Worlds collide as two teens fight for their lives.
Nolan Santiago isn’t your average teenager. When he closes his eyes, he finds himself in another world, seeing life through the eyes of the mute servant Amara. Amara serves and protects the cursed Alinean princess Cilla, who struggles to stay alive in order to reclaim her family’s rule over the Dunelands. Back in Arizona, Nolan lives his life as a disabled epileptic, trying to shield his parents from the horrors of his dual existence as the costs of expensive pharmaceuticals and medical specialists overwhelm family finances. With each blink of his eyes, Nolan re-emerges into Amara’s harsh but magical reality, where almost every moment is fraught with brutality and betrayal. As Amara’s journey with Cilla leads her toward the capital, she and Nolan must recognize how each controls the other’s fate in ways neither of them thought possible. Duyvis smoothly transitions between the two main characters’ thoughts and emotions while realistically conveying the individual alienation and terror of two very different people. Rich worldbuilding, convincing nonheteronormative relationships, balanced class issues, and nuanced, ethnically diverse characters add to the novel’s depth. The well-paced action builds toward an unexpected, thrilling conclusion that will leave readers eager for more from this promising new author.
Original and compelling; a stunning debut.
(Fantasy. 14 & up)
Punk street kid Cass runs away with sheltered pianist Maia in the lyrical stand-alone prequel to All Our Pretty Songs (2013).
The intimate third-person narrative perspective alternates fluidly between the two girls’ voices, as well as between “Now”—as the girls take a breathless, speed-fueled road trip down the West Coast—and “Then”—as they become friends and Maia decides to leave her stifling, sterile home. Readers of All Our Pretty Songs will know that Cass and Maia retain their close bond as adults, that both have daughters and that Maia, after a tragedy, stays lost in a drugged haze. But these fates are only gently alluded to here. Instead, readers see a skeletal red-eyed Hades figure, grimly recognizable even to readers unfamiliar with Cass and Maia’s futures. He haunts Cass’ dreams, demanding a terrible bargain and waiting with an eerie patience until Cass is vulnerable enough to give him what he asks. The prose is exquisitely crafted, moving effortlessly from dizzying to heartbreaking. Each setting—an exhaustingly filthy punk house, the New York street where Maia’s hermitlike father suddenly comes to life, the Mexican beach town where the girls’ road trip ends—is vibrantly constructed through careful detail and spare but evocative prose.
A breathtaking companion volume, fully readable on its own and devastating in the context of its predecessor.
(Urban fantasy. 14-18)
Hope for a promising epilepsy treatment brought Leilani, 16, and Mike, her ecologist father, to Honolulu; when a global catastrophe plunges the world’s most isolated metropolitan area into chaos, they’re desperate to return to family on the Big Island of Hawaii—it won’t be easy.
Lei—half-Hawaiian, half-white—still feels like an outsider three years after moving from California to Hilo. Nevertheless, her island heritage speaks to her and could be the key to understanding the cataclysmic technological disruptions changing the world. Satellite-based GPS and other electronic communications systems fail, and only well-heeled tourists can buy their ways home. To combat mounting chaos, the military herds those at large, including Leilani and Mike, into internment camps. Leilani’s seizures carry voices to her, while an alarming discovery makes her quest to unravel their message and escape from the camp increasingly urgent. Seeking home drains their dwindling resources but strengthens their trust in each other. Flashes of kindness and empathy provide respite from the chaos and cruelty. Anchoring the story, the powerful bond between father and daughter reminds readers that love is as potent as fear and greed. Aslan’s debut honors Hawaii’s unique cultural strengths—family ties and love of home, amplified by geography and history—while remaining true to a genre that affirms the mysterious grandeur of the universe waiting to be discovered.
A suspenseful and engaging series opener made all the more distinctive through its careful realization of setting.
(Science fiction. 12 & up)
A girl makes a deal with the devil—or something awfully similar—in this Faustian suspense tale.
Seventeen-year-old Edie, the unattractive, nerdy daughter of brilliant physicists and the constant victim of popular bullies in her private high school, finally decides to commit suicide to escape her tormentors. An amazingly handsome young man named Kian stops her and offers her a deal: She will receive three favors over five years if she agrees to stay alive and later provide three favors to his employer. She takes the deal and asks first for beauty. Kian molds her face and body until she is truly beautiful. When she returns to her high school seeking revenge, however, Edie watches in horror as her former tormentors begin to suffer horribly. Meanwhile, a ghastly trio of ghosts threatens her, and she begins to understand that she has become a pawn in a supernatural game. She’s also fallen hard for Kian, but she can’t be sure he isn’t merely doing the bidding of his awful employer. Aguirre has confidence in her audience, never dumbing down her prose while always keeping her readers guessing. Edie makes an impressive heroine as she not only fights the increasingly dreadful baddies, but matures as a person, lifting the book beyond easy thrills. The story has a freshness and intelligence that puts it at the top of the genre.
A print and Web comics artist offers five creep-out chillers (four new) with folk-tale motifs and thoroughly disquieting art.
