A gripping thriller in dystopic future Los Angeles.
Fifteen-year-olds June and Day live completely different lives in the glorious Republic. June is rich and brilliant, the only candidate ever to get a perfect score in the Trials, and is destined for a glowing career in the military. She looks forward to the day when she can join up and fight the Republic’s treacherous enemies east of the Dakotas. Day, on the other hand, is an anonymous street rat, a slum child who failed his own Trial. He's also the Republic's most wanted criminal, prone to stealing from the rich and giving to the poor. When tragedies strike both their families, the two brilliant teens are thrown into direct opposition. In alternating first-person narratives, Day and June experience coming-of-age adventures in the midst of spying, theft and daredevil combat. Their voices are distinct and richly drawn, from Day’s self-deprecating affection for others to June's Holmesian attention to detail. All the flavor of a post-apocalyptic setting—plagues, class warfare, maniacal soldiers—escalates to greater complexity while leaving space for further worldbuilding in the sequel.
This is no didactic near-future warning of present evils, but a cinematic adventure featuring endearing, compelling heroes
. (Science fiction. 12-14)
Oliver’s artfully detailed prose reveals, brick by brick, the sturdy dramatic foundation of an initially implausible premise. In her dystopian America, love has been outlawed as the life-threatening source of all discord. Citizens submit at the age of 18 to a neurological procedure that "cures" them of amor deliria nervosa, the chief symptoms of which are passionate feelings about anything. Poetry and contact between members of opposite sexes are forbidden; the authoritarian government rules with suspicion, violence and bureaucratically arranged marriages. As Lena, the soon-to-be-18 narrator, approaches the date of her procedure with both trepidation and relief, she meets Alex, a boy who inspires feelings that upend everything she has believed about her community and herself. Lena’s gradual awakening is set against a convincing backdrop of totalitarian horror. Chilling epigraphs from the government's rewritten histories begin each chapter, providing contextual propaganda so thorough that they've even reinterpreted the Bible to suit their message. The abrupt ending leaves enough unanswered questions to set breathless readers up for volume two of this trilogy. (Science fiction. 14 & up)
With a beginning and ending that pack hefty punches, this introduction to a dystopic future promises an exciting series. Tally is almost 16 and breathlessly eager: On her birthday, like everyone else, she’ll undergo extensive surgery to become a Pretty. She’s only known life as an Ugly (everyone’s considered hideous before surgery), whereas after she “turns,” she’ll have the huge eyes, perfect skin, and new bone structure that biology and evolution have determined to be objectively beautiful. New Pretties party all day long. But when friend Shay escapes to join a possibly mythical band of outsiders avoiding surgery, Tally follows—not from choice but because the secret police force her. Tally inflicts betrayal after betrayal, which dominates the theme for the midsection; by the end, the nature of this dystopia is front and center and Tally—trying to set things right—takes a stunning leap of faith. Some heavy-handedness, but the awesome ending thrills with potential. (Science fiction. YA)
An assured fantasy debut grapples with questions of identity, authenticity and autonomy. Lady Katsa is a Graceling, with an inborn magical gift marking her as both feared outcast and exploitable resource. While her peculiar Grace—the unsurpassed ability to kill—has been honed over the years by her uncle the king to bully and punish, Katsa has also secretly used it to bring a measure of justice to the Seven Kingdoms. When she encounters a strange prince whose mysterious Grace may just be a match for her own, she learns the corrosive seduction of power corrupted, but also the courage to trust others—and herself. Katsa is an ideal adolescent heroine, simultaneously confident of her strengths yet unsure of her place in the world. Every character is crafted with the same meticulous devotion to human comprehensibility, making the villain all the more appalling in his understated, twisted madness. In a tale filled with graphic violence and subtle heartbreak, gentle passion and savage kindness, matter-of-fact heroics and bleak beauty, no defeat is ever total and no triumph comes without cost. Grace-full, in every sense. (Fantasy. 14 & up)
In a tranquil future with clean streets and no illness, Cassia excitedly anticipates learning who will be her government-dictated marriage Match. Shockingly, it’s her friend Xander. But when Cassia slides Xander’s microcard into her port to learn his data (a system designed for the more typical Match to a stranger), Xander’s face on the portscreen dissolves—and another face appears. It’s Ky, their friend who’s an Aberration, prohibited from Matching. This unheard-of glitch, along with an outlawed gift from her grandfather, sows doubt in Cassia’s mind. She begins to want the forbidden: to run outdoors, to write words with her fingers instead of manipulating them on a screen, to read poetry beyond the sanctioned Hundred Poems—and she wants Ky, who feels the same. Condie peels back layer after dystopic layer at breakneck speed, Dylan Thomas reverberating throughout. If the Society’s at war, who’s the enemy? Of the three tablets carried by everyone, what does the red one do? Detractors will legitimately cite less-than-subtle morality and similarities to The Giver, but this one’s a fierce, unforgettable page-turner in its own right. (Science fiction/romance. YA)
Cliques writ large take over in the first of a projected dystopian trilogy.
