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Best Teen Books of 2015 with Voices That'll Haunt You

A gorgeous and gut-wrenchingly familiar depiction of the entropic fragmentation of society

MARTIANS

A 15-year-old girl supports herself with a retail job as her close-to-reality dystopia spirals into hilariously surreal (yet tragic) chaos.

Zoë Zindleman doesn't mind school and enjoys math (the foundation of responsible consumer citizenship). One day her weepy, drunken teacher is interrupted by the small-government Governor's shocking announcement: schools are privatized, all students are graduated, and everyone gets an e-tificate of graduation and a job referral. Many students are pipelined straight from the classroom to prison, but lucky Zoë is given two choices: AllMART or Q-MART. Thank goodness for the job, because Zoë's beloved AnnaMom comes home with news of her own: she's off to hunt for a job, leaving Zoë to fend for herself in their empty cul-de-sac. As the quirky humor dissolves into the baffling unrealities of loneliness and commerce, Zoë moves into an abandoned mall taken over by other unwanted children all looking out for one another. As a new AllMART trainee, Zoë—or Zero, according to her name badge—performs menial, unending, and Kafkaesque work, always with a smile: remember, a “smile is AllMART’s welcome mat”! Subtle callbacks to Ray Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles enhance the mood of eerie devastation for those who catch the references but don't detract for those who don't. Cheery commercial scripts, news transcripts, and other ephemera of this plastic society punctuate Zoë’s narration, bearing witness to her grim environment, which, heartbreakingly, has no defeatable villain.

A gorgeous and gut-wrenchingly familiar depiction of the entropic fragmentation of society . (Science fiction. 13-17)

Pub Date: Oct. 13, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-7636-7756-5

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Candlewick

Review Posted Online: July 22, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2015

Warm, strong, vernacular, dynamic—a must.

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SHADOWSHAPER

From the Shadowshaper Cypher series , Vol. 1

When walking corpses—and worse—show up in the city, a teen discovers family secrets and ancestral powers.

Sierra’s summer plan is to paint an enormous mural on an abandoned, unfinished five-story building. On an older mural nearby, unnervingly, a painted face changes expression and weeps a tear that glistens and drops. Grandpa Lázaro, mostly speechless from a stroke, grasps a lucid moment to warn Sierra, “They are coming for us….the shadowshapers.” Abuelo can’t or won’t explain further, and Sierra has no idea what shadowshapers are. Her regular world explodes into a “mystical Brooklyn labyrinth” shimmering with beauty but deadly dangerous. Walking corpses with icy grips and foul smells chase her, and a throng haint—a shadowy phantom with mouths all over—almost kills her. In Bed-Stuy, Prospect Park, and Coney Island in the middle of the night, Sierra fights to stay alive and to decipher her role in this chaos. This story about ancestors, ghosts, power, and community has art and music at its core; Sierra’s drawing and painting turn out to be tools for spirit work. Sierra’s Puerto Rican with African and Taíno ancestors; her community is black and brown, young and old, Latin and Caribbean and American. Sometimes funny and sometimes striking, Older’s comfortable prose seamlessly blends English and Spanish.

Warm, strong, vernacular, dynamic—a must. (Urban fantasy. 14-18)

Pub Date: June 30, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-545-59161-4

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Levine/Scholastic

Review Posted Online: March 3, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2015

A powerful novel from an exciting new talent. (Fiction. 14 & up)

THE ACCIDENT SEASON

Ghosts, secrets, and magic collide in this Irish author's astonishing debut.

