February 23, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Where Secrets Lurk… | New YA Mysteries

Many readers are drawn to the mystery section of the library—where riddles and secrets lurk—and where three new young adult novels have just been added to the shelves. The books venture into the lives of teens determined to uncover the truths that lie beneath the surface of family memories and histories. Each in its turn, is a compelling, thought-provoking story that will have readers hooked from page one.

sophie someoneIn Hayley Long’s Sophie Someone (Candlewick, Mar. 2017; Gr 6 Up), Sophie Nieuwenleven knows she’s Belgian—and British. But her memories of her early life in Britain are growing fuzzier and fuzzier as time passes. When a missing birth certificate triggers a flurry of unanswered questions, the teen decides to confront the mystery of who she is on her own.

Some Internet sleuthing and one intrepid phone call place Sophie in contact with a long-estranged grandmother who reveals that no one in Sophie’s immediate family is who they say they are, and a long ago, unsolved bank robbery may just be what her parents are running from.

Told in a playful vernacular (parents are “parsnips” and mothers are “mambos,” among other verbal slights-of-hand), Sophie Someone immerses readers in the world of its protagonist who is as unique as her speech. (“In the living root, I chucked myself down on the softy and lay—fax down—on the softy’s big squishy cushions.”) Sophie is self-possessed and wise beyond her years and yet still believable as a teenager who is determined to uncover her origin story. Realistic friendships as well as fraught family relationships bring depth to the perfectly paced mystery.

While the wordplay may be difficult to decipher at first, it becomes evident that the puzzling language reflects the complicated knot of this story.

hidden memoryMeg Brown’s beloved brother Tyler dies under mysterious circumstances in Danielle Mages Amato’s The Hidden Memory of Objects (Harper Collins, Mar., 2017; Gr 9 Up). While Meg is unable to understand why her brother was found in a warehouse, she refuses to accept the police’s interpretation of his death—drugs or suicide. When Meg picks up Tyler’s personal effects, she is shocked by the realization that coming in contact with his belongings can place her within his memories. As she collects physical reminders of his life, she tries to piece together the time line leading up to his death.

While Meg manages the painful visions she is assisted by a classmate and a friend of her brother’s that she never met while Tyler was alive. She is soon also put in contact with a historian who seems to share her ability to receive object memories. Yet as Meg uncovers more layers to her brother’s life, the mystery surrounding him only grows more complex.

Set in Washington, DC, and its tony suburbs, The Hidden Memory of Objects is both a musing on grief and an exploration of what the deceased leave behind. Meg’s visions lend a thrilling speculative air to the narrative. As readers race to piece the puzzle of Tyler’s death together, they will also be drawn to the struggles Meg encounters with her newfound abilities. This cross-genre take on grief and loss will appeal to thoughtful readers.

APsalmforLostGirlsCOVERFor quite some time, the people of New Avon, MA, believed that a saint walked among them. In Katie Bayerl’s debut A Psalm For Lost Girls (Putnam, Mar., 2017; Gr 9 Up), Tess da Costa is rumored to have healed the sick, predicted perilous weather, and performed other uncanny feats. When the 17-year-old unexpectedly dies, the lore surrounding her intensifies, and leading the charge for her canonization is her devoted mother. Tess’s sister Callie remains seemingly alone in her belief that her sister was not a saint.

When Ana Langone, a local girl who had been missing for six months, mysteriously reappears unharmed at the base of a shrine to Tess, the fervor surrounding Tess reaches fever pitch. At the same time, Callie unearths her sister’s diary and begins to uncover a trove of family secrets. How Ana is tied to Tess is just one thread that Callie attempts to unravel in her pursuit of the truth. What she wasn’t expecting to discover is how much Tess kept from the family, and that she she would begin to feel drawn to Tess’s boyfriend.

While several mysteries lie in the heart of this novel—what happened to Ana and the facts surrounding Tess’s abilities—the narrative thrust remains the exploration of  the sisters’ relationship. Told primarily through Callie’s memories and Tess’s diary entries, the description of the sibling bond is well-drawn and honest.

Students who enjoy questions of faith in their fiction will find much to enjoy in A Psalm for Lost Girls. The author deftly weaves information about canonization into the narrative so readers will understand both Callie and her mother’s viewpoints. While several secrets are uncovered and revealed, the mystery surrounding Tess’s powers remains an enigma. For all that Callie learns about her family, she is forced to confront the fact that even a close bond between sisters may contain untold stories.

Teens in search of provocative novels can often be satisfied by a solid mystery. Family secrets make for compelling page-turners, and these three books are evidence that this genre, especially with a speculative twist, is on the rise.

See also, Shelley Diaz’s interview with Katie Bayerl on Psalm for Lost Girls.

Erinn Black Salge is a librarian at the Morristown-Beard School, NJ. Among the articles she has written for School Library Journal is “American Girls: Historical Fiction Featuring Feisty Females.”

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