March 23, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

New Titles from Old Friends John Scalzi, Tracy Chevalier, and Lee Child | Adult Books 4 Teens

Periodically, this column checks in on some of our old friends—Alex winners, authors whose books were previously reviewed here, and other notable teen favorites. Today, we have six books from the minds of some of these old friends.

First up is Robin Sloan’s Sourdough, which receives a starred review. Sloan’s debut, Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, won an Alex Award in 2013, and while we didn’t review it, we loved it enough to post Karyn Silverman’s rave assessment.

Sourdough receives similar praise. This funny, realistic work, set in my beloved San Francisco, focuses on foodie culture, making it a bit of a harder sell than the coding/mystery-heavy Mr. Penumbra, but it’s equally rich and rewarding.

Daniel H. Wilson’s Robopocalypse garnered a 2012 Alex Award, and this column reviewed both that title and its fantastic sequel, Robogenesis. Wilson’s new novel, The Clockwork Dynasty, another sci-fi thriller with robots, switches back and forth between a story line about an anthropologist and a strange relic and one involving the much-prolonged life of a robot named Peter. With its steampunk elements, this title from a best-selling, critically acclaimed novelist should be a slam dunk teen read.

Speaking of surefire sci-fi hits, John Scalzi has been a favorite of this column since his 2012 stand-alone Redshirts, and we enthusiastically agreed with the Alex Awards committee’s decision to name Lock In for the 2015 awards—it was selected as one of the Best Adult Books 4 Teens of 2014. So it should be no surprise to find his new novella, The Dispatcher, featured here. Scalzi’s latest high-concept story is set in a world where anyone who dies of natural causes stays dead but those killed by someone else revive within minutes. Taking advantage of an obvious loophole, this society arranges for professional killers (or Dispatchers) to kill people who know they’re going to die, thus offering them another chance at life.

An early winner of an Alex Award, back in 2001, Tracy Chevalier has been popular with adults and teens alike for decades. New Boy, part of the “Hogarth Shakespeare” series, is a retelling of Othello, set in a middle school in the 1970s. Readers familiar with the play might find the conceit far-fetched, but Chevalier pulls it off with aplomb, transforming Othello into a diplomat’s son named Osei. And surprisingly, the youthful age of the preteen characters is realistic given the story’s high passions.

Our last two books are collaborations to various degrees, and though there are a few Alex Award winners among the dozens of writers involved, they are chock-full of teen and adult favorites alike. With Matchup, a short story collection of thrillers edited by Lee Child, 11 male/female teams pen tales starring their familiar characters. AB4T-certified writers in the collection include C.J. Box, David Morrell, and Michael Koryta, and they are joined by fan favorites Kathy Reichs, Diana Gabaldon, Andrew Gross, and Charlaine Harris.

Harris is also the principal author of our final book, Indigo, on which she collaborated with Jonathan Maberry and Seanan McGuire. A supernatural thriller (as one might expect from Harris), Indigo suffers a bit from the collaboration, and our review below cautions that the first half of the novel drags. But the second half pays off, and Harris’s fans should be more than up to the challenge of making it through to the action-packed climax.


CHEVALIER, Tracy. New Boy. 288p. (Hogarth Shakespeare). Crown/Hogarth. May 2017. Tr $25. ISBN 9780553447637.

Part of the “Hogarth Shakespeare” series, this reimagining of Othello is set in a suburb of 1970s Washington, DC. The son of a diplomat, Osei is used to change, and at his fourth school in six years, he is unsurprised to see that he is the only black student on the playground. The other kids are nonplussed, and in some cases unnerved, by the color of Osei’s skin. Tasked with guiding the newcomer, Dee is drawn to Osei, finding him a compelling contrast to the other sixth grade boys. Over the course of one turbulent day, Osei and Dee come together and are torn apart by the politics of the school yard and the machinations of one troubled boy. Readers familiar with the Bard’s work will follow the narrative with a sense of dread. However, hope makes its way into the story, providing the possibility of a happy ending. Chevalier’s writing is spare but enthralling. The characters are memorable, and the shifting perspectives make the misunderstandings, deliberate or otherwise, more painful. Osei especially is a standout, his initial openness to his new environment a deep contrast to the pained, defiant young man teetering at the top of the playground hierarchy as the book races to its conclusion. VERDICT While readers of Chevalier’s other historical fiction pieces may be surprised with the more recent setting, her fans, as well as those who enjoy Shakespeare retellings, should be entranced by the way her prose sings, illuminating the darker sides of humanity.–Erinn Black Salge, Morristown-Beard School, Morristown, NJ

CHILD, Lee, ed. MatchUp. 464p. S. & S. Jun. 2017. Tr $27. ISBN 9781501141591.

