Awkward, prickly teens find deep first love in 1980s Omaha.
Eleanor and Park don’t meet cute; they meet vexed on the school bus, trapped into sitting together by a dearth of seats and their low social status. Park, the only half-Korean fan of punk and New Wave at their high school, is by no means popular, but he benefits from his family’s deep roots in their lower-middle-class neighborhood. Meanwhile, Eleanor’s wildly curly red mane and plus-sized frame would make her stand out even if she weren’t a new student, having just returned to her family after a year of couch-surfing following being thrown out by her odious drunkard of a stepfather, Richie. Although both teens want only to fade into the background, both stand out physically and sartorially, arming themselves with band T-shirts (Park) and menswear from thrift stores (Eleanor). Despite Eleanor’s resolve not to grow attached to anything, and despite their shared hatred for clichés, they fall, by degrees, in love. Through Eleanor and Park’s alternating voices, readers glimpse the swoon-inducing, often hilarious aspects of first love, as well as the contrast between Eleanor’s survival of grim, abuse-plagued poverty and Park’s own imperfect but loving family life.
Funny, hopeful, foulmouthed, sexy and tear-jerking, this winning romance will captivate teen and adult readers alike.
(Fiction. 14 & up)
Shakespeare’s tragic lovers receive star treatment in this spellbinding graphic-novel production.
Hinds as director, set designer and writer has expertly abridged the original text while embellishing it with modern sensibilities. His edition retains the flavor and poetry of the 1597 play and its memorable and oft-quoted dialogue. It is in the watercolor and digitally illustrated panels that he truly presents a stunning visual reading. Juliet and the Capulets are from India. Romeo and the Montagues are from Africa. Thus, the political rivalries of Verona become contemporary and more meaningful to 21st-century readers. The Capulets are dressed in reds and the Montagues in blue—all against the finely rendered lines of Verona’s buildings and Friar Laurence’s monastery. Beautiful shades of blue infuse the night sky as the two lovers swear their eternal devotion. The panels vary in size to control the pace of the plot. Sword fights pulse with energy and occasional karate thrusts for added drama. The most moving image—a double-page spread without words—is depicted from above in shades of gold and brown stained red with blood as Romeo and Juliet lie dead and immortalized in each other’s arms.
As thrilling and riveting as any staging.
(Graphic drama. 12 & up)
A nuanced, heart-wrenching and ultimately empowering story about bullying.
When 15-year old Piedad Sanchez's mother moves them to another part of Queens, Piddy is unprepared for the bullying that awaits her at her new school. Yaqui Delgado doesn’t know Piddy but decides she’s stuck-up and shakes her ass when she walks—accusations weighty enough to warrant a full-fledged bullying campaign. As her torments escalate, readers feel the intensity of Piddy’s terror in her increasingly panicked first-person narration. Interweaving themes of identity, escapism and body image, Medina takes what could be a didactic morality tale and spins it into something beautiful: a story rich in depth and heart. Piddy's ordeal feels 100 percent authentic; there are no easy outs, no simple solutions. Displaying a mature understanding of consequences and refreshingly aware (no deducing supporting characters’ feelings before the protagonist, here), Piddy also exhibits an age-appropriate sense of vulnerability. The prose is both honest ("growing up is like walking through glass doors that only open one way—you can see where you came from but can't go back") and exquisitely crafted ("Fear is my new best friend. It stands at my elbow in chilly silence").
Far more than just a problem novel, this book sheds light on a serious issue without ever losing sight of its craft.
Self-deprecating humor abounds in this debut novel that pulls no punches about the experience of depression and anxiety for its teen protagonist.
The words of Walt Whitman provide solace for 16-year-old James, whose mental health struggles are exacerbated by living with abusive parents and agonizing over what he could have done differently to prevent his older sister, Jorie, from being thrown out of the house. James' intense first-person narration, which includes imagined therapy sessions with a pigeon he calls Dr. Bird, both flares with frenetic silliness and sinks heavily into despair, realistically depicting his mood swings. At times contemplating suicide, he's aware of the gravity of his situation, even as his parents react with heartbreaking ambivalence: "Therapy isn't what you need....You're just at that age where you think everything is so horrible and terrible." His self-awareness makes him an enormously sympathetic character. Readers will root for him to win over Beth, the editor of his school's literary magazine, and forgive him for going over the top (“I know that they’re all just going to pretend like I’m not here trying to tear the walls down with my fucking barbaric yaawwwwwppppp!”) when he rages at a woman who has been carrying on an affair, with his best friend Derek, behind the back of her fiance.
Captivating introspection from a winning character.
(Fiction. 14 & up)
“Everybody’s so full of shit,” declares the epigraph of this heart-pounding and heartbreaking novel, setting the tone of the narrative: cynical, disappointed and slyly funny.
Gerald “the Crapper” Faust has not yet outlived the notoriety he achieved at age 5 by defecating on the kitchen table during their stint on Network Nanny, a “reality” television show that edited out most of the truth about his dysfunctional family life. Gerald has struggled to manage his anger in the 12 years since with the help of a few compassionate adults at school and work, but at its root, his rage remains unmitigated. In suspenseful flashbacks, Gerald details the damage wrought by his oldest sister, Tasha, a spoiled sociopathic despot. When he meets Hannah, a troubled beauty who sees him as he is instead of as he was, he cannot resist the possibility of genuine connection, despite the dangers. King deftly depicts the angst of first love in all its awkward, confusing glory. Even when she trots out the archetypical road-trip-as-journey-to-self-discovery, King writes with an honesty that allows Hannah and Gerald to call each other on their bullshit and ultimately arrive at an intimacy that feels neither forced nor false.
