13 YA Titles from Julie Cross, Maria Turtschaninoff, Beth Vrabel, & More | March 2018 Xpress Reviews

A Spanish-language series blends fantasy and history; a Wintersong sequel of otherworldly romance; and a bittersweet coming-of-age-novel feature in this month's YA Xpress.

Alameda, Courtney. Pitch Dark. 384p. Feiwel & Friends. Feb. 2018. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9781250085894.

Gr 9 Up –Before humans made Earth completely unlivable, the Exodus project was launched, sending out manned spacecrafts to begin the process of planetary colonization. Among them, the USS John Muir carried the soil and plant life needed for terraforming. That was 400 years ago. The ships were lost; now, finding them is the last hope for human survival. In this intense sci-fi thriller, Alameda paints a bleak picture of the future and poses the question: Is the human species worthy of being saved? Two teen protagonists provide the first-person play-by-play in alternating chapters. Tuck, a white self-deprecating loner, belatedly awakens from stasis aboard the John Muir to discover most of the crew are missing and the ship is overrun with deadly monsters. Shocked by the passage of time and keenly aware of how unlikely it is they’ll be found, Tuck shows little concern for death in keeping the ship operational. Laura, a talented hacker and budding archeologist of Latinx heritage, searches with her family for the original Exodus ships in hopes of finding and salvaging valuable cargo. When Laura’s ship’s computer is hijacked by terrorists, Tuck and Laura are the only two people capable of saving their crews and, possibly, the entire human species. The nail-biting plot will keep teens engaged, even though the terrifying monsters are poorly explained. The budding romance between the two complex protagonists takes a backseat to the high-octane action. VERDICT A must-have sci-fi read that teens won’t be able to put down.–Cary Frostick, formerly at Mary Riley Styles Public Library, Falls Church, VA

Binks, Danielle, ed. Begin, End, Begin: A #LoveOzYA Anthology. 336p. HarperCollins/HarperCollins. Jan. 2018. pap. $9.99. ISBN 9781460752319.

Gr 9 Up –The #LoveOzYA movement originated in 2015 in response to evidence that Australian teens were routinely overlooking homegrown YA in favor of overseas titles. The hashtag strives to counter that trend by celebrating and promoting the rich and diverse offerings of Australian YA fiction, which is often critically acclaimed but nonetheless sometimes fails to land in readers’ hands. This eclectic anthology features 10 short stories from Aussie writers including Amie Kaufman, Melissa Keil, Jaclyn Moriarty, and Lili Wilkinson. The dominant genre is contemporary romance of every stripe, but readers will also find elements of science fiction, time travel, and magical realism. Although a few of the entries seem underdeveloped, the collection overall boasts outstanding writing and stellar character development. Highlights include Will Kostakis’s poignant “I Can See the Ending,” where a boy with psychic abilities grapples with a burgeoning romantic relationship that he knows will eventually sour; “In a Heartbeat,” Alice Pung’s sharp and funny portrait of a fraught mother-daughter relationship in the wake of an unplanned pregnancy; and “First Casualty,” in which Michael Pryor explores what it means to be “human” by overlaying the contemporary issue of refugee politics onto an alien world. VERDICT This anthology will enrich any YA short story collection; appealing to teens who enjoy quirky, character-driven fiction with a smattering of romance.–Kelsy Peterson, Forest Hill Coll., Melbourne, Australia

Callahan, Erin. The Art of Escaping. 320p. Amberjack. Jan. 2018. pap. $12.99. ISBN 9781944995652.

Gr 9 Up –No one gets Mattie McKenna. Her one friend in the world, Stella, is about to head off for a college summer program. On impulse, she drives to the home of world-renowned escape artist Akiko Miyaki, her personal inspiration. Akiko died in a plane crash years ago, but her adult daughter Miyu still lives at the house. After a rough initial meeting, Miyu agrees to train Mattie in the ways of lock picking and escape artistry. Mattie eventually takes her hobby to the next level at a bohemian performance space. There, she runs into Will Kane, an aloof and quiet basketball player. Mattie is utterly horrified and embarrassed that someone from her school has learned about her secret. To ease her mind, Will tells her a secret that he’s never told anyone else. Locked in “mutually assured destruction,” Will begins helping Mattie with her act. Callahan crafts a spunky, likable protagonist in Mattie. While young readers will probably prove interested in following Mattie on her journey, the concept of why she is drawn to this esoteric and bizarre pursuit is not reasonably established. The book breaks up later chapters by presenting some from Will’s perspective, who despite his self-imposed isolation and archaic 1920s dialogue, is considered well-liked and popular at school. Will’s chapters sometimes draw away from the narrative. The true strength of the story comes from the establishment of Mattie and Will’s unlikely friendship. Both characters become stronger and more interesting when they are together. VERDICT A supplemental purchase.–Ryan P. Donovan, Southborough Public Library, MA