The remnant population of post-apocalyptic Chicago intended to cure civilization’s failures by structuring society into five “factions,” each dedicated to inculcating a specific virtue. When Tris, secretly a forbidden “Divergent,” has to choose her official faction in her 16th year, she rejects her selfless Abnegation upbringing for the Dauntless, admiring their reckless bravery. But the vicious initiation process reveals that her new tribe has fallen from its original ideals, and that same rot seems to be spreading… Aside from the preposterous premise, this gritty, paranoid world is built with careful details and intriguing scope. The plot clips along at an addictive pace, with steady jolts of brutal violence and swoony romance. Despite the constant assurance that Tris is courageous, clever and kind, her own first-person narration displays a blank personality. No matter; all the “good” characters adore her and the “bad” are spiteful and jealous. Fans snared by the ratcheting suspense will be unable to resist speculating on their own factional allegiance; a few may go on to ponder the questions of loyalty and identity beneath the façade of thrilling adventure.
Guaranteed to fly off the shelves.
(Science fiction. 14 & up)
This urban-fantasy series opener spices its fight against evil with sexual tension. Fifteen-year-old geek hipster Clary thought she was just a normal kid, but normal kids don’t see invisible people, and normal kids’ mothers don’t suddenly disappear, seemingly captured by horrific monsters. But like many fantasy heroines, Clary isn’t normal, and she’s got all the secret parentage, dramatic revelations and amazing magic powers to prove it. Clary is a Shadowhunter, brought up as a mundane but born to fight demons. She and her mundane friend Simon fall in with a trio of Shadowhunter teens, and are soon embroiled in a quest to understand Clary’s past—and incidentally save the world. Rich descriptions occasionally devolve into purple prose, but the story’s sensual flavor comes from the wealth of detail: demons with facial piercings, diners serving locusts and honey, pretty gay warlocks and cameo appearances from other urban fantasies’ characters. Complicated romantic triangles keep the excitement high even when the dramatic revelations tend toward the ridiculous. Lush and fun. (Fantasy. YA)
A clever, scary, little-bit-sexy beginning to a series that takes Louisiana teen Rory to London.
Rory's parents are teaching for a year at the University of Bristol, so she gets to spend senior year at Wexford, a London boarding school. She recounts her story, from mining her colorful relatives for stories to wow her English classmates, coming to grips with heavier course loads and making a couple of fairly adorable friends. But London is soon caught up in fear, as a copycat killer has begun recreating Jack the Ripper's bloody murders in gruesome detail. Johnson fearlessly takes readers from what seems like a cool innocent-abroad-with-iPod story to supernatural thriller, when Rory sees a man no one else does on campus the night of one of those murders. Enter a trio of young folks who are ghost hunters of a very specific sort. The tension ramps up exquisitely among cups of tea, library visits and the London Underground. The explosive ending is genuinely terrifying but never loses the wit, verve and humor that Rory carries with her throughout. While this tale does conclude, it does so with a complicated revelation that will have readers madly eager for the next installment.
Nice touches about friendship, kissing, research and the way a boy's curls might touch his collar fully integrate with a clear-eyed look at a pitiless killer.
(Supernatural thriller. 12-18)
Rich characterization and exquisite world building make up for a leisurely pace in the dense first volume of a new epic-fantasy trilogy. Han Alister is a fatherless street rat, former thief lord and runner for the Clan tribes. Raisa is the Princess Heir, last in a long line of fabled warrior Queens. Their paths should never have intersected, had not both become enmeshed in the schemes of the wizards seeking to regain powers curbed for the crimes of the Demon King, a thousand years past. Now ancient talismans and grim portents herald murder and treason, and both Han and Raisa are forced to embrace heritages they can scarcely imagine. Chima forges an intricate world, alloying standard genre tropes in unexpected ways and inlaying intrigue amid a delicately crafted setting of history and legend. Dozens of characters, complex and distinct in personality, are placed with jewel-like precision, set off by dark glints of villainy. Few readers will mind reaching the end with the protagonists still separated by hundreds of miles only to realize it was naught but prelude to the real action; instead, they will clamor for the sequel. (Fantasy. YA)