Oliver makes a white-knuckle return to realism that will have readers up until the wee hours.
They’ll be desperate to learn who will win—and even more importantly, who will survive—Panic, a secret game that pits player against player in mental and physical challenges designed to push them to the breaking point. Heather Nill never planned to play, but with a broken heart and nothing to lose, once she’s in, nothing is going to keep her from walking away with the $67,000 prize. Desperate to get out of Carp, N.Y., and determined to protect her sister Lily, Heather puts her life on the line time and again for a shot at a brighter future. Dodge Mason is playing for revenge, and he knows exactly how he is going to get it. After years of planning, nothing, not even the promise of new love, is going to stand in his way. Dodge is going to use the game to right an unforgiveable wrong, even if it kills him. Set in a town so run-down the grit is practically palpable, the book makes suspension of disbelief easy. Readers will understand how the deliberately built characters would and could do just about anything for a shot at getting out.
The only thing more terrifying than the game itself is not getting the chance to play it.
(Thriller. 14 & up)
Rich characterization, exquisite worldbuilding and rock-solid storytelling make this a fantasy of unusual intelligence and depth.
Brilliant and wealthy Lady Kestrel seems destined for either an illustrious military career or a magnificent marriage, but all she cares about is her music—a passion her Valorian culture disdains, almost as much as they despise the Herrani they have enslaved. After Kestrel pays an outrageous sum for the slave Arin, society has even more to gossip about, particularly when Kestrel betrays her growing attachment to him. But Arin harbors his own deadly secrets, and the price might cost Kestrel everything she holds dear. Precise details and elegant prose make this world fresh and vivid. The intricate and suspenseful plot, filled with politics, intrigue and even graphic violence, features neither heroes nor villains; every character displays a complex mixture of talents, flaws and motives. Kestrel is an especially compelling protagonist, both determined and hesitant, honest and manipulative, ferociously observant and painfully naïve. Her bond with Arin develops slowly and naturally from congruent personalities. As much as it informs their choices, neither can (nor wishes to) elevate an impossible romance over loyalty to friends, family or nation. This integrity keeps them apart right through the heartbreaking (yet necessary) conclusion—but also kindles a tiny spark of hope for the next volume in the trilogy.
An English teen can’t stop blaming herself for her brother’s death.
Thanks to the headlines, all of Europe knows what happened to 15-year-old Shiv’s brother one fateful night in Kyritos, Greece. Since then, she’s been experiencing PTSD-like symptoms that put her into rages she can’t remember and send illusions of her brother creeping across her vision. The two-pronged narrative shifts between the fateful family vacation in Greece and Shiv’s inpatient therapy at the Korsakoff Clinic. What matters most is not so much whether or not Shiv had a hand in her brother’s death, as she so accuses herself, but the relationships she builds with the other teen residents of the clinic and the arc of her treatment. Each session of therapy opens another window to Shiv’s time in Greece before her brother’s death—her crush on a handsome, 19-year-old Greek boy, days spent relaxing by the pool with her parents at the villa and the terrifying night her brother lost his life. The characters and the scenery are rendered with such photographic precision that readers will feel as though they’re watching a film. They’ll also find Bedford’s compellingly blunt, sharply drawn narrative (laced with Salinger references) sometimes too painful to read as they experience the harsh treatments right alongside Shiv. The results, however, are absolutely worth it.
Beautiful and illuminating but as hard as therapy.
Sulky metal head boy meets artsy gamer girl. Awkward teenage love ensues.
When Lesh’s and Svetlana’s worlds collide—literally—in Saint Paul, Minn., it precipitates a time-honored culture clash wherein magic happens, but that’s where predictability ends. In a first-person narration that alternates between the boy in black and the girl dungeon master, Brezenoff conjures a wry, wise and deeply sympathetic portrait of the exquisite, excruciating thrill of falling in love. What might easily have been a stale retread feels fresh and lively in Brezenoff’s hands; he weaves multiple perspectives (school life, game life, dream life) together in threads that tangle into an inevitable knot, with startling consequences. The realistic dialogue, internal and otherwise, captures the uncomfortably iterative process of adolescent self-discovery as Lesh and Svetlana struggle to figure out who they are and what they stand for. The typical obstacles to true love (tempting teen sirens, parents who just don’t understand) are handily and gently overcome, and a subplot involving a jealous suitor peters out unexpectedly early. The juxtaposition of live, real-time role-playing games like Dungeons and Dragons against the detached anonymity of MMORPGs, plus a playfully thoughtful exploration of gender identity and politics, gives the novel depth and heart that will appeal to audiences beyond the gaming set.
