In the visceral and deeply affecting companion to the Printz Award–winning Ship Breaker, Bacigalupi returns to a dark, war-torn dystopian future in which severe climatic change and years of political upheaval have left the United States a bloodied and ravaged landscape.
Bands of child soldiers roam from village to village, raping, pillaging and brutally murdering, all in the name of endless civil war. Against the backdrop of this blood-soaked chaos, two unlikely allies, a crippled teenage “war maggot” and a half-man/half-beast genetically altered killing machine, risk their lives and their freedom to save a boy forced into servitude by rebel soldiers. Mahlia and Tool (whom readers may recognize from Ship Breaker) venture deeper and deeper into the Drowned Cities, each fueled by unwavering loyalty. As they do, readers are given glimpses of proof that love and humanity can shine through even the most unimaginable darkness. Arguably, the novel’s greatest success lies in the creation of a world that is so real, the grit and decay of war and ruin will lay thick on the minds of readers long after the final page. The narrative, however, is equally well-crafted. Told in the third person, the novel alternates between Mahalia's and Tool’s stories, allowing both characters the time and space to imprint themselves on readers’ hearts.
To the recent crop of strong debuts in an overcrowded literary arena add this series opener, a tale of demonic possession and a centuries-old family trade in exorcism.
Life in Mia’s loving, if overprotective, Italian-American family is upended when a horrifying demon enters and nearly kills her. After Giuliano Della Torre and his grandson Emilio, long-estranged relatives from Milan, arrive and drive it out, they talk Mia’s reluctant parents into letting her return to Italy with them. For her safety, she’s sequestered in the family’s home and adjacent candle shop. Studying Italian history and language, Mia comes to love her family (including some of its ghosts) and heritage, even the scary bits, but she increasingly resents confinement, longing to explore this rich new world. Cliché-free characters—patriarch Giuliano, his wife Laura, gorgeous Emilio and his sister, Francesca, especially—appear to have lives of their own beyond serving the needs of the plot. The demons themselves are haunting, multifaceted creatures that are both pathetic and extremely dangerous; the evil they project is complex and pain-ridden. Fortunately Mia demonstrates a strong gift for the family trade, which, like the novel’s other elements (the food will have readers salivating), is portrayed in exquisite, affectionate detail.
This one goes to the head of the class.
(Fantasy. 12 & up)
A satisfying conclusion to ghostly Anna’s terrifying story comes with more heart-thumping suspense and clever quips as Cas tries to save her from an undeserved, dreadful fate.
In the outstanding Anna Dressed in Blood (2011), the ghost, Anna, saved Cas, the ghost-killer, by dragging the voodoo monster, Obeahman, down into Hell. Now she’s back, asking Cas to rescue her, and he’s determined to do it despite all advice to the contrary. This sequel takes Cas and his friends to Britain and a secret cult that wants Cas’ athame, the magical knife that kills ghosts. There he meets Jestine, who believes she should be the next athame warrior, although unlike Cas, she wants to kill ghosts whether or not they’re dangerous to humans. She joins Cas for the final showdown against the Obeahman, who ate both Cas’ cat and his father and now holds Anna hostage. Blake provides enough background explanation to bring new readers into the story, but for full appreciation, readers should start with book one. This new author has a serious talent for action but also for delicious dry humor (“I’ve sort of been slacking off in my voodoo studies. I’ve got trigonometry, you know?”). The exciting conclusion leaves the coast clear for a whole series starring Cas or for something entirely different, whatever the author wishes. Either way, Stephen King ought to start looking over his shoulder.
Pulse-pounding thrills leavened with laughter.
(Paranormal thriller. 12 & up)
Torture and treasure, treason and trust, and the triumph of true love: All come to fruition in the stirring conclusion to this epic fantasy series.
