In fascinating detail, Aronson tells the story of America during J. Edgar Hoover’s reign as head of the FBI and “the nearly fifty years of criminal activity that was his legacy.”
For today’s students, communism and anti-communism are “just terms that appear on tests, like the Whig, Greenback, or Know-Nothing parties,” but this volume brings alive the drama of the Cold War period and demonstrates its significance for readers now. Taking his title from Hoover’s 1958 work on the dangers of communism, Aronson writes about the dangers of a “security at all costs” mentality during the Cold War and, by extension, our post-9/11 world. He covers a large slice of history—the Palmer raids of 1919, the gangster era, the Scottsboro case, World War II, the Rosenbergs, Joseph McCarthy, the civil rights movement and Watergate—but this is no mere recitation of the facts; it’s a masterpiece of historical narrative, with the momentum of a thrilling novel and the historical detail of the best nonfiction. With references as far-flung as Karl Marx, Stalin, Wordsworth, American Idol, The Hunger Games and The Lord of the Rings, this is as much about how history is written as it is about Hoover and his times. Extensive backmatter includes fascinating comments on the research, thorough source notes that are actually interesting to read and a lengthy bibliography.
Written with the authority of a fine writer with an inquiring mind, this dramatic story is history writing at its best.
(Nonfiction. 14 & up)
Fourteen-year-old Portia joins a circus freak show looking for the father who abandoned her, but she finds much more.
Portia’s odyssey takes place in a gothic, Depression-era Midwest. Her idyllic youth, surrounded by the stories of her extended family, ends when her widowed father leaves her with her stoic, thoroughly practical Aunt Sophia—who then turns her over to the distinctly un-homelike McGreavey Home for Wayward Girls, ruled by the sinister Mister. After her only friend commits suicide—an act Portia feels responsible for—Portia steals Mister’s bicycle and runs away to the circus, where she hopes (with no real basis) to find her father. Her way with words wins her a place pitching the ballyhoo to the rubes who visit the titular Wonder Show. The languid, sensuous third-person account is periodically punctuated by the voices of Portia and the members of the Wonder Show, giving readers poignant insight into this fragile found family. The themes that delicately thread their way through the novel—of the power of story, of family and friendship, of seeking and finding—weave themselves together into a compelling depiction of Portia’s very conscious act of self-definition: She can be, as her mentor in the ballyhoo says, whoever she wants to be.
Infused with nostalgia and affection, this celebration of the deliberately constructed self will hold readers in its spell from beginning to end
. (Historical fiction. 13 & up)
1920s New York thrums with giddy life in this gripping first in a new trilogy from Printz winner Bray.
Irrepressible 17-year-old Evie delights in her banishment to her Uncle Will’s care in Manhattan after she drunkenly embarrasses a peer in her Ohio hometown. She envisions glamour, fun and flappers, but she gets a great deal more in the bargain. Her uncle, the curator of a museum of the occult, is soon tapped to help solve a string of grisly murders, and Evie, who has long concealed an ability to read people’s pasts while holding an object of their possession, is eager to assist. An impressively wide net is cast here, sprawling to include philosophical Uncle Will and his odd assistant, a numbers runner and poet who dreams of establishing himself among the stars of the Harlem Renaissance, a beautiful and mysterious dancer on the run from her past and her kind musician roommate, a slick-talking pickpocket, and Evie’s seemingly demure sidekick, Mabel. Added into the rotation of third-person narrators are the voices of those encountering a vicious, otherworldly serial killer; these are utterly terrifying.
Not for the faint of heart due to both subject and length, but the intricate plot and magnificently imagined details of character, dialogue and setting take hold and don’t let go. Not to be missed.
(Historical/paranormal thriller. 14 & up)
Two girls of very different degree are brought together unwillingly by the English conquest of Wales.
Cecily is in a pet at having to leave the home of her youth—where her mother is buried—and relocate to the Welsh frontier, but her father is a younger son. He will take a burgage in Caernarvon, recently conquered by Edward I. In exchange for a home, he will help to keep the King's peace. Cecily hates Caernarvon. She hates its weather, its primitive appointments and its natives, especially Gwinny, the servant girl who doesn't obey, and the young man who stares at her. It would be easy to dismiss this book as a Karen Cushman knockoff; Cecily's voice certainly has a pertness that recalls Catherine, Called Birdy. But there's more of an edge, conveyed both in the appalling ease with which Cecily dismisses the Welsh as subhuman and in Gwinny's fierce parallel narrative. "I could kill the brat a hundred different ways." Never opting for the easy characterization, debut author Coats compellingly re-creates this occupation from both sides. It all leads to an ending so brutal and unexpected it will take readers' breath away even as it makes them think hard about the title.
