Stationed in Afghanistan, medic Ben spends a long day drafting a detailed confession about the tragedy that threw his life off course two years earlier.
When the tiny town of Merit, Wis., loses its football hero to a drunk-driving accident, his family needs help on their dairy farm. High school senior Ben steps up to help. His mother hopes it’ll give him fodder for his Yale admissions essay; Ben, unsure he wants to follow the path she’s laid out for him, just likes helping the stern Mr. and Mrs. Lange and their 15-year-old son, Jimmy. When Jimmy wins a national photography contest with sensual photographs of his own father and Ben (both taken without permission), rumors that the baby-faced Jimmy is gay jump into overdrive—and start circulating about Ben, who then distances himself from Jimmy. When Ben witnesses a horrific crime and does nothing, his life spins out of control; he begins to doubt himself, his senses, his motives…even his connection to reality. Bick’s compelling tale manages to be a blistering confessional and a page-turning whodunit (or maybe what-really-happened) all in one. Ben’s thoughts on sexuality, the dangers of rumor, individual freedom and personal responsibility, among other topics, will resonate with teens, who won’t mind the lack of a tidy end.
Readers won’t be able to look away even if they find they don’t much like—or trust—Ben.
(Fiction. 14 & up)
In Cliff’s swashbuckling print debut, a tea-loving Turkish janissary must choose his future path after his quiet life is turned upside down by an encounter with a brash adventuress.
Selim’s modest career as a soldier in early-19th-century Constantinople comes to an ignominious end after the agha finds fault with his interrogation of their new English-speaking prisoner. Not only does Delilah Dirk escape soon after her interview with Selim, she also helps him avoid execution, leading everyone to assume they are in cahoots. Left with no other options, he flees with Dirk on her flying boat, but it doesn’t take long for Dirk to create more trouble. Eisner-nominated as a webcomic, the graphic novel is glorious in print. The rich, saturated colors and dashing linework pop off the page, and the author wisely lets his characters’ dynamic body language and expressive faces mostly speak for themselves during the action sequences. Dirk’s fearlessness and verve are both appealing and exhausting: Readers will sympathize with Selim’s quandary when he is reluctant to end a peaceful interlude in a friendly village and Dirk is eager to move on.
Fast-paced and unabashed fun, this romp will leave readers longing for additional installments.
(Graphic adventure. 14 & up)
A disabled teen archaeologist works in fascinating, hazardous conditions on a far-future Earth.
It’s 2789. Humanity lives on numerous planets. Transportation, including between star systems, merely requires stepping into a portal—even schoolchildren do a “mass off-world kiddie commute” daily. But off-world atmospheres are fatal for the rare babies born Handicapped, who are portalled to Earth within minutes and must stay forever. Parents tend to disappear, unwilling to live on Earth just to raise a “throwback.” Earth provides those on its Handicapped wards full care, education and career choice, but Jarra’s bitter that “exos” (non-Handicapped norms) consider her an “ape,” “the garbage of the universe.” Enrolling in a Pre-history course that’s taught on Earth but administered by an off-world university, Jarra plans to quench her thirst for history while teaching some exos a lesson. Terrific nitty-gritty details limn her team’s excavations of a high-risk dig site that was once Manhattan. Although readers won’t see disabilities they recognize, Edwards successfully shows that being physically unable to partake in society’s core structure equals disability. Jarra slides temporarily—implausibly—from matter-of-fact first-person narrator to a character in denial of her reality, but more important are perilous rescues, Jarra’s skills, a solar superstorm that closes portals and endangers hundreds of Military, and some humorous romance with sparkling chemistry.
Action, rich archaeological detail and respectfully levelheaded disability portrayal, refreshingly free from symbolism and magical cures, make this stand out.
(Science fiction. 11-16)
From the first taut page, it’s clear that this isn’t going to be a happy story.
Calvin, a senior and track star at a Washington, D.C., public high school, has gone to confront Norris, a thug who’s trying to extort protection money from Calvin’s mom. Confident that he can outrun Norris, he hasn’t given the potential outcome enough thought, a mistake Calvin often makes. He’s only saved from violence when his best friend, Deej, comes to his rescue. The deal Deej makes with Norris will come back to haunt Calvin: Norris now “owns” the runner’s knees. The threat is implicit—if Calvin doesn’t cooperate, Norris will destroy his running career. Calvin is aided by his strongly supportive mother and his longtime employer, Albert, both of whom provide powerful, much-needed guidance. He also gains strength from his quietly depicted developing relationship with Junior, a fine student from a supportive family. But as Deej makes increasingly bad decisions, it seems likely Calvin, ever loyal and too often a pawn, will be dragged down with him. The deliberately ambiguous conclusion will leave engrossed readers weighing Calvin’s options and making their own hard decisions for him. Dialogue, situations, relationships and issues all ring pitch perfectly but ever so discouragingly true.
This brief debut packs a serious punch and will leave readers stunned with Calvin’s grim options. (Fiction. 12 & up)
Kincaid’s sequel to Insignia (2012) moves beyond derivative fun to real depth.
