February 25, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Escaping into Other Worlds | Adult Books 4 Teens

The end of the school year is almost here, and for many of you, that means proctoring state testing, finalizing student projects, and preparing for finals. Who doesn’t need an escape this time of year?

I’ve been escaping my real world with episodes of The Shannara Chronicles (MTV) and The Magicians (SyFy), both based on adult fantasy novels. Terry Brooks has written more than 30 novels in the Shannara realm, and, according to his website, he’s still at work adding to the best-selling series. The Magicians is based on Lev Grossman’s trilogy, whose first installment received an Alex Award in 2010. After every episode, watchers and readers come to social media blows comparing and contrasting the shows to the books, but I don’t join in the fray. I’m happy just to spend a little bit of time in Shannara and Fillory.

Fantasy readers don’t mind bits and pieces of familiar worlds; in fact, I usually expect a nod to J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, or J.K. Rowling. The first book reviewed in today’s column, Iain Pears’s Arcadia, name drops Tolkien and Lewis. Pears’s metafictional tome successfully integrates many characters interacting in three distinct worlds. Teens might be more interested in downloading the Arcadia mobile app (available for iOS). The book in app form can be enjoyed in a multitude of ways as readers meander in and out of the worlds through the chapters from different points of views.

We all know teens who grew up reading Rick Riordan, and some of them have moved on to high fantasy. The darker City of Blades includes quests and meddling gods and can be read as a stand-alone work, although fans of the series will tell you that you’re missing out if you don’t read the first installment. If you’re looking to purchase more books with authentic differently abled characters, check out debut author Mishell Baker’s Borderline. She’s created an urban fantasy heroine who readers can’t get enough of—the second volume is expected to be published in March 2017.

Finally, we review two literary novels full of odd characters and strange occurrences. Mr. Splitfoot is a gothic mystery complete with cults, criminals, and soul-searching, while All the Birds in the Sky combines witches and science nerds in a sweet, compelling, laugh-out-loud adventure.

What I love about this category of fiction is that there is a subgenre for every reader. Sometimes we have to sell these books to teens without ever uttering the word fantasy or telling them that fairies will show up on page 200. By that time, they’re hooked!

ANDERS, Charlie. All the Birds in the Sky. 320p.  Starscape/Tor. Jan. 2016. Tr $25.99. ISBN 9780765379948.

Social outcasts Patricia and Laurence have been friends since they were young, when they dodgedANDERS, Charlie. All the Birds in the Sky cafeteria food that was thrown at them. But when Laurence, a supercomputing genius, finds out that Patricia can talk to birds, even he isn’t sure if their friendship will last. Fast forward a few years and Laurence is working for a billionaire who wants to create a machine that allows for intergalactic travel to save humans after they have destroyed their own world. Patricia, meanwhile, has honed her magic skills at a witch academy and is now wandering the city healing people when she isn’t supposed to. With the help of smart devices, Patricia and Laurence find love, but the looming end of the world tests their relationship. Give to readers who don’t mind a bit of quirky romance like Rainbow Rowell’s Eleanor & Park mixed in with their fast-paced Daniel H. Wilson–esqe futuristic science fiction. Patricia and Laurence are awkward, lovable, smart, and dorky, and readers will cheer for them to save the world hand in hand. VERDICT Perfect for fans of The Big Bang Theory, this novel has plenty of appeal for readers of fantasy, science fiction, and apocalyptic fiction.–Sarah Hill, Lake Land College, Mattoon, IL

BAKER, Mishell. Borderline. 400p. (The Arcadia Project: Bk. 1). Saga. Mar. 2016. Tr $25.99. ISBN 9781481453066.

Millie Roper has been at the Leishman Psychiatric Center in Los Angeles for more than six months,BAKER, Mishell. Borderline. having checked herself in after a failed suicide attempt that resulted in the loss of her right leg. She’s visited by a woman who wants to recruit her for something called the Arcadia Project, which she describes as a nonprofit employment project partially funded by the L.A. County Department of Mental Health, but refuses to provide any more details unless Millie meets her the following day. Intrigued, Millie packs up her belongings (wheelchair, crutches, cane, prosthetic limb, and suitcase) and takes a cab to the designated location. Thus begins a roller-coaster ride through Los Angeles and environs, as Millie is tasked with locating a missing actor. What she doesn’t realize until she’s well into the case is that fairies and other magical creatures live among the residents of her reality and that one needs only a special pair of sunglasses to be able to see them. Millie is a delight—outspoken to the point of rudeness, with a wry wit and (despite her history) a healthy sense of self-preservation. The supporting characters are a motley crew, all with physical or mental issues of some kind and of varying ethnic backgrounds, and the story is an entertaining mix of fantasy and mystery noir. VERDICT Most comparable to Jim Butcher’s “Dresden Files,” this should appeal to his fans as well as followers of Charles de Lint and MaryJanice Davidson.–Marlyn K. Beebe, Los Alamitos, CA

BENNETT, Robert. City of Blades. 496p. (The Divine Cities: Bk. 2).  Crown/Broadway. Jan. 2016. pap. $15. ISBN 9780553419719; ebk. ISBN 9780553419726.