Brilliant: a vision of history before the victors wrote it.
(Historical fiction. 12 & up)
War has been declared, and the young, royal, exiled FitzOsbornes are immediately in the thick of things as Cooper's Montmaray Journals trilogy comes to its conclusion.
Their island kingdom of Montmaray was captured by the Nazis several years earlier, and they have been living in London ever since. Teenagers at the start of the war, they are flung headlong into adulthood; Simon and King Toby are in the Royal Air Force, Princess Veronica does something secret in the Foreign Office, and Princess Sophie works in the Food Ministry, where she churns out information regarding rationing. It is her voice, as true and clear as ever in her long-running journal, that paints a detailed and nuanced portrait of life in the madness of war, with its deprivations, bombings and disruptions; devastating damage to life, property and spirit; constant fear, heartbreaking loss and brief moments of giddy laughter. The family is foremost in the narrative, but the wider cast of characters includes Churchill, the Kennedys and several other historical figures. Seamlessly weaving fiction with fact, Cooper makes it all personal. Modern readers, whether or not they know more than a few basic facts about that era, will be completely caught up in Sophie’s nightmare and will gain an understanding that only the best historical fiction can provide. (Readers are advised not to peek at the family tree, as it contains spoilers.)
Set in rural Montana in the early 1990s, this lesbian coming-of-age story runs the gamut from heart-rending to triumphant, epic to mundane.
The story opens just after Cameron's first kiss with a girl and just before the life-changing news that Cameron's parents have died in a car accident. Cam is 12 when readers first meet her, but several years pass over the course of the book's nearly 500 pages. Carefully crafted symbols—a dollhouse into which Cam puts stolen trinkets and mementos, the lake where her mother once escaped disaster only to die there 30 years later—provide a backbone for the story's ever-shifting array of characters and episodes, each rendered in vibrant, almost memoirlike detail. The tense relationship between Cam's sexuality and her family and community's religious beliefs is handled with particular nuance, as are her romantic and sexual entanglements, from a summer fling with an out, proud and smug Seattlite to an all-encompassing love for a seemingly straight female friend. Even when events take a dark and gut-punchingly inevitable turn, the novel remains at its heart a story of survival and of carving out space even in a world that wants one's annihilation.
Rich with detail and emotion, a sophisticated read for teens and adults alike.
(Fiction. 14 & up)
The high school year is almost over, there’s a party in the park, and Mister Death will soon be there, rifle in hand.
It’s June 1956, and the kids in the park are dancing to Fats Domino, Chuck Berry, Little Richard and the Platters. Mister Death is there too, a boy in a tree, rifle in hand. Two girls, Cheryl and Bobbi Jo, never make it to school the next day, their bloody bodies found in the park where they were shot. Hahn’s well-constructed story traces the effects of a crime on everyone involved, including Buddy Novak, accused of a crime he didn’t commit. Multiple perspectives offer readers a chance to view the crime from various angles. A third-person narration follows the machinations of Mister Death, while a first-person voice is perfect for developing narrator Nora Cunningham’s character, a 16-year-old girl full of questions and doubts and who ultimately doesn't believe the gossip mill that pins the blame on Buddy. Diary entries, letters and first-person accounts from secondary characters add depth and sophistication to the tale, letting readers figure out for themselves what really happened.
An engrossing exploration of how a murder affects a community.
(Historical thriller. 12 & up)
Teen detective Iris Anderson struggles to solve parallel mysteries while coming to terms with her Jewish identity in World War II–era New York City in this engrossing follow-up to The Girl is Murder (2011).
