Book List

Best Teen Books of 2014 That Explore the Ties That Bind

A suspenseful and engaging series opener made all the more distinctive through its careful realization of setting.

THE ISLANDS AT THE END OF THE WORLD

From the Islands at the End of the World series , Vol. 1

Hope for a promising epilepsy treatment brought Leilani, 16, and Mike, her ecologist father, to Honolulu; when a global catastrophe plunges the world’s most isolated metropolitan area into chaos, they’re desperate to return to family on the Big Island of Hawaii—it won’t be easy.

Lei—half-Hawaiian, half-white—still feels like an outsider three years after moving from California to Hilo. Nevertheless, her island heritage speaks to her and could be the key to understanding the cataclysmic technological disruptions changing the world. Satellite-based GPS and other electronic communications systems fail, and only well-heeled tourists can buy their ways home. To combat mounting chaos, the military herds those at large, including Leilani and Mike, into internment camps. Leilani’s seizures carry voices to her, while an alarming discovery makes her quest to unravel their message and escape from the camp increasingly urgent. Seeking home drains their dwindling resources but strengthens their trust in each other. Flashes of kindness and empathy provide respite from the chaos and cruelty. Anchoring the story, the powerful bond between father and daughter reminds readers that love is as potent as fear and greed. Aslan’s debut honors Hawaii’s unique cultural strengths—family ties and love of home, amplified by geography and history—while remaining true to a genre that affirms the mysterious grandeur of the universe waiting to be discovered.

A suspenseful and engaging series opener made all the more distinctive through its careful realization of setting. (Science fiction. 12 & up)

Pub Date: Aug. 5, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-385-74402-7

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Wendy Lamb/Random

Review Posted Online: June 1, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2014

A gripping, highly original ghost story.

INTO THE GREY

Irish fantasist Kiernan (The Poison Throne, 2010, etc.) explores the dynamics of love and loss.

In 1974, 15-year-old identical twins Pat and Dom move with their family into a drab summer cottage after their senile grandmother inadvertently burns down their house. Nerves still raw from the disruption of their lives and the loss of their home, the twins start to have strange dreams. Then Pat hears Dom talking in the night and sees a goblin-boy peering down from the bunk above him. The harrowing series of events that follows convinces Pat that he’s losing his brother: Dom becomes possessed by a 10-year-old boy stuck in a gray fog that’s neither this world nor the next, endlessly searching for his twin, a soldier who died in the trenches of World War I. Pat’s narration is marked by vivid descriptions and consistently polished, well-paced prose: “Yesterday morning, I’d had a brother. I’d had a best friend. He’d been fun. He’d been interesting: my slow-burn, articulate counterweight. Now I was lopsided, a boat with one paddle, rowing frantically and spinning in a slow, maddening circle around the space that should have been him.” The otherworldly goings-on are grounded in the family lives of the village their Nan grew up in, adding intriguing nuances to the psychological drama.

A gripping, highly original ghost story. (Fantasy. 12 & up)

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-7636-7061-0

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Candlewick

Review Posted Online: May 14, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2014

Magnificently creepy.

HEAP HOUSE

From the Iremonger series , Vol. 1

The first in a deliciously macabre trilogy for middle graders and young teens channels Dickens crossed with Lemony Snicket.

The Iremongers made their fortune scavenging the discards of London, and now the enormous extended family resides in the eponymous agglomerated mansion surrounded by feral rubbish heaps. Sickly Clod Iremonger, on the cusp of being “trousered” and saddled with adult responsibilities, is distrusted for his queer talent: He hears voices from those assorted “birth objects” (including his own sink plug) to which every member of the household is bonded for life. But now the objects are going astray, there are reports of an ominous Gathering, and storms are brewing in the heaps. When Clod teams up with the spunky servant Lucy Pennant, the sinister heritage of the Iremongers can no longer be concealed. Morbid black-and-white portraits reminiscent of Charles Addams and Edward Gorey punctuate a Gothic tale in turns witty, sweet, thoughtful and thrilling—but always off-kilter—and penned with gorgeous, loopy prose just this side of precious. The malevolent setting and delightfully loathsome cast highlight the odd likability of Lucy, so gleefully felonious and brash, and poor, strange, diffident Clod, whom she inspires to genuine heroism. Suspense and horror gradually accumulate into an avalanche of a climax, leading to the most precipitous of cliffhangers, yet what lingers are uncomfortable questions about treating things—and people—as disposable.

