Tag Archives: coming of age

The Wild Inside by Jamey Bradbury

The Wild Inside by Jamey Bradbury. March 20, 2018. William Morrow, 304 p. ISBN: 9780062741998.  Int Lvl: AD; Rdg Lvl: AD; Lexile: 880.

A natural born trapper and hunter raised in the Alaskan wilderness, Tracy Petrikoff spends her days tracking animals and running with her dogs in the remote forests surrounding her family’s home. Though she feels safe in this untamed land, Tracy still follows her late mother’s rules: Never Lose Sight of the House. Never Come Home with Dirty Hands. And, above all else, Never Make a Person Bleed.

But these precautions aren’t enough to protect Tracy when a stranger attacks her in the woods and knocks her unconscious. The next day, she glimpses an eerily familiar man emerge from the tree line, gravely injured from a vicious knife wound—a wound from a hunting knife similar to the one she carries in her pocket. Was this the man who attacked her and did she almost kill him? With her memories of the events jumbled, Tracy can’t be sure.

Helping her father cope with her mother’s death and prepare for the approaching Iditarod, she doesn’t have time to think about what she may have done. Then a mysterious wanderer appears, looking for a job. Tracy senses that Jesse Goodwin is hiding something, but she can’t warn her father without explaining about the attack—or why she’s kept it to herself.

It soon becomes clear that something dangerous is going on . . . the way Jesse has wormed his way into the family . . . the threatening face of the stranger in a crowd . . . the boot-prints she finds at the forest’s edge.

Her family is in trouble. Will uncovering the truth protect them—or is the threat closer than Tracy suspects?

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Hunting, Inhumane treatment of animals, Recollection of a sexual assault, Murder, Two instances of strong language

 

Reviews

Booklist (January 1, 2018 (Vol. 114, No. 9))
Tracy lives to hunt, sometimes spending days in the Alaska wilderness with nothing but her wits and her knife. Ever since her mother died, her father has kept her on a tight leash, especially when it comes to training for the upcoming Iditarod. Tracy’s preternatural drive to hunt is insatiable, however, so she sneaks out regularly, which is where she is when the stranger attacks her. She fights back, waking up with a bruised head and bloody hands, but she’s convinced he’ll return to finish what he started. When her father takes on a hired hand, Tracy’s careful secrets start to unravel, and she discovers disturbing truths about her desperate need to hunt. Though the pacing can be haphazard and Tracy’s folksy, first-person narration doesn’t always ring true, debut author Bradbury cultivates vivid atmosphere with visceral action and a dynamic cast of characters. Tracy’s unsettling compulsion for hunting takes a magic-realist turn early on, which might disappoint fans of straightforward survival thrillers, but patient readers who like earthy, genre-blending, coming-of-age stories should be pleased.

Kirkus Reviews (January 15, 2018)
An Alaskan teenager on the cusp of adulthood is drawn to the feral life.Although the folksy and stubbornly ungrammatical voice of Bradbury’s first-person narrator, Tracy Petrikoff, takes some getting used to, it conveys a visceral sense of her world. In the nearly two years since her mother’s death, a month before Tracy’s 16th birthday, her home life has been thrown into disarray. Now nearing 18, Tracy hopes to enter her first adult Iditarod. But her father, Bill, a champion musher, has given up the sport and is deaf to Tracy’s pleas to let her train. Younger brother Scott has retreated into his books and photography. Other than tending the fleet of sled dogs her family still maintains, she is officially grounded—she’s been expelled from school for fighting. However, Tracy easily evades her father’s halfhearted discipline to set woodland traps. Her catches—martens, minks, hares, and squirrels—provide meat for the family and pelts to sell in the nearby village. Furthermore, trusty hunting blade in hand, Tracy gains essential strength from drinking the blood of her prey while also temporarily mind-melding with victims. One day in the woods, a strange man slams Tracy against a tree root and she blacks out. When the man, Tom Hatch, shows up at her home, bleeding from a stab wound, Tracy assumes she inflicted it. Returning to the scene of her supposed crime, Tracy finds a backpack containing wads of cash, enough to enter the Iditarod. Jesse Goodwin, a young drifter, appears, taking on the role of hired factotum. Tracy and Jesse develop a special bond after she learns Jesse was fleeing Hatch. However, Jesse is not what he seems. The ingredients of a thriller with surreal elements are all in place, as Tracy suspects that Hatch has recovered and may be seeking revenge. From here the plot veers off in directions that are not only unexpected, but at time beggar belief. Still, readers will warm to the unconventional persona Bradbury has crafted for Tracy, that of wilderness savant. A strange and soulful debut.

About the Author

Jamey Bradbury’s work has appeared in Black Warrior Review, Sou’wester, and Zone 3. She won an Estelle Campbell Memorial Award from the National Society of Arts and Letters.

She moved to Anchorage, Alaska, in 2002 but kept leaving to join the Peace Corps, work in Vermont, and go to graduate school. The important part, though, is that she came back. If you’re ever in Anchorage, she recommends Spenard Roadhouse for drinks, Bear Tooth Theater Pub for movies and burritos, and Eagle and Symphony Lakes for hiking. She hails originally from Illinois.

