Two friends alternate narration and struggle with grief and trauma after a violent murder.
Freerunners who fearlessly climb and jump through the city as an urban obstacle course, Holly, Savitri and Corey are nearly inseparable—Holly and Corey twins, Savitri and Corey dating, Holly and Savitri best friends. But then a gunman murders Corey and gravely wounds Holly. Comatose Holly dreams that a snake man, Kortha, claims Corey for the Shadowlands. Phillips’ masterful dream illustrations, marked by fluid, bold lines and strong angles that create impeccable clarity and movement, provide intermittent graphic-novel segments. The strategically deployed illustrated sections pack major narrative and emotional punches. Upon waking from her coma, Holly can’t let go of her dreams. She latches onto her favorite comic-book character, a vengeance-bound superhero named Leopardess. Meanwhile, Savitri struggles to support the ever more distant and erratic Holly at the cost of dealing with her own needs. The two desperately try to make meaning of Corey’s death and find his killer. The girls are sympathetic in different ways, and their development as characters is natural, logical and seamless. Avasthi deftly weaves story elements and narrative techniques—two narrators, the graphic portions and even a flawlessly executed second-person passage—to create a rich portrait of friendship and the depths of reality-shattering grief.
Haunting, mesmerizing and intense.
(Graphic fiction hybrid. 13 & up)
In this brilliantly written novel, a girl who lives with her con-artist grandfather after her parents have gone wandering hopes to lead a more honest life but must scheme to get by when he dies suddenly.
Charlie looks much older than her 14 years when she dresses up and puts on makeup, enough to fool a social worker who comes to call. Charlie and Grandpa run a moonshine business and the Glory Alleluia Chapel to make ends meet, and Grandpa has started a small pyramid scheme that helps Charlie stay afloat after he dies. Between that and insurance fraud, he’s buried money all over his large wooded property. Hoping to avoid an orphanage, Charlie hides Grandpa’s body and stashes the cash. A 30-ish cowboy type, Blake, turns up after an affair with Charlie’s absent mother; he clearly knows about the buried money and uses that knowledge as leverage. As much a grifter as Grandpa ever was, he builds up the family religion business by passing off Charlie as a miracle worker. Can Charlie escape him too and pursue her own dreams of becoming a writer? Egan tells the story in Charlie’s first-person countrified style, but with True Grit–style lofty grammar and sentence structure, in keeping with Charlie’s abundant talent. It’s this highly literary, easily accessible writing that lifts this story to the very top of the heap.
Simply delicious fun from start to finish.
(Fiction. 12 & up)
From allegory to verisimilitude, the three blind mice demonstrate a wealth of literary terms.
Named Pee Wee, Oscar and Mary, the famous mice start with their basic “Story” and ring the changes on it using a variety of literary tools. “Vocabulary and Syntax” renders the first line of the familiar nursery rhyme four different ways: “Trinity of myopic vermin / Eyeless murine trio / Triumvirate of sightless rodents / Three blind mice.” Under “Style,” readers encounter “Hemingway Mouse”: “Three mice. Woman with knife. No tails.” “Oxymoron” is exemplified by “It was a dull knife that caused their soundless wails.” Lewis covers every imaginable possibility, including “F—k,” a section on the use of expletives, and “Sex in the Story.” Clever line drawings by Swarte enliven every page, and Lewis’ own comments add graceful explanation. Under “Repetition,” for example, she writes, “The pleasure of repetition from the acoustic to the unconscious is ubiquitous.” Treatment of each topic is brief, though artful, but an exhaustive glossary—intelligent, witty, thoughtfully referential and written in a voice as distinctive as William Strunk's—provides further elucidation and heft (it also doubles as an index).
A sparkling celebration of the craft of writing that easily rises to the level of belles lettres itself.
(Nonfiction. 12 & up)
An intelligent, wry 17-year-old is brutally beaten in a communal shower by two classmates after he hooks up with one of their former girlfriends, setting the stage for a difficult recovery.
Evan knows he’s sort of a dick when it comes to girls, but being constantly uprooted to various boarding schools by his emotionally inept dad has caused him to eschew relationships and focus on honing his knack for identifying Girls Who Would Say Yes. After the assault that leaves Evan in the hospital, his father whisks him off to his own boyhood home in Minnesota, where he’s uneasily sucked into a tightknit group spending their last summer at home getting high and hanging out before going off to college. Evan’s intense, often-discomfiting first-person narration will deeply affect readers, and his darker side is troubling—in an aside about girls with eating disorders, he thinks, “I’d known some of those barf-it-up girls, and they were the worst. So crazy. So clingy. The first to get deleted from my phone.” Packed with realistically lewd dialogue that is often darkly funny, this is a pitch-perfect, daring novel about how sex and violence fracture a life and the painstakingly realistic process of picking up the pieces. Evan’s struggle is enormously sympathetic, even when he is not.
Seth, not yet 17, walks into the Pacific Ocean and ends his life. Or does he?
He wakes, groggy, in front of the house in England where he spent his childhood, before his little brother, Owen, was kidnapped and the family moved to America. He spends days in a dust-covered, desolate landscape scavenging for food in empty stores, imagining that he’s in a “hell built exactly for him.” His dreams are filled with vivid memories of his life: his romance with a boy named Gudmund, a photo that’s gone viral, and farther back, his inability to keep Owen safe. Seth is rescued by a girl named Regine and Tomasz, a younger, Polish boy, from pursuit by a silent, helmeted figure they call the Driver. Past and present collide as Seth struggles to determine what’s real and what isn’t, whether circumstances are all of his own doing. He faces doorways everywhere, with genuine death seemingly just beyond, but there are hints of something even more sinister going on. There are no easy answers either for Seth or readers. With a nod to Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Ness brilliantly plays with contrasts: life and death, privacy and exposure, guilt and innocence.
In characteristic style, the author of the Chaos Walking trilogy delves into the stuff of nightmares for an existential exploration of the human psyche.
(Fiction. 14 & up)
The Time Traveler’s Wife meets Lost in this chilling exploration of love and memory.
A dystopian start to the novel finds journalist Eric on remote Blessed Island in the extreme north in the year 2073. Tasked with gathering information on a rare orchid that is rumored to stop the aging process, he feels instant attraction to native islander Merle. As Eric drinks a strange tea brewed from the orchid, he begins to forget his life on the mainland yet remembers feelings for Merle. But how and when did he know her? Seven linked stories progress backward across centuries, following Eric and Merle’s relationship as it takes on many forms, such as father/daughter or brother/sister, throughout time. Presented as different cycles of the moon, the stories feature various genres, from realistic and war stories to stories about ghosts and Viking vampires, ending with a hint of mystery to be revealed in subsequent chapters. This form, as well as the novel’s reliance on adult protagonists, is a rarity in literature for teens. Inspired by Swedish artist Carl Larsson’s controversial painting, Midvinterblot (translated as midwinter sacrifice), Sedgwick crafts these seven treats with spare, exact prose in which no word is unnecessary. Together, their reoccurring motifs of orchids, moons, blood and language—to name a few—reinforce Eric and Merle’s enduring love.