Eighteen-year-old Judith Finch gradually reveals the horror of her two-year disappearance in a stunning historical murder mystery and romance.
One summer four years ago, Judith Finch and her friend Lottie Pratt disappeared. After two years, only Judith returned. Lottie’s naked body was found in the river, and Judith stumbled back on her own, her appearance shocking the town—not just because she had returned, but that her tongue had been cut out, and she can’t tell anyone what happened to her. Illiterate, maimed, cursed, doomed to be an outsider but always and forever in love with Lucas Whiting, Judith finds a way to tell her story, saying, “I don’t believe in miracles, but if the need is great, a girl might make her own miracle,” and as her story unfolds, all the truth that’s in her is revealed. Set in what seems to be early-18th-century North America, the story is told through the voice inside Judith’s head—simple and poetic, full of hurt and yearning, and almost always directed toward Lucas in a haunting, mute second person. Every now and then, a novel comes along with such an original voice that readers slow down to savor the poetic prose. This is such a story.
A tale of uncommon elegance, power and originality.
(Historical thriller. 12 & up)
India, 1947: As Britain prepares to divide the country before leaving, three lives unexpectedly intersect.
The partition of India and Pakistan, based on a border drawn by British civil servants, rarely appears in Western literature, much less fiction for teens. Bradbury pens a careful, respectful—but fictionalized—account of the final days before the line between the countries was announced, recounting it in the voices of three teens. Impulsive, spoiled English Margaret may not be entirely likable, but her love for the strange country she finds herself in is wholly believable and makes her the perfect stand-in for the reader; through Margaret, India in this specific time comes to life, and hard questions about British culpability are asked. Much of Margaret’s complex relationship with India plays out through her growing friendship with Sikh Anupreet, who has been caught in the violence between Sikhs and Muslims already, and Muslim Tariq, who hopes Margaret’s father will be his ticket to Oxford since “[e]veryone listens to the men who have the right education from the right places.” Through Tariq’s and Anu’s voices additional complexities and context are provided. Bradbury’s research (detailed in an author’s note) infuses but never overwhelms the narrative; the lack of solid resolution for the characters suits a book about a violent and confusing time.
Historical fiction that brings its history to bloody, poignant life: rare and notable.
(Historical fiction. 14 & up)
Rachel, after donning an inappropriately bright lipstick called “Little Red Lies,” welcomes her beloved elder brother, James, back from World War II.
Unfortunately, lies aren’t confined to the lipstick. James, deeply altered by the war, glosses over his disturbing experiences to his family, although letters he continues to write to Rachel—but has never sent—contain the truth of the brutality. Tragically, once safely home, he develops leukemia, a lethal illness in 1947. Rachel lies to him to convince him to visit a faith healer, whom she then recognizes as a fraud. Then she lies to her parents (and herself) about the intentions of a handsome but predatory teacher who’s playing up to her as well as other girls. After her mom conceives an unplanned baby, it’s concealed from both Rachel and James. When they discover, embarrassingly late, the cause of her weight gain, James feels convinced the baby is intended as a replacement for him. The seeming surfeit of subplots is believably explained and sensitively written, succeeding largely due to Rachel’s spunky though almost pathetically naïve first-person voice, which rings fully true. At one point, the whole town believes James has the clap, largely because Rachel overheard then repeated a conversation she didn’t understand.
Filled with bumbling characters who achingly love each other, this coming-of-age tale rises above a crowded field to take readers on a moving journey of discovery.
(Historical fiction. 12 & up)
An assassin with a will of steel fights her way through deadly palace deceptions, sickening sexual servitude and baffling assignments from her convent, becoming a major player in Brittany’s 15th-century resistance of French occupation.
Readers last glimpsed Sybella through Ismae’s eyes (Grave Mercy, 2012), serving in the entourage of d’Albret, a bloodthirsty Breton noble. Unknown to Ismae, Sybella is d’Albret’s daughter, raised in a household in which her kindest brother demanded sex from her and their father murdered wife after wife. Now Sybella’s a trained assassin, serving Mortain, the god of Death. In a castle that d’Albret stole from Brittany’s steadfast 13-year-old duchess, Sybella waits to see a marque on d’Albret’s body so she can kill him with Mortain’s grace. Living there requires a soul-breaking dance of flirtation and survival, and she is never safe. Is Mortain her real father, and has he rejected her? When an unexpected assignment arrives—a rescue, shockingly, not an assassination—it requires all of Sybella’s physical and emotional strength and stealth, plus the use of her sterling assassin skills in active battle. LaFevers weaves the “crazed, tangled web” of Sybella’s life (including her tortured past) with force, suspense and subtle tenderness. The prose’s beauty inspires immediate re-reads of many a sentence, but its forward momentum is irresistible.
An intricate, masterful page-turner about politics, treachery, religion, love and healing.
(map, list of characters, author’s note)
(Historical fantasy. 14 & up)
The sights, sounds and smells of the Warsaw ghetto assail readers’ senses in a raw, brutal telling of the unimaginable horror of that time and that place.
