February 21, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

YA Xpress Reviews | March 2017

1703_Xpress_YAArcos, Carrie. Crazy, Messy, Beautiful. 320p. ebook available. Philomel. Feb. 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780399175534.

Gr 9 Up –Neruda Wayne Diaz is a 16-year-old boy who is in love with Autumn Cho. He is named after the famed Chilean poet Pablo Neruda. Neruda doesn’t let having dysgraphia, a learning disability that affects how a person processes information, prevent him from being the artist he knows he is destined to become. It is through his art that he understands the complexities of people, like his classmate and soon-to-be friend Callie. His English teacher Mr. Nelson teams up classmates, and each student has to research his or her partner. Neruda is forced to put his thoughts onto paper—the same way he did back in eighth grade with his imprisoned pen pal, Ezra. It is the task of processing information that begins to conflict with Neruda’s emotions as he tries to understand himself vicariously through his namesake, all while he has a growing suspicion about his father’s infidelity. He questions whether his true love is right in front of him versus the girl he has admired from afar. From the very beginning, the author will pull in readers in this page-turning story of love and friendship. The narrative is believably told from the point of view of a relatable teen who is really connected to himself and his family. It is refreshing to read about a boy whose quest for love is mature and poetic. Arcos serves up a captivating work that is recommend for anyone who enjoys a fresh take on love. VERDICT A strong choice for libraries serving teens.–Keisha Miller, South Orange Public Library, NJ

Barnes, Jennifer Lynn. Bad Blood. 384p. (The Naturals: Bk. 4). ebook available. Disney-Hyperion. Nov. 2016. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781484757321.

Gr 9 Up –In this fourth volume of the series, Cassie Hobbs and her team of teenage FBI profilers are on the hunt for an organized group of serial killers. When people from their past investigations begin turning up dead, Cassie realizes that her team members are actually the prey. Soon, the very qualities that have made them such an effective team start to unravel them all. Cassie reads people by studying their behavior, personalities, and environment, but has blocked much of her own painful history after her mother’s disappearance. Lia the lie detector puts herself in danger to get information from a cult; Michael the emotion reader goes head-to-head with his abusive father; Sloane the statistician digs deeper into logic and numbers to protect her grieving heart; and Dean the profiler has to face the possibility that he’s more like his cold and calculating father than he ever knew. Initially, the narrative is stilted, relying heavily on exposition to get the story rolling, but once the unreasonably smug serial killer delivers his tip and is out of the way, the writing picks up significantly. Character motivation and the story’s feinting twists become the driving force of this tightly plotted and gruesomely compelling thriller. Subplots and red herrings abound but converge logically, creating a satisfying and surprising conclusion with room for even more sequels. This volume can be read as a stand-alone for those immune to plot spoilers. VERDICT Recommend to fans of the series and to older teens who crave dark and fast-paced psychological thrillers in the style of Criminal Minds.–Leighanne Law, Scriber Lake High School, WA

Elwood, Tessa. Split the Sun. 288p. ebook available. Running Pr. Dec. 2016. pap. $9.95. ISBN 9780762458479.

Gr 9 Up –Kit Franks is a pariah, recognized only as the daughter of the terrorist who blew up an important government building, killing dozens of people, including herself. Daily, Kit is berated by strangers who blame her for her mother’s actions. Investigators believe that her mother is still alive, and they have threatened to use illegal methods on Kit to extract information about her mother’s whereabouts. To add to her problems, Kit’s living relatives are deadbeats who are after her property, and her estranged father has shown up to beg for help in repaying a debt to the neighborhood crime boss. Just when it seems that Kit has nothing left to live for, a cute boy named Niles comes into her life and begins to help her sort out her problems. Unfortunately, the many aforementioned conflicts make for a confusing and rushed plot, with no discernible main story line. The protagonist is angry and constantly lashing out at everyone around her. Her contrived romance with Niles adds little to a story already overrun with excess subplots. There is minimal science in this science fiction, and no real connection to the previous title, Inherit the Stars. Despite being marketed as a companion novel, Elwood’s latest encompasses an entirely new setting and cast of characters, and the tone and content are much darker and mature. VERDICT Readers hoping for a continuation of the lighthearted romance and royal intrigue in the first volume will be disappointed with this messy series closer.–Liz Overberg, Zionsville Community High School, IN

Feldman, Ruth Tenzer. Seven Stitches. 300p. ebook available. Ooligan. Feb. 2017. pap. $14.95. ISBN 9781932010886.

