YA: Stellar New Titles from John Green, Philip Pullman, Libba Bray, & More | November 2017 Xpress Reviews

New fantasy titles from Bray and Pullman; John Green's Turtles is a hit; and an exciting LGBTQ anthology are among November's YA Xpress.

Black, Robert. The Eyes of the Enemy. 221p. Royal Fireworks Pr. Sept. 2017. pap. $9.99. ISBN 9780898243239.

Gr 7 Up –This historical novel takes readers on a harrowing journey into the battles of the Pacific theater of World War II. Fourteen-year-old Kathy Syverson says goodbye to her oldest brother Danny as he heads to war as a marine. At first, she keeps up with him through regular letter writing. But one night as she sleeps, Kathy finds herself right in the middle of the battle alongside her brother. With the help of two Chinese children, Kathy must figure out how to keep her brother safe. Historical fiction fans will appreciate the attention to detail, such as snippets of President Roosevelt’s speeches and radio shows that were popular in the 1940s. The storytelling is uneven, however, and character development is weak. It is the development of secondary characters that keeps the story moving forward, as in the description of post-traumatic stress disorder experienced by returning Marine Pete Thompson. Graphic depictions of violence might be disturbing to some readers (Kathy describes the death of a Japanese child whose “face had been reduced to a bloody mess of skin and bone. His one remaining eye stared at her blankly”). VERDICT An uneven recounting of historical battles; recommended for fans of World War II stories only.–Corey Hall, Manheim Central Middle School, PA

Bray, Libba. Before the Devil Breaks You. 560p. (Diviners: Bk. 3). Little, Brown. Oct. 2017. Tr $19.99. ISBN 9780316126069. POP

Gr 9 Up –Ghosts are taking over 1920s New York City, from the potter’s field of Wards Island to the burial grounds in Lower Manhattan to the Bennington apartment building’s basement. Some ghosts seek vengeance, some wish merely to be remembered, and some hint at promises made by the dangerous King of Crows. The Diviners (and the Diviners-adjacent) are fighting the ghosts, but they’re also fighting amongst themselves to figure out whom to trust and whether to protect or reveal their secrets. Jericho accepts Jake Marlowe’s invitation to his mansion upstate, hoping to learn what the industrialist wants with Diviners; Theta must contend with an old enemy; Mabel Rose cozies up to anarchists; Evie fights to stay in the limelight; Ling learns why you shouldn’t meet your heroes; and more. There’s a lot going on here, but Bray moves the overall plot arc forward while keeping the many, many subplot plates spinning and setting up plenty of conflicts to power the next installment. VERDICT Essential reading for series fans, this is a must-purchase for YA collections.–Stephanie Klose, Library Journal

Corr, Kathatine & Elizabeth Corr. The Witch’s Kiss. 320p. HarperCollins. Sept. 2017. pap. $9.99. ISBN 9780008251208.

Gr 7 Up –“Once upon a time—because that’s how all the best stories start, even the ones that lead to death and darkness and unhappy ever after—there was a kingdom.” Trouble is, 16-year-old Merry wants nothing to do with fairy-tale kingdoms or magic, even though she is a witch descended from a long line of powerful witches. And there’s an evil curse that she is now expected to break. This horror novel begins with an engaging prologue and then turns into a seemingly modern-day mystery. Unexplained sounds come from the attic, and vicious knife attacks happen around Tillingham, “probably the safest and most boring town in Surrey, if not the country.” Merry, 16, and her older brother Leo, 18, struggle through the normal challenges of teenage life, such as their often absent workaholic mother and Leo’s secret crush on his best friend, Dan. It quickly turns into a page-turning fantasy with romance, ancestral magic, and seamless flashbacks. Readers will look forward to the sequel, The Witch’s Tears. Fans of historical fantasy, witches, fractured fairy tales, and doomed love won’t be able to put this book down. VERDICT A perfect stepping stone to Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers and A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness. A definite purchase.–Carina Gonzalez, Raritan Valley Community College, NJ

Drake, Raelyn. Realm of Mystics. 120p. ISBN 9781512439892; ISBN 9781512453591.

