Book List

Best Teen Books of 2014 That Grapple with Big Ideas

With any luck, Glory’s notebook will inspire a new wave of activists.

GLORY O'BRIEN'S HISTORY OF THE FUTURE

An indictment of our times with a soupçon of magical realism.

The daughter of a gifted photographer who spun out Sylvia Plath–style, Glory seems bent on following in her mother’s footsteps in more ways than one as she finishes high school. But after Glory and her lifelong frenemy and neighbor Ellie make a reckless late-night decision, they are cast headlong into a spell that allows them to see the pasts and the futures of the people who cross their paths, stretching many generations in both directions, and Glory’s life changes course. As with King’s other protagonists (Please Ignore Vera Dietz, 2010; Reality Boy, 2013), Glory’s narration is simultaneously bitter, prickly, heartbreaking, inwardly witty and utterly familiar, even as the particulars of her predicament are unique. The focus on photography provides both apt metaphors and nimble plot devices as Glory starts writing down her visions in order to warn future Americans about the doom she foresees: a civil war incited by a governmental agenda of misogyny. Glory’s chilling visions of the sinister dystopia awaiting the United States are uncomfortably believable in this age of frustrated young men filling “Pickup Artist” forums with misogynistic rhetoric and inexperienced young women filling Tumblrs with declarations of “I don’t need feminism because….”

With any luck, Glory’s notebook will inspire a new wave of activists. (Fiction. 14 & up)

Pub Date: Oct. 14, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-316-22272-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Aug. 12, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2014

Clarity, accessibility and spot-on relevance to issues facing modern society make this a must-read.

SPINOZA

THE OUTCAST THINKER

Part biography, part history, part exploration of Spinoza’s philosophy: wholly engaging.

The philosopher Benedict de Spinoza was born Bento Spinoza in 1632—a son of Jewish parents who had fled persecution in Portugal to settle in the relatively safe Amsterdam Jewish community known as the Nation. Raised and educated in the Jewish faith, Spinoza nonetheless began developing alarming (to his Jewish community) ideas about religion, culminating in his cherem—excommunication—at 23. Undaunted, he moved to another part of Amsterdam, took up the trade of lens grinding and continued his studies. Influenced by the writings of René Descartes, Spinoza developed a philosophy that promoted rational inquiry and tolerance over blind acceptance of tradition and superstition, especially in the matters of religion and government. Needless to say, religious and government leaders considered his views threatening. Generally reviled during his lifetime, Spinoza’s influence on future generations has nonetheless been far-reaching, informing the thoughts of John Locke, Thomas Jefferson and Albert Einstein, among others. Throughout this ambitious and thorough narrative, Lehmann does an outstanding job of illuminating Spinoza’s concepts in a clear, concise and logical manner and gives them contextual relevance by illuminating the pertinent political and social upheavals of the time. Archival illustrations add depth to the narrative.

Clarity, accessibility and spot-on relevance to issues facing modern society make this a must-read. (sources, notes, index) (Nonfiction. 13 & up)

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-60898-180-9

Page Count: 280

Publisher: Namelos

Review Posted Online: Aug. 12, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2014

Amaz—simply amaz.

EARTH STAR

This far-future science-fiction sequel skips tired genre tropes to offer a fresh and thrilling adventure about hazardous archaeological excavation, a mystery in the sky and a potential threat to all of humanity.

It’s 2789. People portal between planets in seconds, often many times per day—except the Handicapped, like Jarra, whose immune systems can survive only on Earth. After her recent life-threatening work helping rescue the crew of a crashed spacecraft (Earth Girl, 2013), she plans to continue studying prehistory by excavating sites of long-dead cities. But before the next dig begins, Jarra and boyfriend Fian are whisked off to a military base and inexplicably sworn in as officers. An unidentified alien sphere is hovering above Africa. Are the aliens hostile? Is their technology superior or archaic? Jarra’s skills, intelligence and courage are both exciting and believable. She evacuates Earth’s Handicapped residents to underground caverns; she solves puzzles about the sphere; she grapples with layers of anti-Handicapped hatefulness; and she becomes a hero again—all due to smarts and hard work, not destiny. Explosions, serious injuries, death and suspense mesh with fizzy romance that includes some sparkling gender-role reversal. Nitty-gritty archaeology details are vivid, and easy slang creates color (“Twoing” is dating; “amaz” means amazing). Edwards shows that speculative fiction needn’t be dystopic, conspiracy-filled or love-triangled to be riveting and satisfying.

