When high school football hero Ryan Stiles is found dead at the bottom of a ravine, the only person not consumed by grief is his younger brother.
Jonathan has reason to believe his brother’s death was no accident. While everyone around him goes through the many stages of grief, Jonathan can only investigate. The book works as parallel mysteries: On one track are the shady details of Ryan’s death, and on the other are the religious and spiritual questions brought up by his demise. Jonathan’s friend Henry and Ryan’s girlfriend, Tristan, help him solve the murder, while the mysterious “Jesus Jackson” helps Jonathan with his theological needs. Daley’s use of Jesus as a sounding board for Jonathan’s crisis of faith makes for the book’s most surreal and intimate moments. The author argues the necessity of faith regardless of where it is placed, a simple concept that is refreshed when delivered in such an unusual fashion. The book excels, sidestepping holier-than-thou rhetoric and addressing the pain of loss head-on as well as painting a wonderful depiction of a young man coming to terms with how he was raised and how he wants to lead his own life. The mystery element and minor romance are icing on the cake: well-executed and finely tuned, complementing the book’s major themes in all the right ways.
Smart and sweet, comforting and moving.
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)
Lost memories, a deadly pandemic flu and the children of D.C.’s elite come together in this sophisticated bio-thriller.
When Emily Bird wakes up in the hospital, the last thing she remembers is attending a party at a senator’s home eight days earlier. She’s told she had an accident after taking some bad designer drugs, but a threatening visit from a national security contractor whom Bird met at the party suggests the truth isn’t so simple. Meanwhile, the entire Beltway is under an oppressive and all-too-believable quarantine and curfew thanks to a virulent new strain of flu. Bird’s parents, two prominent black scientists, want her to avoid trouble after her misadventure, but she can’t resist investigating. She finds an unlikely ally in Coffee, a diplomat’s son who uses drugs and deals them to others but who also sees strength in Bird that she struggles to see in herself. Johnson, who astounded with her cyberpunk teen debut, The Summer Prince (2013), immerses readers in the complexities of Bird’s world, especially her fraught relationship with her parents and the intersections of race and class at her elite prep school. The often lyrical third-person, present-tense narration, the compelling romance and the richly developed cast of characters elevate this novel far above more formulaic suspense fare.
A devastating tale of greed and secrets springs from the summer that tore Cady’s life apart.
Cady Sinclair’s family uses its inherited wealth to ensure that each successive generation is blond, beautiful and powerful. Reunited each summer by the family patriarch on his private island, his three adult daughters and various grandchildren lead charmed, fairy-tale lives (an idea reinforced by the periodic inclusions of Cady’s reworkings of fairy tales to tell the Sinclair family story). But this is no sanitized, modern Disney fairy tale; this is Cinderella with her stepsisters’ slashed heels in bloody glass slippers. Cady’s fairy-tale retellings are dark, as is the personal tragedy that has led to her examination of the skeletons in the Sinclair castle’s closets; its rent turns out to be extracted in personal sacrifices. Brilliantly, Lockhart resists simply crucifying the Sinclairs, which might make the family’s foreshadowed tragedy predictable or even satisfying. Instead, she humanizes them (and their painful contradictions) by including nostalgic images that showcase the love shared among Cady, her two cousins closest in age, and Gat, the Heathcliff-esque figure she has always loved. Though increasingly disenchanted with the Sinclair legacy of self-absorption, the four believe family redemption is possible—if they have the courage to act. Their sincere hopes and foolish naïveté make the teens’ desperate, grand gesture all that much more tragic.
Riveting, brutal and beautifully told.
(Fiction. 14 & up)
A Sherlock Holmes–style adventure featuring the egotistical and eccentric R.F. Jackaby and his bewildered but invaluable assistant, Abigail Rook.