Keats, Israel. Labyrinth. 128p. ISBN 9781512439878; ISBN 9781512453577.

––––. The Zephyr Conspiracy. 128p. ISBN 9781512439854; ISBN 9781512453614.

Martin, R.T. Safe Zone. 112p. ISBN 9781512439861; ISBN 9781512453607.

ea vol: (Level Up). Darby Creek. Oct. 2017. Tr. $26.65. pap. $7.99.

Gr 6-10 –In 2089, L33T CORP, one virtual reality gaming company, has a new game, Level Up. It consists of over one thousand different levels for gamers to explore. To test these different worlds, users have to beat it or get stuck in the game forever. The game at the center of Labyrinth requires two players to work together to beat a maze. They must kill creatures, jump pits, and solve complex riddles before time runs out. In The Zephyr Conspiracy, Keats creates a steampunk treasure hunt. Gadget has to decide whether to find treasure and give it to the sketchy captain, work on her own or as a team, and who she can trust. Realm of Mystics puts a non-gamer, Em3rald_with_3nvy, into a world with three other players. They must defeat an dragon, save a princess, and not get stuck in the game forever. One problem—she’s never played video games and is way over her head. Safe Zone is a two-player game where the gamers must make it to the safe zone during a zombie apocalypse. But No_Idea, a non-gamer, has no clue how he got into this game, and he has a partner who is determined to beat him instead of work together. Although hard to believe that people would volunteer to test a game where the penalty is life stuck in a game or death, each author creates a fantastic world for characters to explore. YA readers and gamers will get a kick out of this series and relate well to the characters. VERDICT A strong sci-fi addition to hi-lo collections.–Jessica Strefling, US Court of Appeals, Federal Circuit Library

Duncan, Alexandra. Blight. 528p. HarperCollins/Greenwillow. Aug. 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780062396990.

Gr 9 Up –Dystopian and sci-fi readers will feast upon Duncan’s latest. Growing up in a world where food is grown and controlled by the AgraStar corporation, Tempest, a seventeen year old orphan, has only known life inside the walls of the company farm where she is a security officer. When a deadly toxin is accidently released into the air, Tempest must venture outside the walls of the farm and find the resources and will to survive. With blight-resistant seeds in hand, Tempest becomes unlikely partners with a scavenger named Alder. The two form a platonic friendship that carries them through trial after tribulation as they encounter rogue gangs, animals, and the blight itself. Where our food comes from and how it’s grown has been a hot-button topic for years. Duncan takes a sci-fi approach to this issue and nails it. Readers will find Tempest’s story engaging and believable as the plot line twists and turns from survival story to conspiracy theory. The science fiction elements are strong and mix well within the range of what our imaginations could conceive becoming our own world today. Fans of the “Resident Evil” franchise will ingest this book whole. VERDICT Readers who also enjoyed the “Maze Runner Series” by James Dashner or The Road To Winter by Mark Smith will nosh on this title.–Elizabeth Pelayo, St. Charles East High School, IL

Easton, Tobie. Submerge. 392p. (Mer Chronicles: Bk. 2). Month9Books. Oct. 2017. Tr $23.99. ISBN 9781945107849; pap. $15.99. ISBN 9781946700278.

Gr 8 Up –This fanstasy is set in modern-day Malibu and features teens Lia and Clay, who are in love. Lia is a mermaid, but her family has come Above to live, which is possible as Mer people gain legs at puberty and can transform from tail to legs as needed. There is intense fighting Below, which started when Lia’s ancestor, the Little Mermaid, dropped a dagger into the sea. This unleashed a curse which stopped Mer immortality, giving them human lifespans. In an attempt to reverse this, a plot was hatched to sacrifice a human life—Clay. When he and Lia save each other, in the previous volume Emerge, they broke the curse. Those adventures are recapped throughout this volume. It can be read as a stand-alone, but it would make more sense if the series was read in order. The subsequent trial of the plotters, Lia and Clay’s separation, and Lia’s introduction to Mer spells and sorcery are the major themes. Magic, mermaids, and romance are the main draws. Mer society, history and language are explained; and betrayal, unrequited love, and political maneuvering all feature. The language is a little twee at times, with epithets and endearments all sea-themed. Clay and Lia have a sexual relationship, but this is not written about in detail. VERDICT The series will find a readership amongst young people who are looking for a light fantasy read.–Michelle Anderson, Tauranga City Libraries, New Zealand

Ember, Julia. The Tiger’s Watch. 180p. Dreamspinner. Aug. 2017. pap. $14.99. ISBN 9781635334852.

