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Best Teen Books of 2015 for an Adrenaline Rush

Easily the best study of the Vietnam War available for teen readers.

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MOST DANGEROUS

DANIEL ELLSBERG AND THE SECRET HISTORY OF THE VIETNAM WAR

Following his award-winning World War II–era volumes Bomb (2012) and The Port Chicago 50 (2014), Sheinkin tells the sweeping saga of the Vietnam War and the man who blew the whistle on the government’s “secret war.”

From 1964 to 1971, Daniel Ellsberg went from nerdy analyst for the Rand Corp. to “the most dangerous man in America.” Initially a supporter of Cold War politics and the Vietnam War, he became disenchanted with the war and the lies presidents told to cover up the United States’ deepening involvement in the war. He helped to amass the Pentagon Papers—“seven thousand pages of documentary evidence of lying, by four presidents and their administrations over twenty-three years”—and then leaked them to the press, fueling public dissatisfaction with American foreign policy. Sheinkin ably juggles the complex war narrative with Ellsberg’s personal story, pointing out the deceits of presidents and tracing Ellsberg’s rise to action. It’s a challenging read but necessarily so given the scope of the study. As always, Sheinkin knows how to put the “story” in history with lively, detailed prose rooted in a tremendous amount of research, fully documented. An epilogue demonstrates how history repeats itself in the form of Edward Snowden.

Easily the best study of the Vietnam War available for teen readers. (bibliography, source notes, index) (Nonfiction. 12-18)

Pub Date: Sept. 22, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-59643-952-8

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Roaring Brook

Review Posted Online: June 23, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2015

Both hopeful and devastatingly real.

CONVICTION

When 16-year-old Braden Raynor’s father is arrested for a hit-and-run accident that leaves a police officer dead, every hidden secret is dragged into the light.

Braden’s father is known for his aggressive stance on his evangelical radio show, but what plays well on the airwaves can be horribly destructive at home. The anger and abuse that drove Braden’s older brother, Trey, away have driven Braden to be the perfect son. But in spite of his stellar talent on the pitcher’s mound, his exemplary performance in school, and his strong faith in God, Braden fears he will never be enough. When Braden is called to testify on behalf of the defense, he must decide if the truth is worth risking his entire world. While the mystery of what really happened on the foggy stretch of highway is the driving force behind the narrative, it is Braden’s unfolding story that will captivate readers. His father’s incarceration forces Braden to admit that the father he loves is also the monster he fears. There are no easy answers. Love is both beautiful and cruel. God is both loving and mysterious. And family is both comforting and suffocating.

Both hopeful and devastatingly real. (Fiction. 14 & up)

Pub Date: May 19, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-4231-9738-6

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Disney-Hyperion

Review Posted Online: March 3, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2015

A powerful tale of betrayal and a vital primer on rape culture.

WHAT WE SAW

In a fictional analog of the 2012 Steubenville, Ohio, rape case, allegations of gang-rape at a high school party expose a small town's ugly truths.

Star basketballer John Doone's party inspires soccer player Kate and her childhood friend Ben to admit their long-held feelings for each other. The party also—if cheerleader Stacey Stallard is to be believed—saw several prominent members of the basketball team rape Stacey while she was incapacitated. The arrests of Doone and three other boys in the cafeteria spark both a media frenzy and a schoolwide rally to defend the alleged rapists. Ben stands up against the worst of his teammates' behavior at school, but as Kate's romance with him deepens, so does her need to know the truth. Kate, who listens more than she talks, makes an ideal narrator, observing her friends' dismissals of Stacey's story with increasing uncertainty. Even minor characters here are carefully conceived, and every bit of dialogue and social media activity is chillingly note-perfect. Classroom scenes and conversations offer frameworks for understanding what has happened and why, but the touch is so light and the narrative voice so strong that even a two-page passage breaking down the sexism in Grease! avoids seeming didactic.