Inspired by her father’s paleontological expeditions and frustrated by her mother’s expectations of femininity, Abigail arrives in the New England city of New Fiddleham with a suitcase of inappropriate attire and a need for money. She finds employment with the oddball supernatural investigator Jackaby, whose previous assistants have met unfortunate or fowl ends (literally). Aiding Jackaby, flirting with the secretive Detective Charlie Cane, and trying to avoid the wrath of Chief Inspector Marlowe and Commissioner Swift, Abigail discovers that the world is stranger and more dangerous than she ever imagined. Although Abigail is not a seer like Jackaby, able to pierce the glamour of New Fiddleham’s fairy-tale and folklore inhabitants, she learns that to “see the ordinary is extraordinary indeed.” Abigail’s attention to the everyday serves as a foil to Jackaby’s paranormal perception and makes her a refreshingly realistic and agreeable heroine. Secondary characters—including Jackaby’s house—are equally enchanting and well-drawn. Ritter’s debut skillfully blends science with the supernatural and balances whimsy with violence. The smartly paced plot wraps up neatly, but the rich world of this debut demands sequels.
A magical mystery tour de force with a high body count and a list of unusual suspects.
(Paranormal mystery. 12-18)
A thriller that challenges readers’ understanding of the universe.
Laureth’s best-selling novelist father, Jack Peak, left for Switzerland to research his latest book, so why did his notebook turn up in New York City? In this departure from Sedgwick’s atmospheric historical fiction and fantasy, the British 16-year-old (named for a shampoo ingredient) suspects foul play. Seizing on her parents’ troubled marriage and her mother’s trip to visit family, Laureth books a flight to New York. She also takes her younger brother, Benjamin, not just because she’s in charge of him, but because she needs him: Laureth is blind. After recovering the notebook, she learns more about her father’s latest idea-turned-obsession. Well-known for his humorous books, Jack Peak experienced a coincidence that changed his life—and writing. Since then, he’s been chasing down answers to Carl Jung’s theory of synchronicity, more commonly known as coincidence. Snippets of his notebook offer true, fascinating revelations about Albert Einstein, Wolfgang Pauli, Edgar Allan Poe and other scientists and authors involved in exploring coincidence. Now the determined teen uses the notebook (excerpts of which are printed in faux handwriting interspersed throughout the narrative) to search for clues about her missing father. In short, taut chapters, her first-person narration allows readers to experience the intrigue through her abilities and shows her tender relationship with Benjamin.
It’s no coincidence that Sedgwick has crafted yet another gripping tale of wonder.
(Thriller. 13 & up)
This beautifully realized debut delves into the emotions of a girl recovering from drug addiction and grief, all wrapped up in a solid mystery.
Sophie and Mina have been best friends since second grade. When they were 14, they were involved in a car accident that nearly killed Sophie, who became addicted to OxyContin during her recovery. Sophie has kicked her habit with the help of her bounty-hunter aunt and clings to each day that she stays clean. As the book opens, however, readers learn that Mina has been murdered. Since the murderer planted OxyContin in Sophie’s pocket, everyone, including Sophie’s mom and the police, believes that the girls were trying to buy drugs. Sophie knows the murderer will go free unless she uncovers a story that Mina was investigating for the local newspaper—but pursuing him will put her in grave danger. Sharpe writes in chapters alternating between scenes from the past and present as she moves the story forward. Within the mystery plot, she focuses mostly on Sophie’s battle against drugs and against those who refuse to believe her—and on an emotional secret the two girls shared. She doesn’t settle for simplistic, one-dimensional characters, giving each flaws and virtues, strengths and weaknesses, from Sophie’s parents to her friends.
An absorbing story full of depth and emotion.
There is a place where Arlo goes to break free—free from his mother’s recent murder, his father’s grief, his sister’s progressing Huntington’s disease. In this place, the Drone Zone, it all falls away and there is just the moment.
Arlo’s two mechanisms for reaching the Zone are pulling stunts on his dirt bike and playing “Drone Pilot,” a video game that simulates drone flight and at which he is currently the best in the world. With these tools, Arlo is able to fly, and for his incredible skill with each, he begins to attract attention. A reality TV show that specializes in capturing daredevil stunts wants to pay him to risk his life for entertainment. The military also takes notice, wanting Arlo to work for them secretly, flying drones and gathering reconnaissance that could lead to the capture, or death, of the world’s most notorious terrorist. Both options offer to provide his family with financial resources they direly need. Which, if either, is worth the risk is what Arlo must decide. Readers will worry, laugh and ultimately soar along with Arlo as he finds his way. Nuanced supporting characters and a vivid New Mexico landscape ground Arlo’s dilemma, creating a superbly well-balanced narrative.
As complex as life itself, this novel addresses serious topics without taking itself too seriously.