The summer before senior year gives Sephora Golding time to surf, work on her found-object works of art and reflect on the turn her life has taken.
Seph shares a low-rent apartment in Venice Beach, California, with her stunningly gorgeous mother, Rebecca, who Seph used to imagine was a mermaid. Left by Seph’s father and shunned by Rebecca’s family, the two have always been unusually close. Last year, Seph had a brief fling with an older man; now Rebecca’s having a summertime romance with a younger one. Seph relates her summer tale of self-discovery in a matter-of-fact, occasionally foulmouthed teen voice. She intersperses her account with hard-hitting yet sumptuous versions of fairy tales and myths, from “Sleeping Beauty” and “The Rape of Lucretia” to “Demeter and Persephone.” From her vantage as narrator and storyteller, she points out that “[t]hings don’t really turn out the way they do in fairy tales. I’m telling you that right up front, so you’re not disappointed later.” She calls one of her sculptures Infandous, meaning “something that’s too terrible to be spoken aloud.” Hers is a world of raw physicality, underscoring the contrasts between beauty and ugliness, wealth and poverty, light and shadows that play out as secrets unfold.
A coming-of-age story consciously reminiscent of Lolita, this multifaceted portrayal of family bonds surprises with its nuanced and sometimes-searing emotional gravity.
(Fiction. 14 & up)
A taciturn teen finds solace as a funeral director–in-training.
Aaron Rowe speaks few words aloud and initially reveals little to readers about his life or what haunts him. Instead, they are taken with him under the wing of John Barton, one of two funeral directors in a small Australian town. "We don't want to bring them back to life," Barton says of the bodies Aaron helps him prepare for funerals; "we only want to give them dignity." This sentiment holds true throughout. Scenes of encountering, moving and dressing dead bodies are quietly and carefully observed, and the physical realities of death—smells, bodily effluvia, decay—are described frankly but respectfully. Meanwhile, Aaron dreams about death and sleepwalks, waking up sometimes miles from home, and Mam, the woman he lives with in a caravan park, becomes less and less lucid while awake. Aaron's and Mam's disorientation provides a chaotic counterpoint to the somber but orderly world of JKB Funerals. Skye, the Bartons' precocious and blunt daughter, adds both warmth and levity. Each plotline is woven skillfully in among the others, and each is resolved with gravity, dignity and care. The sense of family—both found and lost—is palpable throughout.
Simply told and powerfully moving.
(Fiction. 14 & up)
Over the span of one day, Knowles’ novel offers glimpses into the intertwined lives of nine teens and one high school teacher.
These days, “to read between the lines” means two very different things: One, with a gesture, is the ultimate insult, and the other is to garner more insight than is readily apparent. Here, both definitions fit. Each character either receives or “gives the finger," and each chapter provides a “between the lines” peek into the characters’ lives, always revealing a disconnect between the realities of their lives and the ways in which they are perceived by others. First up is Nate Granger, a much-harassed high school freshman whose middle finger is broken by a bully during gym class. Nate is tormented by the fact that his mother died in a hit-and-run crash while on her way to pick him up at school and struggles to deal with his abusive and resentful father. While Nate is in the nurse's office, Claire—another student, and the next character to come into focus—comes in, feigning cramps, and is dismissed from school. Feeling her life and relationships superficial, Claire takes a bus into the city in search of a meaningful experience. The book proceeds, each new character entering, with his/her realities, dreams and secrets becoming another masterfully woven thread. With emotional explorations and dialogue so authentic, one might think Knowles isn't creating but channeling the adolescent mind.
A fascinating study of misperceptions, consequences and the teen condition.
An orphaned street urchin in the slums of 1932 Sydney, she has learned to survive not only the ill intent of the living, but also the machinations of the bored dead, who stir up trouble for their own entertainment. Weakened by hunger, she lets a malicious shade lead her astray, catapulting her straight into a crisis that, like a carnival ride, will both thrill and nauseate readers. Along the way, she is alternately helped and foiled by her fellow inhabitants of Razorhurst, including femme fatale Dymphna Campbell, who coped with the trauma of her early life by refashioning herself as the city’s most expensive prostitute. Dymphna’s recently deceased paramour and protector, Jimmy Palmer, hounds the pair through the city, offering both good and bad advice as they try to escape the clutches of the two competing crime bosses on their trail. Straight from the opening lines, the suspenseful narrative is both dizzying and illuminating as it rotates among the characters, giving a nearly 360-degree perspective on the life-threatening mess that Kelpie and Dymphna find themselves in. Characters both living and dead reveal crucial pieces of the plot slowly over the course of one harrowing day.
Larbalestier pulls no punches with the gruesome, gory details about the violence of poverty, and the result is a dark, unforgettable and blood-soaked tale of outlaws and masterminds.
(glossary, author’s note)
(Historical suspense. 14 & up)
Less Than Zero (1985) meets Catcher in the Rye (1951) in this biting bildungsroman.
