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11 YA Titles Adults Shouldn’t Miss

Overall, a welcome mirror for gender-fluid teens and a helpful introduction for others.

SYMPTOMS OF BEING HUMAN

Riley Cavanaugh, whose father is a prominent politician in a conservative Southern California county, navigates being gender fluid and experiencing panic attacks.

For Riley, being gender fluid means that "some days I wake up feeling more 'boy' and some days I wake up feeling more 'girl.' And some days, I wake up feeling somewhere in between." When Riley starts attending public school, in part to escape bullying and in part to boost Sen. Cavanaugh's education-reformer image, Riley's plan is to dress androgynously and try to blend in. But Riley's arrival attracts attention both negative—a popular girl calls Riley "it"—and positive—two misfit students offer friendship and maybe more. On the advice of Dr. Ann, the therapist Riley started seeing after a suicide attempt, Riley starts a personal blog. After just a couple of posts, Riley gains a massive following, and Andie Gingham, a trans girl in crisis, reaches out to Riley for advice. Both the blog's instant popularity and the media emphasis on Riley's role in Andie's story ring false, and the book's insistence that transgender and gender-fluid teens should all come out seems less than carefully reasoned. Riley's family relationships and growing friendships, however, are vibrantly imagined, and the panic attacks are well-illustrated.

Overall, a welcome mirror for gender-fluid teens and a helpful introduction for others. (Fiction. 12-18)

Pub Date: Feb. 2, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-06-238286-3

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Oct. 19, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2015

In the end, it’s more liberating than oppressive, with bits of humor and a jubilant pageant takeover by beauty rebels to...

DUMPLIN'

From the Dumplin' series , Vol. 1

In a small Texas town, a confident fat girl confronts new challenges to her self-esteem.

At age 16, Willowdean—her mother calls her Dumplin’—has a good sense of herself. She’s uninterested in Mom’s raison d’être, the Clover City Miss Teen Blue Bonnet Pageant, which annually takes over the town and Will’s own house. Mom won once and now runs the pageant, dieting to fit her old dress and pressuring Will to diet too. Will doesn’t. She mourns her beloved aunt Lucy, a second parent to her who died six months ago, and simmers with pleasure over a new, hot, sort-of-boyfriend. However, his touch makes Will panic with newfound insecurity. She loses him, loses her old best friend, gains new social-outsider buddies (a familiar trope)—and finds triumph somewhere amid Dolly Parton, drag queens, breaking pageant rules, and repairing relationships. The text refreshingly asserts that thinness is no requirement for doing and deserving good things, that weight loss isn’t a cure-all, and that dieting doesn’t work anyway. The plot arc, amazingly, avoids the all-too-common pitfall of having its fat protagonist lose weight. Unfortunately, Murphy loses her step and undermines her main point in the mournful, cringeworthy details of Lucy’s death and life, which are blamed on extreme fatness rather than unfairness.

In the end, it’s more liberating than oppressive, with bits of humor and a jubilant pageant takeover by beauty rebels to crown this unusual book about a fat character. (Fiction. 13-16)

Pub Date: Sept. 15, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-06-232718-5

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 12, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2015

Bitterly funny, with a ray of hope amid bleakness.

WE ARE THE ANTS

Extraterrestrials offer depressed, acerbic Henry Denton the chance to save the Earth from certain destruction by pressing a red button.

The stalk-eyed, variably tentacled sluggers' repeated, humiliating abductions and habit of dumping Henry in strange places with minimal clothing make Henry's life tough, but the focus here is less on the aliens and more on the button. Bullied at school, pushed around at home, and reeling from his once-boyfriend's suicide, Henry doesn't think he wants to press it. "If you knew the world was going to end but you could prevent it, would you?" becomes a sort of refrain throughout, and each character who answers not only reveals his or her own carefully imagined depths, but also sheds light on Henry's existential dilemmas. Whether Henry is hooking up in secret with the popular golden boy who torments him in public, watching his beloved Nana lose her memories, or being physically and verbally assaulted at school, at parties, and online, he maintains a biting, vulgar wit. There is both a budding romance and, via Henry's older brother, a baby on the way, but the novel meticulously avoids easy fixes for Henry's nihilism. Instead, his journey is subtle and hard-won, with meditations on the past, the present, and the future that are equal parts sarcastic and profound.

