Tan’s latest book is a portable gallery: each spread features an artfully illuminated sculptural scene facing a paragraph-length “explanation”—an excerpt from one of 75 Grimm fairy tales.
Tan created 50 sculptures for Philip Pullman’s Grimms Märchen (2013), a 512-page collection of familiar and lesser-known tales, available only in German. To present his menagerie to English speakers, Tan here adds more stories and art, eliciting text and an introduction from scholar Jack Zipes. Lean, powerful dialogue and descriptions accompany pieces with complex patinas, textured settings, and provocative subjects acting out their vengeance, charity, jealousy, and love. The objects, inspired by Inuit and pre-Columbian figurines, are sculpted from clay over papier-mâché and finished with acrylics, oxidized metal powder, and shoe polish. An evil queen is blood red, all sharp edges. Cinderella’s gilded face is framed claustrophobically by a rough, conical hearth. The titular story features an older brother about to kill his sibling to win their father’s favor. Readers must turn to the summaries at the back of the book to understand this entry (and others). While some will find this format useful, others will yearn for a complete narrative in context; Tan encourages readers to use this alongside Zipes’ The Complete Fairy Tales (1987).
These inscrutable, unsettling sculptures demand that viewers connect art and tale, examining their own reactions to the darkest impulses and glimpses of light within the book—and themselves.
(foreword, introduction, bibliography, afterword, annotated index)
(Fairy tales. 12 & up)
In her debut for teens, Chee takes readers on a heart-racing adventure.
In the land of Kelanna, Sefia and her aunt Nin have been on the run for years, avoiding detection and the people who murdered her father. But when Nin is kidnapped, Sefia knows what they want: the mysterious package she salvaged from the wreckage of her home all those years ago. Determined to stop running, Sefia opens the package and finds a book: a foreign object known to a dangerous few and possibly the key to her past and finding Nin. On her quest to uncover the truth, Sefia encounters a silent boy trained to kill, powers she never knew she had, and forces who will go to great lengths to acquire the book. Chee weaves Sefia’s story with multiple narratives, such as the book-within-the-book tale of the legendary Capt. Reed and his colorful crew and the story of Lon, a boy inducted into a secret world as Apprentice Librarian. Commanding storytelling and vivid details, particularly of the magical process of reading, bring the story to life. Also, tucked within the pages of the book are surprises like a blotted-out paragraph, a disappearing sentence, and ink splatters that sometimes resolve into fingerprints. Kelanna is a racially and ethnically diverse land; Sefia herself has East Asian features and coloring.
This cleverly layered fantasy leaves more questions than it answers, but fortunately, it’s only the first of what promises to be an enchanting series.
(Fantasy. 14 & up)
Mystery, magic, religion, and feminism swirl together in Hardinge’s latest heady concoction, set amid the scientific ferment following the publication of The Origin of Species.
When the Rev. Sunderly, famed natural scientist, abruptly moves his family from England to a small island, his 14-year-old daughter is surprised and then heartbroken as she realizes they are fleeing scandal; her remote but beloved father faked the fossil discovery that assured his fame. When he dies shortly after their arrival, Faith—whose plain, obedient exterior has always hidden a brilliant mind and daring spirit—is the only one who suspects murder. She turns to a secret plant her father has nurtured, which feeds off lies propagated in the world and delivers to the liar a truth-bearing hallucinogenic fruit. The tree exerts a malevolent force, but it also unleashes the true Faith as she navigates complex social and political machinations, with only the reluctant aid of the son of the local clergyman. In lesser hands, this might be crowded; instead, Hardinge creates a fierce, unlikable heroine navigating a rapidly changing world and does it all with consummate skill and pitch-perfect prose, drawing readers into Faith’s world and onto her side and ultimately saying quite a lot about the world.
McLemore (The Weight of Feathers, 2015) mesmerizes once again with a lush narrative set at the thresholds of identity, family, and devotion.
