February 19, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

YA: New Titles from Joseph Bruchac, Victoria Schwab, & More | July 2017 Xpress Reviews

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Bruchac, Joseph. Arrow of Lightning. 400p. (Killer of Enemies). Lee & Low/Tu Bks. May 2017. Tr $19.95. ISBN 9781620143308. POP

Gr 7 Up –One year after Lozen escaped The Haven, her life has changed dramatically. No longer under the tyrannical rule of The Ones, she has created a community in Valley Where First Light Paints the Cliffs with her band of family and friends. But Lozen is still Killer of Enemies, and while the “gemod” creatures in the surrounding desert are easily dispatched, powerful adversaries from her past refuse to leave her in peace. It will take the full extent of Lozen’s abilities, including those she is only beginning to understand, to bring down The Haven and liberate those held captive within. As in the previous volumes, Lozen’s strong relationships and deep-rooted Apache heritage form the emotional heart of the story. The action-packed plot moves swiftly from one battle to the next while still allowing plenty of space for readers to ponder complex questions of life, death, and duty along with Lozen. Indeed, it is the heroine’s thoughtful consideration of her place in the world and the consequences of her decisions that sets her apart from so many other literary teenage assassins. The ending is surprisingly quiet, powerful, and hopeful, even as Bruchac makes it clear that the future for Lozen and her community is far from certain or easy. VERDICT A thrilling final chapter for a memorable teen heroine and a satisfying conclusion to a refreshingly original dystopian trilogy.–Chelsea Couillard-Smith, Hennepin County Library, MN

Chacón, Daniel. The Cholo Tree. 272p. Piñata. May 2017. pap. $14.95. ISBN 9781558858404.

Gr 8 Up –This collection of short stories captures the liminal spaces inhabited by Victor Reyes Jr., a Mexican American/Chicano Fresno teenager who is caught between the dangerous allure of the streets and his creative aspirations. At times, the choice between becoming another “cholo” stereotype and going down another path eludes Victor. The gravity of the streets often proves to be beyond Victor’s control. For example, the chain of events that lead to Victor being shot—and, as a result, dead for 2.2 minutes before regaining life—start from adolescent posturing over girls. Victor and his buddy Equis scrap with a group of boys who are part of a gang and have access to guns. Though Victor is an ordinary witty, imaginative teenager with a knack for drawing, at times he seeks danger. Freddy, an older friend who witnessed Victor’s shooting, invites him to tour Fresno City College. A love interest, along with Victor’s teacher Mr. Garcia, offers him outlets and spaces for his intelligence and artistic talents. Chacón breathes life into Victor in these scenes, and the youth becomes someone to root for. After multiple disappointments, Victor sinks headlong into street life and starts seeing the elusive ghosts of living-dead people and reckons with a past that seems to transcend him. He cannot shake off the doomed destiny of gang life. Chacón has written a classic and powerful underdog story about a brown teen building the self-efficacy to see his worth and achieve his dream. VERDICT Recommended for high school classroom libraries and YA collections; will appeal to reluctant readers.–Lettycia Terrones, Los Angeles Public Library

Geiger, A.V. Follow Me Back. 368p. (Follow Me Back: Bk. 1). Sourcebooks/Fire. Jun. 2017. pap. $10.99. ISBN 9781492645238.

Gr 10 Up –Tessa Hart (@TessaHeartsEric) is 18, severely agoraphobic, and an Eric Thorn fan—some may call her #obsessed. Most of Tessa’s human interaction comes through sessions with her therapist, who makes house calls, and Twitter. The teen doesn’t leave her bedroom. Mystery surrounds the circumstances that got her there and her new Twitter friend, Taylor (@EricThornSucks). Eric Thorn is a popular, adored, and somewhat narcissistic pop star recently made leery of the adoration since a fellow pop star was killed by a fervent fan. In a moment of resentment, Eric creates @EricThornSucks under his middle name, Taylor, and ends up striking up a friendship with Tessa, which unfolds via direct message on Twitter. A nonlinear account of Tessa and Eric’s relationship develops, jumping back and forth from past to present, and readers are privy to both characters’ perspectives and to the transcript from Eric’s police interview. This is a moderately paced, character-focused story in which familiarity with Twitter is helpful but not necessary. Fuzzy details cloud the tale as pieces are revealed one at a time until they all come together at the end—right before everything falls apart before a final, dark twist. VERDICT A page-turner for young adults invested in social media, fandoms, and mysteries.–Sara Jurek, Children’s English Library, Stuttgart, Germany

Helgeson, Kat. Say No to the Bro. 272p. S. & S. May 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781481471930.

