April 20, 2018

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YA Xpress Reviews | July 2016

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1607-Xpress-YA-CVs-reviseBarraclough, Lindsey. The Mark of Cain. 496p. ebook available. Candlewick. May 2016. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780763678647.

Gr 9 Up –Four years after the terrifying events of Long Lankin, Cora and Mimi inherit Guerdon Hall, returning to a scene of horror that is no less distressing after their father updates the property. What has been removed in the name of cleaning and remodeling is revealed to be just what has been protecting the family from the one who truly hates them, Aphra Rushes, a woman burned as a witch 400 years earlier. Aphra tells her painful tale of grief and obsession to readers as Cora’s experience unfolds, and the mists and whispers of Guerdon take on a whole new dimension as the dark, sad secrets of the past are brought to light. This ghost story has a traditional feel, with tight prose that pulls readers in quick and holds them close, drawing them into the creepiness of a haunted house that becomes a character in its own right. Aphra and Lankin (from the previous novel), outcast and obsessed, still bear enough humanity to create a conflict in teens’ minds as to the true extent of the evil in their tormented souls. VERDICT Stephen King and Neil Gaiman fans will be thrilled with this chilling tale, which is a companion to Long Lankin but can be read as a stand-alone.–Kerry Sutherland, Akron-Summit County Public Library, OH

Bisognin, Marzia. Dream House: A Novel by CutiePieMarzia. 224p. ebook available. Atria. Apr. 2016. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781501135262.

Gr 8 Up –Amethyst is inexplicably drawn to a strange yet beautiful house. The kind and elderly owners welcome her in, then vanish without a trace. Although her stay is meant to be temporary, Amethyst is unable to leave. She meets a few mysterious and supernatural characters who may hold the answers as to why Amethyst strongly believes she cannot leave without thanking the couple for their hospitality. This paranormal thriller by YouTube vlogger Bisognin requires a great deal of suspension of disbelief to arrive at the conclusion without already guessing the big reveal. Many readers will grow frustrated by the loopy plot that attempts to be scary and evasive, succeeding at neither. One-dimensional characters make it difficult to invest in the story or care much about the outcome. Teens will be frustrated by the protagonist’s inability to heed several ominous warnings. VERDICT A Sixth Sense read-alike for teens unfamiliar with the usual tropes of the horror genre. Suggest Cat Winters’s The Uninvited instead.–Tamela Chambers, Chicago Public Schools, IL

Hawke, Rosanne. Shahana: Through My Eyes. 216p. (Through My Eyes). ebook available. glossary. map. Allen & Unwin. May 2016. pap. $12.99. ISBN 9781743312469.

Gr 6-8 –In present-day Azad Kashmir, 14-year-old Shahana is trying to care for her nine-year-old brother Tanveer, earning money from her skillful embroidery after war and illness have claimed the rest of their family and destroyed their school. When the two find an unconscious boy near the Line of Control, they bring him home, nurse him back to health, and protect him from Pakistani soldiers and Kashmiri militants, including the benevolent Amaan, by claiming that Zahid is their older brother. Their tenuous situation is exploited by a ruthless merchant, Mr. Nadir, who threatens to report them to authorities unless Shahana consents to an arranged marriage to the highest bidder and to sending Tanveer to work in a rug factory. Hope glimmers with the reappearance of Shahana’s friend Ayesa, who has been in seclusion with her mother, a half-widow since the disappearance of her husband. Ayesha, who has a computer, shows Shahana a way to get her story out to the world, but when Tanveer disappears, Shahana becomes desperate to rescue him from what she believes is his captivity. Part of a series about children living in the world’s conflict zones, this volume is engrossing, and readers will empathize with the characters and their situations, even Amaan’s ambivalence over participating in jihad. The narrative is enhanced and made more accessible by means of a map, author’s note, and glossary. VERDICT A good choice for school and public libraries to support interest in, curriculum on, and discussion of international current events.–Marie Orlando, formerly at Suffolk Cooperative Library System, Bellport, NY

Howson, Imogen. Fire and Shadow. 240p. ebook available. Dragonwell. Apr. 2016. pap. $16.95. ISBN 9781940076249.