Bitterly funny, with a ray of hope amid bleakness. (Fiction. 14-18)

Pub Date: Jan. 19, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-4814-4963-2

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Simon Pulse/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Sept. 16, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2015

A nonstop time-travel romp.

THE GIRL FROM EVERYWHERE

From the Girl from Everywhere series , Vol. 1

She was born in Honolulu’s Chinatown late in the Hawaiian monarchy, but the only home Nix has known is the Temptation, the ship her father, Slate, and his crew sail through time to destinations real and imaginary, seeking a way into the past—before her mother died giving birth to Nix.

Nix is unsure what will happen if they succeed. Will she cease to exist? Other concerns include her emotionally volatile father’s opium addiction and her own growing attachment to her friend and crewmate Kashmir. Nix longs to learn Navigation—the secret craft her father’s mastered that allows him to follow maps anywhere, even through time. Though he refuses to teach her, Slate can’t Navigate without Nix’s help. He’s devastated when a map long sought leads them to 1884 Honolulu, years too late. To Nix, Oahu’s almost home (and it contains Blake, the young white American who shares his love for Hawaii with her). She’s fascinated by elderly Auntie Joss, who cared for her as an infant and knows more about Nix’s past, present, and future than she lets on. Meanwhile, her father demands her help when he’s drawn into a plot to rob the royal treasury (an event drawn from an unconfirmed, contemporary account). As narrated by Nix, it’s a skillful mashup of science fiction and eclectic mythology, enlivened by vivid sensory detail and moments of emotional and philosophical depth that briefly resonate before dissolving into the next swashbuckling adventure.

A nonstop time-travel romp. (author’s note; maps, not seen) (Fantasy. 14-18)

Pub Date: Feb. 16, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-06-238075-3

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Greenwillow

Review Posted Online: Nov. 11, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2015

Hard realism with a heart.

RODENT

Isabelle lives with her hopelessly alcoholic mother in a series of awful apartments as she tries to take care of her little brother and sister.

She frequently changes schools and usually tries to remain unnoticed, but on her first day at her new high school she runs afoul of Ainsley, the school queen bee, who vows revenge. She also reluctantly falls for attentive Will, who, like Isabelle, Ainsley, and most of their classmates, is white. Most of Isabelle’s time is spent coping with her mother’s addiction and doing her best to raise her baby sister and brother while also holding down a part-time job and attending school. Her life has no time for romance. Her equally drunken uncle doesn’t help matters. Because she is the sole trustworthy guardian of the children, Isabelle can see no way out for herself even as she dreams of escape. She is in love with Will, but how long can that last in Isabelle’s life? Lawrence infuses Isabelle’s voice with passion even at her most hopeless, presenting a convincing portrait of the consequences of an addiction that destroys lives beyond those of the addicts. She places Isabelle in a prison from which there appears to be no escape but also gives her some supporters who, even if they cannot intervene, can help Isabelle find her strength, presenting a story that remains intense and absorbing throughout.

Hard realism with a heart. (Fiction. 12-18)

Pub Date: March 22, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-4598-0976-5

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Orca

Review Posted Online: Jan. 9, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2016

A triumphant story of bravery and defiance that will shock and inspire.

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SYMPHONY FOR THE CITY OF THE DEAD

DMITRI SHOSTAKOVICH AND THE SIEGE OF LENINGRAD

The epic tale of the siege of Leningrad and its native son, composer Dmitri Shostakovich, whose seventh symphony comforted, consoled, and rallied a population subjected to years of unspeakable suffering.

Anderson vividly chronicles the desperate lengths residents went to, including acts of cannibalism, to survive the Wehrmacht’s siege, a 3-year-long nightmare that left more than 1 million citizens dead. The richly layered narrative offers a keen-eyed portrait of life in the paranoid, ruthlessly vengeful Stalinist Soviet Union, its citizens living under a regime so capriciously evil that one could be heralded a hero of the motherland one day and condemned as a traitor the next. The storytelling is captivating, describing how Shostakovich began composing the symphony under relentless bombardment in Leningrad and later finished it in Moscow, its triumphant performance in Leningrad during the siege, and how it rallied worldwide sympathy for Russia’s plight. Music is at the heart of the story. As Anderson writes in the prologue, “it is a story about the power of music and its meanings,” and he communicates them with seeming effortlessness in this brilliantly written, impeccably researched tour de force.

