The Internet acts as a teen’s saving grace in this angst-y but sweet YA novel.
Jane Shilling is a sullen teenage girl with an alcoholic father and no friends; but on the Internet, nobody knows that. Told exclusively through online sources—from digital journals to inboxes and instant messages—this is the story of Jane’s living more than one life. She’s created multiple personalities for herself, including the popular Rachel, a 20-something woman with a perfect family and happy life. While Jane would be content to spend her days as Rachel, writing fan fiction for a beloved sci-fi show and interacting with other sci-fi fans online, the adults in her life would like to pull her back to reality. Ever since Jane’s mother died, her therapist has been hounding her to open up, and a new math teacher harasses her for missed assignments. A school bully targets her online quirks, but Gary, a skee-ballchampion and student at Jane’s school, befriends Jane both on and off the screen. He may be one of the only people Jane can open up to, along with Nora Acton, a new therapistwho’s resourceful enough to chat with Jane online during their sessions. When Jane’s online personas begin to fall apart, she’ll need the help of Gary and Nora to speak her truth. This Internet narrative is surprisingly compelling and effective. Readers gain a portrait of Jane’s deceased mother in a short series of emails sent before her death; it’s a simple reply chain among Jane, her mother and her then-sober father about what to make for dinner than night, but it speaks volumes about why Jane’s life is so wrecked in the wake of her mother’s death. The sci-fi fan fiction is a bit hard to contend with, but it also works as a means to show Jane’s dissociation from the pain in her life. Readers should be prepared for total chat-speak immersion, from actions expressed between double colons to Gary’s abbreviation-happy communiqués. Throughout it all, though, Jane is a dynamic heroine, smart, angry and heartwarming in all the right ways.
An IM straight to the heart of teenagers who love texting more than talking.
In Karp’s debut young-adult novel, three preteens compete to prove their connection to famous scientists who died more than a decade ago.
In 1927, 13-year-old Sam Ticky lives in Claremore, Okla., also known as “Radium Town,” because the chemical element bubbles freely from the ground, like oil. He works at the radium baths, where people soak in an effort to cure themselves of ailments such as barnacles and gout—despite the fact it might possibly be dangerous. According to Sam’s adoptive father, Sam is the biological son of the well-known scientists Alexander and Valerie Pepperpot, who gave him up after they died; as a result, science is his heritage. Meanwhile, in New York, Clive Chapman ponders the fate of his Sun Studios Radio Corporation. Ratings are falling, even on his most popular shows, and he needs something brilliant to turn his business around. When the U.S. government asks for his help in finding the Pepperpots’ missing child, he dreams up a contest. Soon, Sam is competing against two other finalists who share his birthday, Gloria Noakes and Hadrian Sands. The prize: the Pepperpots’ estate. The contestants must solve a series of puzzles staged in China, Egypt and Boston as they try to provide proof of the identity of the real “Radium Baby.” Throughout this adventure novel, Karp’s madcap imagination keeps readers hungering for the final outcome, and his prose sparkles with his flair for the absurd: For example, the Pepperpots “invented the hamster wheel, the hamster cage and the hamster feeder, then rounded off their list of achievements by inventing the hamster.” The contest’s puzzles, which involve such diverse elements as hornets’ honey and the Eye of Tutankhamen, have surprise twists, but Karp isn’t merely a showman. He’s also capable of dreamily evocative scene-setting (“Everything hit [Sam] at once...the temples with roofs like dog-eared paper, [and the] fine statues and filigree metalwork tracing spider webs across the walls and ceilings”) and manages to end his tale on a truly profound note.
A devilishly rich, satisfying scientific confection.
A young woman comes of age while simultaneously realizing her Maori-related powers in Dauphin’s debut YA fantasy.