For as long as she can remember, 17-year-old Cara, her mother, and her 18-year-old sister, Alice, have dreaded the accident season. For a few weeks every autumn, horrible things happen in their family. "Bones break, skin tears, bruises bloom." And sometimes people die, including Cara's father nine years ago. Since then she's gained a new ex-stepbrother, Sam (he stayed with them when his own father disappeared), and a new best friend, mystical Bea, somewhat callously, or so she thinks, abandoning Elsie, the friend who supported her during her childhood grief. Elsie still attends their school but has mysteriously gone missing. Only when they throw a Halloween party in a haunted house, inviting everyone they know to come as the people they are behind their everyday masks, do the secrets start to ignite. Elsie is worn out from trying to protect them all—and some of the accidents weren't accidental. Written in Cara’s voice, Fowley-Doyle's unflinching first-person narration conveys the impossible in prosaic, ordinary language that nonetheless sings: "I think of all the things our brains deny, all the memories they hide from us, all the secrets they keep." What emerges from the smokescreen is a moving portrait of a fractured family, knitting itself back together with courage and love.

A powerful novel from an exciting new talent. (Fiction. 14 & up)

Pub Date: Aug. 11, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-525-42948-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Kathy Dawson/Penguin

Review Posted Online: April 15, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2015

Detailed and quiet, beautifully written with a literary rhythm that evokes a sense of oral tale-telling, this unexpected...

A THOUSAND NIGHTS

A loose retelling of The Arabian Nights frame story from Morris Award– and Kirkus Prize–finalist Johnston takes ideas of power and gender, belief and love, and upends them.

Somewhere in the pre-Islamic Middle East, an unnamed girl narrates how, with the intent of saving her beloved sister, she sets herself against a king who has already wed and killed 300 wives before the story begins. Desert spirit Lo-Melkhiin (neither djinn or afrit is used but readers familiar with Arabic tradition will recognize the mythic wellspring) has possessed a king and feeds upon human creativity; he is also the only named character throughout the novel, a bold stylistic choice that shapes the entire tone. This is a story of the unnamed and unnoticed in which women’s unrecognized power (from the prayers of the narrator’s mother, sister, and sister’s mother to the creative genius of women in the qasr, entirely overlooked by Lo-Melkhiin) provides the magic that defeats the demonic presence. Fueled by prayers and love (her family has made her a smallgod, or local deity, something usually done only after death), determined to stop the cycle of pointless deaths, the narrator tells stories that become truths, possibly including her own.

Detailed and quiet, beautifully written with a literary rhythm that evokes a sense of oral tale-telling, this unexpected fantasy should not be missed. (Fantasy. 12 & up)

Pub Date: Oct. 6, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-4847-2227-5

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Hyperion

Review Posted Online: July 22, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2015

Difficult, provocative, and unforgettable—the most dangerous kind of fiction.

ARCHIVIST WASP

A ravishing, profane, and bittersweet post-apocalyptic bildungsroman transcends genre into myth.

In a desolate future, young girls marked by the goddess Catchkeep fight to the death to become Archivist, needed but feared and shunned for her sacred duty to trap, interrogate, and dispatch ghosts. After three years as Archivist, Wasp is weary of killing, of loneliness, of hunger, of cruelty, of despair, so she barters with a supersoldier’s ghost to find his long-dead partner in exchange for a chance at escape. But looking for answers in the land of the dead only reveals that everything Wasp knew was a lie. Equal parts dark fantasy, science fiction, and fable, Wasp’s story is structured as a classic hero’s journey. Her bleak and brutal world, limned with the sparest of detail, forges her character: stoic, cynical, with burning compassion at the core; in contrast, the rich and mosaic (if capricious and violent) underworld overflows with symbol and metaphor that tease at deeper meanings never made fully explicit. Meanwhile, the nameless ghost’s history, told through disconnected snatches of memory, encompasses heroism, abuse, friendship, and betrayal in a tragedy only redeemed by the heart-rending convergence of their separate narratives. Names (and their absence) form a constant leitmotif, as identity is transformed by the act of claiming it.

Difficult, provocative, and unforgettable—the most dangerous kind of fiction. (Science fiction/fantasy. 14 & up)

Pub Date: May 12, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-61873-097-8

Page Count: 250

Publisher: Big Mouth House

Review Posted Online: Feb. 16, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2015

Artfully crafted, an engrossing and important collection of memories and moments from a pivotal time in American history.