Her website is www.jameybradbury.com

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Troublemakers by Catherine Barter

Troublemakers by Catherine Barter. April 1, 2018. Carolhoda Books, 360 p. ISBN: 9781512475494.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile: 760.

When she was three, Alena’s activist mother died. She’s been raised by her half-brother and his boyfriend in East London, which is being targeted by a lone bomber. Alena desperately wants to know about her mother, but her brother won’t tell her anything.

Alena’s played by the rules all her life, but that’s over. When she starts digging up information herself and does something that costs her brother his job and puts the family in jeopardy, Alena discovers she can be a troublemaker–just like her mother.

Now she must figure out what sort of trouble she’s willing to get into to find out the truth.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Strong language, Discrimination, Underage drinking

 

Reviews

Booklist (March 1, 2018 (Vol. 114, No. 13))
Grades 8-11. Alena has lived with her brother, Danny, since she was three. She knows he and his boyfriend share secrets about Alena and Danny’s mother’s troubled life. But every time Lena tries to talk to Danny about it, he shuts her down. At 15, Lena feels old enough to handle the truth, and if Danny won’t give it to her, well, she’ll start making trouble herself by trying to dig up the real story. Her two friends, Ollie and Tegan, will be there to help her through the triumphs and sorrows that soon come, as Lena tries to navigate her confusing past and uncertain future with a frightening present—an unknown person called the East End Bomber is terrorizing her area of London. Barter’s debut displays impressive skill and authenticity in relating issues of family secrets and grief. Readers will connect with Lena on her dramatic, heartrending journey as she begins to suss out the ambiguity of other people’s choices and fateful decisions that happened long before she was born.

Kirkus Reviews starred (February 15, 2018)
A 15-year-old London girl struggles with family tensions against a backdrop of bombings, crime, and political skulduggery.Lena, whose mum died when she was only 3, has been lovingly raised by her brother, Danny (20 years her senior), and his partner, Nick. But Danny’s just gotten a job working for a law-and-order political candidate, and now there’s constant tension at home. There’s a bomber attacking East London supermarkets, and Danny’s boss—in statements Danny wrote for him—uses anti-crime language that Nick, who runs a hippie coffee shop that displays anti-establishment leaflets, despises. As the couple decide to separate to ease the tension in their relationship, Lena becomes increasingly curious about the mother she doesn’t remember, further infuriating her brother. Why is Danny so hostile toward their mother’s old friends? Real life is messy, Lena learns. As well as that: You don’t have to be political to be moral; good people sometimes do rotten things; doing right sometimes hurts the wrong people; and you don’t always get cinematic closure with the secrets of your past. Several secondary characters represent the multiculturalism of modern London; Lena and her family are assumed white. Amid a thoroughly contemporary story about terrorism, email leaks, and a divisive political climate, Lena’s coming-of-age is wonderfully individual and heartbreakingly real. (Realistic fiction. 12-16)

About the Author

Catherine Barter grew up in Warwickshire, and then lived in Norwich for ten years, where she worked in a library, a bookshop, and for an organisation campaigning for the rights of garment workers. After gaining a PhD in American literature, she ditched academia for the lucrative world of independent bookselling. Currently she lives in East London and co-manages Housmans, a radical independent bookshop in King’s Cross.

Her website is catherine-barter.com

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Speak No Evil by Uzodinma Iweala

Speak No Evil by Uzodinma Iweala. March 6, 2018. Harper, 215 p. ISBN: 9780061284922.  Int Lvl: AD; Rdg Lvl: AD; Lexile: 960.

In the long-anticipated novel from the author of the critically acclaimed Beasts of No Nation, a revelation shared between two privileged teenagers from very different backgrounds sets off a chain of events with devastating consequences

On the surface, Niru leads a charmed life. Raised by two attentive parents in Washington, D.C., he’s a top student and a track star at his prestigious private high school. Bound for Harvard in the fall, his prospects are bright. But Niru has a painful secret: he is queer—an abominable sin to his conservative Nigerian parents. No one knows except Meredith, his best friend, the daughter of prominent Washington insiders—and the one person who seems not to judge him.

When his father accidentally discovers Niru is gay, the fallout is brutal and swift. Coping with troubles of her own, however, Meredith finds that she has little left emotionally to offer him. As the two friends struggle to reconcile their desires against the expectations and institutions that seek to define them, they find themselves speeding toward a future more violent and senseless than they can imagine. Neither will escape unscathed.

In the tradition of Junot Diaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s AmericanahSpeak No Evilexplores what it means to be different in a fundamentally conformist society and how that difference plays out in our inner and outer struggles. It is a novel about the power of words and self-identification, about who gets to speak and who has the power to speak for other people. As heart-wrenching and timely as his breakout debut, Beasts of No Nation, Uzodinma Iweala’s new novel cuts to the core of our humanity and leaves us reeling in its wake.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Strong language, Discrimination, Strong sexual themes, Drugs, Underage drinking, Anti-gay attitudes and conversion therapy

 