Well-placed lines of terse, hand-lettered commentary and dialogue reinforce narrative connections but are also as much visual elements as are the impenetrable shadows, grim figures, and stark, crimson highlights in Carroll’s inky pictures. Making expert use of silent sequences, sudden close-ups and other cinematic techniques to crank up the terror, the author opens and closes in a dimly lit bedroom (much like yours), bookending the five primary stories. In “Our Neighbor’s House,” a trio of sisters are taken one by one by a never-seen smiling man. In the next, a bride discovers that “A Lady’s Hands Are Cold”—as are the other pieces (seen in close, icky detail) of her husband’s dismembered but not entirely dead former wife. Two cases of supernatural possession (“His Face All Red” and “My Friend Janna”) follow. The collection is capped by a true screamer in which a teenager’s memories of her mother’s tales of a cellar-dwelling monster with a “sweet, wet voice” segue into a horrific revelation about her pretty new sister-in-law. Lonely houses, dark woods and wolves? Check. Spectral figures with blood-red innards? Check. Writhing tentacles bursting from suddenly inhuman mouths? Check!
A sure winner for any reader with a yen to become permanently terrified. Brilliant.
(Graphic horror. 13-18)
A small-town murder plus a big-time romance equals one feel-good mystery.
When high school senior Millie Ostermeyer discovers football coach “Hollerin’ Hank” Killdare’s murdered corpse on school property, no one is surprised that someone would want this seemingly abusive official dead. The suspect could be anyone in Honeywell, Pa., even the assistant coach, whom everyone has seen arguing with Killdare—and who happens to be her widowed father. Taking leads from her beloved literary heroine Nancy Drew (“WWND?”), the prizewinning investigative school newspaper reporter tackles every angle to solve the mystery. Her self-deprecating humor comes in handy more than once, whether it’s outwitting inept Detective Lohser (with a long “o,” of course) or her vindictive newspaper editor, also a cheerleader and her archenemy. And like Nancy’s Ned, Millie has boyfriend Chase Albright to help her solve the clues. Well, he might be her boyfriend if she can also figure out the mystery of why this hot transfer student spends his weekends alone. Their punchy, flirtatious banter will leave fans of John Green and Stephanie Perkins’ Anna and the French Kiss (2010) swooning. Although it’s clear early on who the killer might be, the fun comes from Millie’s spunky sleuthing and Fantaskey’s witty, cliffhanger chapter endings, which leave readers begging to turn the page.
If only Nancy Drew had this much excitement solving her cases.
A gutsy teen living on an arid, depleted Earth two centuries in the future faces danger and shocking revelations when she covertly joins a subversive group.
Sixteen-year-old Tess lived in Eden, a seemingly idyllic, domed city where access to information and water is regulated by the governing Trust. After a rogue robot killed her scientist mother, Tess fled with a terrible secret to the desperate, arid Badlands, where she’s recruited by Kudzu, explained to her as a “nonviolent collective working to undermine the Trust and free the Badlands.” Learning Kudzu plans to destroy Aevum, the Trust’s latest advanced robot, Tess reluctantly returns to Eden, where she finds the luxurious life morally unconscionable and secretly trains with Kudzu. Living with her uncle, who’s involved with Aevum, Tess is strangely attracted to his sympathetic assistant, Hunter. During a Kudzu raid on the Trust’s lab, Tess discovers that Aevum will be used to eradicate all inhabitants of the Badlands—and that Hunter’s not what he seems to be. Tess’ first-person, present-tense voice lends chilling immediacy to her no-nonsense story of mixed loyalty, disturbing secrets, and ethical dilemmas associated with diminishing natural resources and scientific experimentation.
Bold futurist adventure with unusual romance, riveting action and ominous ecological red flags.
(Science fiction. 12-16)
Like Paris in Leroux’s The Phantom of the Opera, Ruiz Zafón’s Barcelona is a character in its own right, linchpin for this richly atmospheric, genuinely scary tale.
Oscar Drai, 15, leads a solitary existence at his boarding school, marking time until he can escape to wander Barcelona’s cold misty streets and decaying neighborhoods. While exploring the garden of a decaying mansion, he hears a beautiful voice singing and impulsively follows it indoors to its source, an old gramophone, next to which is a pocket watch. When the room’s furious occupant suddenly confronts him, Oscar flees back to school before realizing he still has the watch. Returning it, he meets Germán, its owner, and his beautiful daughter, Marina, who befriends him. Soon, Marina invites Oscar to accompany her to a lonely graveyard, where, hidden, they watch a veiled woman in black place a flower on a gravestone that’s carved with the image of a black butterfly then disappear into one of the abandoned buildings nearby. Curious, they follow her and discover a greenhouse in an overgrown garden and make a horrific discovery. What lies behind the ancient facades—and in the fetid darkness beneath the city streets—is a mystery as layered as the city’s history. It’s well-known which road is paved with good intentions—none are more lethal, Oscar learns, than love and pity.
High-quality gothic genre fiction with a classic Mary Shelley sensibility.
(Horror. 12 & up)
It’s been three months since Morgan’s secretive, aloof boyfriend, Flynn, died in a hit-and-run accident. In her economically depressed central Massachusetts town, in which Stell Pharmaceuticals went under and brought down other businesses with it, everyone’s moved on—except Morgan. In an attempt at closure, the teen enters Flynn’s photo into “FriendShare,” a social media facial-recognition program. She finds only questions, though, when his photo brings up an identical look-alike named Evan in a neighboring town. Morgan can’t help but wonder if her ex-boyfriend was a liar—and even if he’s really dead. Her evenly paced, past-tense narration recounts her investigation to discover the real identities of both Flynn and Evan—or if they’re one and the same. In the process, she finds a clean romance and a dirty conspiracy involving Stell Pharmaceuticals. As the ring of townsfolk involved widens, Morgan fears that she may be the next “accident” victim.
The teen’s likable, tenacious character and the story’s Hollywood-like ending keep this debut on the lighter side, making it just right for late-summer beach reading.