It’s only been a month since Iris helped her gumshoe dad solve the disappearance of one of her classmates. Now her father is reluctantly allowing her to assist him on cases, but when Iris finds some disturbing crime-scene photos of her deceased mother in his office, she almost regrets her decision. Iris had been told her mother committed suicide. The photos indicate foul play, though, and Iris is determined to find out the truth. Meanwhile, she has also been hired by the Jewish Student Federation at school to uncover who is leaving anti-Semitic notes in members’ lockers. The investigation stirs up Iris’s feelings of guilt over her own Jewish heritage, which she has essentially ignored. Emotionally distraught and personally involved in both cases, Iris is a prime target for bad-boy Benny’s romantic overtures. But are his intentions as sweet as they seem? Or is Iris flirting with danger? Haines delves deeper into Iris’ intriguing character in this compelling, self-contained sequel while doing a bang-up job of maintaining the ace period setting.
A solid addition to what is turning into a swell series.
(Historical mystery. 12 & up)
A 20th-century teen artist and 19th-century French poet Arthur Rimbaud transcend time and place in this luminous paean to the transformative power of art.
In September 1977, 18-year-old Merle leaves rural Virginia to attend the Corcoran School of Art in Washington, D.C. Her drawings catch the eye of drawing instructor Clea, who initiates a romantic relationship with Merle. Overwhelmed by the sophisticated urban art scene, Merle drifts out of school. When Clea drops her, a homeless Merle desperately spray-paints her signature sun-eye graffiti across the city until she encounters a mercurial tramp who mystically connects her with the visionary Rimbaud, in the bloom of his artistic powers at age 16. Incredulous over their stunning time travel, Merle and Rimbaud recognize they are kindred spirits who live to create. Hand deftly alternates between Merle’s first-person, past-tense story and a third-person account of Rimbaud during the Franco-Prussian War of 1871-1872, laced with excerpts from his poems and letters. Suffused with powerful images of light, this intensely lyrical portrait of two androgynous young artists who magically traverse a century to briefly escape their equally disturbing worlds expands the themes of artistic isolation and passion Hand first introduced in Illyria (2010).
An impressive blend of biography and magical realism.
(author’s notes; select bibliography)
(Fantasy. 14 & up)
In what’s sure to be a definitive work commemorating the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the RMS Titanic, Hopkinson offers a well-researched and fascinating account of the disaster.
On Monday, April 15th, 1912, the magnificent Titanic sank after striking an iceberg in the North Atlantic. Of the 2,208 people on board, only 712 survived. It’s a well-known story, though maybe not to young readers, who, if anything, might have seen the movie. Hopkinson orchestrates a wealth of material here, using a third-person narrative voice to tell the story while incorporating eyewitness accounts of people on the “most luxurious ship the world had ever seen.” A huge number of archival photographs and reproductions of telegrams, maps, letters, illustrations, sidebars and even a dinner menu complement the text, yielding a volume as interesting for browsing as for through-reading. The voices include a stewardess, a science teacher, a 9-year-old boy, the ship’s designer, the captain and a mother on her way to a new life in America. Best of all is the author’s spirit: She encourages readers to think like historians and wonder what it would have been like on the Titanic and imagine each character’s story. Fifty pages of backmatter will inform and guide readers who want to know even more.
A thorough and absorbing recreation of the ill-fated voyage.
A romp of a Regency romance told through the discerning voice of a witty teenage beauty whose family needs her to marry for money.
Lovely Althea Crawley, 17, lives with her kind but clueless twice-widowed mother in Crooked Castle, a drafty white elephant perched precariously on the Yorkshire coast. Althea’s 4-year-old brother, who’s heir to the castle, and her self-centered older stepsisters, Prudence and Charity, round out the household. With few funds to make ends meet, Althea, unlike so many fictional heroines who go off on unlikely adventures, accepts that she must marry for money. Prospects look up with the arrival in the neighborhood of handsome, young Lord Boring. When Althea launches her campaign, described in military terms, to secure his affections, not all goes as planned. As she pursues him, her occasional outspokenness raises a few eyebrows but also attracts admiration from an unsuspected quarter. Kindl respects the conventions of the genre while also gently mocking it. Althea observes, for example, that their ancient butler, Greengages, correctly pronounces the name of neighbor Doctor Haxhamptonshire as “Doctor Hamster.” Readers will enjoy Althea’s entertaining forays into the marriage market, secure in the belief that all will end well.