Reviews

Booklist starred (December 1, 2017 (Vol. 114, No. 7))
When Harvard-bound, Washington, D.C., prep-school senior Niru’s parents discover the gay-dating app his best friend, Meredith, downloaded for him on his phone, everything blows up in his face like he knew it would. Although his Nigerian parents are fiercely loving, they are but bound by their faith, his father especially so, to reject Niru’s queerness and seek religious therapy for his “condition,” both locally and in their ancestral home. In his third book, Iweala—author of the multiple-award-winning novel Beasts of No Nation (2005) and Our Kind of People (2012), a nonfiction book about people living with AIDS in Nigeria—delivers with immediate poignancy Niru’s struggles between rejecting his parents’ constrictions and yearning for them; between embracing his sexuality and believing there’s a cure for it, and that it should be cured at all. Through Niru’s narration, which forms the bulk of the book, he, his parents, and his brother, who’s away at college but a constant presence in Niru’s thoughts, become full and realistically nuanced characters. A later shift in narration allows a different and perhaps more complete picture of Niru, which Iweala also handles elegantly. Portraying cross-generational and -cultural misunderstandings with anything but simplicity, Iweala tells an essential American story.

Kirkus Reviews (February 1, 2018)
Iweala’s second novel, after Beasts of No Nation (2005), is a coming-of-age tale about immigrant identity and sexuality in America.Niru, an ambitious teenager, is in his senior year at a private high school in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. Driven by his demanding Nigerian parents, he strives for success in both sports and academics. As he prepares to attend Harvard next year, trains to impress his track coach, and struggles to make a space for himself among his mostly white peers, he deftly reconciles his conflicting identities as the son of wealthy Nigerian immigrants and as an American teenager. There’s turmoil rippling beneath his life’s surface, though. When his closest friend, the attractive Meredith, tries to hook up with him, he panics and admits to himself that he’s attracted to men. Meredith excitedly tries to help him embrace his sexuality, but Niru’s impulses are unacceptable to his conservative Christian parents. After discovering flirtatious conversations with men on the boy’s phone, Niru’s father, Obi, takes him back to Nigeria to “cure” his son of what he considers “sinful nonsense.” The scenes of Niru’s clashes with his father are the most affecting moments in the novel: by depicting the fervor and violence of Obi’s anger about Niru’s queerness, Iweala does a stunning job of depicting the danger that many black youth face in trying to honor their sexual identities. Despite trying to suppress his desires and simplify his family life, Niru meets the seductive Damien. The two begin a tentative and tender relationship, but this is not a triumphant novel about Niru’s embracing his sexual identity. Instead, Iweala gives us a novel of keen insight into the mental and emotional turmoil that attends an adolescent’s discovery of his sexuality. Unfortunately, the book seems to lose steam toward its conclusion. Niru’s relationship with Damien is not explored as fully as it could be, while the implications of his parents’ pressure aren’t entirely untangled. The novel resolves with the sudden and disjunctive insertion of another character’s perspective, sabotaging the development of Niru’s own subjectivity. This is a deeply felt and perceptive novel that does not fulfill its promise.

About the Author

Uzodinma Iweala is the acclaimed author of Beasts of No Nation, which received the Los Angeles Times Art Seidenbaum Award for First Fiction, the Sue Kaufman Prize for First Fiction from the Academy of Arts and Letters, the New York Public Library Young Lions 2006 Fiction Award, and the 2006 John Llewellyn Rhys Prize. In 2007, Iweala was selected as one of Granta’s Best Young American Novelists.

A graduate of Harvard University and the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, he lives in New York City and Lagos, Nigeria.

 

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When the Crickets Stopped Singing by Marilyn Cram-Donahue

When the Crickets Stopped Singing by Marilyn Cram-Donahue. March 20, 2018. Calkins Creek, 288 p. ISBN: 9781629797236.  Int Lvl: 5-8; Lexile: 730.

Set in the summer of 1939, this historical novel for readers aged 10-14 tells the story of a young girl who finds the strength to defy the social norms of her community when a dangerous man poses a threat to a friend. Twelve-year-old Angie Wallace and her friends embark on a quest to “love thy neighbor,” which includes newcomer Jefferson Clement. But soon the girls begin to suspect that he’s a dangerous man, even if the adults refuse to see it. Like Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird, the characters in this book must explore the nature of truth and justice as Angie struggles to stand up for what she knows is right.

It’s the calm before the storm of World War II in 1939 in small-town Messina, California. Angie Wallace and her friends have set out on a mission to “love thy neighbor”–even if that means inviting weird Dodie Crumper to join in their summer plans. But as they move through their neighborly to-do list, the girls can’t help but notice that there’s something strange about the sudden return of Jefferson Clement. He might be well-dressed and respected, yet with each interaction they become more aware of his dark intentions, especially when it comes to young girls. The adults in town either don’t notice or ignore the danger he poses, but when Angie is the only witness to a terrible accident, she must make a choice that calls into question everything she understands about truth and justice. With a setting that blossoms to life from the first page, When the Crickets Stopped Singing is the story of a transformative summer in a young girl’s life, when the idylls of childhood collide with the perils of the world beyond.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Predatory behavior, Allusions to sexual abuse of a child, Alcohol, Parental neglect

 

Reviews

Booklist (March 1, 2018 (Online))
Grades 5-8. Angie, Geraldine, and Reba Lu should be having a summer of fun, filled with church picnics and the Fourth of July celebration in their small California town. It’s 1939, and the three 12-year-olds even embark on a good-works project, widening their circle of friendship and offering support to people who could use it. Meanwhile, war looms in Europe, and another, more immediate threat clouds this patina of innocence. A mysterious neighbor has returned to town, and the girls begin to suspect his interest in them is not appropriate. For one thing, they spot Jefferson Clement focusing binoculars on them when they sunbathe. Then there are hints from acquaintances that Clement’s attentions are menacing. The plot ramps up dramatically when Angie witnesses a confrontation between Clement and her new friend Dodie, before Dodie is severely injured in a fall. Angie’s fear about testifying about what she saw speaks volumes about the difficulty of reporting sexual abuse. This well-plotted, nongraphic, non-message-driven treatment of an important topic is sure to spark discussions.

