March 24, 2018

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YA: Mean Girls, “Mad Miss Mimic,” and Mars | May 2017 Xpress Reviews

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Alsaid, Adi. North of Happy. 304p. Harlequin Teen. Apr. 2017. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9780373212286. POP

Gr 8 Up –Carlos, 18, lives a sheltered, affluent life in Mexico City. His future is all set out for him by his well-intentioned father. But when his older brother Felix comes for a visit, he encourages Carlos to follow his dream of cooking instead. Suddenly, Felix is tragically killed by a stray bullet, and Carlos begins to question everything in his life. But Felix hasn’t completely left him; his ghost keeps Carlos company, pushing him to follow his heart. Carlos buys a one-way plane ticket to the United States, to eat at a famed restaurant on a tiny island near Seattle, something the brothers had dreamed of doing. There Carlos meets Emma, the chef’s daughter, and they instantly connect. His time with Emma is a respite from his solitary pain. The protagonist is given a dishwasher job at the restaurant, and he begins to learn the ins and outs of the kitchen, eventually securing early morning cooking lessons with the chef. But there’s a catch—Carlos must end his relationship with Emma. As Carlos pursues his dreams, the visits from Felix become fewer and fewer. This is a story of how tragedy can make us question the things that matter most in life. Alsaid has created a quiet, introspective novel dealing with love, loss, and the spaces in-between. Readers will appreciate the peek at a small Washington island and a fine restaurant. This title will also appeal to budding chefs and fans of the popular culinary arts movement. VERDICT Recommended for all YA collections.–Emily Valente, Brooklyn Friends School

Chima, Cinda Williams. Shadowcaster. 560p. (Shattered Realms: Bk. 2). HarperCollins/HarperTeen. Apr. 2017. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9780062380975.

Gr 8 Up –This volume continues the vast and expansive story of the Seven Realms and again jumps forward in time to a land of young warrior orphans who have resumed the war of their dead parents. In this sequel to Flamecaster, Chima brilliantly brings to life Alyssa ana’Raisa, who is the teenage heir to the Gray Wolf Throne, and young Capt. Halston Matelon of King Gerard’s army. Their fates are unfairly tangled in the grudge match between King Gerard and the witch Queen of the Fells, and their connection blossoms from the deep understanding of fighting a war that no longer makes sense. Both characters have parents who are alive, setting them apart from most of the rest of the child warriors of the Seven Realms, and have been fighting a war for just about half their lives. Both lead armies, and both have the weight of their sides’ desire to win squarely on their young, increasingly unwilling shoulders. With betrayal, love, loss, and a spectacular twist, this well-crafted series installment can be read as a stand-alone, as it focuses on a new cast of young, well-developed characters, the next generation of the Seven Realms. Familiar characters make appearances, drawing the thread through the Realms without being heavy-handed. VERDICT A solid, engaging fantasy that will resonate with new readers of Chima’s work and fans of her previous titles.–Nicole Coover-Thompson, Maine West High School, Des Plaines, IL

Dalton, Ryan. The Black Tempest. 448p. (The Time Shift Trilogy: Bk. 2). Jolly Fish. Apr. 2017. pap. $14.99. ISBN 9781631631061.

Gr 7-10 –Twins Valentine and Malcolm Gilbert return in this follow-up to The Year of Lightning. Val, Mal, and their friends are enjoying a quieter end to their freshman year as things have (mostly) returned to normal after their narrow escape from time traveler Lucius Carmichael. The peace does not last long. While the group are paying tribute to a fallen friend, two young adults appear through a portal, and with them come a new host of troubles. Tyrathorn and Ashandara, warriors from a far-off kingdom named Everwatch, are trying to stop a man known as the Black Tempest. His power, and that of his second-in-command, the Frost Hammer, is unlike any that the twins have ever faced. They train with siblings Thorn and Asha to try to overcome this new threat to their town and, possibly, the world and time itself. The plot reveals a few surprises, all of which fit the story line well. Characterizations remain strong, and even the newest characters have distinct personalities. The scientific explanations of how the twins manipulate time are adequate, and more background is given about their powers, which helps readers understand just how extraordinary their abilities are. The last chapter is an excellent cliff-hanger that will leave teens wanting more. VERDICT A must-purchase for collections where science fiction is in demand.–Kelly Jo Lasher, Middle Township High School, Cape May Court House, NJ

Darrows, Eva. Dead Little Mean Girl. 256p. Harlequin Teen. Mar. 2017. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9780373212415.