Scarlet Flint is a little different from most girls. For starters, she can read the minds and feelings of others, causing her no shortage of trouble. Her unstable life gets more chaotic once she moves from her Australian home to New Zealand. She ends up in the middle of the feud between the mysterious Sterling and his menacing brother, Manu. Her involvement turns out to be greater than she ever imagined just as her telepathic abilities increase. Scarlet is an Elemental, a half-human with supernatural abilities, a gift described in Maori legend. Sterling, another Elemental, quickly becomes her greatest ally—and possibly something more—as she struggles through the dangers she faces because of her powers. While fantasy books based on myth aren’t uncommon, stories based specifically on Maori myth are, making this novel unusual. Detailed explanations of Maori myth provide solid context—Dauphin even includes a glossary—but do not slow the narrative. The characters also help set the book apart. Scarlet is a remarkably strong young woman who faces each new challenge bravely. She is loyal to her love interest but also allows herself to be frustrated with him when he deserves it, and she aims to walk beside him, rather than chase after him. Sterling, too, intrigues. At times, he’s a charmer, evoking in Scarlet “the same feeling [she has] for stray puppy dogs,” but he also has a clouded past that he struggles with, making him a good boy with bad-boy appeal. Skillful foreshadowing appears throughout, and most chapters end with a teaser that keeps the pages turning.
Intriguing good guys struggle against ominous supernatural threats amid the lush backdrop of Maori legend.
In this debut sci-fi novel, great responsibility is thrust upon a young warrior descended from rabbits who’s fighting to restore peace among humans, animals and the Earth.
The Tsaeb, sapient descendants of animals, have evolved exceptional intelligence well beyond human capacity. They are guided by Immediacy, a “philosophy of consequences” that leads them to strive for peace, balance and environmental sustainability. Though the Tsaeb have evolved, humans—known as the Danog—remain mired in selfish ideals, causing an unsustainable, damaging effect on the environment. Still, for over 100 conflictless years, the Tsaeb and Danog have peacefully coexisted on opposite sides of a border, according to treaties. Corr Syl, a young Tsaeb descended from rabbits, just completed his warrior training and wishes to travel the world. But when the Danog violate the treaty by bringing weapons into Tsaeb territory, Corr is called upon to visit Danog territory to forge some sort of resolution. Reluctantly accepting his assignment, Corr sets off with beautiful Rhya Bright, a fiery young Tsaeb warrior also descended from rabbits. The stark contrast between Tsaeb and Danog cultures illuminates the consequences of human materialism and shortsightedness, highlighting man’s impact on the planet. Although the story gets off to a bit of a slow start, the rich landscape and intricate plot strikingly explore modern understandings of war and the relationships among colonizers, indigenous peoples and the land. It may be difficult to keep track of the numerous places and characters, but the story’s flow remains relatively uncompromised, and an appendix serves as a helpful reference. Rogers (Arizona Wildlife Notebook, 2012) draws from the classic sci-fi wheelhouse, à la Octavia Butler, melding those motifs with fantasy elements in a style sure to please fans of either genre.
A beautifully written YA novel that will captivate environmentalists and sci-fi fans of all ages.
The matchless true-life travelogue of a 9-year-old’s trip to Borneo, co-authored by a mother-daughter writing team.
Nine-year-old Ali is less than thrilled when her parents announce that the whole family willbe going to Borneo for their summer vacation. She doesn’t even know where Borneo is, and neither does her school librarian. Ali wonders why they can’t spend their summer on the beach in Florida, preferably staying at a hotel with decent toiletries and nightly chocolates on the pillow. However, Ali and her older brother, Zak, know all too well their former-hippie parents’ penchant for traveling to exotic locations to experience the way other people live. The trip to Borneo forces Ali to confront one of her biggest fears—flying—and unfortunately introduces her to new fears: bedbugs, leeches, kidnapping and being stuck in a stairwell. Despite her continued hope for a nice, luxurious hotel, Ali concedes that their experiences—whitewater rafting with natives, diving, hiking in the rain forest and staying in a treehouse—make the family’s atypical holiday worthwhile. Rollason’s naturally engaging writing style (perhaps assisted by her multipublished, academic mother) makes this a quick, enjoyable read, equally appealing to adults and slightly advanced younger readers. Similarly, the unattributed illustrations and black-and-white photographs add visual interest for younger readers and adults alike. Rollason, age 10 when the book was written, manages to be indulgently exasperated with her parents without the attitude an older child might express. She shares her perceptions of cultural differences and environmental descriptions in an unaffected manner, without being bogged down by research or too many facts. Leeches and bedbugs notwithstanding, the unique experiences shared in Borneo bring the family closer together. Allusions to headhunting in Borneo’s history, as well as that disturbing leech incident and an island of lost children, may make this memoir inappropriate as a read-aloud for younger children, but tweens of both genders will happily join the adventure.