Gr 7 Up –Meryem Zarfati, 16, is the granddaughter of a Turkish American Jew living in Portland, OR, in the 2050s. Struggling with her mother’s disappearance after The Big One–an 8.9 magnitude earthquake—she continues to search for her and refuses to give up hope. The biracial teen meets the mysterious time-traveling Serakh. In the midst of frustration and uncertainty, and with Serakh’s help, Meryem is able to save Izabel, a girl living in captivity in 16th-century Istanbul. She also discovers the truth about her lost mother. The 2050s setting is entertaining and insightful. Social media is outdated; due to global warming, February has become the new March; in the restaurants and cafes, the MyMenu tablet features “pixel-perfect images of butterscotch custard, cinnamon rolls, and apple pie;” and there’s finally peace in the Middle East. This elegantly written narrative will capture and delight readers. However, in the interest of historical accuracy, the exact era in which the novel is set and the specific details of that historical period needs more documentation in the author’s note. Also, Meryem’s character development as a young woman with a strong desire to push the limits for other young women in ancient history is admirable. However, Izabel, a Turkish character, is represented as incapable of saving herself without the magical help of others, even though she’s initially described as competent. VERDICT A strong addition to diverse speculative fiction.–Taraneh Matloob Haghanikar, University of Northern Iowa

Gattis, Ryan. Air. 320p. ebook available. Adaptive. Dec. 2016. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780986448423.

Gr 9 Up –A fast-paced contemporary title that takes readers on a journey through political conversations and in-your-face stunts. An adrenaline junky, 17-year-old Grey, is shipped off to live with his aunt in inner-city Baltimore after he witnesses the tragic death of his mother in Colorado. He struggles to fit in at a new school and community. His aunt watches his every move, and the only thing that Grey wants to do is run free. He meets a new friend, Akil, who introduces him to the mysterious Kurtis, the leader of a group that uses sports as a form of social activism. By challenging the police with death-defying stunts that are then posted online, the teens become rebels in the fight against the prejudice that surrounds them. Kurtis and Grey develop into constant companions. They attract more and more followers as they post videos of their extreme acts that defy law enforcement. The lines between social activism and criminal behavior become muted as their stunts become increasingly dangerous. The two must decide how far they are willing to go for their message and their friendship. The dialogue sometimes gets in the way of true description and development of the plot. The characters, however, invite readers to ponder big political and social questions, many of which are easily applicable to contemporary life. The uneven plot’s pacing might deter some readers. VERDICT Purchase where Gattis’s previous books are popular or if there’s a need for social justice–centered YA.–Amy Caldera, Dripping Springs Middle School, TX

Hartley, James. The Invisible Hand. 168p. ebook available. Lodestone. Feb. 2017. pap. $11.95. ISBN 9781785354984.

Gr 6-10 –Sam, a student at a boarding school in England, is having vivid dreams, during which he travels back to medieval Scotland to inhabit the body of Scotsman Robbie Cauldhame. The dreams distract him during the day as he longs to return to the exciting world he’s discovered, not to mention a mysterious, beautiful girl he sees there. But these journeys are more than just dreams, and he’s not the only one at his school able to “trav.” What he has become involved in is something more sinister than he suspects. With heavy usage of British terms, spelling, slang, and boarding school references, this is for intrepid Anglophiles only. It also assumes a working knowledge of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, with no explanation of the plot for unfamiliar readers and brief, infrequent forays into the action of the play. Inconsistent pacing and narratorial shifts paired with a handful of typos and a late introduction of the primary conflict make this read all the more difficult. Most troubling of all is the problematic language used for some characters of color and one with disabilities. An Indonesian student speaks awkward, broken English that reads as derogatory. Another student, Femi, is mentioned briefly as “the Nigerian who said he was a prince.” Some imagined, roving night criminals are described as potential “gypsies” and “immigrants” by some students. VERDICT Due to harmful stereotypes, a confusing plot, and much that will be unfamiliar to American readers of the target age, this title is not recommended.–Darla Salva Cruz, Suffolk Cooperative Library System, Bellport, NY

Landers, Melissa. Starfall. 368p. ebook available. Disney-Hyperion. Feb. 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781484750254.