Gr 6-10 –Emma is having the hardest year of her life. Her parents divorced, her mother just came out as lesbian (not a problem, just new), and her mom’s girlfriend has the worst daughter in the world. Plus, Emma has to deal with school and friends while dodging the ploys of her evil stepsister, Quinn Littleton, who seems to cause trouble wherever she goes. Quinn is always dressed in the finest clothes and is one of the most beautiful people in school. But it turns out that Quinn isn’t as bad as she seems, and maybe Emma isn’t that innocent herself. Too bad it takes the death of her mean girl stepsister to make Emma understand the hardships Quinn was experiencing. Though this is an accessible and easy read, it will leave readers with a lot to ponder. Darrows delves into the topic of bullying and goes further, asking the question, Why is the bullying going on in the first place? This YA novel will have teens thinking about how they can stop the cycle. VERDICT This nuanced portrayal of bullying and family drama would be a great choice for any antibullying campaign, especially in school or public libraries serving teens.–Rena Gibson, Ralph Ellison Library, Oklahoma City

de la Cruz, Melissa. Alex & Eliza: A Love Story. 368p. Putnam. Apr. 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781524739621. POP

Gr 7 Up –With the popularity of the musical Hamilton still going strong, de la Cruz has struck while the iron is hot and shone a light on the extraordinary wife of Founding Father Alexander Hamilton, Eliza Schuyler. The writings about Eliza are sparse, but the author puts that limited knowledge to good use and imbues her fictional version with a strong-willed and charming personality that will instantly have readers cheering for her. Though the research involved here is evident, the historical accuracy still ends up being a bit shaky. By focusing only on the initial courtship between Eliza and Alexander, de la Cruz turns Hamilton into something of a dashing white knight but never acknowledges the interest that existed between him and Eliza’s sister Angelica—in fact, Angelica acts quite coldly toward him. This depiction is only enforced during an imagined arranged engagement between Eliza and another real-life figure named Henry Livingston that results in him drunkenly trying to take advantage of her the night before the wedding. This relationship never existed, and adding an attempted assault just so that Alexander can swoop in and save the day feels not only clichéd but irresponsible. The seeds of potential are peppered throughout the story, but they unfortunately become too overshadowed by unnecessary characterizations. VERDICT Fans of the musical will be excited to see this novel, even though it plays fast and loose with the facts. Purchase only where Hamilton frenzy is still strong.–Kate DiGirolomo, Library Journal

Deoul, Stefani. On a LARP. 164p. Bywater. Apr. 2017. pap. $11.95. ISBN 9781612940953.

Gr 7 Up –On a class trip to a police station, Sidonie Rubin offers key insight into a murder case when she notices the victim in a crime scene photo looks like she was participating in a live action role-playing game, or LARP. When Det. Emma Macdonald asks for assistance, Sid can’t resist and recruits her eclectic group of friends to help. While keeping up with school activities, the teens use their tech skills to search the victim’s computer. They work to figure out the LARP connection and come up with plans to infiltrate the next LARP to find the killer. Taking place in New York City, the novel kicks off with Sid seemingly plummeting to her death, but it takes the time to catch readers up on how she got to that point. While the protagonist questions the group’s involvement with the murder investigation, her faith in her own brilliance guarantees that she won’t stop solving mysteries and that more adventures are on the way. The book is full of tech and nerd talk, but Sid and friends translate for those in need of an explanation. Sprinkled throughout are also contemporary YA novel concerns, such as Sid’s crushes on various girls. Teens may be baffled by 1980s references in a work of modern-day realistic fiction, but these instances won’t distract them from the overall plot. Deoul has put together a fast-paced narrative that doesn’t slow down until the story wraps up and the opening scene is finally explained. VERDICT An exciting mystery adventure for reluctant readers and a great selection for teens who enjoy contemporary fiction.–Rebecca Greer, Hillsborough County Public Library Cooperative, FL

Destefano, Merrie. Lost Girls. 360p. Entangled Teen. Jan. 2017. pap. $9.99. ISBN 9781633756052.