A triumphant story of bravery and defiance that will shock and inspire. (photos, author’s note, sources notes, bibliography, index) (Biography. 14 & up)

Pub Date: Sept. 22, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-7636-6818-1

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Candlewick

Review Posted Online: June 10, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

The novel playfully twists genre conventions—there are plenty of wink-wink, nudge-nudge moments to satisfy faithful fantasy...

CARRY ON

From the Simon Snow series , Vol. 1

Meta-slash fiction for jaded optimists.

Rowell pulls on a central thread of Fangirl (2013)—Cath’s fanfic epic of Simon Snow, the Chosen One and Mage's heir—and uses it to weave a tapestry of realigned affections and alliances. Deftly self-contained so that readers need not have read Fangirl to enjoy this tale, it will nonetheless appeal to Harry Potter fans sophisticated enough to recognize the fundamental tropes at work. Simon, an orphaned magician whose power is so immense that he is mostly inept at wielding it, returns to Watford School of Magicks for his final year of education in the magical arts. He has a talented, stalwart friend, a fascinatingly ambiguous foe, and a complicated, emotionally unavailable mentor. There is a great battle between good and evil. But there are also mobile phones, contemporary slang and pop-culture references, and gay romance. Rowell’s creation is less preoccupied with the trappings of wizard life than it is focused on the relationships of the characters. The narrative perspective, shifting among Simon and his supporters and opponents, gives voice to their deeper motivations and angst; the dialogue, both internal and external, is contemporary and occasionally profane, with an authentic level of teenage snark.

The novel playfully twists genre conventions—there are plenty of wink-wink, nudge-nudge moments to satisfy faithful fantasy readers—but it also stands alone as a modern bildungsroman. Carry on, Simon Snow. (author's note) (Fantasy. 14 & up)

Pub Date: Oct. 6, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-250-04955-1

Page Count: 528

Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin

Review Posted Online: Nov. 1, 2015

A riveting exploration of what it's like when the enemy is much closer than you suspect.

AFTER THE WOODS

Even after surviving the kind of ordeal most people don't, Julia still doesn't feel safe.

Julia thought she knew what evil was: Donald Jessup was the man she'd had to escape from after he attacked her and her best friend, Liv, in the woods nearly a year ago. And he’s dead, killed by his own hand in jail. So why does she still feel the need to investigate her own case? Why does she keep a notebook of evidence and discoveries? When a dead body is found in those same woods, Julia starts asking more question and even lets local reporter Paula Papademitriou help her in exchange for an exclusive interview. But the information Paula unearths makes Julia rethink her memories, her relationships, and Liv's secrets. Savage offers up a mystery wrapped in a psychological breakthrough tied with the bow of lyrical language. The characters are engaging beyond their habitation of an intricately woven plot and supply readers with the motivation to care beyond the simple solving of the mystery. The mystery, in fact, almost pales in comparison to the richness of the relationships, Julia's discovery of her own strength, and the examination of the different forms of evil.

A riveting exploration of what it's like when the enemy is much closer than you suspect. (Mystery. 14-18)

Pub Date: Feb. 23, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-374-30055-5

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Oct. 14, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2015

Ambitious, heartbreaking, and out-of-this-world awesome

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ILLUMINAE

From the Illuminae Files series , Vol. 1

In the wake of an interstellar incident, a post-mortem dossier comprising interview transcripts, memos, instant-messaging transcripts, diary entries, and more is assembled in this mammoth series opener.