Raisa ana'Marianna has claimed the Gray Wolf throne, but her grip is tenuous: Every faction—clans, wizards, army, flatlanders—both within and without the Fells hates all the others, and each pushes Raisa to accept its preferred candidate for consort. Meanwhile, Han Alister has taken his seat on the Wizard Council at the queen's command, but every other member secretly wants to use him or kill him. Furthermore, there are the mysterious murders of wizards, marked with Han's old streetlord sign; all this disarray signals a weakness that encourages invading armies from the South. Together, Han and Raisa seek the long-lost Armory of the Gifted Kings as the only way to avoid re-enacting a 1,000-year-old tragedy; but to wield such a weapon may well trigger an even greater catastrophe. Chima manages to resolve this impossibly tangled skein of politics, intrigue, history, prejudice and passion with style and grace. Grim scenes of shocking violence alternate with moments of tenderness and humor, and the high body count is balanced by the almost fairy-tale–romantic conclusion. While some of the depth and complexities of the supporting characters—along with the nuanced subtleties of their conflicting worldviews—are sacrificed to help demonize (or valorize) their respective positions, nothing can overshadow the cathartic satisfaction for those caught up in this sweeping saga.
A kick-ass pirate heroine gets into and out of (mostly into) trouble in this invigorating fantasy.
Within the first five pages of this debut, Ananna of the Tanarau ditches her wedding, meant to ally her pirate clan to the Hariri. She may escape this unwanted bond, but she finds herself in another, far more powerful one when she saves the life of Naji, the assassin hired by the Hariri to bring her back or kill her. Now magically connected to the scarred blood magician, she attracts the collateral attention of malignant Otherworldly powers. If she wants any chance at a future that includes her own ship—hell, any future at all—she must quest with Naji for a cure to the curse that binds them together. Clarke’s debut harkens back to the best in fantasy/adventure, offering rock-solid worldbuilding, satisfyingly perilous obstacles and a protagonist whose charismatic ’tude goes way beyond spunk. Ananna’s voice grabs readers from the beginning (“I ain’t never been one to trust beautiful people, and Tarrin of the Hariri was the most beautiful man I ever saw”) and doesn’t let go. Her wry, agreeably foulmouthed (“Sure, sirens are a pain in the ass”) narration is equally smart and funny, incorporating both trenchant observations and frankly beautiful phrasing that never misses a step (“I hadn’t even recognized the hope for what it was until it got dragged away from me”).
A ripsnorting series opener; may the sequels arrive soon. (Fantasy. 13 & up)
Teenage hackers Noa and Peter band together for vengeance and discover an inconceivable conspiracy.
Sixteen-year-old computer whiz Noa Torson has escaped the Child Protective Services system by creating a fake foster family that includes a reclusive, freelance IT-guy of a father who draws a tidy salary working “from home”; she thinks she’s safe. When she wakes up in a hospitallike operating theater with no memory of how she got there, she doesn’t take the doctors’ lame explanation that she was in a car accident and uses her smarts to escape. Meanwhile, Boston child-of-privilege Peter pokes around his father’s files and is interrupted by armed thugs who break down the door and storm off with his computer (leaving a warning for his parents). Peter enlists his hacktivist group /ALLIANCE/ (of which Noa is a member) to, first, research the subject of those files and then to attack his attackers via the Net. The attack only serves to dig the teens in deeper when they uncover a frightening conspiracy of human experimentation and corporate malfeasance that could mean a quick death for them both. Adult author Gagnon’s YA debut is a pulse-pounding scary-great read. The strong characters and dystopian day-after-tomorrow setting will have teens begging for more. The slightly open end leaving the possibility (but not necessity) of a sequel will rankle some; others will just breathlessly smile.
Girl with the Dragon Tattoo for preteens and teens, a surefire hit.
Vivid imagination and deft storytelling make for refreshing speculative fiction in this time-travel tale.