Magnificently creepy. (Horror. 10-16)

Pub Date: Oct. 2, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4683-0953-9

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Overlook

Review Posted Online: July 29, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2014

Smart, relevant, required reading.

THE TYRANT'S DAUGHTER

A teenage girl from an unnamed Middle Eastern country attempts to come to terms with her dictator father’s bloody legacy in this absorbing character-driven novel authored by a former CIA official.

Fifteen-year-old Laila lives in a shabby apartment outside of Washington, D.C., with her mother and little brother. She misses her homeland, but return is impossible since her uncle had her father assassinated and took control of the government. “I’m half Here. I’m half There. I’m a girl divided, which is to say I’m no one at all.” While her mother schemes with both American officials and rebels from their country to remedy their untenable situation, Laila reluctantly begins to enjoy the simple freedoms of school and friendships. But worrisome thoughts of her mother’s secretive phone calls and the mysterious CIA agent who lurks around their apartment are never far from her mind. And how will she ever reconcile what she now knows about her father the dictator with the loving man who raised her? Carleson shrewdly makes what has become a sadly familiar story on the evening news accessible by focusing on the experiences of one innocent girl at the center of it. Laila is a complex and layered character whose nuanced observations will help readers better understand the divide between American and Middle Eastern cultures.

Smart, relevant, required reading. (author’s note, commentary, further reading) (Fiction. 13 & up)

Pub Date: Feb. 11, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-449-80997-6

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Nov. 20, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2013

A remarkable human story, told with clarity and confidence.

THE FAMILY ROMANOV

MURDER, REBELLION, AND THE FALL OF IMPERIAL RUSSIA

Fleming examines the family at the center of two of the early 20th century’s defining events.

It’s an astounding and complex story, and Fleming lays it neatly out for readers unfamiliar with the context. Czar Nicholas II was ill-prepared in experience and temperament to step into his legendary father’s footsteps. Nicholas’ beloved wife (and granddaughter of Queen Victoria), Alexandra, was socially insecure, becoming increasingly so as she gave birth to four daughters in a country that required a male heir. When Alexei was born with hemophilia, the desperate monarchs hid his condition and turned to the disruptive, self-proclaimed holy man Rasputin. Excerpts from contemporary accounts make it clear how years of oppression and deprivation made the population ripe for revolutionary fervor, while a costly war took its toll on a poorly trained and ill-equipped military. The secretive deaths and burials of the Romanovs fed rumors and speculation for decades until modern technology and new information solved the mysteries. Award-winning author Fleming crafts an exciting narrative from this complicated history and its intriguing personalities. It is full of rich details about the Romanovs, insights into figures such as Vladimir Lenin and firsthand accounts from ordinary Russians affected by the tumultuous events. A variety of photographs adds a solid visual dimension, while the meticulous research supports but never upstages the tale.

A remarkable human story, told with clarity and confidence. (bibliography, Web resources, source notes, picture credits, index) (Nonfiction. 12 & up)

Pub Date: July 8, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-375-86782-8

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Schwartz & Wade/Random

Review Posted Online: May 12, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2014

Powerfully evocative.

THE CARNIVAL AT BRAY

In 1993, 16 year-old Maggie and her family move from Chicago to small-town Ireland with the latest of her mother’s romantic partners.