Kirkus Reviews (January 1, 2018)
In a small and apparently all-white town, Angelina and her friends face a sinister danger. It’s a roasting hot summer in 1939, and Angelina is troubled by news of Hitler as newscasters wonder when America might become involved. It’s a time of fresh-squeezed lemonade, telephone switchboards, and church picnics. Twelve-year-old Angelina, her best friend, Geraldine, and the new preacher’s daughter, Reba Lu, hatch a plan to curry favor with God by making a list of sinners to befriend and save. The list includes some eccentric characters, including Miss Emma, who’s a bit “tetched,” rarely leaves her room, and wears a live snake around her neck. Also on the list is Jefferson Clement, who has just returned to town after a yearslong absence. Except for his wife and Angelina’s mother, most folks seem happy to see Clement and his red carnation boutonniere. One night, among other troubling events, someone tries to sneak into the girls’ backyard tent as they sleep. Angelina is nearly certain she knows who it is. The atmospheric story unfolds through Angelina’s increasingly discerning voice, which illuminates how intensely afraid the girls are to tell the adults. In lingering, evocative prose, this story is demonstratively reminiscent of To Kill a Mockingbird, including a stifling courtroom inquiry of the town scapegoat and a girl’s loss of innocence. The afterword includes discussion suggestions. (Historical fiction. 10-14)

About the Author

Marilyn Cram Donahue is the author of Straight Along a Crooked Road and its sequel The Valley in Between, as well as sixteen other books for children. She is also a regular school speaker and author-in-residence at writing retreats.

She lives in Highland, California. Her website is marilyncramdonahue.com

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All We Can Do Is Wait by Richard Lawson

All We Can Do Is Wait by Richard Lawson. February 6, 2018. Razorbill, 277 p. ISBN: 9780448494111.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile: 900.

In the hours after a bridge collapse rocks their city, a group of Boston teenagers meet in the waiting room of Massachusetts General Hospital:

Siblings Jason and Alexa have already experienced enough grief for a lifetime, so in this moment of confusion and despair, Alexa hopes that she can look to her brother for support. But a secret Jason has been keeping from his sister threatens to tear the siblings apart…right when they need each other most.

Scott is waiting to hear about his girlfriend, Aimee, who was on a bus with her theater group when the bridge went down. Their relationship has been rocky, but Scott knows that if he can just see Aimee one more time, if she can just make it through this ordeal and he can tell her he loves her, everything will be all right.

And then there’s Skyler, whose sister Kate—the sister who is more like a mother, the sister who is basically Skyler’s everything—was crossing the bridge when it collapsed. As the minutes tick by without a word from the hospital staff, Skyler is left to wonder how she can possibly move through life without the one person who makes her feel strong when she’s at her weakest.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Strong language, Strong sexual themes, Drugs, Underage drinking, Marijuana, Domestic abuse

 

Reviews

Booklist (December 1, 2017 (Vol. 114, No. 7))
Grades 9-12. In the wake of a bridge collapse, several Boston-area teens find themselves at a hospital to hope—and mostly wait—for word on their loved ones. Alexa and her brother, Jason, consider life without their parents. Scott regrets the way things ended with his girlfriend. Skyler tries to summon the strength of her older sister, Kate. And Morgan, already touched by death, reaches out to bring them all together. What results is a remarkable story that explores growing up through the lens of mortality, told through multiple points of view and featuring flashbacks that allow readers to gain insights into each character. Lawson is adept at gripping the reader while eschewing typical tropes of YA literature (e.g., romantic entanglements and social drama). Rather, the spotlight is on the relationships the teens have with loved ones, the relationships they begin with each other, and the insights gleaned from a harrowing experience. Young readers looking for a change of pace will be rewarded by this quiet yet powerful meditation on life and death.

Kirkus Reviews (December 1, 2017)
A lot can happen in the hospital waiting room in the wake of a tragedy. When Boston’s Tobin Bridge collapses into the Mystic River, it takes nearly 200 drivers and passengers with it. A third-person omniscient narrator alternates through the perspectives of five teen characters—strangers who are connected to the victims—as they wait with hundreds of others at the hospital for news about the incident. Siblings Jason and Alexa are “well-to-do New England WASPs” from Back Bay whose lives have already been transformed after the death of a close friend—closeted Jason’s secret boyfriend. Cambodian-American Skyler, who is raised by her grandparents, is mixed up in an abusive relationship with an upperclassman. Scott and Morgan, who are both white, have their own secret back stories. Vanity Fair film critic Lawson’s teen fiction debut is a careful exploration of the rippling effects of tragedy. Alternating viewpoints give multiple sides of the same story, while flashbacks give the important contexts of the characters’ lives before the accident. Boston-savvy readers will know and appreciate all the local references. But the promising premise doesn’t quite deliver and is spoiled by a too-tidy conclusion. Patient readers will fall for the characters; others will wonder if it’s worth the wait—even with lives on the line. (Fiction. 14-18)

About the Author

Richard Lawson is the film critic for Vanity Fair and a co-host of V.F.‘s Little Gold Men podcast. He has written for The GuardianThe Atlantic Wire, Gawker, and Out magazine, and has contributed to the Dinner Party Download radio show.