Gr 9 Up –In this collection of science fiction and fantasy short stories, Howson weaves some spellbinding tales that stretch from dystopian to the supernatural and even include a spin-off of Greek mythology. The characters in each story are well-developed and seamlessly inhabit each entry. “Fire and Shadow” is a terrifying tale about Fern, who discovers she is a firestarter. She must learn to control and use this gift to help those who cannot fend off the dreaded Shadows. “Frayed Tapestry” is an imaginative retelling of the abduction of Persephone. In the dystopian sci-fi story “Falling,” Linnet falls for a winged boy named Gecko. The world-building in this short work is very well done, and teens will be rooting for the two main characters. In “Scented Danger,” a futuristic retelling of “Little Red Riding Hood,” Elli lives in a world where pollution and trash have taken over. She is sent to her grandmother, who runs a brothel in the city, to ask for money so they can repair their water recycler. This one concludes neatly but might be more suited to older readers. Each of these stories is well written and engaging. VERDICT Purchase for larger collections or where anthologies are popular.–Nancy Jo Lambert, Reedy High School, Frisco, TX

Keplinger, Kody. Run. 304p. ebook available. Scholastic. Jun. 2016. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780545831130.

Gr 7 Up –Everyone in town knows who Bo is—one of those Dickinsons, nothing but trouble. Everyone in town knows who Agnes is—an innocent blind girl, obedient daughter, an angel from heaven. When they become friends, both teens prove everyone wrong. Told alternately from two different perspectives and points in the narrative, this realistic novel is a strong entry in the tradition of unlikely friendship books. Bo and Agnes have unearned reputations and expectations that stifle them in their small town and will resonate with readers with and without disabilities, from large communities and small. The portrayal of Agnes’s blindness is well crafted, less about what she can and can’t do and more about others’ expectations. The depiction of typical blindness, rather than the dramatic full-dark blindness that is more often presented in literature, is very welcome, as are Agnes’s mixed feelings about her accommodations and her parents’ advocacy. Bo’s experiences are somewhat more familiar to readers of YA literature but are well explored as well. Neither protagonist seems to be there to prop up the story of the other. Rather, both are fully realized characters on their own concurrent journeys. VERDICT A good unlikely friendship story with compelling characters and a nuanced portrait of disability and small-town life.–L. Lee Butler, Hart Middle School, Washington, DC

Khan, Minal. Silk Tether. 200p. ebook available. Skyhorse/Yucca. Feb. 2016. Tr $24.99. ISBN 9781631580703.

Gr 8 Up –A coming-of-age story set in Pakistan, this work begins with wealthy and naive Ayla’s last days of high school. Talented in science and the arts, she plans to attend an American university. The summer after graduation, she meets Shahaan, a thoughtful photographer who keeps pot in his car’s glove compartment, and Tanzeela, a recently married girl who seems to be hiding signs of abuse. Ayla’s oldest friend, Alia, has secrets, too. Ayla views Shahaan, Tanzeela, and Alia with interest and puzzlement, focusing very little on her own future, continuing to suppress a past trauma, and not telling her parents when she’s threatened sexually in her own home. The protagonist is passive, nearly failing to take action when she should. Khan writes for a Western audience, explaining terms like Shariah and biryani; unfortunately the tone of the narration skews too far toward the explanatory. An excess of metaphors, repetitive language, needless details, and slow pacing make for a difficult read; Ayla as a character may be relatable only to teens with similar life experiences or an extremely analytical perspective. VERDICT Despite exploring potentially interesting themes of class and patriarchal violence in Karachi, this will be a hard sell for most teens.–Miriam DesHarnais, Towson University, MD

Laster, Eric. Static. 336p. ebook available. Automatic. Apr. 2016. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780991272938.