When the Nazis took Warsaw in 1939, they immediately initiated their separate war against the Jews in an ever-worsening web of destruction. Jews were prevented from using public transportation, doing business or attending schools. Then thousands were moved to the overcrowded ghetto, where they died of epidemics and starvation. Finally, relocations to the concentration camps emptied the ghetto. Sax gives voice to the fear and anger, hopelessness and terror through Misha, a fictional young teen who represents those who really lived and died there. In short staccato sentences, he bears witness to the madness, telling it all, from the struggle to stay alive to the corpses in the streets to the beatings and executions. Misha takes part in the doomed Warsaw Uprising and survives to tell the world of this last act of defiance. Strzelecki’s pen, ink and black-and-white pencil illustrations graphically depict pain and despair as they accompany text printed on stark white or black backgrounds. With the events of the Holocaust growing ever more remote with the passage of time, Sax gives modern readers an unrelenting, heart-rending insight into the hell that the Nazis created.
Gripping, powerful, shattering. (Historical fiction. 14 & up)
Step right onto the rough streets of the New Orleans French Quarter, circa 1950…
…and meet 17-year-old Josie Moraine, a feisty young woman whose mother, a prostitute in a Conti Street brothel, offers her nothing but scorn and abuse. From the tender age of 12, Josie has made her own way in the world, working in a local bookstore in exchange for a safe place to sleep and cleaning the brothel to earn money toward her planned escape from the Big Easy. Equal parts book smart and street smart, Josie’s dream is to attend Smith College, and she will go to extremes, even blackmail, in her desperation to be accepted. But just when her plans start to gain some traction, her mother strikes again, putting Josie in the middle of a murder investigation and saddling her with a mob debt. There are some meaningful messages here: that love can come from the unlikeliest of sources—the rough-and-tumble brothel madam is much more supportive of Josie than her mother ever was—and that we are all in control of our own destinies if only we choose to be. With a rich and realistic setting, a compelling and entertaining first-person narration, a colorful cast of memorable characters and an intriguing storyline, this is a surefire winner.
After a daring attempt to intercept a flying bomb, a young American pilot ferrying planes during World War II is captured by the Nazis in this companion to Printz Honor–winning Code Name Verity (2012).
After being brutally punished for her refusal to make fuses for flying bombs and having “more or less forgotten who [she] was,” Rose is befriended by Polish “Rabbits,” victims of horrific medical experimentation. She uses “counting-out rhymes” to preserve her sanity and as a way to memorize the names of the Rabbits. Rose’s poetry, a panacea that’s translated and passed through the camp, is at the heart of the story, revealing her growing understanding of what’s happening around her. As the book progresses, Wein masterfully sets up a stark contrast between the innocent American teen’s view of an untarnished world and the realities of the Holocaust, using slices of narrative from characters first encountered in the previous book. Recounting her six months in the Ravensbrück concentration camp through journal entries and poems, Rose honors her commitment to tell the world of the atrocities she witnessed. Readers who want more Code Name Verity should retool their expectations; although the story’s action follows the earlier book’s, it has its own, equally incandescent integrity.
Rich in detail, from the small kindnesses of fellow prisoners to harrowing scenes of escape and the Nazi Doctors’ Trial in Nuremburg, at the core of this novel is the resilience of human nature and the power of friendship and hope.
(Historical fiction. 14 & up)
Printz Award winner Yang’s ambitious two-volume graphic novel follows the intertwined lives of two young people on opposite sides of the turn-of-the-20th-century Boxer Rebellion.
Little Bao, whose story is told in Boxers, grows up fascinated by the opera’s colorful traditional tales and filled with reverence for the local deities. Appalled by the arrogant behavior of foreign soldiers, Christian missionaries and their Chinese supporters, he eventually becomes a leader of the Society of the Righteous and Harmonious Fist, fighting under the slogan “Support the Ch’ing! Destroy the Foreigner!” The protagonist of Saints—an unlucky, unwanted, unnamed fourth daughter—is known only as Four-Girl until she’s christened Vibiana upon her conversion to Catholicism. Beaten by her family for her beliefs, she finds refuge and friendship with foreign missionaries, making herself a target for the Boxers. Scrupulously researched, the narratives make a violent conflict rarely studied in U.S. schools feel immediate, as Yang balances historical detail with humor and magical realism. Ch’in Shih-huang, the first emperor of China, and Joan of Arc serve as Bao’s and Vibiana’s respective spiritual guides; the rich hues of the protagonists’ visions, provided by colorist Lark Pien, contrast effectively with the muted earth tones of their everyday lives. The restrained script often, and wisely, lets Yang’s clear, clean art speak for itself.
This tour de force fearlessly asks big questions about culture, faith, and identity and refuses to offer simple answers.
(Graphic historical fiction. 12 & up)
In 1716 London, gimlet-eyed Peggy is 16 and orphaned, living off the charity of her beloved cousin’s family. When her grim, unsentimental uncle arranges a marriage of convenience to a brute, Peggy’s adventure begins. In desperation, she accepts the help of Mr. Tinderflint, a mysterious stranger who claims to have known her mother and offers her an outlandish escape. When she finds herself in the court of King George I, having assumed the identity of a maid of honor (now secretly and suspiciously deceased) in the Princess of Wales’ entourage, her own skepticism about the plausibility of the scheme is part of the fun. Ostensibly there to spy for her employer, she quickly learns that all is not as it seems, and she’s left to suss out the motivations of both her friends and enemies while staying one step ahead of them all. In less adept hands, this would be formulaic folderol, but Zettel arms her narrator with a rapier wit; Peggy is observant and winningly funny as she recounts the intrigues, flirtations and dangers she encounters at court. The tale is studded with rich period descriptions of the foods, fashions and foibles of royal protocols.
This witty romp will delight fans of historical fiction as well as mystery lovers. (Mystery/historical fiction. 12 & up)