Gr 7-10 –Set in a mountainous region reminiscent of Tibet, this fantasy adventure begins with two teen Inhabitors escaping the invasion of their city. Trained as spies, and armed with the power of their bonded animals, Tashi and Pharo are assigned to blend in with alleged allies in a remote monastery and to keep their abilities a secret. Tashi is linked with a golden tiger and is more powerful than Pharo, who is paired with an aged wolf. The enemies arrive at the monastery soon after the teens’ arrival, and the commander, Xian, snatches Tashi as his personal servant. Tashi explores both sides, torn between his doomed loyalty and attraction to Pharo, who will die when his partner-wolf dies, and the forbidden allure of invader Xian. He and Pharo inhabit their partner-tiger Katala and slaughter an enemy tracker who threatens Pharo’s wolf, but they also empathize with Xian’s quest for a powerful artifact which may provide enlightenment for the Inhabitors. This first title in a promised series is appealing and unique with its Asian setting; an animal-human connection unlike those in the “Animorphs” or Philip Pullman’s “His Dark Materials” books; and a matter-of-fact genderfluid protagonist. VERDICT Fantasy fans will welcome a fresh and compelling series that supplies steady action and an intriguing love triangle in under 200 pages.–Elaine Fultz, Madison Jr./Sr. High School, Middletown, OH

redstarGreen, John. Turtles All the Way Down. 304p. Dutton. Oct. 2017. Tr $19.99. ISBN 9780525555360. POP

Gr 9 Up –Sixteen-year-old Aza Holmes first met Davis Pickett at “Sad Camp” the summers after fifth and sixth grades. Both Aza and Davis had recently lost parents and the kids bonded in their grief and fascination with the natural world. They’ve had little contact since then, even though they still live in Indianapolis, albeit in very different circumstances. When Davis’s billionaire CEO dad disappears on the eve of a fraud and bribery investigation, Aza’s best bud Daisy is intrigued, particularly since the police are offering a $100,000 reward for information about his whereabouts. The bright, talented girls worry about affording college and soon get caught up in solving the mystery. However, a lack of finances is just one of the myriad things, large (existential) and small (microbes), that Aza stresses about. She is living with debilitating anxiety and obsessive-compulsive responses to it. Despite years of therapy and meds, she works hard to function in the face of physically harrowing mental health challenges. When she reconnects with her childhood friend, the prospect of a budding relationship is at once thrilling and terrifying. As always, Green creates whip-smart and articulate characters who will charm, frustrate, and possibly annoy readers. While the romance is never fully realized, this is undoubtedly a love story. Aza is a likable protagonist and readers will be caught up in the claustrophobic, narrowing spiral that is her existence and root for her to gain control of her life. Her tough, brutally honest first-person narrative will leave teens battered and raw but will also show them that, with love, everything is possible.VERDICT A deeply resonant and powerful novel that will inform and enlighten readers even as it breaks their hearts. A must-buy.–Luann Toth, School Library Journal

Ingram, Bruce. Ninth Grade Blues. 242p. Secant Publishing. Sept. 2017. pap. $12.95. ISBN 9781944962340.