Though currently living in New York City, Richard was born and raised in Boston. Her website is www.tinaconnolly.com.

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The Altered History of Willow Sparks by Tara O’Connor

The Altered History of Willow Sparks by Tara O’Connor. March 6, 2018. Oni Press, 152 p. ISBN: 9781620104507.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile: 300.

What happens when you can finally get everything you ever wanted?

Willow Sparks and her best friend Georgia Pratt are at the bottom of the social ladder at Twin Pines High School, just trying to get through each day relatively unscathed. But when Willow finds a mysterious book that allows her to literally change her life, it feels like her luck is finally turning. As she becomes more and more popular with each entry into the book, her old life, including her friendship with Georgia, seems miles away. Yet as Willow will discover, every action has a reaction, and the future has unusual—even dangerous—ways of protecting itself

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Violence, Underage drinking, Bullying

 

Reviews

Kirkus Reviews (October 15, 2017)
Relentlessly bullied by the popular clique, the titular protagonist discovers an unexpected way to change her future.Plagued with tragically uncool hair and unfortunate acne, Willow Sparks certainly is not a member of the popular crowd. However, her two best friends, Georgia and Gary, are loyal, and together the trio navigates the social atrocities of their high school. While at her job at the local library, Willow finds herself cornered by her mean-girl nemeses and, after a violent episode, unearths a secret library within the library that’s filled with unusual books. She finds a mysterious tome bearing her name that allows her to write her own future—but with devastating effects. While the semi-Faustian trope certainly is not new, O’Connor’s graphic-novel spin on it is fun and captivating. Her art is expressive and deftly captures all the angst and action through a cinematic lens. However, as Willow’s self-conceived plans unravel, the plotting goes with it, leaving the strong beginning floundering through a hasty resolution. While Willow is fully fleshed out, the secondary characters—including best friend Georgia and Willow’s librarian boss—are frustratingly not as well-developed. Despite these quibbles, O’Connor’s offering is an enjoyable and quick dip into the dark side of wish fulfillment. Main character Willow is white, as is Gary, and Georgia is Asian. An intriguing and incisive plot that starts promisingly but ultimately falls flat. (Graphic fantasy. 12-16)

Publishers Weekly (November 20, 2017)
Willow Sparks just wants to get through high school without students in popular cliques harassing her and teachers embarrassing her. After bullies show up at the library where she works and push her down a flight of stairs, she discovers a secret underground wing-and a book with her name on it. By writing in the book, she can reshape her future, and soon she’s ditching her best friends Georgia and Gary to hang out with the cool kids. The pale lavender-gray coloring of O’Connor’s two-tone cartooning fits the eerie, brooding atmosphere of this magic-inflected cautionary tale. But although O’Connor’s talents as an artist aren’t in question-the torments that Willow and her friends face in gym class, school bathrooms, and elsewhere feel painfully real-the overall story is rushed and too-tidily resolved. Even considering the influence of the magical book, the speed with which Willow drops her friends is jarring, and their own subplots get short shrift (Georgia is moving out of town, and Gary is nervously starting to come out to family and friends). It’s an intriguing story that doesn’t have enough space to reach its full potential. Ages 13-up. (Feb.)

About the Author

Tara is a cartoonist currently residing in the New Jersey wilderness. When she’s not drawing comics, she’s teaching them. She drinks way too much tea and coffee, and on any given day there’s a 90% chance that every meal she had was cereal.

 

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Release by Patrick Ness

Release by Patrick Ness. September 19, 2017. HarperTeen, 279 p. ISBN: 9780062403193.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile: 750.

Adam Thorn doesn’t know it yet, but today will change his life.

Between his religious family, a deeply unpleasant ultimatum from his boss, and his own unrequited love for his sort-of ex, Enzo, it seems as though Adam’s life is falling apart.  At least he has two people to keep him sane: his new boyfriend (he does love Linus, doesn’t he?) and his best friend, Angela.