While the happy ending comes as no surprise, the path to it is funny as well as satisfying, with many nods to Jane Austen along the way. (Fiction. 13 & up)
(Fiction13 & up)
Fiction and history coalesce in a rich, ripping tale of assassinations, political intrigue and religion in 15th-century Brittany.
When the pig farmer who paid three coins to wed Ismae sees the red scar across her back, he cracks her in the skull and hurls her into the root cellar until a priest can come “to burn you or drown you.” The scar shows that Ismae’s mother poisoned her in utero; Ismae’s survival of that poisoning proves her sire is Mortain, god of death. A hedge priest and herbwitch spirit Ismae to the convent of St. Mortain, where nuns teach her hundreds of ways to kill a man. “We are mere instruments of Mortain….His handmaidens, if you will. We do not decide who to kill or why or when. It is all determined by the god.” After Ismae’s first two assassinations, the abbess sends her to Brittany’s high court to ferret out treason against the duchess and to kill anyone Mortain marks, even if it’s someone Ismae trusts—or loves. Brittany fights to remain independent from France, war looms and suitors vie nefariously for the duchess’ hand. Ismae’s narrative voice is fluid and solid, her spying and killing skills impeccable. LaFevers’ ambitious tapestry includes poison and treason and murder, valor and honor and slow love, suspense and sexuality and mercy.
A page turner—with grace.
(map, list of characters)
(Historical thriller. 14 & up)
A tale of two Haitis—one modern, one historic—deftly intertwine in a novel for teens and adults.
Readers first meet Shorty under the rubble of the recent earthquake, as he struggles to make sense of his past, present and future. Through flashbacks, they learn of his gangster life in a dangerous Port-au-Prince slum, where he searches for his twin sister, Marguerite, after they’ve been separated by gang violence. In his stressed state, Shorty communes with the spirit of Toussaint l’Ouverture, leader of the slave uprising that ultimately transformed Haiti into the world’s first black republic. Lake adeptly alternates chapters between “Now” (post-earthquake) and “Then” (circa turn-of-the-19th century). His minimalist, poetic style reveals respect for vodou culture, as well as startling truths: “In darkness, I count my blessings like Manman taught me. One: I am alive. Two: there is no two.” While the images of slavery and slum brutality are not for the faint-hearted, and Shorty’s view of humanitarian workers may stir debate, readers will be inspired to learn more about Haiti’s complex history. Timed for the second anniversary of the Haitian earthquake, this double-helix-of-a-story explores the nature of freedom, humanity, survival and hope.
A dark journey well worth taking—engrossing, disturbing, illuminating.
(Fiction. 14 & up)
The Black Panthers seem to have the answers for Maxie and her friends, so when a traitor to the group is suspected, she is determined to find who is leaking information to the Chicago police.
Maxie and her brother Raheem are deeply involved with the Black Panther Party. The shooting of a close friend and ongoing conflicts with the Chicago police make the radical group seem like the only protection they can count on. Problems at home—their mother’s unemployment, drinking and various boyfriends—make the Panther office a refuge for Maxie, and she presses to become a real member: armed, trained and patrolling the streets like her brother. She is deemed too young, so when Maxie hears there may be a traitor in the Panthers, she decides to discover who it is and prove she is ready to take a real place in the organization. The discovery changes everything and forces Maxie to face almost unbearable truths. In this companion to award-winning A Rock and the River (2009), Magoon explores the role the Black Panthers played in urban communities during the tumultuous times of the late ’60s. Maxie is a believable and feisty character. Her interactions with her brother and his efforts to be the parent their mother seems incapable of being both ring true, as does her relationship with Sam, still grieving the death of his brother. Historical moments such as the riots during the 1968 Democratic National Convention strengthen the sense of time and place, but this is primarily an authentic story of a young person attempting to grasp where she will stand in the struggle.
A well-written, compelling trip to a past not often portrayed in children's literature.
(Historical fiction. 8-12)
Two teens race against time to thwart the forces of evil in this prequel to The Boneshaker (2010).