Amaz—simply amaz. (Science fiction. 11-16)

Pub Date: April 15, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-61614-897-3

Page Count: 277

Publisher: Pyr/Prometheus Books

Review Posted Online: Jan. 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2014

This sobering yet satisfying novel leaves readers to ponder the complex questions it raises.

HOW IT WENT DOWN

A racially charged shooting reveals the complicated relationships that surround a popular teen and the neighborhood that nurtured and challenged him.

Instead of a gangster after retribution, 16-year-old African-American Tariq Johnson’s killer is a white man claiming to have acted in self-defense. Despite their failure to find a weapon on the black teen, the police release the shooter, rocking the community. On its face, this novel sounds like an easy example of fiction “ripped from the headlines.” However, Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe Award–winning writer Magoon provides an intriguing story that allows readers to learn much about the family, friends and enemies of everyone affected. There are young men attempting to navigate the streets and young women, including one who tried in vain to save Tariq, wishing for better lives but with little idea how to change their paths. There are the grief-stricken family and adults who seek to give voice to powerless people but also serve themselves. The episode affects even those who think they have moved away from the community. As each character reflects on Tariq, a complex young man is revealed, one who used his considerable charm to walk the tightrope of life in his neighborhood. Magoon skillfully tells the story in multiple, sometimes conflicting, voices.

This sobering yet satisfying novel leaves readers to ponder the complex questions it raises. (Fiction. 14 & up)

Pub Date: Oct. 21, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-8050-9869-3

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: July 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2014

Original and accessible, both an exuberant work of art and a uniquely valuable resource.

DREAMING IN INDIAN

CONTEMPORARY NATIVE AMERICAN VOICES

Who are North American Indians today? For answers, meet the poets, fashion models, chefs, scientists, Olympians, YouTube stars, graphic artists, activists, athletes and many others featured in this vibrant, kaleidoscopic anthology.

Contributors, many young adults from first nations across Canada and the United States, portray their experiences in short works that range from flash fiction, essays, songs and poetry to paintings, cartoons and photo collages. Innovative design by Inti Amaterasu pairs words and art, echoing and amplifying themes of departure and return, integration and discovery. Writers recount tough, crooked journeys that led to rewarding outcomes, incorporating a complex, difficult, rich heritage in cutting-edge careers. Not all stories are happy, but most move from pain toward hope, even triumph. Twelve years of residential school couldn’t erase her cultural identity from Isabelle Knockwood, Mi’kmaq, whose mother’s early teachings gave her a course to follow. Throat singer Tanya Tagaq Gillis, Inuk, thanks school bullies who tormented her—surviving them gave her the determination and resilience to pursue her dreams. Self-styled “Salish geek” Jeffrey Veregge draws on a mixed heritage to create his inventive prints. Children of Alberta’s Horse Lake First Nation share what gives them strength. Tired stereotypes are demolished with sly humor. Cree model Ashley Callingbull satirizes fashion’s appropriation of native dress. But stereotypes aren’t always disempowering, as Kelli Clifton, Tsimshian, points out in her exploration of Disney’s Pocahontas.

Original and accessible, both an exuberant work of art and a uniquely valuable resource. (Anthology. 12-18)

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-55451-687-2

Page Count: 128

Publisher: Annick Press

Review Posted Online: Sept. 14, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2014

A sparkling, timely tour of the complicated intersection where life meets art.

THE VIGILANTE POETS OF SELWYN ACADEMY

Blending Ezra Pound, rhetoric and reality TV, this hilarious, subversive debut about a cadre of friends at an arts high school is a treat from cover to cover.