No one thinks twice about the friendship between Miel, the Latina teen who fears pumpkins and grows roses from her wrist, and Samir, the Italian-Pakistani boy who hangs his painted moons all around town and brought Miel home when she appeared from inside a water tower as a child. They are linked by their strangeness and bound to each other by their secrets—those that transgender Sam shares about his body and his name and those that Miel keeps about her family and her past. But just as the pair’s bond expands to passion, the Bonner girls, who are rumored to have the power to make anyone fall in love with them, decide that Miel’s roses are the only thing that will repair their weakening influence over others, and the four white sisters will leverage every secret that haunts Miel and that could destroy Sam to get what they want. Luxurious language infused with Spanish phrases, Latin lunar geography, and Pakistani traditions is so rich it lingers on the tongue, and the presence of magic is effortlessly woven into a web of prose that languidly unfolds to reveal the complexities of gender, culture, family, and self.
Readers will be ensnared in this ethereal narrative long before they even realize the net has been cast.
(Magical realism. 13-17)
In a desperate effort to save his stricken father, naïve young Wulliam sets off down a river strewn with deadly hazards…to tackle the sea monster at its mouth.
The quest quickly becomes an intense bildungsroman as darkly comical as it is terrifying and violent. Hopelessly unready to take over on his upcoming 16th birthday the family job of keeping a stretch of the icy Danék free of floating corpses and navigational hazards, brown-skinned Wulliam resolutely shoves off in a small boat with his beloved father—rendered a fretful zombie by a bohdan, a watery parasite that eats its victims slowly from the inside out. As Wulliam travels, his hope of killing the massive mormorach, a mythic, ship-crushing creature from myth that may cure his father, grows increasingly forlorn. He is also joined willy-nilly by three quarrelsome, mysterious fellow travelers. All three are show stealers, but chief among them is the Falstaffian Tillinghast, an outsized, blue-skinned homunculus with an irrepressibly libidinous line of banter and a murderous hit man hot on his trail. Stewart shows a dab hand at crafting memorable characters and thoroughly frightening opponents for them to face. Leaving several supporting storylines up in the air, he navigates the quixotic main mission to a solid resolution that leaves Wulliam truly prepared at last to take up his riverine duties.
A rich debut: Huck Finn meets Moby-Dick.
Bristal, a teenage kitchen maid, never expected to survive being forced into the Water, a pool designed to prove that a mortal may be an elicromancer, an ancient breed of ageless and immortal beings that once populated the realm of Nissera. But she does.
With elicrin stone in hand, Bristal is thrust from the Water, proving her birthright as an elicromancer. With Bristal’s true identity revealed, the last two remaining elicromancers, Brack and Tamarice, materialize to rescue Bristal from kidnappers. They begin to train her to use her gift as a Clandestine: the ability to transform into any human or animal form. Tamarice soon rejects an elicromancer’s duty to keep the peace among nations by cursing Volarre’s Princess Rosamund with dark magic in a fate-binding ritual, thereby putting the three kingdoms of Nissera in danger. Now enemies, Bristal must summon all that she has learned and don disguises to unite the kingdoms in defeating Tamarice. Greatly influenced by the likes of “Cinderella,” “Sleeping Beauty,” “Hua Mulan,” and arguably Harry Potter, debut author West mixes fairy-tale charm with contemporary mysticism to create a world both terrifying and wonderful. Bristal, in her shape-shifting glory, delights in her alter egos as boisterous Catleen and ever loyal Tomlin Happer, who joins the Realm Alliance and meets a prince. Race does not appear to be a factor in Nissera; characters read as white.
Sweet romance and strong supporting characters complete this impressive debut.
Brooklyn is an enchanted kingdom where most aspire to arrive—most of it, that is, the exception being Vassa’s working-class neighborhood, where the white teen lives with her stepmother and stepsisters, struggling with the feeling that she does not belong.
In Vassa’s neighborhood, magic is to be avoided, and the nights have mysteriously started lengthening. Baba Yaga owns a local convenience store known for its practice of beheading shoplifting customers, but it seems that even the innocent are susceptible to this fate. One night, after an argument with a stepsister, Vassa goes out on an errand to Baba Yaga’s store—one she knows may be her last. With her magic wooden doll, Erg, a gift from her dead mother, Vassa is equipped with some luck that she will very much need. Erg is clever and brazen, possessing both an insatiable appetite and a proclivity to swipe the property of others. But will Erg’s magic be enough to help free Vassa from Baba Yaga’s clutches and possibly her entire Brooklyn neighborhood from the ever increasing darkness? Vassa’s narration is smart and sassy but capable of wonder, however familiar she’s become with Brooklyn’s magic. In this urban-fantasy take on the Russian folk tale “Vassilissa the Beautiful,” Porter weaves folk motifs into a beautiful and gripping narrative filled with magic, hope, loss, and triumph.