Teenage colonists and exes Kady’s and Ezra’s lives are rocked by the 2575 assault on the Wallace/Ulyanov Consortium’s illegal mining colony by their corporate rival, BeiTech Industries. They are among the lucky ones who manage to evacuate—Kady to the science vessel Hypatia and Ezra to the United Terran Authority’s battlecarrier Alexander. The latter escorts both Hypatia and the freighter Copernicus in a monthslong race to safety while pursued by a BeiTech dreadnought, one likely to win should the ships engage again. Ezra’s recruited as a fighter pilot. Kady avoids conscription by flunking tests and highlighting her defiant personality, which allows her freedom to hack the ships. What she discovers disturbs her and leads her to communicate with Ezra again—both for more information and because of their unfinished business. The two teenagers—a focus of the dossier due to their sleuthing—share and uncover disturbing information about an incident with Copernicus, the damage sustained by Alexander’s artificial intelligence system, and a terrifying virus. The design’s creative visuals take advantage of the nontraditional format, which gracefully juggles document types, foreshadowing, clues, voices, and characters. As the characters’ time runs out, the story ambushes readers with surprises. The account completes the incident’s history but not its fallout.

Ambitious, heartbreaking, and out-of-this-world awesome . (Science fiction. 13 & up)

Pub Date: Oct. 20, 2015

ISBN: 978-0553-49911-7

Page Count: 608

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: June 23, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2015

Grisly and sickening (but in the best way possible), the novel more than delivers on its promise of the macabre for lovers...

BLEEDING EARTH

“Bones Found to Be of Human Origin, Blood Beginning to Fester.” In the spirit of M.T. Anderson’s Thirsty (1997), Ward’s apocalyptic novel will have readers checking the ground beneath their feet after each turn of the page.

Readers meet Lea, a confident teenage girl who just wants to hang out with her friends and spend quality time with her new girlfriend, Aracely. But when the Earth begins to ooze blood and other body parts, Lea’s hometown becomes a war zone, with citizens fighting over fresh water and food rations, and Lea becomes ever more concerned with her dwindling faith in humanity, her declining mental state, and the blood that won’t stop rising. To her family and close friends, Lea’s sexuality is largely a nonissue, which is refreshing (and sensible, considering the impending apocalypse); furthermore, readers looking for the next LGBT heroine will love Lea’s strong-willed attitude. The frightful moments are craftily deployed, creeping up and startling readers when they’re least expecting it. And the government PSAs regarding the blood that punctuate Lea’s narration are enough to panic even the most fearless of readers, their commonplace mundanity highlighting the freakishness.

Grisly and sickening (but in the best way possible), the novel more than delivers on its promise of the macabre for lovers of horror, and curious readers will close the book with countless questions about religion, science, and human nature. (Horror. 13 & up)

Pub Date: Feb. 9, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-9864484-8-5

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Adaptive Books

Review Posted Online: Nov. 17, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2015

Davies' love of history and folklore shine through this exciting and gripping tale of a resourceful, brave, and complex...

LONGBOW GIRL

A high-stakes time-travel mystery/adventure set in the wild Welsh hills.

Fifteen-year-old Merry Owen, primed by a decade of training that cost her an eye three years ago, is the first female heir of her family's 700-year-old pledge to protect the Crown by the skill of the longbow, a now-honorary tradition that goes back to the Battle of Crécy in 1346. Her family lives on land carved out from the estate of the Earl de Courcy. Davies, in her wonderfully suspenseful debut for teens, sets up an essential central conflict: the ongoing enmity between the Owens and the de Courcys, which Merry and James de Courcy, best friends and fellow risk-takers, must negotiate. This intricately crafted story pivots when Merry discovers a hidden burial mound and an ancient-looking book which is later verified as an extremely valuable lost tale of the Mabinogion. The book, translated in bits, refers to another land and treasures, "a warrior bold, who comes from far away," and is filled with lyrical riddles and clues that lead Merry to a stream, a waterfall, and a concealed cave, a portal back to 1537, during the rule of Henry VIII, where danger lurks at every turn, and it's up to Merry and her archery prowess to save her family's land both then and now.... 

Davies' love of history and folklore shine through this exciting and gripping tale of a resourceful, brave, and complex girl. (Fantasy. 12-16)

Pub Date: Feb. 23, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-545-85345-3

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Chicken House/Scholastic

Review Posted Online: Dec. 8, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2015

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