Foster teen Joey narrates events as he slowly uncovers a convoluted mystery, with a soupçon of romance added for spice.
Taciturn Joey, a long-term foster kid, has learned not to actually voice the thoughts in his head and is aiming for early graduation and emancipation as soon as possible. But just because he doesn’t talk much doesn’t mean he’s stupid. His clever internal commentary adds humor to this biting account of the alternative high school he attends, his classmates, and their families. Joey attempts to tread as lightly as he can, going to class and to his daily cleaning job at the home of a wealthy chess prodigy. He also cultivates a relationship with Trisha, a classmate and fellow foster kid who seems to have won the foster-parent sweepstakes. When Joey’s foster father watches porn on his school-issued laptop, it’s caught by sentry software, and Joey immediately is in a kind of trouble that seems to just build. Beaten up, homeless, and completely smitten by Trisha, Joey finds his curiosity and his attempts to solve his immediate problems uncovering hidden truths that lead to the solving of interconnected mysteries amid an eruption of violence. Joey’s voice is raw and engaging, both foulmouthed and inclined to wordplay, and his supporting cast, though not notably diverse, is equally well-drawn.
An eminently satisfying series opener for mystery fans who want their downtrodden detectives to be appealing, clever, and unafraid of action.
This latest novel from Hartley (Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, 2014, etc.), his debut for teens, is social commentary masquerading as crime fiction masquerading as fantasy.
The book opens with a murder and a mystery: the invaluable luxorite stone that lights the Beacon at the heart of Bar-Selehm is stolen, and Berrit, a young Lani boy, is found dead at the bottom of a spire. Hartley’s fictional world is dense and rich. Though heavy with exposition in the beginning, the plot deftly explores the economic and political entanglements of the native black Mahweni, the white settlers from Feldesland, and the brown Lani people the Feldish brought as servants. Determined to get justice for her would-be apprentice, Lani steeplejack and narrator Anglet Sutonga discovers that Berrit’s death is but a small part in a larger conspiracy to gain wealth and power at any cost. The diverse cast of characters reflects the varying classes and races that intersect and clash in the post-colonial city. The close first-person perspective keeps readers’ hearts pounding as Anglet draws ever closer to the truth. The tension stays taut throughout the book, heightened with each precipice Anglet climbs: if she falls, the city goes to war.
Smart political intrigue wrapped in all the twists and turns of a good detective story makes for a rip-roaring series opener.
(Fantasy. 13 & up)
Following Fatal Fever (2015) and Red Madness (2014), Jarrow explores America’s experience with the bubonic plague.
A devastating pandemic that started in Asia found its way to California in 1900, and Chinese immigrants in San Francisco were the first to fall victim. Efforts to stem the disease were led by the U.S. Marine-Hospital Service (later the U.S. Public Health Service). Suspicion and fear of discrimination among Chinatown residents and the reluctance of state and local political figures to acknowledge the outbreak initially held back progress. Changes in medical and political leadership brought about more success, until the San Francisco earthquake and unsanitary conditions in its wake led to the plague’s return. Jarrow’s detailed narrative and attention to the stories of the medical figures involved make this compelling reading. As in the previous volumes, the level of research on display is impressive, notably Jarrow’s close look at what has been learned about the rats and fleas that spread the disease and her smooth integration of social and medical factors into her discussion. The large number of photographs and illustrations enhances the text, and the layout is graphically interesting without becoming distracting. The interesting truth that the disease can still be contracted is among additional facts included in a FAQ section at the book’s conclusion.
A richly detailed exploration of a fascinating subject.
(glossary, timeline, further resources, author’s note, bibliography, source notes, picture credits, index)
Recently suspended twice for school fights, 17-year-old Abraham grapples with a propensity for violence.
The Latino teen’s grandmother can’t seem to bear his fighting anymore and decides that “Abram needs to learn how to be a man.” She enlists the help of Claudio, Abraham’s boorish, hostile uncle. With Uncle Claudio’s impending return, Abram fears the worst. Although his mother’s absence and his father’s death—a topic not broached in his family—also gnaw at him, he finds solace in his relationship with almost-girlfriend Ophelia, who urges him to root out the source of his aggression. “If you keep fighting….Nothing good can come from this, Abraham.” In his debut for teens, Jiménez (The Possibilities of Mud, 2014) explores shades of manhood and all it entails with a deft, poetic hand. Utilizing a second-person narration, the author revels in offering intense sensory details, portraying a firm sense of Abram’s inner turmoil. Uncle Claudio’s arrival marks the beginning of an ill-fated path for his nephew. After taking him to the gym to hone his strength, Uncle Claudio wants to prepare Abram for a career in boxing. Falling deeper for Ophelia, Abram considers his uncle’s offer as he muses on the “prospect of bills and a job and a family to lead.” When Uncle Claudio signs him up for dubious fighting matches, it all comes crashing down on Abram. Revelations come in disorienting wallops.