Gr 7-10 –Spanning the first year of high school as told through four students’ perspectives, this novel lacks depth. The four narrators are stereotypical characters: the academically average poor kid with an abusive/racist father, the upper-middle-class chubby smart girl, the annoyingly self-appreciating jock with no respect for authority, and the religious and hardworking daughter of traditionalist Latino parents. The four are unrealistically placed in the same Honors English class first period, despite their admitted differences in ability and effort. What could be a meaningful statement on socioeconomic differences and overcoming adversity falls flat. Conflicts are glossed over without delving into their complexities with any fidelity. The plot jumps from one major topic to another without much transition except the implied passing of time. Meanwhile the thematic lessons, such as cheaters never win, are clichéd and forced. VERDICT Should be passed over in favor of any number of YA multiperspective novels addressing the qualms of high school life.–Jillian Woychowski, West Haven High School, CT

Kiem, Elizabeth. Orphan, Agent, Prima, Pawn. 240p. (Bolshoi Saga: Bk. 3). Soho Teen. Aug. 2017. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9781616956554.

Gr 9 Up –Svetlana, 16, has spent years in Orphanage #36, Moscow’s designated dumping ground for the children of traitors, when she learns her mother has been released from the Gulag. As Vera slowly reintegrates into Cold War Soviet society and returns to her daughter, Svetlana worries about her future and about what she thinks she remembers about her past. Their reunion is made more challenging by Svetlana’s anticipated career as a Bolshoi ballerina. When Vera realizes that her daughter has the ability to perceive memories that are not her own—to mine other people’s pasts for thoughts and secrets—she introduces Svetlana to an associate from her days in the prison camps. Comrade Gerasova is the head of a secret KGB program to develop intelligence using psychic abilities. Svetlana agrees to become Agent Prima. Soon, she is balancing the demands of dancing in a prestigious ballet company with the dangers of espionage, as well as struggling to sort through her romantic feelings for two young men—petty criminal Gosha and radiology engineer Victor. The lives of Gosha, Victor, and Svetlana intersect often as the novel spans three decades. This final volume in a trilogy is an emotionally gripping story that is strong enough to stand alone. The espionage elements are thrilling and enhance the coming-of-age elements of the novel. The presentation of 20th-century Soviet culture is detailed, believable, and seamlessly integrated into the narrative. VERDICT This fascinating and richly detailed story of Soviet Cold War politics, espionage, and culture is highly recommended for all libraries that serve high school readers.–Kelly Kingrey-Edwards, Blinn Junior College, Brenham, TX

Pinborough, Sarah. 13 Minutes. 320p. Flatiron. Oct. 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781250123855.

Gr 10 Up –Tasha was technically dead for exactly 13 minutes—but she has no memory of how it happened. If a dog walker had not arrived in time to pull her out of the frozen river that cold winter morning, Tasha would never have woken up. While she is popular and the unchallenged leader of a trio of perfect-looking blonds at school, Becca is an artsy loner who used to be Tasha’s best friend. Now Becca and Tasha rekindle their old friendship in the aftermath of the near-drowning. Like the chess games they used to play, the girls now embark on a deadlier strategic game: to figure out how Tasha ended up in the river. Secondary characters, including Tasha’s two best friends Hailey and Jenny, Becca’s clingy friend Hannah, and older bad-boy boyfriend Aiden, help build a believable profile of suspects all with their own twisted motives. This is teenage mean-girl debauchery taken to a whole new and darker realm—and the “gotcha” moment at the end will come as a shock. Pinborough deftly varies her storytelling format, using dual narrators, transcripts, diary entries, newspaper articles, and text messages to deliver a smart adrenaline-filled thriller. Descriptive scenes involving sex, drugs, alcohol, tobacco, and violence make this is a recommendation for older teens. VERDICT Fans of Sara Shepard’s “Pretty Little Liars” series and Paula Hawkins’s Into the Water who are looking for a fast-paced mystery with bite will enjoy.–Tara Kehoe, New Jersey State Library Talking Book and Braille Center, Trenton

Polydoros, Aden. Project Pandora. 384p. Entangled Teen. Aug. 2017. pap. $9.99. ISBN 9781633756854.