A powerful tale of betrayal and a vital primer on rape culture. (Fiction. 14-18)

Pub Date: Sept. 22, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-06-233874-7

Page Count: 336

Publisher: HarperTeen

Review Posted Online: May 18, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2015

Ambitious, heartbreaking, and out-of-this-world awesome

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ILLUMINAE

From the Illuminae Files series , Vol. 1

In the wake of an interstellar incident, a post-mortem dossier comprising interview transcripts, memos, instant-messaging transcripts, diary entries, and more is assembled in this mammoth series opener.

Teenage colonists and exes Kady’s and Ezra’s lives are rocked by the 2575 assault on the Wallace/Ulyanov Consortium’s illegal mining colony by their corporate rival, BeiTech Industries. They are among the lucky ones who manage to evacuate—Kady to the science vessel Hypatia and Ezra to the United Terran Authority’s battlecarrier Alexander. The latter escorts both Hypatia and the freighter Copernicus in a monthslong race to safety while pursued by a BeiTech dreadnought, one likely to win should the ships engage again. Ezra’s recruited as a fighter pilot. Kady avoids conscription by flunking tests and highlighting her defiant personality, which allows her freedom to hack the ships. What she discovers disturbs her and leads her to communicate with Ezra again—both for more information and because of their unfinished business. The two teenagers—a focus of the dossier due to their sleuthing—share and uncover disturbing information about an incident with Copernicus, the damage sustained by Alexander’s artificial intelligence system, and a terrifying virus. The design’s creative visuals take advantage of the nontraditional format, which gracefully juggles document types, foreshadowing, clues, voices, and characters. As the characters’ time runs out, the story ambushes readers with surprises. The account completes the incident’s history but not its fallout.

Ambitious, heartbreaking, and out-of-this-world awesome . (Science fiction. 13 & up)

Pub Date: Oct. 20, 2015

ISBN: 978-0553-49911-7

Page Count: 608

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: June 23, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2015

This whip-smart, determined, black Muslim heroine brings a fresh hard-boiled tone to the field of teen mysteries

SCARLETT UNDERCOVER

A 16-year-old gumshoe's new case reveals ancient—perhaps magical—family secrets.

Intrepid sleuth Scarlett has tested out of the last years of high school, founding a detective agency instead of going to college. Ever since the deaths of her Egyptian father and Sudanese mother, Scarlett's insisted on taking care of herself. Her older sister, a doctor, is too busy to spend much time at home, so Scarlett is proudly independent. When she takes a case from a frightened 9-year-old, Scarlett discovers a terrifying conspiracy that's endangered her own family for generations. As she investigates clues pointing to an ancient myth that the children of King Solomon are at war with the descendants of the jinn, she stumbles upon a cult of true believers. Scarlett is supported by a crew of irregulars that would make any private eye proud: a loving sister; a handsome Jewish best friend who's becoming something more; and solicitous neighbors from bakers to cops. Meanwhile, she must come to terms with her feelings about her sister, her memories of her parents, and her unobservant relationship with Islam. With some secrets left unresolved, dare we hope this is not the last mystery Scarlett will solve?

This whip-smart, determined, black Muslim heroine brings a fresh hard-boiled tone to the field of teen mysteries . (Mystery. 12-15)

Pub Date: May 19, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-316-28393-9

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Feb. 16, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2015

Teen and adult readers who like their mysteries gritty and literary, with a touch of magic: seek this one out.

THE ASTROLOGER'S DAUGHTER

A fiercely realized teen uses astrological skills to solve a heartbreaking mystery.