But all day long, old memories and new heartaches come crashing together, throwing Adam’s life into chaos. The bindings of his world are coming untied one by one; yet in spite of everything he has to let go, he may also find freedom in the release.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Strong language, Strong sexual themes, Drugs, Sexual harassment, Homophobic slurs, Homophobia

 

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Reviews

Horn Book Magazine (September/October, 2017)
Ness follows seventeen-year-old Adam through one eventful day. A goodbye party is planned for his ex-boyfriend Enzo, but first there’s a revelation from Adam’s pious brother, a threatening encounter with Adam’s lecherous male boss, a much more positive encounter with his current boyfriend Linus, and a confrontation with his evangelical minister father. Meanwhile, in occasional interspersed passages, the ghost of recently murdered classmate Katherine wanders the town. The book is full of references to Mrs. Dalloway and to Virginia Woolf (“Adam would have to get the flowers himself”; Katherine is drowned with weighted pockets), and its author’s note cites its debt to that book and to Judy Blume’s Forever. Release echoes the latter’s frankness about teen sexuality, as well as the gravity Forever gives to teen concerns: only Katherine needs to let go of her earthly life, but Adam needs to let go of things, too, and Ness treats these as equally important. The voice here is more grounded than Mrs. Dalloway’s, and most of the book is closer to realism than Ness’s in-some-ways-similar More Than This (rev. 11/13), but this book’s self-awareness lends its events a dreamlike feel. Though it functions as an accessible, standalone coming-of-age story, awareness of its influences makes for a layered reading experience. shoshana flax

Kirkus Reviews starred (July 15, 2017)
An extraordinary, ordinary day in the life of Adam Thorn.Seventeen-year-old, tall, white, blond, evangelical-raised Adam begins his day buying chrysanthemums for his overbearing, guilt-inducing mother. From the get-go, some readers may recognize one of many deliberate, well-placed Virginia Woolf references throughout the narrative. He goes on a long run. He has lunch with his bright, smart-alecky best friend, Angela Darlington, who was born in Korea and adopted by her white parents. In a particularly uncomfortable scene, he is sexually harassed by his boss. He also partakes in a 30-plus–page act of intimacy that leaves little to the imagination with his new boyfriend, Linus, also white. The scene is fairly educational, but it’s also full of laughter, true intimacy, discomfort, mixed feelings, and more that elevate it far beyond pure physicality. Meanwhile, in parallel vignettes, the ghost of a murdered teenage girl armed with more Woolf references eerily haunts the streets and lake where she was killed. Her story permeates the entire narrative and adds a supernatural, creepy context to the otherwise small town. What makes these scenes rise about the mundane is Ness’ ability to drop highly charged emotion bombs in the least expected places and infuse each of them with poignant memories, sharp emotions, and beautifully rendered scenes that are so moving it may cause readers to pause and reflect. Literary, illuminating, and stunningly told. (Fiction. 14-18)

About the Author

Patrick Ness, an award-winning novelist, has written for England’s Radio 4 and Sunday Telegraph and is a literary critic for The Guardian. He has written many books, including the Chaos Walking TrilogyThe Crash of HenningtonTopics About Which I Know Nothing, and A Monster Calls.

He has won numerous awards, including the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize, the Booktrust Teenage Prize, and the Costa Children’s Book Award.

Born in Virginia, he currently lives in London. His website is www.patrickness.com

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Turtles All the Way Down by John Green

Turtles All the Way Down by John Green. October 10, 2017. Dutton Books for Young Readers, 286 p. ISBN: 9780525555360.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA.

It’s quite rare to find someone who sees the same world you see.

Sixteen-year-old Aza never intended to pursue the mystery of fugitive billionaire Russell Pickett, but there’s a hundred-thousand-dollar reward at stake and her Best and Most Fearless Friend, Daisy, is eager to investigate. So together, they navigate the short distance and broad divides that separate them from Russell Pickett’s son, Davis.

Aza is trying. She is trying to be a good daughter, a good friend, a good student, and maybe even a good detective, while also living within the ever-tightening spiral of her own thoughts.

In his long-awaited return, John Green, the acclaimed, award-winning author of Looking for Alaska and The Fault in Our Stars, shares Aza’s story with shattering, unflinching clarity in this brilliant novel of love, resilience, and the power of lifelong friendship.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Strong language; Mild sexual themes

 

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Reviews

Booklist starred (October 15, 2017 (Vol. 114, No. 4))
Grades 9-12. It’s here: the eagerly awaited new novel by John Green, and—not to milk the suspense—it’s superb. High-school junior Aza has an obsessive fear of being infected with the bacteria Clostridium difficile (“C. diff”), which can be fatal. Her fear has become obsession, plaguing her with “intrusives,” thoughts that take over her mind, making her feel that she is not the author of her own life. She does, however, have a life: her father is dead; her mother is a teacher; her best friends are Mychal, a gifted artist, and Daisy, a well-known Star Wars fan-fiction author. To their trio is added Davis, whom Aza had known when they were 11. Davis’ billionaire father has decamped, pursued by the police, leaving Davis and his younger brother parentless (their mother is dead) and very much on their own. How will the friends cope with all this? And how will Aza cope with her own problems? Green, a master of deeply felt material, handles all of this with aplomb. With its attention to ideas and trademark introspection, it’s a challenging but richly rewarding read. It is also the most mature of Green’s work to date and deserving of all the accolades that are sure to come its way.