Cross, Julie. Breaking the Ice. 352p. Entangled. Dec. 2017. pap. $9.99. ISBN 9781633758988.

Gr 10 Up –Haley Stevenson may be one of the most popular girls in school, but popularity will not help her pass civics. Stuck in summer school, her ticket to passing is to have Fletcher Scott become her class partner. However, he seems less than thrilled by this plan. Fletcher’s goal to live in the shadows is not going well. He wants more ice time, he enjoys talking to the teammates, and he is getting to know the princess of Juniper Falls, Haley. As much as he tries to push her away, the more he is drawn to her. However, he has too many secrets to let people get close to him. Cross creates relatable characters readers will be cheering for; she unfolds the narrative in a way that will make teens eager to see what secrets are revealed. Cheerleaders, hockey players, some risqué dancing, and high school romance drama will draw teens into Cross’s latest novel. VERDICT A good choice for where Cross’s previous books circulate well.–Jessica Strefling, U.S. Court of Appeals, Federal Circuit Library

Jae-Jones, S. Shadowsong. 400p. Wednesday Bks. Feb. 2018. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9781250129130. POP

Gr 9 Up –After several seasons away from her beloved brother, Leisl is bereft. She doesn’t know how to reach him or how to help her family, which is slowly sinking into poverty as they run their inn. She misses her beloved Goblin King, who has released her from the Underground to the world above, and she misses her past relationship to music. Then she gets an invitation to join her brother in Vienna and play her otherworldly compositions there. She pursues a mysterious path toward reconciliation with old, mythic ways so she can reclaim her brother and her true love. Though it is nearly incomprehensible to those who have not read Wintersong, this sequel is a rich continuation of Leisl’s encounter with the twin mysteries of passion and madness. However, this installment has enormous plot holes. For example, readers have to take at face value that Leisl’s patrons are evil just because someone told her sister that they are. Also, teens are meant to approve of her decision to destroy herself for the sake of the two men she loves—her changeling brother and her half-human, half-monster lover. Nevertheless, the novel remains compelling, due to the narrator’s doubt-ridden pursuit of art and her all-too-human weaknesses in regard to filial and romantic love. Interludes and well-placed quotes are additional structural elements that lend the novel depth. VERDICT Passionate and flawed like its main character, this novel will be gobbled up by paranormal romance fans.–Sheri Reda, Wilmette Public Library, IL

McNeill, Malcolm. The Beginning Woods. 528p. Sky Pony. Jan. 2018. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781510722903.

Gr 6 Up –People are mysteriously vanishing into thin air. Scientists don’t know why, and they are especially puzzled as to why the children are spared. Max, a weird orphan with spindly legs, pointy ears, and sharp teeth, finally finds a home. He grows up to think there is a connection between the vanishings and his Forever Parents. Anxious to discover his past, he reads loads of books hoping to find his story. This is where he is introduced to the Beginning Woods, a world rich in dark fantasy. Reminiscent of Alice in Wonderland, but grounded a little more in reality, this work features a world full of wonderfully unique and imaginative characters. Fairy-tale creatures like wizards, witches, wind giants, ghosts (cold ones), fairies, dragons, and dragon hunters exist inside a magical but dark world that offers lots of twists and turns. The writing style is clever and the story line will challenge readers to sort through a sophisticated puzzle at a slower pace than more action-filled books. There is also deeper meaning about the power of stories to be derived from some of the narrative that makes for interesting consideration. This is a good read for young teens and upper middle graders who enjoy a story that takes time to unfold and offers a fascinating world of odd fairy-tale creatures and unusual but intriguing events. VERDICT Purchase where nuanced and intricately woven fantasies, such as Inkheart, are popular.–Robyn Gioia, Seoul American Elementary School, Seoul, South Korea

Moisan, Daniel L. El enfrentamiento. ISBN 9786077480815.