Tucker Feye is an ordinary teenage boy, leading an ordinary, near-idyllic small-town American life—but that's before he starts seeing the "disks." Once the mysterious shimmering phenomena appear, Tucker's preacher father vanishes, then returns with a strange teenage girl and without his faith; Tucker's mother loses her sanity, and eventually, both parents disappear. After moving in with his (previously unknown) Uncle Kosh, the really weird stuff starts happening. However, after a riveting opening scene, the narrative seems to slow to a crawl, but the thorough characterization and careful worldbuilding pay off spectacularly once Tucker discovers that the disks are gateways through time and space. Hautman doesn't make things easy for his readers: As Tucker bounces through historical crisis points past and future, short chapters and steadily ratcheting stakes present life-threatening situations and bizarre personages at a dizzying pace (most of them already-familiar characters with new names or under different guises). That this remains intriguing rather than confusing is a credit to the sure-handed plotting and crisp prose, equally adept with flashes of snarky wit and uncomfortable questions of faith, identity and destiny. Less satisfying are the climactic cliffhangers, which reveal that the entire story is but a setup for the rest of the series.
Part science fiction, part adventure, part mystery, but every bit engrossing; be sure to start the hold list for the sequel
. (Science fiction. 12 & up)
Instead of finding Happily Ever After with their princesses, four Princes Charming (Prince Duncan insists they pluralize the noun, not adjective) must team up on a farcical quest to save their kingdoms.
The bards have the story details wrong, and each Prince Charming that rescues a princess actually has a name. Bold, party-crashing Cinderella wants adventure more than sheltered Prince Frederic does. Prince Gustav's pride is still badly damaged from having needed Rapunzel's teary-eyed rescue. Through Sleeping Beauty, Prince Liam learns kissing someone out of enchanted sleep doesn't guarantee compatibility, much to the citizens of both kingdoms' ire. Although she loves wacky Prince Duncan, Snow White needs some solitude. The princes-in-turmoil unite to face ridiculous, dangerous obstacles and another figure underserved by bards' storytelling: Zaubera, the witch from Rapunzel's story. Angered at remaining nameless, she plots to become infamous enough, through ever-escalating evil, that bards will be forced to name her in their stories. The fairy-tale world is tongue-in-cheek but fleshed out, creating its own humor rather than relying on pop-culture references. In this debut, Healy juggles with pitch-perfect accuracy, rendering the princes as goobers with good hearts and individual strengths, keeping them distinct and believable.
Inventive and hilarious, with laugh-out-loud moments on every page.
(Fantasy. 8 & up)
As he did in The Race to Save the Lord God Bird (2004), Hoose explores the tragedy of extinction through a single bird species, but there is hope for survival in this story, and that hope is pinned on understanding the remarkable longevity of a single bird.
B95 is a 4-ounce, robin-sized shorebird, a red knot of the subspecies rufa. Each February he joins a flock that lifts off from Tierra del Fuego and heads for breeding grounds in the Canadian Arctic, 9,000 miles away. Late in the summer, he begins the return journey. Scientists call him Moonbird because, in the course of his astoundingly long lifetime of nearly 20 years, he has flown the distance to the moon and halfway back. B95 can fly for days without eating or sleeping but eventually must land to refuel and rest. Recent changes, however, at refueling stations along his migratory circuit, most caused by human activity, have reduced the available food. Since 1995, when B95 was captured and banded, the rufa population has collapsed by nearly 80 percent. Scientists want to know why this one bird survives year after year when so many others do not. In a compelling, vividly detailed narrative, Hoose takes readers around the hemisphere, showing them the obstacles rufa red knots face, introducing a global team of scientists and conservationists, and offering insights about what can be done to save them before it’s too late.
Noted for her fantasy and science fiction for adults, Hopkinson jumps triumphantly to teen literature.
Scotch’s womanly build and mixed heritage (white Jamaican dad, black American mom) made her the target of small-town school bullies. Since moving to Toronto, she’s found friends and status. Now both are threatened by the mysterious sticky black spots on her skin (she hides them under her clothes, but they’re growing). When a giant bubble appears at an open-mic event, Scotch dares her brother, Rich, to touch it. He disappears, a volcano rises from Lake Ontario, and chaos ripples across city and world, transforming reality in ways bizarre and hilarious, benign and malignant. A lesbian folksinger with Tamil roots becomes a purple triangle with an elephant’s trunk; jelly beans grow teeth; buried streams resurface. Scotch searches for Rich across a surreal, sensual cityscape informed by Caribbean and Russian folklore. Although what they represent and where they come from are open to interpretation, the manifestations are real to everyone and must be dealt with. Hopkinson opens her YA debut conventionally but soon finds her own path, creating a unique vocabulary with which to explore and express personal identity in its myriad forms and fluidity. Anything but essentialist, she captures her characters in the act of becoming.