Gr 8 Up –In Starflight, Princess Cassia Rose fled from her planet to save those she loved, or so she thought. After two years of living in hiding, things now come to a head when she is finally captured by the ruthless bounty hunters who have been stalking her and best friend Kane. Cassie must quickly decide what type of monarch she will be when she returns home to a planet ravaged by war and misguidance. Cassie and Kane have decisions to make, and they must trust in each other or let it all go. This title will draw in sci-fi romance lovers of the previous volume, but teens don’t have to have read it to enjoy the followup. The galactic journey from the first book is referenced, but all of the plotlines from Starflight are explained when needed. It is an interesting switch to hear the narrative voices of two secondary characters from the first volume now having primary roles. The strong message of finding a love of equals shines throughout. Landers sets an intergalactic stage that fans of sci-fi, romance, and adventure will devour. Readers who enjoyed Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff will be drawn to this title. VERDICT A great addition to YA sci-fi collections.–Elizabeth Pelayo, St. Charles East High School, IL

Lynch, C.L. Chemistry. 372p. ebook available. One Tall Tree. Nov. 2016. pap. $13.95. ISBN 9780995307001.

Gr 9 Up –When her mother takes a new job across the country in Vancouver, 17-year-old Stella Blunt (who is blunt) refuses to cooperate. “They’ll eat me alive!” Stella roars at her parents between strings of profanity. Her parents are refreshingly witty, intelligent, and clearly in her corner. The dynamic of a united front and comedic camaraderie even while surrounded by hordes of hungry undead is unexpected. The cover and name may invite comparisons to Twilight, but they are unfounded: Stella is no Bella. Stella is large—she knows it and uses it. She knows that jokes and catcalls will follow her at her new school. What she is unprepared for, however, is the adoration of a strange loner boy, Howard. He is unable to leave Stella alone; his instincts tell him she has a wonderful brain. Readers looking for a lighthearted romp laced with cynicism and salty language will be fans. Not your run-of-the-mill zombie book, this title has heart. VERDICT Purchase where there are fans of funny zombie YA, such as Kristy McKay’s Undead, Carrie Harris’s Bad Taste in Boys, and Jeff Strand’s A Bad Day for Voodoo.–Pamela Thompson, Col. John O. Ensor Middle School, El Paso, TX

Reinhart, Liz. Rebels Like Us. 496p. ebook available. Harlequin Teen. Feb. 2017. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9780373212200.

Gr 9 Up –This well-done romance offers up a chivalrously complex Southern boy and a transplanted heroine who accepts the mantle of reluctant social activist. Agnes Murphy-Pujols is a take-no-prisoners refugee from heartbreak and Brooklyn. Her mother, a professor, uproots the two of them just a few months from the end of Agnes’s senior year and deposits them in a small town outside of Savannah, Georgia. On the one hand, Agnes is angry with her mother for causing the implosion of their life and family. On the other, she is glad to escape her inveterately cheating former boyfriend. The teen is a standout with her mother’s Irish temper and her father’s Dominican coloring, and Doyle Rahn’s flirtatious attention within the first week at her new school moves her from a curiosity to a target of the school’s best connected mean girl. The first half of the book is overfilled with “electric touches” and sexually frustrated banter. It is the second half that redeems the opening chapters. Doyle and Agnes defy tradition by organizing an alternative to the segregated proms sponsored by members of the community and, concurrently, struggle to find balance in a relationship that moves beyond physical to intimate. VERDICT Fans of teen romance will find a thought-provoking and nuanced story that transcends its initial dosage of clichéd descriptions of lustful longing. A must-have for YA romance shelves.–Jodeana Kruse, R. A. Long High School, Longview, WA

Rodriguez, Francisco. La espada de la alianza. 240p. ebook available. Ediciones B. Aug. 2016. pap. $20.95. ISBN 9786074809343.