Kirkus Reviews (October 15, 2017)
Nerdfighter Green’s latest takes readers through Indianapolis and the human biome.Aza Holmes doesn’t feel like herself. But “if half the cells inside of you are not you, doesn’t that challenge the whole notion of me as a singular pronoun…?” When a local billionaire—and the father of her childhood friend, a white boy named Davis—disappears, Aza (who seems to be white) and her BFF, Daisy Ramirez (who is cued as Latina), plot to find him and claim the reward, amid rumors of corruption and an underexplored side plot about semi-immortal reptiles. The story revolves around anxious Aza’s dissociation from her body and life. Daisy chatters about Star Wars fan fiction (and calls Aza “Holmesy” ad nauseam), and Davis monologues about astronomy, while Aza obsesses over infection, the ever present, self-inflicted wound on her finger, and whether she’s “just a deeply flawed line of reasoning.” The thin but neatly constructed plot feels a bit like an excuse for Green to flex his philosophical muscles; teenagers questioning the mysteries of consciousness can identify with Aza, while others might wish that something—anything—really happens. The exploration of Aza’s life-threatening compulsions will resonate deeply with some, titillate others, and possibly trigger those in between. Aza would claim that opinions about this book are unfairly influenced by “the gut-brain informational cycle,” which makes it hard to say what anyone else will think—but this is the new John Green; people will read this, or not, regardless of someone else’s gut flora. (Fiction. 14-18)

About the Author

John Green is the award-winning, #1 bestselling author of Looking for AlaskaAn Abundance of KatherinesPaper TownsWill Grayson, Will Grayson (with David Levithan), and The Fault in Our Stars. His many accolades include the Printz Medal, a Printz Honor, and the Edgar Award. John has twice been a finalist for the LA Times Book Prize and was selected by TIME magazine as one of the 100 Most Influential People in the World. With his brother, Hank, John is one half of the Vlogbrothers  and co-created the online educational series CrashCourse.

John lives with his family in Indianapolis, Indiana.  His website is johngreenbooks.com

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In Other Lands by Sarah Rees Brennan

In Other Lands by Sarah Rees Brennan. August 15, 2017. Big Mouth House, 432 p. ISBN: 9781618731203.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile: 800.

The Borderlands aren’t like anywhere else. Don’t try to smuggle a phone or any other piece of technology over the wall that marks the Border ― unless you enjoy a fireworks display in your backpack. (Ballpoint pens are okay.) There are elves, harpies, and ― best of all as far as Elliot is concerned ― mermaids.

“What’s your name?”
Serene.”
Serena?” Elliot asked.
Serene,” said Serene. “My full name is Serene-Heart-in-the-Chaos-of-Battle.”
Elliot’s mouth fell open. “That is badass.”

Elliot? Who’s Elliot? Elliot is thirteen years old. He’s smart and just a tiny bit obnoxious. Sometimes more than a tiny bit. When his class goes on a field trip and he can see a wall that no one else can see, he is given the chance to go to school in the Borderlands.
It turns out that on the other side of the wall, classes involve a lot more weaponry and fitness training and fewer mermaids than he expected. On the other hand, there’s Serene-Heart-in-the-Chaos-of-Battle, an elven warrior who is more beautiful than anyone Elliot has ever seen, and then there’s her human friend Luke: sunny, blond, and annoyingly likeable. There are lots of interesting books. There’s even the chance Elliot might be able to change the world.

In Other Lands is the exhilarating new book from beloved and bestselling author Sarah Rees Brennan. It’s a novel about surviving four years in the most unusual of schools, about friendship, falling in love, diplomacy, and finding your own place in the world ― even if it means giving up your phone.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Strong language, Discrimination, War, Violence, Strong sexual themes, Alcohol, Negative attitudes toward differing mental abilities

 

Reviews

Kirkus Reviews starred (July 15, 2017)
Four years in the life of an unloved English schoolboy who’s invited to a secret magical school and learns that even in fantasyland, real life is messier than books.If Elliot’s story seems familiar, the impression fades quickly. Ginger-haired, white Elliot, an undersized nonpracticing Jew, is a total brat. When the 13-year-old crosses into the Borderlands and sees he’s more intelligent than most of the other kids—and adults—he’s quick to say so. He doesn’t form a circle of friends so much as an alliance of distrustful mutual advantage. With Luke Sunborn, a flaxen-haired, blue-eyed, white golden boy, Elliot tutors Serene, an ethereally beautiful elf with “pearl-pale” skin, who’s determined to excel twice as much as any other student. Elliot’s initial interest in Serene is despicable; he aims to fake friendship until she grows to love him. But over the course of four years training among child soldiers, Elliot, unsurprisingly, grows up. His slow development into a genuinely kind person is entirely satisfying, as is his awakening to his own bisexuality and to the colonialism, sexism, and racism of Borderlands society. Only one human character, the beautifully and sparingly drawn Capt. Woodsinger, appears to be a person of color. A stellar, if dense and lengthy, coming-of-age novel; those with the patience to sit through our hero’s entire adolescence will find it a wholly rewarding journey. (Fantasy. 14-18)

Publishers Weekly Annex (August 7, 2017)
Elliot Schafer is a small-for-his-age 13-year-old who is prone to being bullied-largely due to his personality, which slots somewhere between insufferable know-it-all and sarcastic jackass. When Elliot’s class travels to a “random field in Devon, England” for a supposed scholarship test, he instead winds up in a strange world known as the Borderlands, which are filled with elves, mermaids, and other creatures. So begins Brennan’s hilarious, irreverent, and multilayered coming-of-age fantasy, set over several years. Elliot quickly befriends (and falls for) Serene, a fierce elven warrior, and arranges a reluctant truce with Luke Sunborn, the son of one of the Borderland’s founding families. All three-along with every young person there-are training in war or as councilors, charged with protecting the fragile barrier with the human world. Amid shifting relationships, the threat of war, and substantial growth among the characters, Elliot’s razor-edged wit and general inability to keep his mouth shut make for blissfully entertaining reading. Smart explorations of gender stereotypes, fluid sexuality, and awkward romance only add to the depth and delight of this glittering contemporary fantasy. Ages 13-up. Agent: Kristin Nelson, Nelson Literary.

