YA Xpress Reviews | December 2016

A handful of novels in a variety of genres and with an intriguing array of settings for voracious YA readers.
For more of this month’s Xpress Reviews:

Picture Books

Graphic Novels


Alexander, Maria. Snowed. 218p. Raw Dog Screaming. Nov. 2016. Tr $14.95. ISBN 9781935738893.

Gr 8 Up –Charity, a biracial, robot-building math whiz, is an atheist who does not fit in at her new school in a conservative small town. After she forms the Skeptics Club, she deals with extreme bullying for her beliefs. Then, the ringleader of “Bullies for Jesus” is found brutally killed, apparently mauled by a wild beast. Charity and her new friends from Skeptics Club become “monster hunters” as they try to find out what happened. Meanwhile, Charity discovers that Aidan, a teenage runaway whom her family is fostering, is actually is the son of Santa Claus. Santa’s true name, it turns out, is Krampus, and he and his creepy elves are coming to take Aidan home. The character motivations in this holiday horror offering are at times unclear. Charity’s drug-dealing brother, Charles, has an inexplicable hatred toward Aidan, while Charity in return has no feelings for her brother and is all too happy for him to be arrested. In addition, the Christian characters sometimes veer into caricatures of homophobic bullies, while pop culture references are fun but could become dated. Still, the fantasy elements are fully imagined, and the unique premise may attract horror fans, who will appreciate the teens’ creative solutions for fighting the villains. VERDICT An additional purchase for large libraries or those looking for horror with an original plot.–Allison McLean, Elkhart Public Library, IN

Alexander, Shannon Lee. Life After Juliet. 304p. Entangled. Jul. 2016. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781633753235.

Gr 7 Up –In this highly readable companion to Love and Other Unknown Variables, shy bookworm Becca Hanson would rather sink into the trials and tribulations of the characters in her books than deal with her own life. It’s been over a year since her best and only friend died, and Becca cannot move beyond her grief. Inadvertently thrust into the limelight of her school’s adaptation of Romeo and Juliet, Becca slowly takes notice of the world around her, especially after cute, artistic Max begins to notice her. The plot is fast-paced and mostly character driven, and it is Becca’s frenemy and the star of the drama club, Darby, who is responsible for the majority of twists, tension, resolution, and character development. Still, the budding relationship between Max and Becca is a well-realized depiction of a shy teen romance. VERDICT A life-affirming read that will appeal to bookworms, theater nerds, and hopeful romantics alike.–Leighanne Law, Scriber Lake High School, WA

Barker, Kathryn. In the Skin of a Monster. 304p. Allen & Unwin. Sept. 2016. Tr $12.99. ISBN 9781760111717.

Gr 9 Up –Alice is an identical twin left behind after her emo, edgy 14-year-old sister takes their dad’s gun to school and shoots seven people. Alice is now infamous for sharing the face of the girl who brought a nightmare of violence to life in their small town in the Australian Outback. Alice has spent three years in a mental treatment facility learning to cope with the horror, hate, and unanswerable questions. Soon after returning to her damaged hometown, Alice suddenly and impossibly crosses over to a weird dreamscape—a fun house–mirror version of the place that she and her twin once shared. There, what’s being dreamed appears as a sort of bubble containing both the dreamer and elements of the dream, such as monsters of the clawed and slavering sort and terrors wearing human faces. Alice’s twin has been a regular in this nightmare world, and now Alice has been subbed in for her to navigate with a small band of battle-worn denizens attempting to survive the “nasties.” They are helped by Lux, a mysterious humanoid who narrates in alternate chapters, and Ivan, a monstrous beast with a heart of gold. This Australian import features a slowly built parallel world that’s held together with a sort of dream logic. It is an inventive attempt to share with readers the confusion and frustration the characters feel about their experiences, but the nebulous plot connections may challenge many readers to stay engaged. VERDICT Some patient teens may find enough concrete narrative elements in the amorphous world of the novel, but many will flounder, as they do in their own nonsensical dreamscapes.–Suzanne Gordon, Lanier High School, Sugar Hill, GA

Bischoff, Rebecca. The French Impressionist. 250p. Amberjack. Dec. 2016. pap. $9.99. ISBN 9781944995027.

Gr 7 Up –When she is 15, Rosemary fakes her way into an exchange program for aspiring artists in southern France. After submitting plagiarized works of art and documents that falsify her level of understanding of the French language, she is accepted. She’s even duped her family; her overbearing, overprotective mother thinks that her daughter is just flying away to Phoenix. After she settles into her new host family’s home, Rosemary has to figure out her next move. She claims to have laryngitis to avoid speaking in her not-so-fluent French, but how long can that last? Then a family from Texas befriends her host parents, and their attractive teenage son also happens to suspect that Rosemary isn’t who she says she is. Rosemary has only ever attended an all-girls school, and she doesn’t know how to act around guys, so her awkwardness adds to her difficulties. Her host mom, Sylvie, also becomes suspicious after she and Rosemary spend an afternoon painting and Rosemary’s pieces lack the same feeling and skill as her program submissions. The plot stretches believability: Could Rosemary truly have boarded an international flight rather than a domestic one and spent the entire summer abroad without being detected? In addition, Rosemary experiences communication challenges that make it difficult for her to speak with ease in any language, and while it’s refreshing that this doesn’t define her, it’s an element that isn’t always easily integrated into the story. What works best here is the author’s ability to evoke the feeling of being in France, with descriptions of the rooms, smells, and sounds, all adding to the artistic themes of impressions and impressionism. VERDICT Though the narrative is uneven, the novel’s French setting and identity questions may draw YAs, especially aspiring artists.–Jessica Lorentz Smith, Bend Senior High School, OR

Carson, Rae. Like a River Glorious. 416p. (Gold Seer Trilogy: Bk. 2). HarperCollins/Greenwillow. Sept. 2016. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780062242945.