Rich in voice, humor and dazzling imagery, studded with edgy ideas and wildly original, this multicultural mashup—like its heroine—defies categorization.
(Fantasy. 12 & up)
Key (Alabama Moon, 2006, etc.) has crafted another powerful, riveting coming-of-age tale that doesn’t stint on violence to advance the action.
Middle schooler Foster and his mother have been barely getting by since his father’s death a year ago. The farm in Fourmile, Ala., is going to ruin around them without a man’s help, and now Mother has begun a relationship with dangerous, unpleasant Dax, a man she seems powerless to keep from abusing both Foster and his dog, Joe. Then Gary shows up, hiking along the rural road. He's a young man with a secret past but is nevertheless kind, hardworking and ultimately heroic. Foster, desperate to find some steady ground in his life, connects to Gary immediately, even though in his heart he’s aware that whatever is in Gary’s past likely dooms the relationship. After Foster’s mom spurns him, Dax begins an escalating and tragic campaign of retaliation. Foster’s first-person voice is richly authentic as he gradually acquires the wisdom that will eventually lead him to a believable though heart-wrenching resolution to some of the crushing conflicts in his life. Confrontations between Dax and Gary are vivid and violent enough to disturb some readers, the violence expertly serving to define yet distinguish their characters.
Deeply moving and fast-paced, this life-affirming effort is a worthy addition to the bookshelves of sturdy readers.
(Fiction. 12 & up)
Debut author Kristoff’s steampunk adventure whisks readers to a Japanese dystopia where some mythological beings still exist, a few people have fantastical gifts, and all people live under tyranny.
Yukiko, 16, has an ability the shogun’s guild would punish with death: She can commune with animals. In a unique society woven from Japanese culture and history and the author’s ingenuity of mechanical invention and disease, living standards are rough; pollution and drug addiction proliferate under the rule of a corrupt shogun who seeks to win an admittedly nebulous war. When he commissions Yukiko’s father to catch an elusive arashitora, a creature part-eagle and part-tiger, Yukiko’s quest to survive becomes more challenging. Failure to find the arashitora means the end for Yukiko and her father. Indeed, death looms around every corner in this third-person adventure, as Yukiko meets defectors, rebels and others too scared to oppose the shogun. The book takes off in earnest when Yukiko meets an arashitora. She can communicate with it, and girl and beast grow through the bond they form in surprising and thoroughly convincing ways. Ultimately the fearsome pair takes on the regime, but not before Yukiko forays into the wilds of love.
Soars higher than the arashitora Kristoff writes about; superb.
(Steampunk. 12 & up)
A teenage assassin, a rebel princess, menacing gargoyles, supernatural portals and a glass castle prove to be as thrilling as they sound.
Being the most feared assassin in Adarlan is a notoriety 17-year-old Celaena considers an honor, even though it has landed her in a slave-labor prison no one has ever survived. A year into her sentence, the Crown Prince offers to sponsor Celaena in a competition with 23 other criminals and murderers that, should she win, will result in her freedom. The only catch? She’ll become the king’s personal assassin for four years, the same dark-hearted king who sentenced her to imprisonment. Woven in the vein of a Tolkien fantasy, Celaena’s world is one where magic is outlawed and power is snatched through greed and genocide. The third-person narrative allows frequent insight into multiple characters (heroes and villains alike) but never fully shifts its focus from the confident yet conflicted Celaena. And though violent combat and whispers of the occult surround her, Celaena is still just a teenager trying to forge her way, giving the story timelessness. She might be in the throes of a bloodthirsty competition, but that doesn’t mean she’s not in turmoil over which tall, dark and handsomely titled man of the royal court should be her boyfriend—and which fancy gown she should wear to a costume party.
