmes Canon character, couldn’t Watson have been gender-flipped? But alas, that was not to be.

I didn’t necessarily think Lock & Mori was a bad book, I just found it unpleasantly dull, which is one thing that a mystery novel should not be. However, I think a lot of younger YA readers would really enjoy it, especially if they’re transitioning out of the “Nancy Drew” phase but aren’t quite ready for Phryne Fisher or Brother Cadfael.—Ella W., 15

hiredgirl_coverSCHLITZ, Laura. The Hired Girl. Candlewick. Sept. 2015. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780763678180.
Gr 6-9–
An enticing read about a girl who escapes an abusive and controlling father to seek knowledge, books, romance, and a better life.

I liked the cover a lot; it drew my attention and was very near to depicting the actual book. Often, YA books have trouble with connecting the cover and the story (or even the title) together. I think they did an excellent job on the design of this cover.

The main character was by far the most compelling aspect of the book. The way she interacted in the world and made decisions was very human. The author also accounted for the fact she grew up on an isolated farm for her entire life, and made her slightly naïve. I was impressed with the author’s finesse of presenting this particular trait in the main character, having her make mistakes without having readers wince at the bluntness of the main character’s actions. I was disappointed that the book wasn’t longer.—Jessica Y., 14

orbiting jupiter_SCHMIDT, Gary. Orbiting Jupiter. Clarion. Oct. 2015. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780544462229.

Gr 6 Up–Joseph Brook tried to kill a teacher. He is 14. He has a daughter. His father is obsessed with money, leaving Joseph to the wonders of foster care. Now Jack is 12. Jack lives on a farm in Maine. Joseph’s life entwines with Jack’s when his foster care holder puts him into this family. Slowly, little by little, love will conquer all as Joseph’s quest to find his daughter, Jupiter, becomes a constant struggle against his father who will stop at nothing to get custody of his son again in order to collect money. This is a heartwarming, heartbreaking tale of how you can’t judge people just by first sight, and how the further down the truth is, the more heartbreaking in the end it will be.

It has a depressing cover, but all the fog and snow made it really tender and slightly heartwarming. I don’t even know how that’s possible. Sorry, I just have an array of feelings about this cover that I can’t even begin to describe: Sadness, curiosity, love, consideration, sympathy, brokenness, and simplicity. It’s so…wow.

This is the book that will give you a good cry when you read it. I didn’t cry when I read it, but I have a feeling that 94.6 percent of people who read this book will sob their eyeballs out. Honestly, it’s so tenderhearted. I really loved the cows in this book; they seemed really important for some reason. I loved how this book was written with the same kind of voice as in Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower. I loved that book so much, I wanted to die, and Orbiting Jupiter is a middle school version of Perks, but more sympathetic.

On page 110, the main character summarizes the story of Christmas with Joseph and Mary and Jesus, which I thought was great except for the fact that it says “About Joseph and Mary, two kids really, not married…” and I just wanted to say that is not true. Joseph and Mary were married before she got conceived. So, yeah-please fix it.–Sam G., 14

Smith_the edge_SMITH, Roland. The Edge. HMH. Oct. 2015. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780544341227.
Gr 6-10–
Peak has just gotten back from climbing Mount Everest when he agrees to go on a peace climb in Afghanistan. The climb quickly changes when some of the team is kidnapped and Peak chooses to risk his life to save them. Often sequels to good books are disappointing and the way the characters act seems inaccurate, but this one isn’t. This book is even set up similarly to the first book, Peak. Both books are written as a writing assignment Peak did for his teacher.

I loved the cover. It is a very adventurous-looking, which reflects the contents of the book. It also matches the first book. The cover really attracted my attention.

One of the most compelling aspects of this book is how it is serious and humorous at the same time. The characters are in perilous danger, but the book is filled with humor to make it easier to read.

The introduction of Zopa—who is the climbing master, a monk, and Peak’s friend—and the kidnappers was unexpected, which made the book more exciting and believable. The kidnappers’ brutality makes the story more realistic and is described in a shocking way that propels the book forward. I really like the characters, and they act and speak the same as in the first book.