An enthralling, magic-tinged read about home, family, love, and belonging.
(Urban fantasy. 14 & up)
Starting two generations back from the events of the familiar saga, Fajardo breathes a new life into the tale of Beowulf. In his inventive interpretation, Beowulf and Grendel are twin brothers, resulting from a generations-old blood oath between Beowulf’s grandfather Hrothgar and a delightfully snarky and ferocious blue dragon, an entertaining back story that occupies most of the book. His fate sealed long before his birth, Beowulf—a kind and brave young boy rather than a vicious monster-killer—must learn about his past while confronting his destiny. As the heir to the throne of a land that’s fractured by long-standing feuds and facing dwindling food supplies, Beowulf has many important choices before him, leaving lots of room for subsequent installments. Told in richly imagined comic panels, this offering is visually arresting, with an array of eye-popping colors that positively demand attention from readers. The aftermatter is abundant and well-wrought, offering key terms, historical origins and explanations, a family tree, maps, and lessons on drawing and comic-book making. Fajardo not only makes “Beowulf” accessible for younger readers, he makes it interesting and edifying without any dilution.
What Rick Riordan did for the Greek gods, Fajardo has done for “Beowulf”: magnificent.
(Graphic fantasy. 7-13)
Eisner winner Hicks (The Adventures of Superhero Girl, 2013) launches a new graphic fantasy series about two friends from opposite sides of a generations-long conflict.
Over the years, many nations have invaded the City in order to control the only passage through the mountains to the ocean. Conquerors always give the City a new name, but like their victories, those names never last. Thirteen-year-old Kaidu is a son of the City’s current rulers, the Dao, and has just arrived in the City to begin his military training. However, Kaidu doesn’t get along with his Dao peers, perhaps because he’s more interested in books than fighting, and he instead befriends a girl named Rat, who is an orphan and city native. Their strong characterization and the vibrant Asian-influenced setting make this a satisfying series opener. Kaidu’s curiosity and Rat’s street-wise sass are immediately appealing, and the titular city is almost a protagonist in its own right, especially when Rat and Kaidu are freerunning across its rooftops. The warm palette, courtesy of colorist Bellaire, complements Hicks’ illustrations and highlights the diversity of the cast. Offer this winning graphic novel to fans of Fullmetal Alchemist and Avatar: The Last Airbender, who will appreciate its mix of fun and adventure and its exploration of questions of identity, belonging, and history.
The opener to a pitch-black epic fantasy series horrifically upends the bonds of sisterhood.
Every generation, magically gifted triplet girls are born to rule Fennbirn, and it is the duty of each young queen to try to murder the others once they come of age. But this time only the elemental Mirabella has yet displayed any power, as the naturalist Arsinoe and poisoner Katherine are deemed weak and giftless. Although kindhearted Mirabella shows some reluctance to kill, both headstrong Arsinoe and abused Katherine are more than ready to employ any tactic to live...and win. Blake has constructed an insular, all-white, matriarchal society from convincing intimate details. As the personal lives, loves, and betrayals of the three queens are manipulated by their supporting factions, the intricate machinations of the plot never overwhelm the vivid, complicated characters of the queens and those closest to them; while it’s impossible not to sympathize with each, it is equally difficult to root for any of them. The omniscient third-person present-tense narration, switching every chapter among various players preparing for, scheming about, and even fleeing the upcoming ritual competition, employs sumptuous, poetic prose (if little of Blake’s trademark wit) with an odd detachment, creating a fablelike distance from even the grisly, shocking climax.
Gorgeous and bloody, tender and violent, elegant, precise, and passionate; above all, completely addicting
. (Fantasy. 14 & up)