A moving, almost-suffocating, haunting exploration of what defines manhood.
(Fiction. 14 & up)
Seventeen-year-old Che thinks his 10-year-old sister, Rosa, might be worse than that. Rosa lies and manipulates others, steals, and tortures bugs—all for her own entertainment and curiosity—and her extreme behavior is increasing. Che’s parents don’t believe his claims about Rosa, so when they move to New York City, he has one goal: protect the city from his psychopathic little sister. As Che presents his research on sociopathy and personality disorders via conversations with Rosa, readers witness her malicious behavior, threats, and lies firsthand. Not one to shy away from tough subject matter, Larbalestier addresses issues related to gender, sexual orientation, religion, identity, and race with tact. Though narrated by an Australian white male, diversity abounds in the novel, effortlessly sharing the pages with the riveting plot as it builds to a frightening climax. Che is in love with his “very dark-skinned” boxing mate, a girl named Sojourner (who also happens to have two moms). In a particularly brilliant set piece, Leilani, who’s part Korean and a lesbian, and Elon, an androgynous black character, force Che to contemplate his interracial relationship by addressing the fetishization of black women.
This dark thriller is the 1956 film The Bad Seed meets 2016; readers will be simultaneously terrified when Rosa’s present and afraid to let her out of their sight.
(Thriller. 14 & up)
Two girls from very different backgrounds find autonomy, strength, and identity as they fight against corporate greed and medical corruption.
Gemma was born to rich and powerful parents. Lyra was made in a lab. Both white girls have spent their lives protected behind walls: Gemma, under her parents’ watchful eyes, and Lyra, under the care of nurses at the Haven Institute. The latter has always known she’s a replica, a clone created by doctors from human stem cells. The heavily guarded Haven Institute’s activities are shrouded in mystery and speculation, and when an explosion destroys the facility, both girls’ carefully formed worlds topple in the aftermath. Events unfold quickly as Gemma and Lyra learn they’re not who they thought they were, that the truth goes much deeper than either ever thought. The dual narrative is presented as two books in one; it’s up to readers to decide how to proceed: read each girl’s story separately or in alternating chapters. There are very few characters of color: Caelum, another replica and key secondary character, is described as “mixed race”; Gemma’s Latina best friend has two high-powered moms. Deep-rooted racial and ethnic inequality is hinted at in the “birthers,” the dark-skinned women who carry and give birth to replicated babies and don’t speak English. Gemma’s fatness is a source of embarrassment, but, unusually, she grows emotionally without losing weight.
A reading experience not to be missed—or forgotten
. (Science fiction. 15 & up)
Crime, intrigue, and deceit abound in this novel about a biracial teen embracing her criminal instincts in order to thwart a treacherous plot.
High school junior Andrea Faraday seems to have it all: money, privilege, top grades at an exclusive prep school, and an unwavering can-do attitude. But things are almost never as they seem with Drea. Her facade of perfection is just one of many covers hiding her family’s secrets, but when her grifter parents disappear in the aftermath of a scandalous heist, Drea’s world unravels, and her true self begins to surface. When she goes so far as to break into the school to change a grade, her rookie-cop brother volunteers Drea to tutor juvie kids to show her that crime doesn’t pay. However, Drea finds herself drawn to the teen cons, particularly Xavier, the enigmatic and handsome Asian thief with whom she has more than she cares to admit in common, including a powerful enemy—one the teens will need all their criminal skills to defeat. Reid (Guys, Lies, and Alibis, 2014, etc.) presents an introspective, morally complex protagonist in Drea as well as an effortlessly diverse supporting cast. The characters establish an effective, if hasty, alliance that readers can’t help but root for as the author demonstrates her continued command of the mystery plot.
Gripping, suspenseful, and refreshingly diverse.
Can Flynn find his missing ex-girlfriend? Or is she worse than missing?
Flynn, a sophomore, and his girlfriend, January, started going out the beginning of freshman year. Since her stepfather, a state senator with national aspirations, moved her family to a mansion and put January in a private school, the two white teens have begun to drift apart. One night, she pressures Flynn to have sex for the first time and breaks it off with him when he refuses. That’s the last time he sees her. The police question him, but Flynn can’t tell the whole truth for fear of making himself look guilty…and revealing his biggest secret: he’s gay. Investigating on his own, he learns that January had secrets of her own and had begun behaving erratically. January’s very hot co-worker, Kaz, a Muslim, tells him that January quit her job and was telling lies about Flynn. Could someone be responsible for her disappearance? Is she still alive? Can he uncover the truth? Debut novelist Roehrig peoples his sensationalistic, twisty mystery with credible characters, especially narrator Flynn, whose struggles with coming out will resonate with young gay teens in more mundane circumstances. Witty, realistically foulmouthed dialogue and the suspenseful, well-laid mystery will keep pages turning, as will the budding romance between Flynn and Kaz.
Readers won’t be able to put it down.