June 18, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

YA Xpress Reviews | November 2016

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For more of this month’s
Xpress Reviews:

Picture Books

Chapter Books

Middle Grade

Graphic Novels


Cameron, Erica. Assassins: Discord. 360p. ebook available. Riptide. Sept. 2016. pap. $19.99. ISBN 9781626494220.

Gr 9 Up –Kindra has never had a normal life. Instead of revolving around school and friends, her life consists of training and targets—the tools of her family’s trade. With her parents, who have always been more like commanders than mom and dad, and her younger sister, Sera, Kindra carries out professional kills. But when her father misses a sniper shot for the first time in her life, everything starts to unravel, and the teen has to decide if she can trust anyone, even her own family. Cameron begins this action series with a story populated by powerful women and featuring a diversity of sexuality (Kindra is comfortably bisexual, and the supporting cast includes gay and asexual characters). Despite the interesting cast, the book doesn’t find its footing until halfway through. The plot suffers from overly complicated espionage that loads readers with nonessential background information. These dull passages seem especially weak in comparison to the novel’s exciting and well-crafted action scenes. It also requires an extra suspension of disbelief to imagine that any assassins, married or not, would involve children in their delicate and dangerous operations. Readers who can look past these faults long enough to reach the second act will enjoy the appearance of the potential love interest (also a girl) as well as some delightful plot twists. VERDICT An uneven but promising start to a series that provides a female-led alternative to popular titles like Robert Muchamore’s “CHERUB” books.–Amy Diegelman, Vineyard Haven Public Library, MA

Fardin, Shalta Dicaire & Sarah Sahagian. Good Girls. 200p. ebook available. Inanna. Sept. 2016. pap. $19.95. ISBN 9781771333450.

Gr 8 Up –Octavia Irving starts at Anne Bradstreet College at the beginning of her sophomore year of high school after getting into trouble when a party goes wrong. With the encouragement of her guidance counselor, Octavia joins the ABC debate team and is partnered with overachieving Allie Denning. Allie, a self-proclaimed “good girl” who never breaks the rules, is less than excited about this new arrangement. As they prepare for their first debate competition, free-spirited Octavia must adjust to the structure and demands of her new environment, while Allie learns that life exists outside academia. This is a strong inaugural volume in a coming-of-age series. With a steady pace, it creates an arching plot while only scratching the surface of the characters’ rounded personalities, giving ample opportunity for more exploration in upcoming entries. It would be an ideal novel for reluctant readers who can’t process lengthy stories. While Octavia and Allie are the focus, the supporting characters are developed, with interesting subplots. Romance is written into the story lines, but the main themes of this contemporary novel center on friendship, family conflict, and self-discovery. VERDICT An excellent addition for realistic fiction collections in any school or public library.–Melissa Poole, Clemson University Library, Anderson, SC

Ford, Michael Thomas. Lily. illus. by Staven Andersen. 262p. ebook available. Lethe. Oct. 2016. pap. $15. ISBN 9781590212684.

Gr 10 Up –Thirteen-year-old Lily is an unlikely pawn in this story that is part morality play and part fairy tale. When Lily has a vision of her father’s death and later learns that his death has in fact come true, she feels a power inside. Lily and her mother leave their village for a large city where Lily is taken in by her worldly surroundings: the hustle and bustle of the streets, the raucous crowds, and garish lights. Swept up by the excitement in the air and pushed along by the maelstrom of people around her, the teen goes to see a traveling preacher. People in the streets say that Reverend Everyman is a healer, a prophet, a man of God. The reverend’s traveling circus is more carnival than prayer meeting. Clowns with prison records and sketchy pasts enforce Everyman’s will, and a tattooed girl is displayed in a cage and said to be possessed. Lily becomes part of the traveling show and naively believes the preacher will fix her curse, but he has his own insidious ideas. A classic struggle of good vs. evil pits witch Baba Yaga against the evil evangelist Everyman. A muddled, esoteric plot makes this a read for a narrow audience. The illustrations by Andersen, while provocative and artistic, are disturbing and otherworldly. VERDICT Large high school collections with generous budgets may choose to purchase. This novel is a better fit for a public library collection for mature teens.–Pamela Thompson, Col. John O. Ensor Middle School, El Paso, TX

Knowles, Jo. Still a Work in Progress. 320p. Candlewick. Aug. 2016. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780763672171.