Gr 8 Up –Kyrtenebre is a great dragon who often terrorizes the city of Glaucia, where Princess Adariel, daughter of the great King Alances, lives. A prophecy foretells that Princess Adariel will one day give birth to a son who will be a grand king and who will destroy Kyrtenebre. To prevent this from happening, Kyrtenebre sends his army of gramas to destroy the city, unaware that King Alances has already forced his daughter to flee to safety. Traveling alone, Adariel comes across soldiers making their way back from Glaucia, and she meets general Aomal, who tells of the destruction and death they found in Glaucia. Adariel waits to hear news of her father since he was not among those who lost their lives. She must make her way without arousing too much suspicion, and without betraying her false identity, in order to find out what happened to her father and to fulfill the prophecy that will destroy Kyrtenebre. Told with fantastic detail and full of interesting world-building, this Spanish-language book will capture readers from the first chapter, and leave them anxious for the sequel. VERDICT Recommended for YA collections in need of Spanish-language fantasy and adventure titles.–Selenia Paz, Helen Hall Library, League City, TX

Sutton, Kelsey. Gardenia. 260p. ebook available. Diversion. Feb. 2017. pap. $13.99. ISBN 9781626818415.

Gr 9 Up –Seventeen-year-old Ivy can see numbers over everyone’s heads showing how many years, months, days, and hours they have left to live. So it is not a surprise to her when her best friend, Vanessa, dies. She was not, however, expecting her to be murdered. Ivy is now determined to find out who killed Vanessa, all while watching her own countdown and knowing she only has one month and 27 days left to live. This work reads as a suspenseful mystery with a determined amateur sleuth, and the countdown numbers add an interesting layer to the story. The suspense builds steadily as more girls are found dead in the area and Ivy is running out of time. As she visits the elderly and dying in a nursing home, the theme of life and death and living your best life are well conveyed, although the school play about a dying girl’s last day puts it a little over-the-top. The twist at the end is shocking but credible due to groundwork laid previously. VERDICT An additional purchase where mysteries are popular; a good read-alike for The Amateurs by Sara Shepard or Nearly Gone by Elle Cosimano.–Allison McLean, Elkhart Public Library, IN

Yabroff, Jennie. If You Were Here. 272p. ebook available. Merit. Jan. 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781507200025.

Gr 6-9 –An ill-fated tale of a best-friends-forever duo. When Tabitha decides to join the popular crowd by hook or by crook, she turns her back on Tess. Tess foretells that her friend will die that night, but she cannot get Tabitha to listen, and Tabitha’s plan for social mobility results in tragedy. Tess turns amateur sleuth and hounds the popular crowd with single-minded intent, certain that Tabitha died under unnatural circumstances. Complicating matters is Tess’s mother, who has debilitating bipolar disorder, incurring the ridicule of the student body. Told in an effective, straightforward writing style, the plot-driven story will be enjoyed in one sitting by most readers. The early chapters imbue the novel with realistic paranoia, and readers will wonder whether the populars are accepting of Tess or are just manipulating her. Tess attempts to work out the populars’ role in Tabitha’s death while trying to answer the question of her and her popular friend Zoe’s unnatural abilities. However, this semi-magical plot point is neither fully explored nor explained, casting some confusion on its relevance. What starts as a complicated study of psychology and the paranoia of teen dynamics warps into a whodunit that ends with an easy-to-spot conclusion. The book boasts quality writing but fizzles out with an uninspired ending that will leave readers mildly unsatisfied. VERDICT An additional purchase for large collections only.–Brian Hoff, Elmwood Park High School, IL

This article was published in School Library Journal's March 2017 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

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