This commingling of comedy, brutality and fantasy evokes a rich alternate universe with a spitfire young woman as its brightest star.
(Fantasy. 14 & up)
In this exciting first sequel to outstanding series opener Planesrunner (2011), 14-year-old science whiz Everett Singh continues to outthink his enemies while navigating the multiverse searching for his dad, lost in a parallel universe.
Everett’s enemies multiply in this installment. There's still the marvelously imagined villain Charlotte Villiers, with her impeccable 1940s style and the confidence of genius, but now Everett’s “alter,” Everett M, his double from another parallel-universe Earth, has been made into a cyborg instructed to eliminate Everett. Add to those a new threat: sentient advanced technology gone bad. The quirky crewmates on their rogue airship, especially Sen, the wonderfully original Airish girl with her enjoyably distinctive dialect, keep the conversations lively as they dodge death at every turn. McDonald roots Everett's heroism in his intelligence. Everett knows mathematics, physics and Punjabi cooking. He wins because he outthinks his rivals, not because he’s faster or stronger, like his alter. Stuffed with science, this series has the potential to fascinate young readers as William Sleator’s books did, tackling concepts on the slippery edge of current understanding. Science causes danger, but it’s also the weapon that combats those terrors. Smart, clever and abundantly original, with suspense that grabs your eyeballs, this is real science fiction for all ages.
Crime noir meets paranormal romance in this addictive thriller about two London teens in whom the fae awakens, conferring abilities at once exhilarating and harshly stigmatized.
Glory exults in her strong powers, although Auntie Angel warns her to hide them from the organized-crime covens ruling their hardscrabble neighborhood; otherwise, she could be forced to marry Wednesday Coven–heir Troy Morgan. (Powerful witches are rare, and the gift runs in families.) To Lucas, whose ancestry includes England’s most distinguished inquisitors, his awakening fae feels like a door slamming on his future and his father’s career as Chief Prosecutor of the Inquisitorial Court. Asked to investigate who’s sabotaging an important legal case, Lucas jumps at the chance, working with a skeptical Glory. In this alternative contemporary England, witches have achieved some rights and can even have careers, provided they’re “bridled” (fitted with magic-preventing iron). Still, stake burning remains legal, though regulated; growing popular movements advocate witch genocide. Political intrigue and class warfare, inquisitorial office and coven politics are densely detailed without overwhelming the characters or slowing the pace as the narrative builds to a tense climax so cinematic that readers will find themselves mentally casting the film version.
This smart, stylish series opener raises the bar for paranormal fiction, leaving readers impatient for the next installment.
(Urban fantasy. 12 & up)
In a town partially controlled by the Irish mob, a quiet friendship develops between two basketball players.
Finley doesn't say much, and his basketball teammates fondly call him White Rabbit, both for his quiet demeanor and for being the only white player on his high school team. He is surprised but willing when his coach introduces him to Russ Washington and asks Finley to look after him. Russ, a nationally recognized athlete, is experiencing post-traumatic stress after the murder of his parents. While there are hints that something in Finley's own past makes this assignment particularly relevant, Finley quietly but firmly refuses to discuss his own history with other characters or with readers. Instead, they see the friendship among the two boys and Finley's girlfriend, Erin, gently unfold and the mysteries surrounding Russ deepen. Does Russ want to play basketball or not? Does he really believe he is an alien called Boy21? The answers here are satisfying but never simple, and the setting, a working-class town where asking too many questions can have deadly consequences, is a bleak, haunting foil to the boys' comfortable silence. Family relationships are well-drawn, and foreshadowing is effective without being predictable.
A story that, like Finley, expresses a lot in relatively few words.
(Fiction. 12 & up)
In a book that is the very model of excellence in nonfiction, Rappaport dispels the old canard that the Jews entered the houses of death as lambs led to the slaughter.
