Westerfeld offers two novels in one: the story of Lizzie Scofield, a teenager who escapes a terrorist attack by somehow crossing into the afterlife and develops a relationship with a “smoldering Vedic psychopomp,” and the story of 18-year-old Darcy Patel, who has just signed a contract to publish the novel Lizzie anchors.
In alternating chapters, the two books unfold. The still-living Lizzie pursues a relationship with Yamaraj, who protects newly crossed spirits from otherworldly predators, even as she negotiates her new powers to cross over and interact with ghosts, especially the little lost soul who haunts her closet. Meanwhile, Darcy decides to forgo college for the glamor of a writer’s life in New York City, struggling to revise Afterworlds and draft Untitled Patel as she watches her $300,000 advance vanish into agent commissions, rent, and fancy, foodie ramen. She also enters the tightknit, often bitchy world of YA writers, where she meets and falls for Imogen. Westerfeld clearly has a good time here, but he resists broad satire, focusing on Darcy’s coming-of-age as a writer who’s got the “juice.” Likewise, Darcy’s novel isn’t half bad, displaying a control that’s missing from far too many paranormal debuts. Readers who pay attention will see how Darcy’s learning curve plays out and how she incorporates and transmutes her real-world experiences into her novel.
Watching Darcy’s story play off Darcy’s novel will fascinate readers as well as writers
. (Fiction. 14 & up)
In a riveting exploration of the human psyche, her debut for teens, best-selling author Wolitzer offers a story about what it means to lose someone, or something, you love. Twice.
Jam Gallahue is sent to The Wooden Barn, a boarding school for emotionally fragile teens, when she fails to recover from her boyfriend’s death. At first, she can’t fathom how the school will help her. All she wants to do is stay in bed and remember the 41 days she and Reeve shared. One class, “Special Topics in English,” offers her a way to experience those moments in a whole new way—by writing in a particular journal and slipping into a surreal alternate reality. She and the four other members of the class are both thrilled at the opportunity to revel in their old lives and anxious that when the journals fill up, they have to say goodbye all over again. Will the final page be healing or just as terrible as the first loss? Wolitzer’s teenage characters are invigorated, flawed, emotionally real and intensely interesting. Even as readers fold back the layers of the story and discover unexpected truths and tragedies, the plot maintains an integrity that has come to be hallmark of Wolitzer’s novels. In-depth references to Sylvia Plath add highlights to an already robust text.
An enticing blend of tragedy, poetry, surrealism and redemption.
(Magical realism. 12-16)
Twins Noah and Jude used to be NoahandJude—inseparable till betrayal and tragedy ripped them apart.
Nelson tells her tale of grief and healing in separate storylines, one that takes place before their art-historian mother’s fatal car accident and one that takes place after, allowing readers and twins to slowly understand all that’s happened. An immensely talented painter, Noah is 13 1/2 in his thread, when Brian moves in next door to their coastal Northern California home. His intense attraction to Brian is first love at its most consuming. Jude is 16 in hers, observing a “boy boycott” since their mother’s death two years earlier; she is also a sculpture student at the California School of the Arts—which, inexplicably, Noah did not get into. Haunted by both her mother and her grandmother, she turns to an eccentric sculptor for mentoring and meets his protégé, a dangerously charismatic British college student. The novel is structurally brilliant, moving back and forth across timelines to reveal each teen’s respective exhilaration and anguish but holding the ultimate revelations back until just the right time. Similarly, Nelson’s prose scintillates: Noah’s narration is dizzyingly visual, conjuring the surreal images that make up his “invisible museum”; Jude’s is visceral, conveying her emotions with startling physicality. So successful are these elements that the overdetermined, even trite conclusion will probably strike readers as a minor bump in the road.
If you were pursuing your cousin’s kidnapper across Florida, you would want a man like Skink at your side. Maybe.
