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Best Teen Books of 2014 That'll Send Readers Traveling Through Time

An ambitious, Scheherazade-ian novel, rather like a nesting-doll set of stories, that succeeds in capturing some of the...

EGG & SPOON

Two girls switch identities while colliding with Baba Yaga and the Firebird in Czarist Russia. 

Elena, a child of rural Russian poverty in the town of Miersk, is desperate to help her ailing mother and to recover her older brothers, Alexei, at work for another family, and Luka, conscripted into the czar’s army. Her determined journey finds her life suddenly swapped with that of Ekaterina, also 13, a daughter of privilege. Plot details include a pilgrimage to Saint Petersburg to meet the czar and his godson, Prince Anton, a Fabergé egg, a Firebird’s egg, a legacy of matryoshka dolls, and the powerful presence and proclamations of Baba Yaga. Maguire, a veteran writer of reimagined traditional tales for a new world, jauntily explores themes no less profound than hunger and satiety, class and influence, and the sharing of resources in a world wracked by climate change. While not without flaws—a bit protracted, cluttered, overly grand and infused with some metafictive moments that occasionally take the reader out of the story—this is an epic rich with references, aphorisms and advice.

An ambitious, Scheherazade-ian novel, rather like a nesting-doll set of stories, that succeeds in capturing some of the complexities of both Russia and life itself. (Historical fantasy. 12 & up)

Pub Date: Sept. 9, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-7636-7220-1

Page Count: 496

Publisher: Candlewick

Review Posted Online: June 30, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 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

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

Often bleak, eventually hopeful and beautifully told.

THE GOSPEL OF WINTER

In a lyrical and hard-hitting exploration of betrayal and healing, the son of a Connecticut socialite comes to terms with his abuse at the hands of a beloved priest.

From the moment readers see Aidan escape his mother’s Christmas Eve party to snort Adderall in his absent father’s opulent office, it is clear that the teen is unhappy. Some of the reasons emerge when Aidan witnesses Father Greg, a priest he greatly admires, in an intimate—and, refreshingly, not graphically described—moment with a younger boy. The first thing Aidan feels in reaction to the sight is hurt that Aidan himself is not the only boy to have received Father Greg’s attention. Only over time, and through the cracks of Aidan’s denial and attempts to ignore the truth, do readers begin to see other reactions: anger, disgust, the need to re-enact Father Greg’s coercions with his peers. The story is set in late 2001 and early 2002, and the news stories of the time—the 9/11 attacks, the capture of John Walker Lindh, and eventually, devastatingly, the Catholic Church abuse scandals—are woven in easily and seamlessly. Each of Aidan’s relationships is carefully and subtly drawn, revealed slowly through Aidan’s elegant, pained and often circumspect narration.

Often bleak, eventually hopeful and beautifully told. (Historical fiction. 14 & up)

Pub Date: Jan. 21, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4424-8489-4

Page Count: 304

Publisher: McElderry

Review Posted Online: Oct. 23, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2013

A top-shelf rendition of one of the greatest survival stories to come out of the Age of Exploration.

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SHACKLETON

ANTARCTIC ODYSSEY

With just a hint of artistic license, a retelling in graphic form of the ill-fated Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition of 1914-17.

Keeping readers oriented with maps and dates that heighten the drama (if it were possible), Bertozzi introduces Ernest Shackleton’s Antarctic career with glimpses of early ventures in 1901 and 1907. He then provides a captioned portrait gallery of each member of the expedition, including the dogs, before going on to retrace in detail the course and fate of the ship Endurance, which was trapped in ice and eventually crushed. The exhausting, monthslong trek over rough ice and treacherous waters to reach a rescue point takes up most of the book. The author places figures drawn with a fine pen within small but easily legible panels, and he uses a color scheme of black, white and a midtone gray that effectively captures the Antarctic’s alien, implacable harshness. His tale is infused, though, with both humor (“My posterior is chafed thoroughly from cleaning with ice,” complains an expedition member, pulling up his trousers) and a strong sense of the stiff-upper-lip camaraderie that, along with Shackleton’s outstanding leadership, kept the expedition together and led, against all odds, to the survival of its every (human) member.

A top-shelf rendition of one of the greatest survival stories to come out of the Age of Exploration. (source list) (Graphic historical fiction. 10-16)

Pub Date: June 17, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-59643-451-6

Page Count: 128

Publisher: First Second

Review Posted Online: April 9, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2014

Essential. (Nonfiction. 12-16)

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THE FREEDOM SUMMER MURDERS

A 50th-anniversary examination of the Mississippi murders of James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner and their aftermath.