Gr 9 Up –Not as strong or as enchanting as Walk on Earth a Stranger, the first book in the trilogy, this follow-up has plenty of action but falls short on substantive plot. Leah Westfall, 16, has the ability to sense gold and has made it from Georgia to California seeking both safety and her fortune at the start of the Gold Rush. Her talent has also drawn the interest of her purely nefarious uncle, Hiram, who is hot on her trail. After divulging her secret to her close group of trail mates and staking claims in a prosperous spot, Leah and her half–Native American best friend (and love interest) Jefferson are kidnapped and imprisoned by Hiram and his henchman. Every character is an archetype worthy of the soap opera–style drama that ensues, including offbeat old miners, lovestruck and ever-hopeful Jefferson, a reluctant but helpful prostitute housekeeper, a stoic “bodyguard” for Leah, and the lecherous uncle who will stop at nothing, including murder and brutal Indian enslavement, to get what he wants. As Leah and her compatriots hatch a plan to escape, an Indian uprising is planned, and the stakes grow deadly for many. VERDICT Fans of the first book may enjoy the nonstop histrionics, but others can pass this by.–Madeline J. Bryant, Los Angeles Public Library

Coyle, J.Q. The Infinity of You & Me. 256p. ebook available. St. Martin’s Griffin. Nov. 2016. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9781250099228.

Gr 8 Up –This book starts like many teen problem novels. Alicia struggles to maintain a normal high school life despite vivid and unpredictable hallucinations. The neighborhood bully hassles her, teachers don’t understand her, and her father left when she was small. Things get more mysterious, though, after her father shows up at her 16th birthday party, and Alicia learns that she isn’t hallucinating after all. Instead, she slips into other worlds of the multiverse. Her father tells her about their shared ability to move between universes and create further ones by making different choices. Before explaining more, however, he’s chased away by his brother. Is the brother a kindly uncle trying to protect Alicia, or a villain attempting to take advantage of her ability? So begins a chase in and out of universes and different versions of herself as Alicia tries to discover the truth and save a dying world. Alicia’s first-person voice is consistent and likable. The science fiction is explained in just enough detail to serve the action-packed plot without getting bogged down. VERDICT Teens will enjoy moving from this book’s intriguing situations to their own “what-if” questions about the power of choice and paths not taken.–Amelia Jenkins, Juneau Public Library, AK

Nicholson, Hope, ed. Love Beyond Body, Space, and Time. 112p. ebook available. Bedside. Sept. 2016. pap. $10. ISBN 9780993997075.

Gr 7 Up –Nicholson again brings together a strong collection of works by talented Native writers. This time, the short stories all have an LGBTQ sci-fi twist. The introduction gives readers background information about how two-spirit people have always been a part of life. The pieces are varied as people find one another on Mars, on their way to Mars, or through a touch that transforms humans into hummingbirds. The diverse characters experience transitioning, virtual-reality romance, and the transformative power of love. The only downside: the yearning for more tales to continue. VERDICT An accessible book that will intrigue readers looking for love in unusual places.–Amy Zembroski, Indian Community School, Franklin, WI

Pool, Joyce. The Castrato. tr. from Dutch. 285p. Lemniscaat. Nov. 2016. Tr $12.95. ISBN 9781935954415.

Gr 9 Up –During the peak of the baroque era, Angelo Montegne lives in Fiesol, a small Italian village. While he enjoys working in his father’s tannery shop, his true passion is music. Angelo is a star singer in the local church choir, and his immense talent does not go unnoticed. When priests from a prestigious music academy in Florence try to recruit Angelo for their school, though, Angelo’s father refuses to let him go. Angelo’s musical career seems to have ended before it began, until a tragedy strikes. Defying his father’s wishes, Angelo agrees to attend the academy, and he learns the price of admittance: his own castration. At the academy, Angelo develops friendships, but music remains his truest love and anchor. Just as Angelo finally begins to accept his future as a castrato, a beautiful girl from his youth reappears, and he must choose to follow his heart or pursue a successful musical career. This intriguing novel, originally published in the Netherlands, introduces a fascinating and disturbing part of musical history. Angelo’s personal story is highly compelling, and his gender identity issues and the sexual fluidity of his classmates may lead to open discussions with teens. Some readers will be motivated to learn more about the history of castrati and the renowned composers of the baroque period. VERDICT Great for fans of historical fiction or teachers looking for a unique read to add to their high school or college-level history or English syllabi. Give this book to fans of Lisa See’s Snow Flower and the Paper Fan or Ruta Sepetys’s Between Shades of Gray.–Ellen Fitzgerald, White Oak Library District, Lockport, IL

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