The Broken Land is a hotel where much crucial action takes place, but it is also an apt description of the United States in 1877. The Civil War has scarred the country, and Reconstruction has ended. “Folks are angry, still,” orphan Sam is told. “Folks are scared and folks feel like punishing each other, and I don’t think many of ’em are clear about what they’re mad for.” It is also a time of technological marvels like the Brooklyn Bridge, although this particular wonder has come with a price for young Sam. After losing his father to illness brought on by work on the bridge, Sam finds himself working as a cardsharp in Coney Island. He becomes the unlikely ally of Jin, a Chinese girl working with a team to provide fireworks at Broken Land, as they find themselves resisting a figure seeking to establish his own Hell. This seamless blend of fantasy and historical fiction is ripe with rich, gritty detail. Best of all, it is populated by a vast array of unusual characters: Along with Sam and Jin, there's Tom, a former member of the U.S. Colored Troops, and Susannah, a biracial woman who may hold the key to victory.
Murphy and Blank chronicle the story of the tuberculosis microorganism, the greatest serial killer of all time.
Tuberculosis has been infecting people for millions of years and has killed over a trillion humans. This fascinating tale unfolds as a biography of a germ, an account of the treatment and search for cures, and a social history of the disease. As Murphy treated yellow fever in An American Plague (2003), this volume offers a lively text complemented by excellent, well-placed reproductions of photographs, drawings, flyers, woodcuts, posters and ads. The images include an Edvard Munch painting depicting the death of his 16-year-old sister of tuberculosis, a flyer for a Paul Laurence Dunbar poetry reading with a discussion of how minorities were denied proper medical care, a drawing showing death coming for Irish-born author Laurence Sterne and a photograph of Anne, Emily and Charlotte Brontë, all of whom died of tuberculosis. The broad focus of the slim volume allows it to be about many things: medical discovery, technology, art and how people from all walks of life have dealt with a deadly disease that pays no attention to social distinctions. The bibliography is thorough, and even the source notes are illuminating.
Who knew the biography of a germ could be so fascinating? (acknowledgments, picture credits, index [not seen]) (Nonfiction. 9-14)
Lewis Michaux provided a venue for his fellow African-Americans to have access to their own history and philosophy at a time when the very idea was revolutionary.
Michaux’s family despaired of him, as he engaged in petty crime and was obviously headed in the wrong direction. He began to read, however, and discovered a connection to the writings of Marcus Garvey and others, and he determined that knowledge of black thinkers and writers was the way to freedom and dignity. With an inventory of five books, he started his National Memorial African Bookstore as “the home of proper propaganda” and built it into a Harlem landmark, where he encouraged his neighbors to read, discuss and learn, whether or not they could afford to buy. His clients included Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali, Langston Hughes and Nikki Giovanni. Nelson, Michaux’s great-niece, makes use of an exhaustive collection of interviews, articles, books, transcripts and FBI files, filling in the gaps with “informed speculation.” Brief entries arranged in mostly chronological order read seamlessly so that fact and fiction meld in a cohesive whole. Michaux’s voice blends with those of the people in his life, providing a full portrait of a remarkable man. Copious illustrations in the form of photographs, copies of appropriate ephemera and Christie’s powerfully emotional free-form line drawings add depth and focus.
A stirring and thought-provoking account of an unsung figure in 20th-century American history.
(author’s notes, source notes, bibliography, index)
(Fictional biography. 12-18)
He failed to save his twin brother through alchemy, but young Victor Frankenstein eagerly delves back into the sinister sciences in this sequel to 2011’s This Dark Endeavor.
Three weeks after Konrad’s death, Victor plucks a mysterious box from the still-warm ashes of the books of the Dark Library. Demonstrating tremendous hubris, Victor aims to return Konrad to the living world and still win Elizabeth, Konrad’s grief-stricken love and the boys’ childhood friend. When Victor uncovers a way into the spirit world, he finds that Konrad is in neither heaven nor hell but in an alternate version of the house, where eons collide, a ravenous mist lurks outside, and groans arise from below. Elizabeth and Henry Clerval soon join Victor on his journeys to the other realm and on his mission to build a body for Konrad, based on ancient drawings and monstrous bones discovered in caves beneath the castle. As in the first book, the trio realizes the high cost of their quest too late. Victor is a fascinating if sometimes unlikable character, ambitious, brooding, reckless and obsessive in his pursuit of knowledge and power; Printz honor winner Oppel skillfully portrays him as both a troubled teen and the boy who would become Frankenstein. Addictions and lustful encounters add another layer of sophistication to the gothic melodrama.
A standout sequel and engrossing ghost story.