Although "[t]he scope and extent of Jewish resistance during the Holocaust cannot possibly be contained in one book," Rappaport offers an astonishing and inspiring survey. By shining a spotlight on individuals and their involvement in given situations—Kristallnacht, deportations, guerrilla resistance, among others—throughout Europe, she creates intimate personal snapshots of the years of the Nazi occupation. She tells of people who committed acts of destruction as well as those whose resistance was in the simple act of celebrating and maintaining their faith in impossible conditions. Well-known events—the escape from Sobibor, the battle for Warsaw—share space with less-familiar ones. Short biographies introduce readers to those involved, some of whom the author has interviewed. Archival images help readers envision the people and places that are mentioned: partisan forest hideaways, concentration camps, the ovens, barracks, groups of people on their way to death, diagrams of camps and more.
Thorough, deeply researched and stylistically clear, this is a necessary, exemplary book.
(pronunciation guide, chronology, notes, bibliography, index)
(Nonfiction. 10 & up)
A dark and dangerous thrill ride pushes teen readers to the brink of their comfort zones when it comes to issues of love, lust, politics, family and war.
Despite repeated warnings, Jamie can’t resist the sexy and mysterious Caro. He would do anything for her, and she knows it. What he doesn’t know is that Caro and his older brother Rob have a secret past. Rees revels in an unapologetic exploration of extremes in this smart and well-crafted novel. The brothers are perfect foils for each other, with Jamie an eager-to-please, typical teen, and Rob a menacing and tragic war veteran prone to terrifyingly violent outbursts. Though Caro’s manipulations of the brothers for her own political gain drive the action of the story, the relationship between the two siblings provides its molten emotional core. As Rob becomes increasingly unhinged, Jamie’s desperation to claim Caro as his own and to assert himself in his relationship with his brother becomes a matter of life and death.
Though the portrayal of Rob’s deteriorating mental state is raw and often uncomfortable, in the end, the honest, uncensored storytelling makes this a tale that will stay with readers long after the final page is turned.
(Fiction. 14 & up)
Opening soon after the bleak ending of Across the Universe (2011), this captivating middle volume takes Godspeed’s 2,763 residents through commotion, twists and game-changers.
Sixteen-year-old Elder (he refuses the title Eldest, despite being the ship’s leader now) learned in the trilogy opener that Godspeed’s weakened engine offers no chance of planet-landing for many decades. But Elder’s been studying physics, and he’s newly skeptical. Confronting the Shippers who physically run Godspeed begins a string of surprising reveals and so does a set of clues left by a cryogenically frozen rebel. Among this population that’s been shipborn for generations, Earthborn Amy sticks out like a sore thumb (in race-coded ways that are troubling when examined closely). Amy wants off the 10 square miles of this metal-walled spaceship. The environment (levels; elevators; fields under a solar lamp; crammed stacks of city buildings) gives the plot (food hoarding, rape, riots, revolution) an acute tension. Amy and Elder alternate narrating in first person. Their voices aren’t distinct, their actions and characterizations frustrating in many ways, but it hardly matters: Revis’ shining brilliance is the fierce tension about survival (is Godspeed deteriorating? can people survive terrorism inside an enclosed spaceship?) and the desperate core question of whether any generation will ever reach a planet.
Setting and plot are the heart and soul of this ripping space thriller, and they’re unforgettable.
(Science fiction. 14 & up)
The menacing, post-apocalyptic world of Marbury is again richly imagined in this stunning sequel to The Marbury Lens (2010).
Four boys at the heart of the first novel return for another harrowing journey. Jack, whose abduction and near-rape was the catalyst that brought about his descent into Marbury, his best friend, Conner, and Ben and Griffin, two boys they first encountered in the alternate world, begin by attempting to destroy the lens that clutches Jack in its grip, compelling him to return repeatedly to the horrific world of cannibals, monsters and death. When they smash it, they inadvertently create a schism between dimensions—their hometown of Glenbrook becomes a terrifying mirror of Marbury with many variations in between—making escape nearly impossible. As in the first, readers will not be sure what is real, what is nightmare, what may be metaphor. Smith has created a fantastically effective, sinister setting and imbued it with characters that are loyal and decent, even at their most desperate. Unrelentingly harsh in tone and language (“Fuck this…I’ll show you who he is. We’ll fucking go kill him. I’ll bring back his fucking head”), this will be devoured by fans of the first, despite the fact that it offers few clear answers, right to the surprisingly gentle and wise conclusion.