In seventh grade, popular, good-looking Luke rescued Ethan, Jackson and Elizabeth from misfit nerd-dom. Four years later, Luke still leads while Narrator Ethan is cheerfully resigned to a spot in the “Untalented caste” at Selwyn Academy. Disturbing the status quo, the school’s chosen to host a new reality TV show, a student talent competition with a $100,000 scholarship prize and a familiar format: interviews, clichéd romances and rivalries, and two smarmy hosts. The obsequious vice principal and most students are thrilled, but For Art’s Sake feels like an insult to Ethan and friends. Luke, the most offended, leads a counterattack, writing guerilla poetry inspired by Pound’s Cantos that ridicules the enterprise, which the conspirators secretly print at school. However, the masterminds behind reality TV are several steps ahead of them—money and fame are powerful currency, and they know how to use them. Maura, the beautiful, talented ballerina Ethan fancies, has been accepted at Juilliard, but without the scholarship, she can’t attend—participating is a no-brainer. Ethan struggles with ethical conundrums (Does Pound’s anti-Semitism invalidate his work? Are compromises the price of an arts career?) as he works out his own place in this world and among his friends, especially Elizabeth.

A sparkling, timely tour of the complicated intersection where life meets art. (Fiction. 12 & up)

Pub Date: April 8, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-385-75378-4

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Feb. 19, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2014

Smart and sweet, comforting and moving.

JESUS JACKSON

When high school football hero Ryan Stiles is found dead at the bottom of a ravine, the only person not consumed by grief is his younger brother.

Jonathan has reason to believe his brother’s death was no accident. While everyone around him goes through the many stages of grief, Jonathan can only investigate. The book works as parallel mysteries: On one track are the shady details of Ryan’s death, and on the other are the religious and spiritual questions brought up by his demise. Jonathan’s friend Henry and Ryan’s girlfriend, Tristan, help him solve the murder, while the mysterious “Jesus Jackson” helps Jonathan with his theological needs. Daley’s use of Jesus as a sounding board for Jonathan’s crisis of faith makes for the book’s most surreal and intimate moments. The author argues the necessity of faith regardless of where it is placed, a simple concept that is refreshed when delivered in such an unusual fashion. The book excels, sidestepping holier-than-thou rhetoric and addressing the pain of loss head-on as well as painting a wonderful depiction of a young man coming to terms with how he was raised and how he wants to lead his own life. The mystery element and minor romance are icing on the cake: well-executed and finely tuned, complementing the book’s major themes in all the right ways.

Smart and sweet, comforting and moving. (Fiction. 12-16)

Pub Date: Oct. 14, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-9293-4506-9

Page Count: 278

Publisher: Poisoned Pen

Review Posted Online: June 10, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2014

For high schools that assign one book for all students to read and discuss: This is the one.

EYES WIDE OPEN

GOING BEHIND THE ENVIRONMENTAL HEADLINES

With simple, matter-of-fact language, an attractive layout and an abundance of references, this compact guide to addressing climate change is a must-read for millennials and for all who seek solutions to global warming.

Fleischman begins with a personal story about noticing dead bees in his driveway and wondering about the cause. He uses this incident to emphasize the point that history—specifically history related to environmental issues—is happening all around us and is undeniably related to the choices made by both individuals and institutions. He clearly states the book’s goal early on: “to give you a foundation under your decisions.” The pages that follow—best read slowly and sequentially—represent a crash course in recent and ancient environmental issues, drawing from history, economics, psychology and sociology to pursue the stated goal. Readers are offered advice on how to analyze and interpret what they hear in person and discover through the media. There is a laudable restraint; even as the text relentlessly shows how human beings have created climate change, sources are also given to read “the most respected” divergent views. Despite its unflinching presentation of facts about myriad environmental concerns, the book manages to end on a note of hope for a new generation of activists.

For high schools that assign one book for all students to read and discuss: This is the one. (source notes, bibliography, suggested resources, glossary, acknowledgements, image credits, index, website) (Nonfiction. 14-18)

Pub Date: Sept. 23, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-7636-7102-0

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Candlewick

Review Posted Online: June 10, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2014

Patrick’s tales from the distant and not-so-distant past shed fresh light on interracial and intraracial conflicts that...