An introduction describes the legally entrenched racism of Mississippi and the inception of the Freedom Summer campaign. Following this, Mitchell drops readers right in with the events that led up to the murder of the three young men, evoking the hostility and fear that covered Neshoba County like a blanket. He pulls back to sketch the victims’ biographies in separate chapters, then takes readers through the investigation and the steps toward the 1967 trial that infamously failed to deliver justice. That account alone, illustrated with ample archival photographs and memorabilia, makes riveting reading. He clearly states the legal intricacies and thoroughly incorporates the players’ own voices, with often breathtaking effect: “They killed one nigger, one Jew, and a white man. I gave them all what I thought they deserved,” said the presiding judge later. Mitchell takes the story into the present day, describing how the families of the victims continue to fight for civil rights and how both locals and state officials kept the case alive, simultaneously working toward legal and emotional resolution. He leaves open the question whether now “the killing of a black mother’s son is as important as the killing of a white mother’s son”—but the country is getting closer to that goal. The book includes a map, endnotes, bibliographic essay, bibliography and index.

Essential. (Nonfiction. 12-16)

Pub Date: April 29, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-545-47725-3

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: March 17, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2014

Beautiful writing, intricate plotting, and breathless reveals—plus several plucky female leads—make this a must-read.

VANGO

BETWEEN SKY AND EARTH

From the Vango series , Vol. 1

Minutes from joining the priesthood in 1934, Vango, who was found washed ashore on a tiny Italian island as a toddler, must suddenly avoid both arrest and a simultaneous assassination attempt.

Establishing his innocence while on the run across Europe requires untangling his mysterious past. The story’s got all the classic elements of swashbuckling adventure tales like The Count of Monte Cristo—except pistols replace swords, and the villains include men who would become leaders of the Axis powers. Flashbacks to Vango’s childhood demonstrate that his heroism is innate—such as when, at 10, he drops from a cliff into a sinking boat to save a neighbor. But fate doesn’t always reward valor, and de Fombelle notes that by saving his neighbor, the youngster “was embarking on a stormy life ahead.” But Vango’s gentleness and caring earn him loyalty (and potentially romance) from those who help him along his journey. These characters, like Vango, are inherently brave but also shaped by tragedy. Their courage is tested by war and their frustrating inability to counteract the growing power of the Nazi regime. Tension escalates when readers begin to suspect that Vango’s story is more closely interwoven with the conflicts of World War II than either he or his supporters realize.

Beautiful writing, intricate plotting, and breathless reveals—plus several plucky female leads—make this a must-read. (Historical fiction. 12 & up)

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-7636-7196-9

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Candlewick

Review Posted Online: July 29, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2014

Keenly observed and gorgeously illustrated—a triumph.

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THIS ONE SUMMER

A summer of family drama, secrets and change in a small beach town.

Rose’s family has always vacationed in Awago Beach. It’s “a place where beer grows on trees and everyone can sleep in until eleven,” but this year’s getaway is proving less idyllic than those of the past. Rose’s parents argue constantly, and she is painfully aware of her mother’s unhappiness. Though her friendship with Windy, a younger girl, remains strong, Rose is increasingly curious about the town’s older teens, especially Dunc, a clerk at the general store. Jillian and Mariko Tamaki (Skim, 2008) skillfully portray the emotional ups and downs of a girl on the cusp of adolescence in this eloquent graphic novel. Rose waxes nostalgic for past summers even as she rejects some old pursuits as too childlike and mimics the older teens. The realistic dialogue and sensitive first-person narration convey Rose’s naïveté and confusion, and Windy’s comfort in her own skin contrasts with Rose’s uncertainty. Both the text and art highlight small but meaningful incidents as readers gradually learn the truth behind the tension in Rose’s family. Printed in dark blue ink, Jillian Tamaki’s illustrations feature strong, fluid lines, and the detailed backgrounds and stunning two-page spreads throughout the work establish the mood and a compelling sense of place.

Keenly observed and gorgeously illustrated—a triumph. (Graphic novel. 13 & up)

Pub Date: May 6, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-59643-774-6

Page Count: 320

Publisher: First Second

Review Posted Online: April 9, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2014

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