MY SENECA VILLAGE

The little-known story of the settlement that preceded Central Park.

Newbery and multi–Coretta Scott King honoree Nelson here re-creates Seneca Village, a path-breaking 19th-century Manhattan community that included the first significant assemblage of African-American property owners living alongside Irish and German immigrants. In a series of poems, Nelson constructs the lives of more than 30 characters based on names found in census records. Their story is at once celebratory and tragic, highlighting the struggles and triumphs of this transformative moment as dirt-poor Irish immigrants escape the potato famine of 1845, German immigrants struggle to make it in the New World, and African-Americans negotiate the transition from slavery to freedom and property ownership: “Freed by a miraculous codicil, / I find myself the owner of one me, / two slightly swampy lots, one deeeep well, / one one-room palace, and opportunity.” This incredibly integrated society comes to an end when the city executes powers of eminent domain to create Central Park. Nelson chooses prose narrative to connect these 40-some lyric fictional portraits that include schoolchildren, a mariner, a bootblack, a hairdresser, a musician, bar owners, lovers, and a fortuneteller, among others, along with poignant snapshots of famous historical figures Frederick Douglass and Maria Stewart, the first African-American woman to lecture on politics and religion.

Artfully crafted, an engrossing and important collection of memories and moments from a pivotal time in American history. (foreword, notes on poetic forms) (Historical fiction/poetry. 10 & up)

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-60898-196-0

Page Count: 96

Publisher: Namelos

Review Posted Online: Aug. 5, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2015

Race, class, fate and choice—they join Love and Death to play their parts in Brockenbrough’s  haunting and masterfully...

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THE GAME OF LOVE AND DEATH

A lovingly realized Depression-era Seattle becomes the field of play for the latest round in the titular, age-old game.

In February 1920, Love and Death choose their newest pawns as infants: Love’s is Henry, a white boy of privilege (though influenza and grief rob him of much of it); Death’s is Flora, the soon-to-be-orphaned daughter of African-American jazz musicians. In spring of 1937, the game begins. Flora sings in—and actually owns part of—the family’s nightclub, but her heart is in the skies, where she flies a borrowed biplane and dreams of owning her own. Henry, a talented bass player, is poised to graduate from the tony private school he attends on scholarship with his best friend, Ethan, whose family took him in upon his father’s suicide. They meet when Henry and Ethan visit the airstrip where Flora works; the boys are in pursuit of a story for Ethan’s newspaper-magnate father. Brockenbrough’s precise, luscious prose cuts back and forth among the four protagonists, according each character equal depth, with Ethan playing a heartbreaking supporting role. The contrast between the youthful excitement of ardent Henry and pragmatic Flora and the ageless, apparent ennui of the immortals gains nuance as readers come to understand that Love and Death are not without their own complicated feelings.

Race, class, fate and choice—they join Love and Death to play their parts in Brockenbrough’s  haunting and masterfully orchestrated narrative. (Magical realism. 12 & up)

Pub Date: April 28, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-545-66834-7

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Levine/Scholastic

Review Posted Online: Feb. 3, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2015

Sophisticated, character-driven science fiction, as notable for its genderqueer protagonist as for its intricate,...

LIZARD RADIO

In a dystopian future, Kivali Kerwin, nicknamed Lizard, is sent to prepare for adulthood at a government-run CropCamp.

Lizard's adoptive family has always resisted authority, but attending camp as a teen makes it easier to avoid being sent to the prisonlike Blight as an adult. As a midrange bender—roughly equivalent, in today's terms, to having a nonbinary gender—Lizard is at risk of being sent to Blight. At camp, Lizard unexpectedly forms deep connections to other campers. At the same time, Lizard increasingly suspects something sinister behind the camp's strong community spirit and the seemingly kind mentorship of director Ms. Mischetti. The world here is revealed gradually. The poetic, evocative prose is littered with unfamiliar neologisms—“skizzer,” “Mealio,” “vape”—with the expectation that readers will either pick up their meanings from context or be willing to wonder. Some words prove more useful than contemporary vocabulary: when Lizard develops a crush on a female camper, the word “jazz”—denoting everything from flirtation to sexual acts—provides a simple but startlingly effective way to talk about sexuality and attraction. Mischetti's warm leadership and disarming tendency to acknowledge disturbing rumors make her a dangerous enemy and mean Lizard's mission is more complicated than simply uncovering the truth.