Gr 9 Up –Ava just wants to blend in during her senior year after moving to a new place. Angry at her mom, she feels disconnected from everyone around her. When she is signed up against her will for her new school’s strange tradition known as Prom Bowl, where girls are auctioned off as prom dates to the highest bidder, her plans of anonymity are shattered. Told through the points of view of Ava and the school’s popular quarterback, Mark, the story unfolds in a frustrating plot of miscommunication that feels realistically teen. However, Ava’s voice at times is inauthentic as she makes strange observations about her fellow contestants. Ava and Mark end up dating and falling in love, a payoff that readers will find rushed and unearned. Other than their initial meeting and a single movie date, they don’t interact outside of Prom Bowl. At the end, they both reminisce about dates and conversations they’ve had but to which readers are never privy. Ava’s resolution with her mother is too quick. The story’s exploration of consent and self-image is lacking. For a darker but well-executed look at how society treats teenage girls, try Mindy McGinnis’s Female of the Species. VERDICT Recommended only as an additional purchase for realistic fiction fans.–Kathryn Kania, Goodwin Memorial Library, Hadley, MA

SchWarz, Larry & Iva-Marie Palmer. Romeo, Juliet & Jim. 288p. Holt. Jun. 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781627792509.

Gr 9 Up –It’s the most famous love story in history—with a few updates. Romeo and Juliet are the scions of rival fashion houses in Paris, facing corporate takeovers. They write draft emails to each other in a secret account, make sure they are Instagrammed with decoy dates, and have secret meet-ups in tourist destinations. The narrative alternates chapters between Romeo and Juliet. The title of this selection, however, hints that there is an additional tweak—the doomed lovers are in a love triangle with an American named Jim. While a star-crossed adaptation in the world of contemporary fashion is an appealing concept, Schwartz and Palmer’s novel unsuccessfully balances old and new elements. The book vacillates wildly between staying too close to the source material and veering off course. There are also structural and writing deficits that are too great to overcome with a catchy idea. The writing is clunky, the dialogue is inauthentic, and the work ends abruptly before the classic tale can be seen through, which may leave room for another entry in the series but makes for an inelegant ending to this installment. VERDICT Not recommended.–Susannah Goldstein, Bronx School for Law, Government, and Justice, NY

Schwab, Victoria. Our Dark Duet. 528p. (Monsters of Verity: Bk. 2). HarperCollins/Greenwillow. Jun. 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780062380883; pap. $12. ISBN 9780062672032. POP

Gr 9 Up –Six months after This Savage Song, Kate Harker is now in the town of Prosperity, hunting monsters with an underground group of humans. August Flynn, on the other hand, has reluctantly risen in the ranks of fighters in their hometown of Verity, where the humans are locked in a bloody stalemate with the monsters on the other side of the seam. When Kate is infected by a new and troubling kind of monster, she tracks it back to Verity with the intention of killing it herself. However, she must work with August and the rest of the Flynn family to stop the new monster and keep the city safe for humans. In the course of fighting for Verity, Kate must also confront Sloan, her father’s former henchman, and Alice, the shadow created by Kate’s own act of violence. The first few chapters of this dark fantasy contain artful reminders of what happened in the first volume. Lyrical verse is also strategically woven throughout, giving readers a peek behind the eyes of a monsters and adding to the darkly beautiful atmosphere. Creating a world where “violence begets violence” and monstrous acts literally create monsters gives the author lots of room to explore interesting issues such as guilt, sin, and forgiveness, which she does to great effect. Masterly writing, a fast-moving plot, and just the right amount of bittersweet romance make this book hard to put down. VERDICT A necessary first purchase for all teen collections.–Sunnie Scarpa, Wallingford Public Library, CT

Spradlin, Michael P. Prisoner of War: A Novel of World War II. 272p. Scholastic. Jun. 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780545857833.

Gr 7 Up –Fifteen-year-old Henry Forrest lost his mother when he was seven. Since then, even Henry’s grandfather can’t convince Henry’s father to stop beating the teen. The grandfather and Henry sneak off to a Marines recruitment office, where the boy lies about his age. It’s 1941, and the United States is about to face its most shocking attack, at Pearl Harbor, and Henry is right in the middle of it. He’s been stationed in the Philippines, which has been bombed by Japan. His gunnery sergeant, McAdams, and his good friend Jamison have his back. But Henry’s courage and maturity are truly tested when the Japanese capture his regiment and he, his friends, and hundreds of other American soldiers are forced into an internment camp on a tiny island in the Pacific. Henry’s temper and his reaction to injustice earn him more than his share of beatings and a reputation. As days turn into months, and then years, the protagonist fights to stay grounded. Full of graphic detail and horrific scenes, this novel neither shies from nor glorifies Henry’s story. VERDICT Sensitive readers may find the portrayal of violence excessive, but the reality of war is realistically presented. An engaging addition to a history of World War II unit as well as a powerful read.–Carol Connor, Cincinnati Public Schools

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

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