The Battle of Bulikov is five years over (City of Stairs), and Gen. Turyin Mulaghesh has retired on theBENNETT, Robert. City of Blades. island nation of Javrat. A messenger arrives from Shara Kamayd, former junior diplomat, actual spy, and now prime minister of Saypur. Turyin and Shara fought the Battle of Bulikov together, and it changed them and their world. Since then, Shara has been responsible for a complete transformation of Saypuri dominance over the Continent, into reconstruction. Now she needs Turyin’s experience with renegade gods and miraculous artifacts, because something is not quite right in the remote country of Voortyashtan. A new metal has been discovered with incredible properties, and the continued existence of miraculous materials means that perhaps the vanquished God of Voortyashtan is still alive. Turyin knows exactly how dangerous that is, and soon finds herself in the inhospitable land of Voortyashtan, reliving some of her worst battle experiences and trying to cope with gods, miracles, the perfidy of the greedy, and the heroism of loyal citizens. This complex tale of conquest and war, politics and magic, and battle fatigue and heroism will draw new and old readers. The regret Turyin and others have about their past deeds, while striving to do better will resonate with readers who enjoy fantasy lands as nuanced and complex as the real world. VERDICT A great option for lovers of intrigue, politics, and ancient meddlesome gods walking through the world.–Gretchen Crowley, Alexandria City Public Libraries, VA

HUNT, Samantha. Mr. Splitfoot. 320p. HMH. Jan. 2016. Tr ISBN 9780544526709.

At 17, orphans Ruth and Nat are on the brink of aging out of the religious cult they live in. Nat, whoHUNT, Samantha. Mr. Splitfoot. claims to talk with the dead, shares his visions with the other children, while Ruth helps him set the stage. When con man Mr. Bell comes to the home, he discovers in them a perfect scam, and he recruits them to join him in his travels. Years later, Ruth arrives at her sister’s home and entices her niece Cora to join her on a walking journey. Cora, practical, hardworking, pregnant by a married man, is unconnected to her own life and willingly goes with Ruth. The walking is hard, but Cora is fascinated by her silent aunt and is certain that Ruth is taking her somewhere important. In alternating chapters, readers follow teenage Ruth and Nat as they travel, while Cora and Ruth’s present-day walking journey bridges the past into a ghostly present that provides a way for Cora to connect not only with Nat but with the baby who is inching its way into her life. It is perplexing why Cora follows the silent Ruth, but Ruth’s story demands to be told, and Hunt delivers it in a prose style that dwells within another realm, allowing disbelief to be easily suspended. Much like Cora, who blindly follows Ruth into the wilds beyond her home, readers will wonder where they are going and by joining the protagonists’ journey will discover that what they imagine they know about someone is often quite different from the reality. VERDICT Hunt’s lyrical writing and compelling tale are perfect for well-read teens.–Connie Williams, Petaluma High School, CA

PEARS, Iain. Arcadia. 528p. Knopf. Feb. 2016. Tr $27.95. ISBN 9781101946824.

Henry Lytten, a British professor and struggling writer, is trying to complete an epic fantasy novel thatPEARS, Iain. Arcadia will compete with the works of J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. He bounces ideas off his young neighbor, Rosie, who inadvertently enters Lytten’s magical Anterworld through a portal in his basement. A brilliant physicist and a respected scholar are just two of the other main characters—each chapter is told from 10 different points of view. While perplexing at times, the three settings (1960s England, Anterworld, and a dystopian island off the coast of Scotland) help keep the time travel/alternate history stories centered, and there is a satisfying conclusion. The author also created an app called Arcadia, which is sold for iOS devices in the App Store. It’s free to download and explore, but finishing the novel costs $3.99. In the app, readers can choose how they want to read the novel—stories by character (“The Young Girl’s Tale, “The Scientist’s Tale,” etc.) or by setting. VERDICT This is metafiction at its best, and teens who like complicated science fiction will appreciate the challenge.–Sarah Hill, Lake Land College, Mattoon, IL

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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