After the success of the International Thriller Writers’ first short story anthology, FaceOff, the organization continues the series. Twenty-two best-selling authors are grouped into 11 male/female pairings, with each team crafting a work that stars each writer’s well-known hero. Some of the combinations are more effective than others, such as a tale in which Lee Child’s Jack Reacher helps vindicate Kathy Reichs’s Temperance Brennan in “Faking a Murderer.” But some are a stretch—in “Past Prologue,” Steve Berry’s Cotton Malone falls through the stones of Diane Gabaldon’s Outlander world to meet Jamie Fraser 10 years after the Scottish rebellion. Child introduces each piece with a description of the team’s writing process. The authors have varying levels of experience with the short story format, and some had never collaborated with another writer before. The familiar characters will entice thriller fans, who may also meet new characters and authors. VERDICT Purchase where adult series thrillers are popular—this is a remarkably strong and exciting collection.–Sarah Hill, Lake Land College, Mattoon, IL

HARRIS, Charlaine & others. Indigo. 352p. St. Martin’s. Jun. 2017. Tr ISBN 9781250076786.

By day, Nora Hesper is an investigative reporter. At night, she is Indigo, vigilante crime fighter who can bend shadows to her will and use them with deadly force. Nora’s parents were killed when she was young, and she has always wondered about the origins of her powers. She has dedicated her life to eradicating the Children of Phonos and their child-smuggling ring. When a high-ranking Phonos member captures Nora and reveals that her power is the result of an ancient murder god living inside her, her mind begins to fracture. Ten brilliant authors, including Jonathan Maberry, Charlaine Harris, and Seanan McGuire, collaborated on this tale, but the slow first half of this book is a case of too many cooks in the kitchen. However, the second half—which coincides with the introduction of Damastes, the murder god who possesses Nora—is nail-bitingly tense, and the carnage-soaked finale will satisfy readers. The second half is a clinic on how to blend writing styles effectively; the first half is an exposition on how not to. VERDICT Thriller or fantasy fans who slog through to the second act are in for a roller-coaster ride of a superhero story.–Tyler Hixson, Brooklyn Public Library

SCALZI, John. The Dispatcher. 128p. Subterranean. May 2017. Tr $28. ISBN 9781596067868.

Award-winning sci-fi author Scalzi presents another gripping, thought-provoking tale, set in a world much like ours, where life and death have been turned inside out. Those who die of natural causes remain dead, but those killed by another are resurrected within minutes, in bed, naked and confused, with the last eight to 40 hours of trauma erased. Tony Valdez is a Dispatcher, licensed, bonded, insured, and psychoanalyzed by the Agency to humanely kill people who are at immediate risk of death. When the police coerce Valdez into helping them find a missing Dispatcher, it becomes apparent that Valdez does not always play by the rules. The story deftly explores the ambiguous morality of dispatching, its use and abuse, and its effects on those dispatched. Valdez is an appealing antihero—smart, maybe too smart, and laconic. Teens will devour this slim, riveting novella in a single sitting. VERDICT For sci-fi lovers, especially those who appreciate books that pose moral and ethical questions, such as Neal Shusterman’s Unwind and Scythe or Suzanne Collins’s “Hunger Games” series.–Gretchen Crowley, formerly at Alexandria City Public Library, VA

redstarSLOAN, Robin. Sourdough. 272p. Farrar. Sept. 2017. Tr $$26.95. ISBN 9780374203108.

Like Sloan’s debut, Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, this novel twists new and old worlds together. General Dexterity, a robotics company in San Francisco, burns out its bright young employees on 12-hour shifts and feeds them a gray sludge called Slurry. Enter Lois Clary, the company’s new software engineer, fresh from Michigan, whose social life is at an all-time low. Alone each night, she cheers up when Beo, the takeout guy, delivers delicious, spicy soup from Clement Street Soup and Sourdough. He’s nicknamed her “number one customer!” for her loyalty. But Beo and his brother, the cook, are in a hurry to leave the country, and one evening they deliver more than her order—they give her the family’s starter for their sourdough bread and urge her to carry on their tradition. Lois enters the competitive foodie world of hip San Francisco with a recipe from long ago and the means to change her life. She also gets some help from the women of the Lois Club, who offer comic relief and some sage advice. Laced with clever pop culture references, this humorous, richly plotted novel features unforgettable characters and imparts an important lesson: you can’t succeed in the modern world without respecting the old one. VERDICT Highly recommended for all YA collections.–Georgia Christgau, Middle College High School, Long Island City, NY

WILSON, Daniel. The Clockwork Dynasty. 320p. Doubleday. Aug. 2017. Tr $26.99. ISBN 9780385541787.

June, an anthropologist who specializes in ancient technologies, unwittingly puts herself in danger after she reveals a secret about the relic her grandfather left her when he died. A lethal robot, who will stop at nothing to gain control of the artifact, attacks her, but she is rescued by another mechanical being, Peter, who has been programmed to devote his life to justice. Dual narratives follow June in the present day and Peter throughout his prolonged existence in modern and ancient history as he tries to learn when and why he was created. A hidden world where robots pose as humans conceals in plain sight a centuries-old conflict involving automatons who were each created with a unique passion and code. The chapters are brief, with the rapid pace of a Dan Brown novel. There’s plenty of action here, but Wilson also raises questions about the purpose of life and what makes someone human. VERDICT For followers of the author’s “Robopocalypse” series as well as fans of fast-moving steampunk or anyone who has graduated from Brian Selznick’s The Invention of Hugo Cabret.–Carrie Shaurette, Dwight-Englewood School, Englewood, NJ

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Mark Flowers About Mark Flowers

Mark Flowers is SLJ’s Adult Books 4 Teens cocolumnist and a supervising librarian at the Rio Vista (CA) Library.

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