This is not the teen love story you’ve read a thousand times before.
(Fiction. 14 & up)
A reluctant Harpy discovers her destiny in an elaborate Greek-mythology–based fantasy.
As the book opens, readers learn that Zephyr’s sister, Whisper, was killed for her forbidden romance with Hermes; Harpies are vættir—partly human, therefore lesser—and are not permitted to intimately fraternize with full gods, called Æthereals. In retaliation, Zephyr killed Whisper’s Æthereal executioner—a supposedly impossible act—and has been sentenced to eternity in the worst part of the Underworld, Tartarus (where the weather is crappy—literally). Zephyr’s forbidden, dark power enabled the kill and, she learns, marks her as the prophesied Nyx, a champion of “shadow vættir,” who maintains balance and protects vættir from Æthereal tyranny. Knowing the Æthereals will surely kill her soon, Zephyr escapes Tartarus with the help of Cass, her enigmatic friend and protector (who everyone they meet says is a liar and betrayer), Tallon, an attractive childhood friend, and his brother, Blue. They form a ragtag team to keep her alive so she can thwart a terrible plot against the vættir. The romantic plot is the least successful element of this character-driven story. Far more compelling are Zephyr’s struggles to accept herself as a hero, considering she’s failed her Trials to become a Harpy warrior. The complicated worldbuilding piles on the jargon, but Zephyr’s narration hooks readers with snappy, hilarious one-liners.
The author of Strands of Bronze and Gold (2013) returns to both Mississippi and fairy-tale retellings in this Civil War version of “Tam Lin.”
Seventeen-year-old Violet Dancey has recently lost her twin brother to battle. Despite the war, she feels a sisterly connection with Laney, a slave who grew up alongside them. Perhaps that’s why Violet feels compelled to assist Amenze VanZeldt, a free black girl, while shopping in town. The act begins an apprehensive relationship with these Africans, who practice the conjuring spirituality of hoodoo (as opposed to the religious practice of voodoo). In this atmospheric story in which darkness houses mysteries, the VanZeldts seem to glide like shadows rather than walk as humans. Fateful events keep Violet and the eerie family connected, most notably the discovery of a wounded Union soldier. As a secret romance evolves between Violet and this Yankee who makes her question slavery, the VanZeldts furtively heal him. Tension builds as their reasons for keeping the soldier alive become clearer. With rich imagery and imaginative subplots driving the storyline, the loose “Tam Lin” connection doesn’t really arrive until the end. The author is careful not to generalize all African-Americans, offering a wide variety of characters—black and white. With an inexplicable magic of her own, the ever-resilient Violet is a force against the VanZeldts’ deadly rituals.
Far from the typical Civil War romance.
(Historical fantasy. 14 & up)
The madcap story of a boy who loses his head and finds it again.
In the not-too-distant future, 16-year-old Travis Coates loses his head once—literally—after a deadly bout with cancer left him for dead. His head, cryogenically frozen as part of an experimental process to bring cancer victims back to life using donors, is the only thing that’s left of him until he wakes up with it attached to the body of Jeremy Pratt in the Saranson Center for Life Preservation five years later. From there on out, Travis’ life gets just as crazy as Whaley’s bizarre setup. Lots of changes have taken place in five years, and Travis soon finds himself losing his head again, in the figurative sense. He has to drag his best friend back out of the closet, discovers terrible secrets about his parents, and pursues his old girlfriend, who is now 21 and engaged to another, great guy, to readers’ cringe-inducing embarrassment on his behalf. Readers will recognize the Printz winner’s trademark lovable characterizations in Travis’ newfound BFF Hatton, who dubs him “Noggin” on his first day back at school. They’ll also recognize the poignantly rendered reflections on life, love, death and everything in between. Weird? Yes. Great? Not quite, but it’s pretty solid. It may be convoluted as hell, but Whaley’s signature cadence and mad storytelling skillz are worth every page.