(Horror. 14 & up)
Pratchett leaves Discworld to bring us something that is quite nearly—but not exactly—actual historical fiction.
Dodger is a guttersnipe and a tosher (a glossary would not have been amiss to help readers navigate the many archaic terms, although most are defined in the text, often humorously). He knows everyone, and everyone knows him, and he’s a petty criminal but also (generally) one of the good guys. One night he rescues a beautiful young woman and finds himself hobnobbing quite literally with the likes of Charlie Dickens (yes, that Dickens) and Ben Disraeli. The young woman is fleeing from an abusive husband and has been beaten until she miscarried; power and abuse are explored sensitively but deliberately throughout. And when he attempts to smarten himself up to impress the damsel in distress, he unexpectedly comes face to face with—and disarms!—Sweeney Todd. As Dodger rises, he continuously grapples with something Charlie has said: “the truth is a fog.” Happily, the only fog here is that of Dodger’s London, and the truth is quite clear: Historical fiction in the hands of the inimitable Sir Terry brings the sights and the smells (most certainly the smells) of Old London wonderfully to life, in no small part due to the masterful third-person narration that adopts Dodger’s voice with utmost conviction.
Unexpected, drily funny and full of the pathos and wonder of life: Don't miss it.
(Historical 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)
The wild freedom of the imagination and the heart, and the tragedy of lives ended just as success is within view—such a powerful story is that of the Brontë children.
Reef’s gracefully plotted, carefully researched account focuses on Charlotte, whose correspondence with friends, longer life and more extensive experience outside the narrow milieu of Haworth, including her acquaintance with the novelist Elizabeth Gaskell, who became her biographer, revealed more of her personality. She describes the Brontë children’s early losses of their mother and then their two oldest siblings, conveying the imaginative, verbally rich life of children who are essentially orphaned but share both the wild countryside and the gifts of story. Brother Branwell’s tragic struggle with alcohol and opium is seen as if offstage, wounding to his sisters and his father but sad principally because he never found a way to use literature to save himself. Reef looks at the 19th-century context for women writers and the reasons that the sisters chose to publish only under pseudonyms—and includes a wonderful description of the encounter in which Anne and Charlotte revealed their identities to Charlotte’s publisher. She also includes brief, no-major-spoilers summaries of the sisters’ novels, inviting readers to connect the dots and to understand how real-life experience was transformed into fiction.
A solid and captivating look at these remarkable pioneers of modern fiction.
(notes and a comprehensive bibliography)
Giulia is bright, curious and a gifted artist, born to a noble father and his humble mistress in 15th-century Renaissance Italy. Now her fate rests with her father’s widow, who’s sending Giulia to a Padua convent.
Desperate to avoid a cloistered life, Giulia obtains a talisman that’s promised to deliver her heart’s desire: marriage to a good man and a home of her own. Convent life is hard. Highborn nuns enjoy freedom; others, like Giulia, labor at menial tasks. When her artistic talent’s discovered, she’s invited to join the close-knit group of artist nuns whose renowned work helps support the convent. Guided by Maestra Humilità, daughter of a famous artist, Giulia begins to learn this exacting craft with tasks like mixing egg tempera. Artists create their own colors, their recipes closely guarded secrets. Humilità’s precious passion blue is one; its beauty draws Giulia like a flame. So do visions of love and freedom beyond convent walls. But stealing away to meet handsome Ormanno, another talented artist, is risky. Fantasy elements and a historical setting rich with sensuous detail are satisfying, but it’s Giulia’s achingly real search for her heart’s desire that resonates most today, when millions of girls still have limited choices.
A rare, rewarding, sumptuous exploration of artistic passion.
(Historical fantasy. 12 & up)
When 14-year-old Teddy is classified as troublesome, disrespectful and defiant of authority, his despised stepfather sends him off to St. Ignatius Academy for Boys, an isolated Roman Catholic boarding school.