Skink, as readers of Hiaasen’s novels for adults know, was once governor of Florida and is now a genially lawless reprobate who takes “eco-terrorism” to a whole new level. Richard first meets him completely buried in the sand on a beach lying in wait for a sea turtle–egg thief. That one extraordinary encounter turns into an unlikely partnership when Richard’s spirited cousin, Malley, runs off with a guy she met on the Internet in order to avoid boarding school, a joy ride that quickly goes sour. On the road with Skink, Richard develops a taste for roadkill (Skink won’t eat any other kind of meat), learns how to drive (Skink injures his foot saving a baby skunk from a semi) and reads Silent Spring (Skink is horrified Richard hasn’t encountered it in school). They follow Malley’s cryptic cellphone clues into a swamp that just may be ivory-billed–woodpecker habitat for a classic Hiaasen showdown. While this confrontation goes on a bit too long, that doesn’t diminish the pleasure of the developing relationship between Skink and the fatherless Richard, as trusty a protagonist as ever was.
Hiaasen’s fierce love for the wilds of Florida, his fundamental commitment to decency and his penchant for the bizarre are all on full display in this, a read as agreeable as his hero is.
As the Raven Boys grow closer to their goal of finding the Welsh king Glendower, not surprisingly, problems arise in this third book of a planned four-volume series.
Blue Sargent’s mother has been missing for three months, leaving behind only a cryptic note. She’s gone underground in search of her former lover, Blue’s dad. Her ex–hit man boyfriend is the only person besides Blue who seems concerned. Meanwhile, the Raven Boys—Gansey, Adam and Ronan, with ghostly Noah now struggling to appear corporeal—and Blue find a mysterious cave guarded by an Appalachian mountain man; inside is indeed an ancient Welsh coffin. Despite Adam’s new understanding that there are three buried sleepers, two to wake, one to leave sleeping, they open the lid, and out pops Gwenllian, the perhaps-not-asleep but long-buried daughter of Glendower. Friend or foe? Oh, and the person who hired the hit man is the boys’ new Latin teacher. Stiefvater weaves these separate threads together with a sure hand until magic seems expected yet never commonplace, always shimmering under the surface. Most credible and moving are the slow maturations of her characters—Adam comes to measure his worth in something other than money; Blue secretly phones Gansey in the night. If she kisses her true love, he will die.
Expect this truly one-of-a-kind series to come to a thundering close.
(Fantasy. 14 & up)
A new series—fantasy, this time—from the author of the best-selling Legend dystopia.
Twelve years ago, the blood fever raged through Kenettra, killing all infected adults and leaving the surviving children marked with scars, patterned skin and unnaturally colored hair. Malfetto, the survivors are called, and everyone knows they are terrible luck. A few malfettos are rumored to have great and mystical powers, and these Young Elites are sought by the Inquisition even while the common people secretly cheer on their defiance against a cruel and ineffectual king. Adelina is a 16-year-old malfetto, tormented by her abusive father until her own Young Elite power reveals itself. Both the Inquisition and the Young Elites want to use her, but Adelina wants only to protect herself and her beloved sister. She’s no heroic savior; Adelina’s Young Elite strength is honed by a decade of abuse and torment that’s turned her into a force motivated foremost by rage and terror. Shifting points of view reveal the forces that treat Adelina as a pawn in a game much larger than she can understand, driving her to an extremely unusual lead-in for Volume 2. In a gorgeously constructed world that somewhat resembles Renaissance Italy but with its own pantheon, geography and fauna, the multiethnic and multisexual Young Elites offer a cinematically perfect ensemble of gorgeous-but-unusual illusionists, animal speakers, fire summoners and wind callers.
A must for fans of Kristin Cashore’s Fire (2009) and other totally immersive fantasies
. (Fantasy. 13 & up)
Selfishness and betrayal provoke inexorable tragedy in this dark prequel to a beloved fantasy trilogy.
All Clariel wants is a solitary life in the Great Forest, but her mother’s status in the powerful guilds, along with her connections to the royal and Abhorsen families, requires Clariel to stay in the capital, plagued with etiquette lessons and trapped in a loathsome betrothal. When her parents, tutors and even her friends play her for a pawn, Clariel can barely hold back her fury, and she seizes an opportunity to escape by helping capture a monster—even though she feels the deadly allure of its Free Magic. While familiarity with Nix’s Old Kingdom series isn’t necessary, it certainly adds depth, though its fans will be well-aware that Clariel’s story can have no happy ending. More shocking is the vicious portrait of the magical realm at its peak of prosperity: savage inequality inciting social breakdown, king and mage alike abandoning their responsibilities, and respect for the Charter diminished. Hostile and self-centered, Clariel makes an interesting (if not entirely likable) protagonist; her depiction as (emphatically!) asexual and aromantic is refreshing, despite the problematic implied link to being anti-social and aloof. Still, readers will hurt with her as she longs passionately for freedom, rages at her enforced helplessness, snatches at desperate bad choices, and claws after a faint, bittersweet redemption.