A satisfyingly oddball Frankenstein-like tale of connectivity.
(Fiction. 14 & up)
A thriller that challenges readers’ understanding of the universe.
Laureth’s best-selling novelist father, Jack Peak, left for Switzerland to research his latest book, so why did his notebook turn up in New York City? In this departure from Sedgwick’s atmospheric historical fiction and fantasy, the British 16-year-old (named for a shampoo ingredient) suspects foul play. Seizing on her parents’ troubled marriage and her mother’s trip to visit family, Laureth books a flight to New York. She also takes her younger brother, Benjamin, not just because she’s in charge of him, but because she needs him: Laureth is blind. After recovering the notebook, she learns more about her father’s latest idea-turned-obsession. Well-known for his humorous books, Jack Peak experienced a coincidence that changed his life—and writing. Since then, he’s been chasing down answers to Carl Jung’s theory of synchronicity, more commonly known as coincidence. Snippets of his notebook offer true, fascinating revelations about Albert Einstein, Wolfgang Pauli, Edgar Allan Poe and other scientists and authors involved in exploring coincidence. Now the determined teen uses the notebook (excerpts of which are printed in faux handwriting interspersed throughout the narrative) to search for clues about her missing father. In short, taut chapters, her first-person narration allows readers to experience the intrigue through her abilities and shows her tender relationship with Benjamin.
It’s no coincidence that Sedgwick has crafted yet another gripping tale of wonder.
(Thriller. 13 & up)
Blending Ezra Pound, rhetoric and reality TV, this hilarious, subversive debut about a cadre of friends at an arts high school is a treat from cover to cover.
In seventh grade, popular, good-looking Luke rescued Ethan, Jackson and Elizabeth from misfit nerd-dom. Four years later, Luke still leads while Narrator Ethan is cheerfully resigned to a spot in the “Untalented caste” at Selwyn Academy. Disturbing the status quo, the school’s chosen to host a new reality TV show, a student talent competition with a $100,000 scholarship prize and a familiar format: interviews, clichéd romances and rivalries, and two smarmy hosts. The obsequious vice principal and most students are thrilled, but For Art’s Sake feels like an insult to Ethan and friends. Luke, the most offended, leads a counterattack, writing guerilla poetry inspired by Pound’s Cantos that ridicules the enterprise, which the conspirators secretly print at school. However, the masterminds behind reality TV are several steps ahead of them—money and fame are powerful currency, and they know how to use them. Maura, the beautiful, talented ballerina Ethan fancies, has been accepted at Juilliard, but without the scholarship, she can’t attend—participating is a no-brainer. Ethan struggles with ethical conundrums (Does Pound’s anti-Semitism invalidate his work? Are compromises the price of an arts career?) as he works out his own place in this world and among his friends, especially Elizabeth.
A sparkling, timely tour of the complicated intersection where life meets art.
(Fiction. 12 & up)
A dreamlike, poetic fantasy bildungsroman explores the power of choice and the meaning of home.
Marni has lived 16 years in a hut near the magic-haunted woods, growing flowers for the nobility with her grandfather. But Gramps was once the king—before his daughter ran away to the woods only to return with a baby rumored to be “the dragon’s daughter,” before Gramps gave up everything to protect Marni from her murderous uncle. Now Gramps is gone, and the king’s court has noticed that his only heir is an unmarried girl...and the woods are invading the kingdom, calling Marni to return. A fully satisfying fairy tale, this can also be read as an elegant metaphor for adolescence, as Marni is tempted in turn by obscurity, power, vengeance, romance and (most seductive) the freedom of eternal childhood. Her vivid narration is rustic and even coarse at times. She is bitterly resentful of her unjust treatment but also aching with loneliness and lyrically passionate about the beauty of nature and magic alike, and she is always perceptive, acute and honest. Torn between human and dragon, Marni (unlike too many otherwise “strong” teen heroines) fiercely maintains her own agency. Thoughtful readers will embrace the ambiguous conclusion and appreciate the triumph of Marni’s commitment to keeping her possibilities open.
Deliberate at first, Hahn’s debut is cumulatively stunning.
(Fantasy. 12 & up)