A MATTER OF SOULS

Eight short stories with long memory cut to the quick—all the more as they could be true.

Patrick’s tales from the distant and not-so-distant past shed fresh light on interracial and intraracial conflicts that shape and often distort the realities of African-Americans. The youthful characters possess passion and purpose, even if they remain misguided or too proud to live safely within their historically situated habitats. In one story, “Colorstruck,” Hazel absorbs everything Miss Clotille, her light-skinned, middle-class Negro employer, has taught her: how to say etiquette instead of manners and teal and magenta instead of green and purple, and to wear shoes in public. Living in the shadow of Clotille and her five fair-skinned sisters, Hazel believes that blackness will impede her upward social mobility. She loses her job and nearly loses her life by placing her faith in “Beauty Queen Complexion Clarifier…guaranteed to brighten, lighten and heighten your natural beauty!” As the visage of the “ideal Colored woman” floats through this tale, it illuminates the multifaceted sources of self-hatred and enmity within black families around skin color. The plots and characters change from one story to the next, but each one artfully tells a poignant truth without flinching. Shocking, informative and powerful, this volume offers spectacular literary snapshots of black history and culture. (Short stories. 12-18)

Shocking, informative and powerful, this volume offers spectacular literary snapshots of black history and culture(Short stories. 12-18)

Pub Date: April 1, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-7613-9280-4

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Carolrhoda Lab

Review Posted Online: Jan. 15, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2014

Spectacular; a book to make anyone think seriously about society’s preordained gender roles (Graphic memoir. 14 & up)

TOMBOY

A GRAPHIC MEMOIR

Prince explores what it means to be a tomboy in a magnificently evocative graphic memoir.

From the age of 2, Liz knows she hates dresses. As a child, she wears boys clothes and plays with boys. However, as she enters her teen years, things change. Still wishing to dress like a boy and disdainful of all things girly—including the inevitable biology of puberty—she stays true to herself and her identity, but not without struggling to fit into a teenage society that neatly compartmentalizes how boys and girls should act. Liz’s troubles are magnified as she navigates the ways of the heart, falling for boys who often pass her over for girls who are more feminine. As she stumbles and bumbles her way to friends who will accept her, she pulls readers along that oh-so-tough and bumpy road of adolescence. Simple, line-based art provides a perfect complement to her keen narration, giving this an indie, intimate feel and leaving readers feeling like they really know her. Liz’s story, captured with wry humor and a deft, visceral eye, is a must-read for fans who fell for Raina Telgemeier’s work in middle school.

Spectacular; a book to make anyone think seriously about society’s preordained gender roles (Graphic memoir. 14 & up)

Pub Date: Sept. 2, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-936976-55-3

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Zest Books

Review Posted Online: July 16, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2014

As complex as life itself, this novel addresses serious topics without taking itself too seriously.

DIRT BIKES, DRONES, AND OTHER WAYS TO FLY

There is a place where Arlo goes to break free—free from his mother’s recent murder, his father’s grief, his sister’s progressing Huntington’s disease. In this place, the Drone Zone, it all falls away and there is just the moment.

Arlo’s two mechanisms for reaching the Zone are pulling stunts on his dirt bike and playing “Drone Pilot,” a video game that simulates drone flight and at which he is currently the best in the world. With these tools, Arlo is able to fly, and for his incredible skill with each, he begins to attract attention. A reality TV show that specializes in capturing daredevil stunts wants to pay him to risk his life for entertainment. The military also takes notice, wanting Arlo to work for them secretly, flying drones and gathering reconnaissance that could lead to the capture, or death, of the world’s most notorious terrorist. Both options offer to provide his family with financial resources they direly need. Which, if either, is worth the risk is what Arlo must decide. Readers will worry, laugh and ultimately soar along with Arlo as he finds his way. Nuanced supporting characters and a vivid New Mexico landscape ground Arlo’s dilemma, creating a superbly well-balanced narrative.

As complex as life itself, this novel addresses serious topics without taking itself too seriously. (Fiction. 14-18)

Pub Date: April 8, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-544-23269-3

Page Count: 352

Publisher: HMH Books

Review Posted Online: March 17, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2014

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