Gr 10 Up –Curtis Brooks’s brother, Wilt, had only been dead for a week before he started calling. Curtis believes the calls are happening so that he can solve Wilt’s murder, but Wilt insists that he is just calling as part of his afterlife therapy. The cops agree with Curtis, however, when a strange device is found attached to the car Wilt was driving the night he crashed. The narrator goes on a search for the truth that will lead him into dangerous territory with a creepy billionaire, a crooked landlord, and even Wilt’s ex-girlfriend Suzy, who may be a suspect. Along with Curtis’s mother’s strange reaction to Wilt’s death, a hipster school counselor, and his own burgeoning feelings for Suzy, it’s no wonder that Curtis is on medication. This coming-of-age novel suffers from a lack of focus. The story works best when it sticks to one genre. The work is most interesting when Curtis is dealing with his family and personal issues, especially Wilt and Suzy. The murder mystery is fairly compelling as well. The plot goes off the rails when it features Wilt’s experiences in the Aftermart—the place people go when they die. That concept feels contrived, and the result is an enjoyable, if mixed, novel. VERDICT Despite its meandering and unfocused plot, this is a good, quirky read that will find an audience with many teens.–Erik Knapp, Davis Library, Plano, TX

Swank, Denise Grover. One Paris Summer. 352p. ebook available. Blink. Jun. 2016. pap. $12.99. ISBN 9780310755166.

Gr 8 Up –A summer in Paris should be a dream come true for talented pianist Sophie, but the circumstances of her sudden trip don’t leave her with much hope for a good time. Her father, who left the family behind for a great job opportunity, is getting remarried. Sophie planned to spend the summer practicing for an important audition—but her father doesn’t even have a piano. When she and her brother, Eric, arrive, they discover that they’ll be spending most of their time with their new stepsister Camille, who seems about as excited as they are about this development—in fact, she’s outright angry. The addition to the group of Dane, Eric’s friend from home, and Camille’s Parisian friends adds plenty of opportunities for drama and romance. They all have two months to get to know one another, and for a while it doesn’t seem as though it will ever happen. One of Camille’s friends offers Sophie real friendship and access to a piano, and things finally start to look up. But as romance starts to bloom, it becomes clear not everyone is being entirely truthful. Sophie could lose both a friend and her chance to practice for her auditions. This is a fun, light novel with relatable characters that will resonate with high school readers also struggling with romantic disappointment, difficult parents, and the stress of college exams and auditions. VERDICT A great summer read that will appeal to fans of Stephanie Perkins’s Anna and the French Kiss.–Sarah Jones, Clinton-Macomb Public Library, MI

Terzis, Kara. Frayed. 304p. ebook available. Sourcebooks. Jun. 2016. pap. $10.99. ISBN 9781492631736.

Gr 9 Up –Gripping, raw, and intriguing, this is a story about a girl who has suppressed her childhood memories so far back in the recesses of her mind that these experiences begin to take on a life of their own and eventually evoke bigger problems as a result. Ava Hale is writing a letter to her dead sister Kesley as part of her grief therapy. Ava feels broken after her sister’s murder, and she is determined to find the killer. Her life becomes consumed with tracking down the person responsible. The teen learns things about her sister, her mother, her friends, and herself, and everything begins to unravel. Told through the protagonist’s first-person narration and in letters to Kesley, this psychological thriller will keep readers engaged. This is a plot-driven, suspense-filled spine-tingling tale that ends with an unforeseen twist. It is a bit daunting to keep track of the vast cast of characters. Themes of mental illness, self-acceptance, and friendship are all explored. Although at times the plot feels rushed, this confusing sequence of events appropriately conveys the confusion that Ava is undergoing. VERDICT Give this book to students who enjoy a thought-provoking, mind-boggling mystery with twists at every turn.–Margie Longoria, Mission High School, TX

This article was published in School Library Journal's July 2014 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.