St. Iggy's is run by priests who ruthlessly enforce discipline through intimidation and abuse. Narrator Teddy befriends the wisecracking, Wordsworth-loving Cooper. The boys use their wits and humor to cope, but the endless beatings and humiliations take their toll, especially on the fragile Cooper. He reaches his breaking point when he becomes the victim of Father Prince, a pedophile. Teddy watches helplessly as Cooper withdraws into his own private nightmare, and Prince targets Teddy himself as his next victim. The only positive adult relationship the boys have at school is with the janitor, who takes them to his farmhouse outside of town on Saturdays to enjoy a brief period of normalcy. The priests are either bullies or predators; even Brother Joe, who seems sympathetic to Teddy, betrays his trust. Although set in a well-realized 1959, Vasey's brisk, sharply written, riveting narrative transcends any time period.
A vivid, disturbing and all-too-real topical story.
(Historical fiction. 14 & 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)
Breaking away from Arthurian legends (The Winter Prince, 1993, etc.), Wein delivers a heartbreaking tale of friendship during World War II.
In a cell in Nazi-occupied France, a young woman writes. Like Scheherezade, to whom she is compared by the SS officer in charge of her case, she dribbles out information—“everything I can remember about the British War Effort”—in exchange for time and a reprieve from torture. But her story is more than a listing of wireless codes or aircraft types. Instead, she describes her friendship with Maddie, the pilot who flew them to France, as well as the real details of the British War Effort: the breaking down of class barriers, the opportunities, the fears and victories not only of war, but of daily life. She also describes, almost casually, her unbearable current situation and the SS officer who holds her life in his hands and his beleaguered female associate, who translates the narrative each day. Through the layers of story, characters (including the Nazis) spring to life. And as the epigraph makes clear, there is more to this tale than is immediately apparent. The twists will lead readers to finish the last page and turn back to the beginning to see how the pieces slot perfectly, unexpectedly into place.
A carefully researched, precisely written tour de force; unforgettable and wrenching.
(Historical fiction. 14 & up)
Retold in expressionistic blurs of action, this account of the battle of Marathon chronicles at once a glorious win for the underdogs and an awe-inspiring personal achievement.
Cruel Hippias, former king of Athens, is on his way back with a huge army of Persians to reclaim the throne and crush Athenian democracy. As the city’s squabbling and much smaller forces hustle to meet the invaders, Eucles, Athens’ best runner, is charged to race the 153 miles to Sparta in hopes of finding an ally. Battling heat, sun, bandits and pursuing enemy troops, Eucles makes the trek, then makes it in reverse with the dismaying news that the Spartans will not be coming in time. He joins the savage fight and then runs 26 more miles over rugged mountains to Athens—dying on arrival but not before both announcing the victory and warning of an impending surprise attack by sea. Using sepia washes to indicate present time and black and white for flashbacks, Infurnari fills patchwork panels with glimpses of rugged faces, slashing swords and jumbles of martial action with “KLAK” “CHK!” sound effects. Yakin draws from ancient historical and legendary sources but adds invented incidents to round out Eucles’ character and elevated dialogue to heighten the epic atmosphere: “The gods have laid a feast both bitter and sweet before me.”
Among the most historically and culturally significant battles ever fought, Marathon gets righteous due—and so does its greatest hero.
(Graphic historical fiction. 12-15)
A mixed-race girl in Dust Bowl Kansas discovers her long-lost father isn't just a black man: He's a fairy.
Callie has been passing as white her whole life, helping her Mama in run-down Slow Run, Kan. But now it doesn't seem to matter that she keeps her "good skin" out of the sun and softens her "coarse" hair, because it seems everyone's left the dust-choked town. Even Mama is gone now, vanished in a preternatural dust storm that summoned a strange man who tells Callie secrets of her never-met father. Soon Callie's walking the dusty roads with Jack, a ragged white kid. If Callie's dad is a fairy, then the two young'uns will just have to go to fairyland to find him. Callie and Jack dodge fairy politics and dangers, from grasshopper people to enchanted food to magic movie theaters—but the conventional dangers are no less threatening. Plenty of run-of-the-mill humans in 1935 Kansas don't like black girls or beggars, hobos or outsiders. With a historical note and a Woody Guthrie soundtrack, this novel does a fine job of blending a splendidly grounded Dust Bowl setting with a paranormal adventure. It's really too bad that the cover art depicts a white girl with flyaway hair, rather than Callie as written, a mixed girl who stops passing as white halfway through the story. Callie learns to be open about herself but her own cover art doesn't.
This cracking good mixture of magic and place will leave readers eagerly awaiting the sequel
. (Fantasy. 12-14)