––––. El renacimiento. ISBN 9786077480808.

ea vol: 144p. (La Leyenda de Lezardo Da Vinci). Puck. Dec. 2017. pap. $7.95.

Gr 6 Up –A sorcerer named Djiangorata discovers the unique possibilities that can come from large reptile eggs. As one of these eggs passes through the hands of Leonardo Da Vinci and gains his vast scientific knowledge, a new creature is born: Lezardo Da Vinci. In the shadows, the Grand Monarch tells his loyal cardinal Aquiles Vulturio that those like Leonardo Da Vinci—followers of science—must be silenced, even if it means destroying them. When seven Renaissance scientists are murdered, Djiangorata is blamed and incarcerated, leaving Lezardo to fight against Vulturio—and, ultimately, the Grand Monarch. A wide cast of characters includes several historical figures: Pope Leo X, Nostradamus, and Niccolo Machiavelli. Readers follow Lezardo and his friends as they try to take down the Order of Adder, a secret, dark order that has been responsible for wars and epidemics and that the Grand Monarch is a part of. Lezardo dedicates his life to tracking the order in the hopes of destroying those that have taken people close to him. A fast-paced read filled with fantasy and history, not unlike Michael Scott’s “Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel” series. VERDICT A jump back in time to the Renaissance, this Spanish-language series is perfect for fans of unique stories, secret conspiracies, and historical characters.–Selenia Paz, Harris County Public Library, Houston

Qitsualik-Tinsley, Rachel & Qitsualik-Tinsley, Sean. Why the Monster. illus. by Toama Feizo Gas. 210p. Inhabit Media. Nov. 2017. pap. $13.95. ISBN 9781772271416.

Gr 7 Up –Huuq, a young Inuit boy, has never fit into the normal routines of camp life. One day, after fleeing an attack from the camp bullies, Huuq and his Siberian husky companion Qipik venture far away and find a lonesome egg on a hill. When Huug breaks the mysterious egg, it unleashes a series of events where fearsome creatures turn him into a half-human monster. As Huuq tries to figure out why he has been transformed, he sets out on a mystical journey deciphering symbols, facing fearsome creatures, and combating a powerful evil. Set in “the land,” this work of fantasy fiction is a coming-of-age tale that centers on a young Inuit boy who struggles to grasp the symbolic world around him through understanding and embracing his anomalous identity. The Qitsualik-Tinsleys, who are scholars of Inuit language, culture, cosmology, and mythology, have written an Arctic fantasy that is an accurate representation of Inuit beliefs and mysticism. Fans of the authors’ Skraelings will find a new favorite read that is complemented by Gas’s black-and-white ink illustrations. VERDICT A fun and engaging read with a tender tale of friendship and struggles against powerful evil forces that will energize and captivate young adult readers.–Angelina Bair, Willoughby-Eastlake Public Library, OH

Stevens, Victoria. Don’t Forget Me. 368p. Farrar. Feb. 2018. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780374305604.

Gr 7 Up –How does a 17-year-old survive the loss of the only parent she’s ever known? Hazel Clarke takes readers on her highly emotional yet approachable journey searching for acceptance, friendship, and love. British girl Hazel grew up with only her mother; she never even knew her father’s name—until her mother is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and is unable to care for her. Hazel is shipped to her father, an Australian restaurateur. Struggling to fit in and fighting the depression of her loss, Hazel becomes instant friends with Red, an artist who lives down the beach. Red’s twin, Luca, is a bit of an enigma to Hazel; he’s very withdrawn and very angry, yet he asks her for help in training for track. Luca’s past is as complicated as Hazel’s, and both find that coping with loss is easier with a friend. When romance blooms, Hazel almost destroys it with a family secret. The characters’ search for home—both physical and emotional—is a satisfying trip. Hazel’s emotions are relatable; she writes memories of her mom in her journal, giving the narrative a first-person feel, even with a third person narrator. Luca and Hazel’s relationship, while romantic, is tame. VERDICT A satisfying coming-of-age story. Recommended for middle school and high school collections where realistic fiction is popular.–Lisa Ehrle, Falcon Creek Middle School, CO

TURTSCHANINOFF, Maria. Naondel. 384p. (Red Abbey Chronicles: Bk. 2). Amulet. Jan. 2018. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9781419725555.