Whip-smart, 17-year-old speed metal drummer Billy Kinsey has a port-wine stain on his face and a chip on his shoulder. He no longer sees the point in trying to connect with others after watching his twin sister, Dorie, die of cancer and his lottery-winning parents’ marriage disintegrate. All this changes when he meets Twom Twomey, a tattooed dyslexic with the soul of a poet. Together with Deliza, a poor little rich girl who lusts after Twom, and Ephraim, a skinny computer hacker, they take out their anger on the 1 percent by breaking into local mansions and using them as crash pads for eating, playing computer games and sex. Then the unthinkable happens: Billy falls for a girl who’s the sunny opposite of Twom. Now that Billy has something real at stake, his secret life begins to unravel with catastrophic results. Not everyone survives, and Billy is left hoping adults understand “It’s not our fault, really. It’s this age we’re at. The tragic age.” Written in an insightful, frenetic tone that occasionally turns surreal, Metcalfe’s debut novel is a sexy, violent portrayal of disengaged youth attempting to feel something authentic in the antiseptic age of the Internet.
John James Audubon’s 1838 masterpiece, The Birds of America, “marked the beginning of modern ornithology,” and this volume dramatizes the life and times of the man who devoted his life to creating it.
Audubon’s life was a high-risk adventure story set in the early days of the United States, when Lewis and Clark had completed their explorations, settlers were beginning to head west, and the Trail of Tears—witnessed by Audubon—was an American tragedy. Audubon suffered the deaths of two baby girls and business failures, and he put his marriage at risk to do what he loved more than anything—tramp across the country and paint birds. In an age before photography, he created detailed, lifelike paintings of 489 species of birds, each bird looking real enough “to hop off the page and fly away.” The beautifully designed volume includes many reproductions of Audubon’s paintings, from the owls on the cover to the many full-page, full-color interior illustrations. Though occasionally florid, Plain’s writing—drawing largely on Audubon’s own—is lively and colorful, perfect for describing the swamps, forest, rivers and prairies Audubon so loved. Like Audubon’s paintings, this volume “glow[s] with life.”
A superb introduction to the life and times of a great American artist and naturalist.
(appendix, glossary, source notes, bibliography, illustration credits, index)
A teenage boy wrestles against forces real and imagined in a small, rural town named Bone Gap.
Finn was the only one to witness the kidnapping of brother Sean’s beautiful girlfriend, Roza, at the spring festival. But when he looks at mug shots, all the faces look frustratingly similar. Meanwhile, a tall man with eyes like ice who demands her love traps Roza in an ever changing netherworld. But Roza is determined to find her way back to Sean and Finn’s backyard, no matter what the cost. Told from the viewpoints of multiple Bone Gap citizens, this inventive modern fable whimsically combines elements of folklore, mythology, romance and feminism. Finn starts out as a daydreaming cipher, but when he discovers he has a condition called “face blindness,” his vague character comes into sharp focus, and his mission to battle the tall man becomes clear. Both Roza and Finn’s love interest, Priscilla, develop over the course of the magically real journey into strong women to be reckoned with, while the secondary characters, including a sassy beekeeper, wise chicken farmer and self-aware horse, are charming and memorable. And if the transitions between reality and fantasy are a little rocky and the worldbuilding occasionally a little thin, it can be forgiven due to the sheer ambition of the refreshingly original plot.
Cleverly conceived and lusciously written.
(Fantasy. 13 & up)
Three stories wind round one another in unexpected ways in this science-fiction offering peppered with recurring symbols.
Fifteen-year-old Ariel Burgess survived a nightmarish attack on his home village by hiding in a refrigerator. He was taken in by a family in Virginia, and to his chagrin, he has now been packed off along with his adoptive brother, Max, to stay at Camp Merrie-Seymour for Boys, a free perk his family receives for the work done by their inventor father for a research group. A multitude of strange and grimly funny characters populates the camp, including Mrs. Nussbaum, a prim therapist whose forced cheer is at one point hilariously described as being “about one-half-octave above ‘drunkenly enthusiastic’ and just below the sound baby dolphins make” and who offers the first hint that all may not be as it seems. Two other narrative threads—one involving a ship called the Alex Crow stuck in the ice during the 1800s and the other detailing the madness of a character called the “melting man,” who hears various voices urging him to commit acts of violence—are juxtaposed against Ariel and Max’s story, smartly weaving their ways into it right up to the surprising conclusion.
Magnificently bizarre, irreverent and bitingly witty, this outlandish novel is grounded by likable characters and their raw experiences.
(Science fiction. 14 & up)
What would it feel like to wake up normal? It’s a question most people would never have cause to ask—and the one 14-year-old Adam Spencer Ross longs to have answered.
Life is already complicated enough for Adam, but when Robyn Plummer joins the Young Adult OCD Support Group in room 13B, Adam falls fast and hard. Having long assumed the role of protector to those he loves, Adam immediately knows that he must do everything he can to save her. The trouble is, Robyn isn’t the one who needs saving. Adam’s desperate need to protect everyone he loves—his broken mother, a younger half brother with OCD tendencies, and the entire motley crew of Room 13B—nearly costs him everything. Adam’s first-person account of his struggle to cope with the debilitating symptoms of OCD while navigating the complexities of everyday teen life is achingly authentic. Much like Adam, readers will have to remind themselves to breathe as he performs his ever worsening OCD rituals. Yet Toten does a masterful job bringing Adam to life without ever allowing him to become a one-dimensional poster boy for a teen suffering from mental illness.
Readers be warned: like Augustus Waters before him, Adam Spencer Ross will renew your faith in real-life superheroes and shatter your heart in equal measure.
(Fiction. 12 & up)