A thunderstorm of a tale, bitter and brutal but dazzling in its ferocity.
(Fantasy. 14 & up)
Two girls switch identities while colliding with Baba Yaga and the Firebird in Czarist Russia.
Elena, a child of rural Russian poverty in the town of Miersk, is desperate to help her ailing mother and to recover her older brothers, Alexei, at work for another family, and Luka, conscripted into the czar’s army. Her determined journey finds her life suddenly swapped with that of Ekaterina, also 13, a daughter of privilege. Plot details include a pilgrimage to Saint Petersburg to meet the czar and his godson, Prince Anton, a Fabergé egg, a Firebird’s egg, a legacy of matryoshka dolls, and the powerful presence and proclamations of Baba Yaga. Maguire, a veteran writer of reimagined traditional tales for a new world, jauntily explores themes no less profound than hunger and satiety, class and influence, and the sharing of resources in a world wracked by climate change. While not without flaws—a bit protracted, cluttered, overly grand and infused with some metafictive moments that occasionally take the reader out of the story—this is an epic rich with references, aphorisms and advice.
An ambitious, Scheherazade-ian novel, rather like a nesting-doll set of stories, that succeeds in capturing some of the complexities of both Russia and life itself.
(Historical fantasy. 12 & up)
The glorious series about convent-trained assassins concludes, reframing a main character in ways that shift the meaning of the whole series.
It’s Brittany, 1488. Death’s handmaidens Ismae (Grave Mercy, 2012) and Sybella (Dark Triumph, 2013) are off on assignment, helping the steadfast 13-year-old duchess defend Brittany against impending French occupation. Annith’s stuck in the convent, desperate to be sent out: How can she serve Mortain—their father and the god of death—behind abbey walls? Slated for a duty that will keep her convent-bound forever, Annith runs. She plans to investigate the abbess’ shady machinations but instead meets a group of hellequin on horseback, “souls of the damned” serving Mortain to earn redemption. After sparks fly with their brooding leader, Balthazaar, Annith joins the royal court in Rennes. Real historical threads provide profound resonance, and plot twists run deep. Unfortunately, a life-threatening danger near the end disappears via a disingenuous textual sleight-of-hand; worse, Mortain transforms from awe-inspiring god to something rather more pedestrian. Because he’s Death, this change robs this volume of the previous installments’ peculiar, breathtaking religious grace, undermines the convent’s raison d’être and upends the series’ magnificent premise. Though far more naïve than Ismae and Sybella, Annith is sympathetic, and her story is compelling if less action-packed and desperate than theirs; this novel never drags, but nor does it glow with beauty like the first two.
Although much of this book’s gravity and richness is carried forward from the first two, devotees of His Fair Assassin will be gratified to receive this closure, especially on the political front.
(Historical fantasy. 14 & up)
An indictment of our times with a soupçon of magical realism.
The daughter of a gifted photographer who spun out Sylvia Plath–style, Glory seems bent on following in her mother’s footsteps in more ways than one as she finishes high school. But after Glory and her lifelong frenemy and neighbor Ellie make a reckless late-night decision, they are cast headlong into a spell that allows them to see the pasts and the futures of the people who cross their paths, stretching many generations in both directions, and Glory’s life changes course. As with King’s other protagonists (Please Ignore Vera Dietz, 2010; Reality Boy, 2013), Glory’s narration is simultaneously bitter, prickly, heartbreaking, inwardly witty and utterly familiar, even as the particulars of her predicament are unique. The focus on photography provides both apt metaphors and nimble plot devices as Glory starts writing down her visions in order to warn future Americans about the doom she foresees: a civil war incited by a governmental agenda of misogyny. Glory’s chilling visions of the sinister dystopia awaiting the United States are uncomfortably believable in this age of frustrated young men filling “Pickup Artist” forums with misogynistic rhetoric and inexperienced young women filling Tumblrs with declarations of “I don’t need feminism because….”
With any luck, Glory’s notebook will inspire a new wave of activists.
(Fiction. 14 & up)
A racially charged shooting reveals the complicated relationships that surround a popular teen and the neighborhood that nurtured and challenged him.