Joanne Crowe, an astrologer so accurate and empathetic that clients became obsessed with her, knew her days were numbered. She’d always insisted on the truth of her impending “eventuality” to her daughter, Avicenna, but when Joanne goes missing, it’s still a shock. As Avicenna embraces her own ability to read destinies in the stars and planets to unravel the mystery of her beloved mother’s disappearance, her skills introduce her to both unlikely allies and revolting, violent foes across Melbourne’s most luxurious and down-at-the-heels neighborhoods. Avicenna is a revelation: prickly and brilliant—she’s the first student in years to ace the entrance exam at a highly competitive magnet high school—she pursues the truth doggedly even as the likelihood of her mother’s death forces her to re-experience the physical and emotional trauma of the fire that took her father’s life 10 years prior. Lim throws class differences into high relief and highlights the casual, cruel racism multiracial people still face in modern Australia. Her taut, assured thriller weaves together astrology and mythology, poetry and poverty, and several generations of mothers whose love can’t protect their children from humanity’s ugliest tendencies.

Teen and adult readers who like their mysteries gritty and literary, with a touch of magic: seek this one out. (Mystery. 15 & up)

Pub Date: June 9, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-922182-00-5

Page Count: 330

Publisher: Text

Review Posted Online: April 5, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2015

This fantastic debut packs a highly suspenseful blend of action, intrigue, and teen romance.

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INK AND ASHES

Claire’s parents are keeping secrets that could kill her.

Sixteen-year-old Claire Takata is a spirited, inquisitive amateur locksmith and sleuth. Claire and her brothers have always believed their father died of a heart attack 10 years ago and that their mother met their stepdad after he died. But when Claire finds an old letter in her father’s journal and pictures locked away in her stepdad’s desk that reveal otherwise, she is determined to find out the truth. Why have her mom and stepdad lied to her? Why does her mom never want to talk about her father? And what really happened to him? Through letters Claire has written to him over the decade since his death, Claire’s father has served as her confidant, an outlet for her grief, frustrations, and longings. The author also makes smart use of these letters, interspersing them between chapters to deliver important back story. Claire’s grief and sense of loss are compounded when she eventually discovers that her father had been a member of the yakuza, transnational Japanese organized crime syndicates—and then her sleuthing attracts the attention of someone tied to her father's past....The romantic tension between Claire and her best friend, Forrest, plays out authentically in a subplot, and the novel’s twists and turns will keep readers riveted and guessing even after they finish the book.

This fantastic debut packs a highly suspenseful blend of action, intrigue, and teen romance. (Thriller. 12 & up)

Pub Date: June 1, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-62014-211-0

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Tu Books

Review Posted Online: April 1, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2015

A spectacular prose start for DC Comics' spectacular lady.

FALLOUT

From the Lois Lane series , Vol. 1

A teen reporter busts a cyberbullying ring at her new school in Metropolis. 

Lois Lane is new in town, and she's doing her best to keep her head down and her nose clean. Her Army general father is hoping to make their family's stay in Metropolis permanent, and Lois doesn't want to jeopardize that. She joins the Daily Scoop, a teen subsidiary of the Daily Planet, in an effort to make friends. Of course, trouble always has a way of finding Lois Lane. This first entry in a planned series gets plenty right. Lois is as fully rounded as she is in the comics, headstrong, smart, capable, and equipped with a solid moral compass. Bond (Girl on a Wire, 2014, etc.) provides her with plenty of interesting supporting characters to bounce off, establishing a world worthy of a series. Bond also resists the fan-service urge: there's no mention of Gotham, the Waynes, Lex Luthor, Central City, or any other landmark DC icon. The one big connection Bond makes is a playful one: Lois' online pal goes by the name "SmallvilleGuy," and few readers will not put the pieces together quickly regarding his true identity. Bond plays with their knowledge though, effectively turning this eye-roll–worthy quirk into a knowing smile, similar to the one Supes gives to viewers at the end of many a comic book and film. This lighthearted and playful tone permeates the novel, making for a nifty investigative mystery akin to Veronica Mars or Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Readers are in for a treat.

A spectacular prose start for DC Comics' spectacular lady. (Fiction. 12-16)

Pub Date: May 1, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-63079-005-9

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Switch/Capstone

Review Posted Online: Feb. 16, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2015

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