Gr 10 Up –Pandora’s box is thrown wide open when brainwashed assassins begin digging into the glitches of their own programming. They’re regular teens one minute, trained assassins the next. A combination of case notes and status reports are left for readers to decipher and reveal the nature of each player in this massive game of cat and mouse. As the teens’ programming breaks down and they unwittingly draw closer together, drastic measures are taken to bring them to heel as death or, in their case, Hades, is around every wrong turn. Hades, a subject gone rogue and reprogrammed many times, is their only hope at infiltrating the larger players, but finding Hades’s humanity is harder than they expect. A nonstop thriller, this book sets up for a second installment, with plenty of gory details and intrigue. VERDICT Purchase where Scythe by Neal Shusterman and similar thrillers are popular.–Meghan Oppelt, Whitehall School District, WI

redstarPullman, Philip. The Book of Dust: La Belle Sauvage. 1. 464p. Knopf. Oct. 2017. Tr $$22.99. ISBN 9780375815300.

Gr 8 Up –Eleven-year-old Malcolm Polstead is the inquisitive son of two hardworking and no-nonsense innkeepers. He spends his days working on his beloved canoe, La Belle Sauvage, helping his parents, and avoiding Alice, a teen dishwasher with an attitude. When a trio of mysterious gentlemen arrives asking about the nuns at the nearby priory and whether they’ve ever cared for a baby, Malcolm, along with his beloved daemon Asta, begins working as a spy for the underground resistance. Six-month-old Lyra, daughter of Lord Asriel and Mrs. Coulter, who stars in Pullman’s “His Dark Materials” series, has been secreted away into the care of the Sisters, where Malcolm meets and immediately bonds with the orphaned infant. When the enigmatic Mr. Bonneville and his terrifying hyena daemon arrive in Oxford, it becomes clear that Bonneville wants the baby for his own nefarious purposes. As a historic flood ravages southern Brytain, with the Thames overflowing and destroying buildings and bridges in its wake, Malcolm and Alice find themselves thrown together as they save Lyra from Bonneville and the rising waters. But all is not well; both Bonneville and the Consistorial Court of Discipline, an arm of the brutal and dictatorial Church, are quick on the young people’s heels as they race in La Belle Sauvage to London in the hopes of finding sanctuary and reuniting Lyra with her father. Readers need not have read “His Dark Materials” to be swept along on this quest, though fans will delight in returning to Lyra’s Oxford in this prequel. Pullman keeps the tension high as Malcolm finds clever ways to outwit and outrun their pursuers and Alice reveals a tender side. A subplot about The League of St. Alexander, a Church-run organization that recruits kids to spy on their parents and neighbors, is reminiscent of the Nazi Youth. Themes that permeated Pullman’s previous trilogy, including a sharp and subversive critique of organized religion, abuse of power, and the fragility of democracy, are at play once again—and just as timely as ever. VERDICT Luminous prose, heady philosophical questions, and a lovable protagonist combine with a gripping plot sure to enchant fans and newcomers alike.–Kiera Parrott, School Library Journal

Regan, Anne, ed. Harmonious Hearts 2017: Stories from the Young Author Challenge. 294p. Harmony Ink. Oct. 2017. pap. $16.99. ISBN 9781640801592.

Gr 10 Up –This effervescent anthology presents 16 short stories penned by the winners of Harmony Ink’s Fourth Annual Young Authors Challenge. Each story features well-drawn LGBTQ+ characters.Most also contain elements of romance between these characters. Representing a range of genres, including dystopian, science fiction, romance, and humor, these works celebrate young adult diversity in its many forms. Standouts from the collection include “First, Second, Third” by Elliot Joyce, in which inveterate list-maker Derek falls for a new classmate whose shyness masks a painful past; Amy Carothers’s “Lovers in the Great Collapse” traces the emotional journey of a group of teens who are cryogenically frozen to escape a devastating virus. In Giulia Maggio-Tremblay’s “Honor Among Thieves,” an orphaned teen boy raised within the confines of a village temple helps a mysterious stranger and discovers the true meaning of family. On the lighter side, Sengtdavanh Kinnavong’s “Hoodies and Glasses” features a gorgeous and hilarious sibling relationship, while Joseph Seabrook Scully takes us on a madcap adventure over the course of a single night at a Waffle House in “I Know This Is Bad But I Have a Good Reason.” This anthology—most suitable for older teens due to its sexual content and references—will appeal to readers interested in short stories, as well as budding young writers seeking current examples of their peers’ work. VERDICT This annual anthology is an important touchstone for LGBTQ+ representation and inclusion in YA literature. It should be given serious consideration by all libraries serving teens.–Kelsy Peterson, Forest Hill Coll., Melbourne, Australia

Vick, Chris. Storms. 400p. HarperCollins. Sept. 2017. pap. $9.99. ISBN 9780008215330.