About the Author

Sarah Rees Brennan is Irish and currently lives in Dublin. For a short stint, she lived in New York and became involved with a wide circle of writers who encouraged and supported her, including Holly Black and Cassandra Clare. She has developed a wide audience through her popular blog, mistful.livejournal.com, where she writes movie parodies, book reviews and some stories.

Her website is sarahreesbrennan.com

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In Other Lands on Amazon

In Other Lands on Goodreads

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In Other Lands Publisher Page

Grit by Gillian French

Grit by Gillian French. May 16, 2017. HarperTeen, 304  p. ISBN: 9780062642554.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile: 780.

His presence beside me is like heat, like weight, something I’ve carried around on my back too long.

It’s summer in rural Maine; when seventeen-year-old Darcy Prentiss isn’t raking berries with her sister, Mags, and cousin, Nell, during the day, she’s drinking and swimming with the boys in the quarry by night. She knows how to have a good time, just like anyone else, but when you’ve been designated the town slut, every move you make seems to further solidify your “trashy girl” reputation.

But the fun is what’s been keeping Darcy’s mind off the things she can’t forget: a disturbing secret she shares with Nell, the mysterious disappearance of her ex-best friend, and that hazy Fourth of July party that ended with Darcy drunk, on her back, wondering how she let it get this far.

Then someone in town anonymously nominates Darcy to be in the running for Bay Festival Princess—a cruel, almost laughable gesture that can only be the work of someone with a score to settle. Everything Darcy has been trying to keep down comes bubbling to the surface in ways she wasn’t prepared to handle…and isn’t sure if she can.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Mild language, Mild sexual themes, Racial slur, Inappropriate student-teacher relationship

 

Reviews

Booklist starred (April 15, 2017 (Vol. 113, No. 16))
Grades 9-12. Feisty Darcy Prentiss is drawn to wild times. She’ll grab at any kind of dare, chug any kind of liquor, and kiss any kind of boy just to alleviate the tedium of small-town life. The summer before her senior year, Darcy joins her sister, Mags, and her cousin, Nell, raking blueberries on a local farm. There’s plenty of tension in the air, as Darcy keeps an eye on her nemesis, Shea Gaines. Only Darcy and Shea know what actually went down between them, and Darcy’s not telling. Then there’s renewed interest in Darcy’s ex–best friend, Rhiannon, missing without a trace since the summer before. Is Darcy keeping mute on something she knows about this as well? And there’s something else Darcy is hiding to protect Nell, who is beautiful but simple-minded. Any of these secrets could explode and rip Darcy’s life apart, but debut novelist French reveals them slowly, stretching the suspense to the very end. French sets the story in a palpably stifling small town, and her unapologetic main character is resplendent with her untamed sharp tongue, an overdose of stubborn courage, and a taste for hot sex. Keen plotting, evocative writing, and dynamic characterization make French a writer to watch.

Kirkus Reviews starred (March 15, 2017)
A girl with a reputation grapples with the secrets of last summer.The summer before her senior year, white teen Darcy Prentiss, her sister Mags, and their cognitively disabled cousin Nell harvest blueberries alongside the seasonal Latino migrants in the eastern Maine heat, working hard to save money. But trouble keeps finding Darcy; she has a reputation, and she’s used to rumors swirling around her. It’s not just rumors about boys, although a white boy named Shea needles endlessly about a mistake she made with him last Fourth of July—there’s also Rhiannon, her ex-friend, who went missing last summer. A police officer starts coming around, suspicious of Darcy’s every move. Though Darcy doesn’t know what happened to Rhiannon, she harbors a different secret about the night the girl went missing, one that could tear apart her family if it got out. Darcy juggles her self-appointed task of defending her cousin, the watchful eye of the law, and Shea’s escalating harassment, all while falling for a fellow white blueberry harvester and begrudgingly participating in the town’s Bay Festival pageant. She’s tough and a fierce protector of what she holds dear, but something has to give. Small-town claustrophobia makes it difficult to define who she is for herself, but rumors, secrets, and even trauma are no match for Darcy’s grit. The mysteries of the previous summer weave together beautifully, and the fallout is achingly real. Gorgeously written and helmed by a protagonist with an indelibly fierce heart. (Fiction. 14-18)

About the Author

Gillian French is the author of three novels for teens: Grit, The Door to January, and The Lies They Tell. Her short fiction has appeared in Odd Tree Press Quarterly, EMP Publishing’s anthology Creepy Campfire Stories (for Grownups): Tales of Extreme Horror, Sanitarium Magazine, and The Realm Beyond. She holds a BA in English from the University of Maine, and lives in her native state of Maine with her husband and sons, where she’s perpetually at work on her next novel.

Her website is gillianfrench.com

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Grit on Amazon

Grit on Goodreads

Grit on JLG

Grit Publisher Page