Brilliant and remarkably unsettling.
(Horror/fantasy. 16 & up)
What are the odds of two identical missing boys? The possibility will haunt readers in this British import by Morris Award finalist Valentine.
When 16-year-old runaway Chap, named by his reclusive grandfather, gets locked up for fighting in a London hostel, detectives are certain that they’ve found missing Cassiel Roadnight, who disappeared two years ago on the firework-filled Hay on Fire fall festival. Longing for a real family, Chap assumes Cass’ identity and tries to ingratiate himself with the Roadnights as he moves into their home. Weighed down by his lies and the family’s doubts (“Your eyes used to be blue”), his ruse is not as easy to carry out as he imagined. Chap’s spare, first-person narration intensifies this taut, psychological thriller as he also begins to wonder why and how Cass disappeared. Flashbacks, fraught with identity, loss and betrayal, fill in the back story on Chap’s own life, which is just as mysterious as Cass’. Piecing together clues from his and Cass’ lives, Chap can’t help but believe that he may be living with Cass’ killer. With the next Hay on Fire quickly approaching, will Chap meet the same fate as Cass?
Readers who like the quick pace of Gail Giles’ mysteries and the dark, finely crafted suspense of Kevin Brooks will find the perfect combination here. (Thriller. 12 & up)
Here's something refreshing: a religious-historical thriller with a nifty Mobius strip of a plot—think Nancy Werlin channeling Dan Brown—serving up shivery suspense, sans fangs or fur.
Battered by family tragedy, high school senior Nora has been sleepwalking through life in her chilly New England town. Knowing her facility in Latin, Chris and his roommate, Max, talk her into helping translate letters relating to Edward Kelley, a prominent 16th-century alchemist. Sidelined into working on his daughter’s letters, Nora learns of the Lumen Dei (the alchemical MacGuffin), sought down the centuries by religious fanatics. Pairing up, Max and Nora form a bond with Chris and his girlfriend, Adriane, that’s severed when Chris is brutally murdered. Adriane, the only witness, is catatonic, and Max has vanished, leaving Nora on her own until Chris’s cousin Eli arrives to collect Chris’s effects and keep an eye on her. A cryptic message from Max sends Nora, joined by the semi-recovered Adriane and stalked by Eli, to the mean streets of Prague. The teen designation feels less content- than market-driven. While depictions of violence and sexuality are more muted than the title suggests, Nora’s sensibility, casual independence and vocabulary are entirely adult.
A classy read that repays reader effort. (historical note) (Thriller. 12 & up)
Compassionate, thoughtful and expressive, this New Zealand import traces a Maori teen's journey through friendships, family, work and the realization that he is gay.
Modest, practical, local-hip-hop–loving Tyson spots a confident, young, white street promoter in a basketball jersey and for the first time feels something he thinks might be love at first sight. Tyson spends his life caring for others: He works nights as a dishwasher to support his mother and two younger brothers, and he looks out for his best mate Rawiri, loyally ignoring the bruises Rawiri sometimes receives at home. Propelled by two friends' encouragement to follow his dreams and his growing interest in the figure he thinks of as “the white homeboy,” Tyson begins to make changes. He calls a gay hotline for support and allows himself to be pulled into a crew of street artists who respect his drawing talents even while their leader spews homophobic bile. Each character is carefully drawn, and the sense of family among the street crew and the racism in the gay community are palpable without the author ever telling readers what to think. The language, though inflected with regional slang and the names of local hip-hop artists, is both accessible and lyrical.
No simple coming-out story, this many-layered effort is gritty, warm and ultimately hopeful.
(Fiction. 14 & up)