Gr 9 Up –Jake and Hannah met on a perfect summer night; neither was looking for love, but it found them. Jake, a surfer who takes life as it comes, and Hannah, a girl who comes from a wealthy family, can’t seem to keep away from each other. The future was looking bright for them until Hannah breaks the news about moving away to pursue her passion of working with marine life. Jake is willing to leave his life behind to follow her, but how will he ever be able to afford to go? Jake stumbles upon an unexpected opportunity to get the funds he’s been dreaming of. This opportunity quickly becomes more than he bargained far. Secrets are unraveled, lives and reputations are put on the line. Jake has to figure out whether telling the truth or keeping secrets will prevent his loved ones from getting hurt. Vick’s latest is an interesting story of young love, choices, consequences, and life passions. There is mild language and mature situations. Readers will be absorbed in this novel from beginning to end. VERDICT A great addition to teen collections.–Amanda LeMay, Neptune Township Public Library, NJ

Villoro, Juan. The Wild Book. tr. from Spanish by Lawrence Schimel. 240p. Restless. Oct. 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781632061478.

Gr 6-8 –Juan spends the summer searching for a hidden book in his uncle’s enchanted library. The 13-year-old’s life has become a depressing mess: his father has left their Mexican home for Paris, and his mother’s grief has saturated their life like the smoke from her omnipresent cigarettes. Mama takes him to stay at his great-uncle Tito’s enormous house, most of which contains a vast library with sections such as “Marmalade Is Not Money” and “Explorers Who Never Set Out.” Uncle Tito explains that Juan is a Lector Princeps with a supernatural connection to books and that he wants Juan to find the elusive Wild Book. This adventurous tale by Mexican author Villoro includes many elements of magical realism. Volumes change places and rearrange themselves into stairs, while whole plots rewrite themselves depending on who reads them. Uncle Tito is an unusual character, given to cooking experiments and half-page dissertations on the pleasures of urination. VERDICT For a more successful take on enchanted books, try Delia Sherman’s Evil Wizard Smallbone, or, for Spanish-language readers, seek out the original.–Beth Wright Redford, Richmond Elementary School Library

Williams, Ismée. Water in May. 320p. glossary. Abrams/Amulet. Sept. 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781419725395.

Gr 9 Up –Mari Pujols is 15 and pregnant, but her main issue isn’t about the baby growing inside her; it is a matter of the heart. Mari finds out that her baby has some complications in the heart and lungs that will require multiple surgeries. She lives in New York City with her abuela. Mari’s grandmother thinks she should reconsider continuing her pregnancy. Mari is determined to see out this pregnancy and create a new family for herself. Mari’s family is littered with pain as her father is in prison, her mother abandoned her, and her abuela holds onto a lot of resentment. She shoulders her problems with her friends, her only refuge, but that doesn’t stop Mari from having her doubts. This book not only discusses teen pregnancy but a high-risk one, a new parent’s nightmare. Mari and her friends are Dominican American, and this narrative fuses culture and language to help paint the story. Spanish words and Dominican slang are peppered throughout. Most of the phrases are easy to decipher through context clues ,and there is a Dominican slang glossary. This book is filled with heartache as Mari and her friends find love, family, and themselves. VERDICT A first purchase, this book has a promising plot, and the family drama will keep readers hooked.–Katie Llera, Bound Brook High School, NJ

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Kids are using VR to explore worlds and create new ones


Kids are using VR to explore worlds and create new ones


Kids are using VR to explore worlds and create new ones

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