Gr 9 Up –The previous volume, Maresi, explored the culture of an abbey, a sanctuary for women and girls. This stand-alone installment tackles the culture of a harem ruled by a cruel husband. The six narrators belong to Iskan’s harem. Kabira of Ohaddin is his first wife. Although her status affords Kabira certain luxuries, Iskan is often cruel to her. Iskan bought Garai of the Meriem Desert at a slave auction, and she becomes Iskan’s first concubine. Garai was not always a slave, though; she was a priestess. Orseola of Terasu grew up living in the treetops. She is a gifted dream weaver, but she was exiled by her people. Iskan found her drifting at sea, and she became his second concubine. Sulani of the River was a warrior that Iskan encountered in battle. He destroyed the sacred power of Sulani’s river and took her as a spoil of war and raped her. Iskan paid for Claras’s sexual favors one night and then offered to buy her. When Claras discovers that she is with child, she decides that she must escape Iskan’s harem. She begins to plan, scheme, and search for allies. Claras dreams of making her escape aboard a small boat with gray-green sails, which she names Naondel. This volume is a tapestry of interwoven tales of the women. Each thread plays a role. Despite their often adversarial positions, they find strength, hope, and even friendship in one another. They unite to survive Iskan’s unspeakable cruelty and brutality. VERDICT Highly recommended for all libraries serving older teens.–Michelle Hakanson, Warren Easton Charter High School, New Orleans

Vrabel, Beth. Bringing Me Back. 256p. Sky Pony. Feb. 2018. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781510725270.

Gr 6-8 –Exploring the idea of cause and effect through a middle school students’ eyes is the core of Vrabel’s latest novel. Star math student and athlete Noah is outcast by his school and small town after his mother commits a DUI with Noah in the car shortly after a football celebration party. His mother is sentenced to six months in jail and Noah is left in the care of his mother’s boyfriend, Jeff. The story takes a contemplative turn when Noah takes an interest in an injured wild bear. He and the town rally together in an attempt to save the bear. Readers will be pulling for Noah to break free from his guilt and make good choices for himself. The parallels between Noah and the bear are reinforced throughout. Strong themes of family, forgiveness, and personal growth make this a poignant and highly discussable read. VERDICT A solid realistic fiction story of triumph over adversity that will resonate with a wide range of middle school readers. Fans of Vrabel’s previous novels, including the “Pack of Dorks” series, will enjoy this.–Elizabeth Pelayo, St. Charles East High School, IL

Wright, Tristina. 27 Hours. 400p. Entangled. Oct. 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781633758209.

Gr 9 Up –This debut novel and first in the “Nightside Saga” presents readers a rollicking sci-fi adventure with a diverse cast. Rumor lives on the colonized moon of Sahara, where he was raised to despise gargoyles, also known as chimera, who are the moon’s natural inhabitants. When the chimera attack and destroy Rumor’s home city, he escapes to a neighboring colony where he reunites with his ex-girlfriend, Dahlia, and meets her friends Nyx and Braeden. Rumor is determined to avenge his city with the help of Dahlia; Nyx, who can feel the emotions of the Saharan moon; Braeden, General Tennant’s son; and two forest rebels, Jude, who can see the emotions of living creatures, and his brother, Trick. Together these six runaway teens discover the secrets of their people, the chimera, and the moon they call home, while exploring romantic and platonic relationships during the moon’s 27-hour night. Readers will find cultural, gender, and sexual diversity in the four narrators–Rumor, Nyx, Braeden, and Jude–within this sci-fi tale. The individuality of each protagonist is authentic and ties in well with each character’s story arc. Though there are times when romantic relationships feel forced alongside the overarching plot, the world and characters are complex and interesting enough for readers to finish the story and anticipate the next entry. VERDICT A complex story about the various forms of love, family, friendship, and identity; recommended for fans of Maggie Stiefvater’s The Raven Boys, Kass Morgan’s The 100, Brian K. Vaughn’s SAGA, or the Star Trek TV/film series.–Hilary Tufo, Columbus Metropolitan Library-Reynoldsburg

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