Sophisticated, character-driven science fiction, as notable for its genderqueer protagonist as for its intricate, suspenseful plot. (Science fiction. 14-18)

Pub Date: Sept. 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-7636-7635-3

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Candlewick

Review Posted Online: May 18, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2015

An adventure in perspective as well as plot, this unusual foray into schizophrenia should leave readers with a deeper...

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CHALLENGER DEEP

Fantasy becomes reality in an exploration of mental illness based partly on the experiences of the author's son, who is also the book’s illustrator.

For 14-year-old Caden Bosch, his gradual descent into schizophrenia is a quest to reach the bottom of Challenger Deep, the deepest place on Earth. In an internal reality that’s superimposed over Caden's real life—where his behavior slips from anxiety to hearing voices and compulsively obeying signage—an Ahab-like captain promises riches in exchange for allegiance, while his parrot urges mutiny for a chance at life ashore. Shusterman unmoors readers with his constant use of present tense and lack of transitions, but Caden's nautical hallucination-turned-subplot becomes clearer once his parents commit him to Seaview Hospital's psychiatric unit with its idiosyncratic crew of patients and staff. However, Caden's disorientation and others' unease also make the story chillingly real. Except in the heights of Caden's delusions, nothing is romanticized—just off-kilter enough to show how easily unreality acquires its own logic and wit. The illustrator, who has struggled with mental illness himself, charts the journey with abstract line drawings that convey Caden's illness as well as his insight. When the depths are revealed with a dream-logic twist and Caden chooses an allegiance, the sea becomes a fine metaphor for a mind: amorphous and tumultuous but ultimately navigable.

An adventure in perspective as well as plot, this unusual foray into schizophrenia should leave readers with a deeper understanding of the condition. (author's note) (Fiction. 14 & up)

Pub Date: April 21, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-06-113411-1

Page Count: 320

Publisher: HarperTeen

Review Posted Online: Jan. 20, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2015

The award-winning Almond poetically plumbs the depths of his 1950s and ’60s childhood to explore themes of violence, war,...

THE TIGHTROPE WALKERS

Dominic Hall is “a caulker’s son, a tank cleaner’s grandson” in the river town of Tyneside in northern England…but the boy dreams of writing.

It’s in Dom’s blood to work in and “breathe the bliddy fumes” of the hellish shipyards. Is it pure snobbery, then, to aspire to the exalted, creative life his artist friend, Holly Stroud, lives with her fancy, wine-drinking father? Dom is torn. Maybe he wants to be more like Vincent McAlinden, the black-souled bully who initiates him into “scary ecstatic afternoons” of killing helpless creatures for fun, thieving and brutal fighting that ends in kissing. Is Dom a “tender innocent” or a “brute”? Is God a sentimental comfort, as he is to the silent tramp, Jack Law, or is he a cruel joke, a “creamy shining bloody body” suspended lifelessly by thin cords at the local Catholic church? As they grow up from bairns, Dom and Holly are tightrope walkers, literally and figuratively, trying to find their balance, hoping the inevitable falls aren’t too painful.

The award-winning Almond poetically plumbs the depths of his 1950s and ’60s childhood to explore themes of violence, war, God, creativity, beauty, death, art, the soul, our animal selves, whether we ever grow up or can really know each other…in short, life. (Fiction. 14 & up)

Pub Date: March 24, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-7636-7310-9

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Candlewick

Review Posted Online: Dec. 6, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2014

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