Gr 8 Up –Rachel fell asleep while listening to Taylor Swift’s latest album, and today she woke up in a narrow ditch at the side of a road. Shivering and half buried in a pile of wet leaves, Rachel has no recollection of what happened before she crawled out of the ditch, missing a full year of her life. To reconcile her past and present, Rachel finds the will to improve her condition. Her declarative memories are slowly coming back, and she is determined to solve the mystery of her past. Although Rachel is a fighter, it is unclear how she traces such a complicated journey almost on her own as a teenager with amnesia. As a whole, the book has a coherent structure, uncovering Rachel’s remembrances of her past. Much of the narrative features Rachel’s relationships with her friends, in particular her boyfriend Dylan. Also, her investigation takes her to an underground fight club where “the only rule is there are no rules.” Interspersed throughout her memories are brief reflections on Rachel’s relationship with her family, especially her father and her brother. Less notable is her mother, who is almost entirely absent through the whole story. This mystery represents less explored aspects of teenage life and includes many captivating scenes. VERDICT A good choice for suspenseful YA shelves.–Taraneh Matloob Haghanikar, University of Northern Iowa

Halahmy, Miriam. Behind Closed Doors. 208p. Holiday House. Apr. 2017. Tr $16.95. ISBN 9780823436415.

Gr 8 Up –This work explores the complicated relationships between two teen girls and their families. Fifteen-year-old Josie Tate struggles to juggle school, a job, and her mother’s growing hoarding tendencies. Josie uses the money from her job to pay for food and clothing because her mother’s illness has left her unemployed. Things seem to get better for Josie when she meets Jordan, an Olympic hopeful. However, Jordan’s rich family makes her even more aware of the strangeness of her living situation. By contrast, Tasha Brown is a teen whose popular facade hides her growing fear of her mother’s boyfriend. She avoids interactions with him by partying with her best friend, Dom, and managing several overnight stays with friends. The two protagonists are brought together unexpectedly when Josie’s mother is thrown into jail for tax evasion and Tasha runs out of places to stay. Josie realizes she will need help to figure out how to save her mother. Tasha has to decide if she will give her mother another chance. The young women must learn to work together to fix the problems the adults in their lives have created. Child abuse, social services, mental illness, and homelessness are thoroughly examined in the process. Josie and Tasha start out as frenemies and then become friends, and the roles they play shift over the course of the narrative, which helps with the pacing of the story. VERDICT A strong choice for realistic fiction shelves.–Desiree Thomas, Worthington Library, OH

Henstra, Sarah. Mad Miss Mimic. 272p. Penguin/Razorbill. Jan. 2017. pap. $9.99. ISBN 9780143192374.

Gr 9 Up –In 1872 England, beautiful and wealthy 17-year-old Leonora Somerville is dutifully seeking a suitable husband under her older sister’s critical eye. Leonora’s speech is flawed by a stutter and sudden, startling, fluent outbursts of another’s voice. Her peculiar disorder frightens others but intrigues handsome Francis Thornfax, the business partner of Leonora’s brother-in-law, Dr. Dewhurst. Despite Leonora’s attraction to Thornfax, she has questions about his secretive opium import business, the experimental “charity” treatments given to the poor by Dr. Dewhurst, and the fatal explosions in London credited to the pro-opium terrorist Black Glove. Gradually, Leonora learns the truth from enigmatic Tom Rampling, an apprentice to Dr. Dewhurst, who has feelings for her. Leonora’s often self-imposed silence makes her an astute observer and narrator. Her strange mimicry outbursts erupt when she is stressed and metaphorically can’t find her own voice. However, late in the narrative, her mimicry disorder vanishes with surprisingly little acknowledgement or resolution. Though the romantic elements are predictable, readers will appreciate the spunky heroine, the Dickensian cast of characters, the interesting historic references to 19th-century opium use, and the action-filled plot. VERDICT Romance fans will enjoy Leonora’s high-society lifestyle, her conflicted attraction to rich Thornfax and poor Tom, and her willingness to take risks to uncover the truth. A fine additional purchase for romantic historical fiction shelves in medium to large collections.–Gerry Larson, formerly at Durham School of the Arts, NC