This is no fairy-tale romance, but a compulsively readable portrait of two imperfect teens learning to trust each other and themselves.
(Fiction. 14 & 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)
This eagerly anticipated novel (based on Black’s short story of the same name) bears little relation to the sparkle-infused vampire tales of the last decade.
Ten years ago, a vampire “started romanticizing himself” and went on a rampage, turning people until new vampires were everywhere. As much as possible, they are contained in walled Coldtowns, along with humans who idolize them—or were trapped when the walls went up. Outside, people avoid going out after dark, watch endless feeds from Coldtown parties and idolize vampire hunters. When nihilistic Tana, whose emptiness seems to stem from events surrounding her mother’s infection with vampirism, wakes up in a blood bath to find her ex-boyfriend infected and a terrifying but gorgeous vampire chained beside him, she is determined to make things right. What follows is a journey that takes her into Coldtown and out of the grief that has plagued her for years, with plenty of sharply observed characters and situations that feel absurdly, horribly believable. There’s dry humor and even a relationship (to call it a romance would be too easy; this is something entirely more complex). Perhaps most unexpectedly, there is no happy ending, just a thread of hope in humanity.
You may be ready to put a stake in vampire lit, but read this first: It’s dark and dangerous, bloody and brilliant.
(Horror. 14 & up)
A boarding school is the setting for life-changing experiences in this smart, wickedly funny work of realistic fiction from the author of The Marbury Lens (2010).
Self-proclaimed loser Ryan Dean is a 14-year-old junior at Pine Mountain, where he plays wing for the tightknit rugby team. In a magnificently frenetic first-person narration that includes clever short comics, charts and diagrams, he relates the story of the first few months of the school term as he’s forced to room with an intimidating senior on the restricted, euphemistic Opportunity Hall, due to transgressions from the previous year. He’s completely head over heels for Annie, an older classmate who insists she can’t be in love with him due to his age, and lives in fear of the “glacially unhot” teacher Mrs. Singer, who he’s certain is a witch responsible for cursing him with a “catastrophic injury to [his] penis,” among other ailments. He’s also navigating letting go of some old friends and becoming closer to one of his teammates, Joey, who’s gay. Smith deftly builds characters—readers will suddenly realize they’ve effortlessly fallen in love with them—and he laces meaning and poignantly real dialogue into uproariously funny scatological and hormonally charged humor, somehow creating a balance between the two that seems to intensify both extremes.
Bawdily comic but ultimately devastating, this is unforgettable.
(Fiction. 14 & up)
After one life-changing night with her secret crush Andy Cooper, Frenchie Garcia, a cigarette-smoking artist who quotes Dickinson and hangs out in a cemetery, is haunted.
Frenchie is in the limbo of what-comes-next. She’s finished high school but has been rejected by art school. She is sullen and anxious and can’t seem to get her life moving. Gradually, what happened that night with Andy and its lingering impact on Frenchie are revealed. It was the same night that Andy ended his own life. No one even knows that she liked Andy, let alone about the time they spent together, so Frenchie keeps her guilt and confusion to herself. When her internal rage finally boils over, she embarks upon an all-night trek with Colin, a boy she barely knows, re-creating every step of her spontaneous adventure with Andy and desperately searching for whatever she must have missed. Sanchez’s expertly crafted narrative moves seamlessly between “that night” and now, pulling readers into Frenchie’s anger and pain without straying into clichés of teen angst. Frenchie’s struggle to identify and process her own emotions rings out as authentic and honest. There are no easy answers for Frenchie Garcia as she attempts to recover from the tragedy of suicide.
An exceptionally well-written journey to make sense of the senseless.
(Fiction. 14 & up)
Two friends alternate narration and struggle with grief and trauma after a violent murder.
Freerunners who fearlessly climb and jump through the city as an urban obstacle course, Holly, Savitri and Corey are nearly inseparable—Holly and Corey twins, Savitri and Corey dating, Holly and Savitri best friends. But then a gunman murders Corey and gravely wounds Holly. Comatose Holly dreams that a snake man, Kortha, claims Corey for the Shadowlands. Phillips’ masterful dream illustrations, marked by fluid, bold lines and strong angles that create impeccable clarity and movement, provide intermittent graphic-novel segments. The strategically deployed illustrated sections pack major narrative and emotional punches. Upon waking from her coma, Holly can’t let go of her dreams. She latches onto her favorite comic-book character, a vengeance-bound superhero named Leopardess. Meanwhile, Savitri struggles to support the ever more distant and erratic Holly at the cost of dealing with her own needs. The two desperately try to make meaning of Corey’s death and find his killer. The girls are sympathetic in different ways, and their development as characters is natural, logical and seamless. Avasthi deftly weaves story elements and narrative techniques—two narrators, the graphic portions and even a flawlessly executed second-person passage—to create a rich portrait of friendship and the depths of reality-shattering grief.
Haunting, mesmerizing and intense.
(Graphic fiction hybrid. 13 & up)