Instead of a gangster after retribution, 16-year-old African-American Tariq Johnson’s killer is a white man claiming to have acted in self-defense. Despite their failure to find a weapon on the black teen, the police release the shooter, rocking the community. On its face, this novel sounds like an easy example of fiction “ripped from the headlines.” However, Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe Award–winning writer Magoon provides an intriguing story that allows readers to learn much about the family, friends and enemies of everyone affected. There are young men attempting to navigate the streets and young women, including one who tried in vain to save Tariq, wishing for better lives but with little idea how to change their paths. There are the grief-stricken family and adults who seek to give voice to powerless people but also serve themselves. The episode affects even those who think they have moved away from the community. As each character reflects on Tariq, a complex young man is revealed, one who used his considerable charm to walk the tightrope of life in his neighborhood. Magoon skillfully tells the story in multiple, sometimes conflicting, voices.
This sobering yet satisfying novel leaves readers to ponder the complex questions it raises.
(Fiction. 14 & up)
An honest, insightful novel about a young man’s final year in high school and his eventual decision, which he initially conceals from his family, to join the Marines.
At the outset, Sean spends a lot of time ducking the chiding of his overbearing older brother and cursing the crappy rental he and his mom have lived in since she left his alcoholic father. When he manages to hook up with superhot Hallie the summer before she leaves for college, he thinks his luck may finally be changing. However, as he navigates his way through an emotionally trying senior year, it turns out instead to be his friend and co-worker, Neecie, whom he just may be falling for. Intensely introspective first-person narration suits Sean’s stoic character very well. His thoughts are often both subversively smart and hilarious—particularly in their treatment of the subtext of communication across gender. When Hallie worries that he’s upset that she doesn’t want to have sex at first, he thinks, incredulously: “Was she kidding? We were almost naked. My hands were on her tits. She was giving me a handjob. Why would I be mad?”
Engaging, perceptive, witty and at times gut-wrenchingly sad—this is an extraordinary addition to fiction for teens and adults alike.
(Fiction. 14 & up)
Abirached, who grew up in Beirut during the Lebanese civil war, shares childhood memories in this unconventional graphic memoir.
Born in 1981, Abirached grew up surrounded by the realities of war: Her family’s home was close to the demarcation line between East and West Beirut. In her earlier graphic memoir, A Game for Swallows (2012), she focused on a single evening when she and her brother anxiously awaited their parents’ return. In this follow-up, Abirached takes inspiration from French experimental writer and filmmaker Georges Perec and forgoes a traditional narrative structure in favor of a catalog of childhood memories, almost all beginning with “I remember.” Her memories juxtapose mundane details, such as the “tchic” sound that cassette tapes made when shaken and the three layers that made up old Kit Kat wrappers, with haunting reminders of wartime, such as her brother’s shrapnel collection and the bullet holes in the family car. The black-and-white illustrations and inventive layouts ably convey the contrasts of the text. Abirached does not use tones or shading, but her ornate patterns soften the stark contrasts created by her bold lines and her frequent use of black to fill negative space. Taken together, her many memories create a distinct sense of time, place and emotion.
Meandering and experimental but surprisingly evocative
. (Graphic memoir. 12 & up)
In a warm and uplifting coming-out story, Leila, whose family is Persian, develops feelings for Saskia, a flirtatious and careless new classmate.
Leila realized she liked girls at summer camp, but she’s not ready to share her discovery with other students at her elite private high school or with her conservative parents. But with wild new-girl Saskia possibly flirting with her, her zombie-movie–loving buddy Greg trying to date her, and Leila’s former friend Lisa paying attention to her after spending years with the popular crowd, Leila’s secret becomes harder to keep. There are numerous subplots, including an Iranian family friend’s wedding, a school production of Twelfth Night and multiple love triangles, but every loose end is tied up, and the story never feels crowded. Leila’s journey with Saskia as well as with her family is related with emotional nuance and care. An appealing cast of well-drawn characters—Christina, a vampire-obsessed theater tech-crew member, Tomas, the gay director and taskmaster of the middle school play she helps with, and Tess, a refreshingly confident nerdy girl—makes the story shine. Lessons abound, from the truth that her seemingly perfect older sister is actually human to “everybody farts,” but skillful character development keeps Leila’s discoveries from ever feeling didactic.