Maberry, Jonathan. Mars One. 448p. S. & S. Apr. 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781481461610. POP

Gr 8 Up –The year is 2026, and the world is preparing for its first manned mission to Mars. Forty individuals have been chosen to be the first Martians, and genius 16-year-old Tristan Hart is one of them, along with his brilliant parents, despite having to leave his high school sweetheart, Izzy, behind forever. Everyone’s eyes are upon Tristan and the others participating in Mars One, but there are those who don’t want them to go, including a radical religious terrorist group called the Neo-Luddites, who will attempt anything to sabotage the mission. On the flight to the Red Planet, the protagonist must deal with his feelings for Izzy, the weight of advancing humankind by becoming one of the first people to set foot on Mars, and the suspicion that someone on board is the enemy, trying to send them all to their death. Maberry’s latest takes a while to get going (the Mars One crews lift off halfway through the hefty volume), but once it does, it cranks through a series of misfortunes on board that dial up the tension. Tristan is a believable narrator, and readers feel his distress and excitement. A diverse group of characters add to the overall feeling of unity that shines through the story. VERDICT A popular choice for sci-fi shelves, this is a thrilling albeit slow-starting adventure that will satisfy teens—if they can get through the first half before they make it to space.–Tyler Hixson, School Library Journal

Pierce, Nicola. Kings of the Boyne: 1690; The Battle Draws Ever Closer. 336p. Dufour. Mar. 2017. pap. $13. ISBN 9781847176271.

Gr 10 Up –In 1690, the deposed James II gathered a Catholic army to battle for control of Ireland against the newly instated king of England, William of Orange, a Dutch Protestant. This fictionalized historical account of the Battle of the Boyne plays with perspective to give readers a more than complete understanding of the Jacobite and Williamite forces clashing in Ireland, where, propelled by religious fervor and the dream of a free Ireland, the Irish joined both sides of the war. Readers with knowledge of British and Irish history will immediately recognize a well-researched novel. The third-person narrator shifts focus primarily (although not exclusively) among Gerald O’Connor, a young Irish Catholic soldier fighting for James II; James himself; King William; and Daniel Sherrard, a young Irish Protestant soldier fighting in William’s forces. Owing to the many voices, it will become difficult for teens to feel emotionally attached to the characters, despite their careful development. This slowly plotted book dwells more on the attitudes, motivations, and aspirations of individuals rather than on the action of battle, which doesn’t begin until well over halfway through the work. Most likely only advanced readers and history buffs will be patient enough to make it to the gruesome scenes of war, where both muskets and scythes are employed. By the end, readers, like the characters, will realize with sadness that “war is stupid.” VERDICT Purchase for British and Irish history buffs only.–Mariah Manley, Salt Lake City Public Library

Skrutskie, Emily. The Edge of the Abyss. 296p. Flux. Apr. 2017. pap. $11.99. ISBN 9781635830002.

Gr 8 Up –Cassandra Leung has become an official member of Santa Selena’s crew. She abandoned her sea monster (a Reckoner), lost her family, and was deceived by Swift, the one person she trusted. Now she must find her place in this world of pirates. Cas learns that there are many Reckoners that were stolen and are now demolishing the ecosystem of the ocean, and all the pirates look to her for a solution. They must destroy the illegal Reckoners to save the sea. To do so, Cas must learn to rely on all those she has lost throughout this journey. She must accept that she will have to kill those she was raised to protect. And she must decide whose side she is on once and for all. Skrutskie’s sequel to The Abyss Surrounds Us is just as engaging as its predecessor. It introduces pirates as a group who work together to protect their life force, the ocean, after being turned away from society. Just like Cas, the audience will struggle as they wonder whom they should support. Readers will love this sci-fi adventure story. VERDICT Purchase where the first novel and sci-fi are popular.–Jessica Strefling, US Court of Appeals, Federal Circuit Library

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

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