I met the mountaineer Garrett Madison a few months ago and was amazed how accurate Peak and The Edge are. Peak’s description of climbing Mount Everest and the lives of the sherpas is almost identical to Garrett Madison’s. The Edge is just as accurate in describing a climber’s passion for climbing and all of their skills.

The way that the adventure of the book is combined with Peak’s mysterious sighting of a shen (a snow leopard) makes the book much more realistic than it would have been if it was just adventure. The shen’s role in the story is very important and adds a mystical feel. Zopa also adds a more mysterious feel to the book.

The ending of the book is very clever and ties everything together nicely. The Edge is full of amazing action, great characters, is an amazing story.—Olivia C., 14

strasser_beast of cretacea_STRASSER, Todd. The Beast of Cretacea. Candlewick. Oct. 2015. Tr. $18.99. ISBN 9780763669016.
Gr 6 Up–
This book is a futuristic retelling of the classic book Moby Dick, but they are not hunting whales, they are hunting giant stingrays called terrafins. Ishmael and his friends have to find and kill the great terrafin, and the hardest part about the job is staying alive because pirates are on the planet and they want to kill anyone they find.

The title represents the book very well because it is all about that giant terrafin and the fishing boat in the background because Ishmael, Starbuck, Gwen and the others lived and worked on a fishing boat. Sadly, the team meets their match in the terrafin. With all of the technology floating around in the universe, you would think that they would not be using spears and rusty old boats to hunt monsters.

I think the most compelling aspect in the book is all the technology that existed and the guided ones that rule over all of Cretacea with an invisible hand that few know is there. The most compelling aspect of the book probably for me is that it was a sci-fi retelling of the classical story Moby Dick. By knowing what happens at the end of Moby Dick I guessed what would happen to the ship, but I could not guess Ishmael’s true identity.—Sam C., 14           

 westerfeld_Zeroes-WESTERFELD, Scott, Margo Lanagan, & Deborah Biancotti. Zeroes. S. & S. Sept. 2015. Tr $19.99. ISBN 9781481443364.
Gr 9 Up–
Ethan only wanted a ride home. Instead, his superpower— a voice that can speak for him and say whatever you want to hear—knocks him right in the middle of a dangerous circle of crime. He is in need of the Zeroes, his old friend group of other powerful teens that Ethan’s voice had seemingly destroyed forever.

For me, the most compelling aspect of the book was the diversity of the six main characters. They each felt incredibly unique and had really original powers that you might not expect from a superhero book. Each of their internal struggles to become a Zero was very interesting to read and watch them all grow as a group. I especially loved Thibault and Chizara, who I felt had the most interesting powers and chapters. The plot was also AMAZING, and it had a good pace and climactic ending. For such a relatively long book, it went by very quickly in a good way.

By far the most disappointing aspect of this book was the complete and utter lack of LGBT+ representation. Although this is (presumably) the first in a series, by the end of the book everyone seemed to be set in clear boy/girl pairings. Considering the incredible diversity and the fact that Zeroes is urban fantasy about Californian teens, I assumed at least one character wouldn’t be straight, but no. There were ZERO queer characters. I also felt like the romance between Flicker and Thibault was far too rushed/forced (I mean, suddenly she can sort of remember him and then they’re making out and holding hands—what?). The time spent developing their “relationship” (not much) could have been better put to use furthering platonic relationships between the characters, exploring more backstories, or continuing the overlying theme of the importance of friendship. Or maybe even introducing ONE queer character.—Grace B., 16



SLJTeen header

This article was featured in our free SLJTeen enewsletter.
Subscribe today to have more articles like this delivered to you twice a month.

Empowering Teens: Fostering the Next Generation of Advocates
Teens want to make a difference and become advocates for the things they care about. Librarians working with young people are in a unique position to help them make an impact on their communities and schools. Ignite your thinking and fuel these efforts at your library through this Library Journal online course—April 24 & May 8.