Moving to Bray, Maggie leaves behind warm, practical Nanny Ei and beloved Uncle Kevin, a 26-year-old who plays in a band, sneaks her into grunge rock concerts and makes himself responsible for Maggie’s musical education. Arriving in Ireland, Maggie finds that she’s no better at fitting in with the girls of St. Brigid’s than she had been at her old school. Instead, she forms a loose web of connections with local figures: Dan Sean, a Bray legend at 99, whose home becomes a refuge for Maggie in times of family conflict; Aíne, the bookish classmate with whom Maggie reluctantly goes on double dates; and Eoin, the gentle boy with whom Maggie falls in love. The narrative subtly and carefully interweaves peer and family drama—much of it involving troubled Uncle Kevin—with the highs and lows of the grunge music scene, from the transformative glory of a Nirvana concert to the outpouring of grief around the death of Kurt Cobain. Every character, every place comes alive with crisp, precise detail: Maggie’s heartbroken mother “howling along in an off-key soprano” to Joni Mitchell’s Blue, Dan Sean welcoming Maggie with a Cossack’s hat and a hefty glass of port.

Powerfully evocative. (Historical fiction. 14 & up)

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-9895155-9-7

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Elephant Rock Books

Review Posted Online: Aug. 20, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2014

Beautiful and illuminating but as hard as therapy.

NEVER ENDING

An English teen can’t stop blaming herself for her brother’s death.

Thanks to the headlines, all of Europe knows what happened to 15-year-old Shiv’s brother one fateful night in Kyritos, Greece. Since then, she’s been experiencing PTSD-like symptoms that put her into rages she can’t remember and send illusions of her brother creeping across her vision. The two-pronged narrative shifts between the fateful family vacation in Greece and Shiv’s inpatient therapy at the Korsakoff Clinic. What matters most is not so much whether or not Shiv had a hand in her brother’s death, as she so accuses herself, but the relationships she builds with the other teen residents of the clinic and the arc of her treatment. Each session of therapy opens another window to Shiv’s time in Greece before her brother’s death—her crush on a handsome, 19-year-old Greek boy, days spent relaxing by the pool with her parents at the villa and the terrifying night her brother lost his life. The characters and the scenery are rendered with such photographic precision that readers will feel as though they’re watching a film. They’ll also find Bedford’s compellingly blunt, sharply drawn narrative (laced with Salinger references) sometimes too painful to read as they experience the harsh treatments right alongside Shiv. The results, however, are absolutely worth it.

Beautiful and illuminating but as hard as therapy. (Fiction. 14-18)

Pub Date: March 11, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-385-73991-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Wendy Lamb/Random

Review Posted Online: Jan. 4, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2014

Funny, observant, a relentless critic of the world’s (and her own) flaws, Sky is original, thoroughly authentic and great...

GIRL DEFECTIVE

Skylark Martin lives above her family’s vintage vinyl shop that—like its merchandise—is an endangered species in their re-gentrified, forward-looking Melbourne suburb.

In the five years since Mum left to “follow her art” in Japan, Dad’s kept the shop going, drinking homebrew and mourning the past (musical and otherwise). Sky, 15, and Gully, 10, aka Agent Seagull Martin, who wears a pig-snout mask 24/7 and views the world as a crime scene waiting to be investigated, hold down the fort. Sky harbors no illusions about their dreary status quo—Dad’s drinking, Gully’s issues, her own social stasis—but she does have dreams, recently ignited by a new friend, the beautiful, wild and fearless Nancy. Other agents of change include Eve, Dad’s old flame, and Luke, the shop’s attractive, moody new hire. Drawn, mothlike, to Nancy’s flame, Sky’s dreams are haunted by Luke’s sister, whose similarly wild lifestyle led to tragedy. The family business grounds Sky. Its used records and cassettes, like time capsules, store music that evokes the past’s rich emotional complexity for the Martins and their quirky customers, while the eternal present and frantic quest for the next big thing hold no appeal. 

Funny, observant, a relentless critic of the world’s (and her own) flaws, Sky is original, thoroughly authentic and great company, decorating her astute, irreverent commentary with vivid Aussie references; chasing these down should provide foreign readers with hours of online fun. (Fiction. 14 & up)

Pub Date: Sept. 2, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4424-9760-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Atheneum

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2014

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