Gr 6-9 –Noah, an average, unassuming middle schooler, is the kid his parents “don’t have to worry about,” as opposed to his older sister, Emma. At home, the family tiptoes around her eating disorder while going along with any and every food-related dictate Emma makes, in the hopes of avoiding a relapse. Noah navigates life with friends and classmates at his small school, but the “Thing They Don’t Talk About” hangs over his head, particularly as he starts to suspect it might be happening again. When Emma does relapse, Noah attempts to go through the motions at home and at school, and he turns to his art as an emotional outlet for the pain and uncertainty in his life. Told from Noah’s point of view, with fully developed main and supporting characters, the story believably and poignantly shows the effects of an eating disorder on those around the afflicted person. Noah’s worry, anger, and guilt are palpable, and his desperation to understand why his sister struggles is often heartbreaking, as is his frustration with the way life goes on around him and his family. The interests of his friends and classmates begin to seem trivial, and readers will find his reactions honest and moving. VERDICT A realistic and sensitive depiction of a family in crisis and a young teen’s emotional journey through it.–Amanda Raklovits, Champaign Public Library, IL

Pon, Cindy. Sacrifice. 300p. (Serpentine: Bk. 2). ebook available. Month9Books. Sept. 2016. Tr $23.99. ISBN 9781944816520; pap. $15. ISBN 9781944816926.

Gr 9 Up –This sequel to Serpentine begins nine days after the first volume’s conclusion. Skybright is forced to give up her life and follow Stone in order to save those she loves, and has no time to adjust. She is taken into the Underworld, where demons roam; thrown into portals to other realms; and summoned to the land of the gods. She goes through all of this only to learn that Stone has been stripped of most of his powers, the gateway to hell still needs to be closed, and if they fail, Stone will die. Skybright’s friends are not faring much better. Zhen Ni is made to marry the richest man of the land and quickly becomes concerned that he is not what he seems. Kai Sen is learning magic so that he may save Skybright from Stone. To survive, these characters from very different walks of life will need to learn to work together as a team. Pon excels at describing each scene so vividly that readers can truly picture the protagonist’s surroundings. A story of friendship, love, and duty that fantasy readers will relate to and enjoy. VERDICT Fans will love this sequel just as much as (or even more than) the first. Purchase where the first installment and rich fantasy are popular.–Jessica Strefling, US Court of Appeals, Federal Circuit Library

Soler, Laia. Nosotros después de las doce. 320p. ebook available. Puck. May 2016. pap. $15.95. ISBN 9788496886575.

Gr 10 Up –Aurora lives in Valira, a town—legend tells—that was founded by a fairy queen who fell in love with a human man. Aurora’s grandfather, the person she is closest to, is her companion, her friend, and the one person in her family who has always understood her. His belief in the magic of the town, and in the magic of his beloved carousel—whose horses are said to be able to help their riders with their hopes and dreams—has been passed on to her. The protagonist’s friend Erin returns to the town after being gone for two years. The family is back in Valira only for the summer, but Erin’s brother, Teo, is much changed. He has feelings for Aurora that she begins to return. When the teen realizes that her grandfather doesn’t approve of their relationship, she finds that she must walk on her own this time. As the summer draws to a close, Aurora finally realizes what she wants in life and for her future. The characters—from Aurora to her family to her friends—are each unique and add humor and wisdom to the text. Written elegantly, this memorable Spanish-language novel is perfect for young adults who like a bit of fantasy with their romance, and it shows readers that it is important to look forward to what will happen after the fairy tale ends. VERDICT Purchase especially where Spanish-language YA with a magical realism twist is popular.–Selenia Paz, Helen Hall Library, League City, TX

Stanton, Edward. Wide as the Wind. 220p. ebook available. Open Books. Oct. 2016. Tr $16.95. ISBN 9781941799383.

Gr 7 Up –This historical novel centers on a little-known chapter of Polynesian history—no island is specified, but the narrative conjures up Easter Island and others. Many of these islands were impoverished because of deforestation, so their best and brightest were sent on ocean voyages to obtain seed stock for trees in distant places. (In 1947, Norwegian Thor Heyerdahl tried to replicate such a journey with modern boat-building technologies and found building the boat difficult. The voyage itself was harrowing.) Protagonist Miru is a valiant hero, sailing into the sunset and bringing back trees and plants that are essential to the viability of his close-knit community. Miru is well-developed, and he’s featured in an engaging subplot of a chaste romance, sustained even through a long separation during his seafaring years. Miru’s extended family is large, and many additional interactions between him and members of the community showcase his coming-of-age. For readers who appreciate intricately detailed storytelling, the payoff is a strong sense of Polynesian culture in a novel whose style is reminiscent of James Michener’s. Stanton spent many years as an English literature professor, and his craftsmanship reflects this background. VERDICT Recommended for ambitious middle and high school readers who appreciate a depiction of a little-discussed but significant historical period and culture; for large historical fiction collections.–Amy Thurow, New Glarus School District, WI

This article was published in School Library Journal's November 2016 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.