Ever-rebellious Tom Raines has advanced with his pals Vik and Wyatt to Middle Company at the Pentagonal Spire. They’ve reached the level where they need to cultivate corporate sponsors in order to join the elite virtual warriors who conduct the ongoing space-based war between the Russo-Chinese and Indo-American alliances for control of the moon. Tom may be preternaturally great at virtual-war skillz, but he is horrible at sucking up and almost immediately alienates every single multinational corporate head he needs to impress. Meanwhile, Tom continues to pursue his odd but intense secret relationship with crack Russo-Chinese combatant Medusa and begins to suspect that Yuri, their Russian friend at the Spire, whom Wyatt “unscrambled” in the first book, may not be as innocent as they had thought. Kincaid lays a lot down, twining her increasingly complex plot and characterizations with Tom’s growing awareness of the poisonous “military-industrial-media complex.” As Eisenhower feared, it has made war a way of life that enriches a very few and impoverishes the many—one corporate head has bought Yosemite as his own private playground, one of many unsubtle but all-too-plausible symbols Tom contemplates. Action fans, fear not: For all the deep thinking Tom and readers undertake, pace, adventure and fun are not compromised one whit.
A surprisingly and satisfyingly rich middle volume in a trilogy that exceeds popcorn expectations. (Science fiction. 13-16)
This exhilarating finale to the dystopian Legend trilogy delivers on the promises of the genre without ever being predictable about details.
June and Day are finally on the right side of the law, but nothing’s gotten any easier. June, the former soldier, is now one of three Princeps-Elect, next in line to lead the Senate. Day, “most-wanted-criminal-turned-national-hero,” is now the face of popular support for the young Elector. The future’s dazzlingly bright, right? In fact, from their high perches, June and Day can see everything about to go horrifyingly wrong. The Elector knows the Colonies are about to invade, and he thinks a plague cure will save the day—a cure he’s convinced they’ll discover by experimenting on Day’s brother, Eden. Day will never let the Republic have his brother again; he barely got Eden back alive after the first time they took him for medical experiments. On the other hand, since Day is dying, it’s not clear what he can do for Eden or the Republic. Brief international travel expands the worldbuilding of this universe: June and Day had encountered the capitalist dystopia of the Colonies in Prodigy (2012), while June here encounters the seemingly more idyllic society-as-game of Ross City, Antarctica. A civilization run as if it were “The Sims” is intriguing, and it’s disappointing that June spends little time there, but there’s plenty of betrayal and action to resolve back in the Republic.
Ever respectful of the capacity of its readers, this series offers a satisfying conclusion of potential rather than a neatly wrapped denouement
. (Science fiction. 13-16)
2003 Pulitzer Prize–winning author Nazario’s critically acclaimed book Enrique’s Journey, a heart-wrenching account of one young man’s journey to migrate illegally from Honduras to the United States to find the mother who left when he was 5, has been newly adapted for young people.
Nazario’s vividly descriptive narrative recreates the trek that teenage Enrique made from Honduras through Mexico on the tops of freight trains. This adaptation does not gloss over or omit the harrowing dangers—beatings, rape, maiming and murder—faced by migrants coming north from Central America. The material is updated to present current statistics about immigration, legal and illegal, and also addresses recent changes in the economic and political climates of the U.S., Mexico and Honduras, including the increased danger of gang violence related to drug trafficking in Mexico. The book will likely inspire reflection, discussion and debate about illegal immigration among its intended audience. But the facts and figures never overwhelm the human story. The epilogue allows readers who are moved by Enrique to follow the family’s tragedies and triumphs since the book’s original publication; the journey does not end upon reaching the United States.
Provides a human face, both beautiful and scarred, for the undocumented—a must-read.
(epilogue, afterword, notes)
(Nonfiction. 14 & up)
Some call Habo a zeruzeru—a zero-zero—nothing. Others willingly pursue the riches his albino body parts will bring on the black market in Sullivan’s intense debut.
With his white skin, shaky, blue, unfocused eyes and yellow hair, 13-year-old Habo fits nowhere in his chocolate-brown Tanzanian family—not with his brothers who shun him, nor even with his mother, who avoids his touch. Did this bad-luck child even cause his father to abandon him at his birth? Only Habo’s sister, Asu, protects and nurtures him. Poverty forces the family from their rural home near Arusha to Mwanza, hundreds of miles away, to stay with relatives. After their bus fare runs out, they hitch a ride across the Serengeti with an ivory poacher who sees opportunity in Habo. Forced to flee for his life, the boy eventually becomes an apprentice to Kweli, a wise, blind carver in urban Dar es Salaam. The stark contrasts Habo experiences on his physical journey to safety and his emotional journey to self-awareness bring his growth into sharp relief while informing readers of a social ill still prevalent in East Africa. Thankfully for readers as well as Habo, the blind man’s appreciation challenges Habo to prove that he is worth more alive than dead. His present-tense narration is keenly perceptive and eschews self-pity.
A riveting fictional snapshot of one Tanzanian boy who makes himself matter.
A chilling exploration of the life, motivations and strategies of a young American suicide bomber.
Valkyrie (née Valley) White is on a mission to wake up everyone. Her statement of purpose recorded and media-ready, she departs the survivalist camp where she and her brother Bo live, but when her driver detonates their truck bomb too early, Valkyrie sets off on her own to complete the mission. Through brief chapters alternating between the past and present, readers learn about Valley and Bo’s childhood in Montana’s backwoods, where their Da trained them to be self-sufficient and deeply wary of the world outside their land. After Valley and Bo’s mother, Mabby, dies in what they believe was a black-helicopter attack authorized by Those People in the government, Da insists that the children learn paramilitary and bomb-building skills along with chess and how to read. In the present, Valkyrie uses Da’s lessons to manipulate a teenage boy into driving to an opportune place for her to detonate her vest. Woolston’s slow, tense revelation of the full horror of what the adults in Valkyrie’s life have wrought in and through her is breathtaking. Readers who may have previously associated suicide bombers with religious fanaticism will be fascinated by Valkyrie’s totally secular but equally single-minded devotion to anti-government rhetoric and revenge.