Selecting high and low points from his experiences as a child, college student, teacher, refugee-camp worker, amateur boxer, Rhodes scholar, Navy SEAL and worker with disabled vets, Greitens both charts his philosophical evolution and challenges young readers to think about “a better way to walk in the world.”
Revising extracts from his memoir The Heart and the Fist (2011) and recasting them into a more chronological framework, the author tells a series of adventuresome tales. These are set in locales ranging from Duke University to Oxford, from a low-income boxing club to camps in Rwanda and Croatia, from a group home for street children in Bolivia to a barracks hit by a suicide bomber in Iraq. Prefacing each chapter with a provocative “Choose Your Own Adventure”–style scenario (“What do you do?”), he describes how similar situations ultimately led him to join the military, impelled by a belief that it’s better to help and protect others from danger than to provide aid after the fact. What sets his odyssey apart from Howard E. Wasdin and Stephen Templin’s I Am a SEAL Team Six Warrior (2012) and most other soldiers' stories is an unusual ability to spin yarns infused with not only humor and memorable lines (SEAL training’s notorious Hell Week was “the best time I never want to have again”), but cogent insights about character and making choices that don’t come across as heavy-handed advice.
An uncommon (to say the least) coming-of-age, retraced with well-deserved pride but not self-aggrandizement, and as thought-provoking as it is entertaining.
(endnotes, bibliography [not seen])
Big-town girl stuck in a small-town world full of lies falls for another girl.
Astrid's parents moved both her and her sister away from their New York City home years ago to a small town symbolically called Unity Valley. Since then her mom has drunk the society Kool-Aid, and her dad takes mental vacations in the garage to smoke weed. Astrid doesn't feel like she fits in anywhere. Two friends keep her sane: her closeted BFF, Kristina, and Dee, a star hockey player she met while working for a local catering company. Sparks fly between Astrid and Dee, causing Astrid to feel even more distanced and confused. Meanwhile, Kristina and her boyfriend/beard Justin use Astrid as cover for their own same-sex sweethearts, adding more fuel to the fire. King has created an intense, fast-paced, complex and compelling novel about sexuality, politics and societal norms that will force readers outside their comfort zones. The whole town—even the alleged gay characters—buy into the Stepford-like ideal, and King elegantly uses Plato’s "Allegory of the Cave" to help readers understand life inside and outside of the box. Only Astrid knows what she wants. She’s in love with Dee, but she's not sure if she’s a lesbian. She’s ignoring all of the labels and focusing on what she feels. Quite possibly the best teen novel featuring a girl questioning her sexuality written in years. (Fiction. 14 & up)
Quite possibly the best teen novel featuring a girl questioning her sexuality written in years(Fiction. 14 & up)
Dance-team prestige, loyal friends, affluent Seattle family—Coley, 15, seems to have it all, but her sunny persona hides a private, nighttime dread.
Coley’s blossoming romance with Reece makes it harder to separate those worlds, and her gift for walling off the unpleasant—like the rift with her longtime best friend, Alejandra—isn’t working. With her overprotective mother and stepfather, ally and troubled older brother, Bryan, and younger triplet half siblings, Coley feels smothered, not safe. When Reece is permitted to join the family ski trip to Whistler, B.C., Coley finds that her childhood strategy of quiet endurance, rather than preventing the abuse, enables it to escalate. What makes this more than another “problem” novel is the author’s steadfast refusal to deal in stereotypes and easy answers. Coley’s more than the victim of sexual abuse—just as her abuser is more than a collection of abusive behaviors. Who we are and what we do are different things. Oversimplifying character motivations would have made this a less harrowing read but also a less powerful one. Unraveling her thicket of tangled emotions is a confusing and painful journey for Coley, but the bedrock truth she uncovers sustains her: Freedom from molestation is a human right.
Required reading for anyone who’s ever wondered “why didn’t they just tell someone?” (resources [not seen]) (Fiction. 14 & up)
When 16-year-old Cassidy “Sid” Murphy decides to join her two best friends on a class ski trip, she has no idea that the trip will change her life forever.
A chance meeting with a local college boy leads to a night Sid can barely remember, but will certainly never forget, sending her on a downward spiral so severe she becomes quite literally a shadow of her former self. Sid’s unable to put into words the truth of what happened that night, leaving her friends and classmates to draw their own conclusions while Sid struggles to pick up the broken pieces and cobble them back together on her own. Little does she know that by opting to forego her normal course load and hide out in the AV room, she’s made another life-altering decision. This time, however, it is thankfully for the better. Enter Corey Livingston, “the half-baked, pothead, ex-juvie thug” who might just hold the answers. Equal parts endearing spunk and heartbreaking vulnerability, Sid Murphy is a character who feels more like family by story’s end. The story—and even more importantly, Sid herself—will stay with readers long after the final page is turned.
Kudos to Clayton for crafting a powerful, moving debut.
(Fiction. 13 & up)
Biting wit makes this quest for suburban normalcy in the face of depression and anxiety both laugh-out-loud funny and immensely intelligent.
In Get Well Soon (2007), Anna spent three weeks in a mental hospital, unwillingly. Now she faces her first three weeks back at home—Dad retaining his “classically trained dick” attitude, Mom riddled with “wuss issues”—and back at school. She’s insecure about where she’s been and fears the in-class panic attacks and bowel symptoms that plagued her earlier. She postpones writing to hospital romance Justin, unsure what to say. Instead, Anna focuses on art class, funky clothing and her peers in outpatient therapy. Her first-person narration brims with humor and raunchiness: “The dark wood that made up the library’s décor screamed 1976 academia, but the dainty sentiment of ‘EB sucks cock’ scratched into the wood brought a modern feel.” As life improves, she questions sharply which aspects of treatment—or life—are really helping. Anna finds Holden Caulfield (Halpern employs layered and alluring Catcher in the Rye references); boys find her. Characters and observations are impressively original. The only staleness is relentless textual insistence that Anna’s weight loss—born of “crappy mental hospital cafeteria food, depression, [and] anxiety”—is crucial to, and the same thing as, her recovery.
Aside from the too-anxious-to-eat valorization, fresh as a daisy and sharp as a tack.
In this sequel to The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making (2011), heroine September embarks on another quest, this time to Fairyland-Below, where her shadow rules as queen.
It’s been a year since September saved Fairyland after sacrificing her shadow and returned home to Nebraska, where she carries the secret of her adventure “with her like a pair of rich gloves which...she could take out and slip” on. On her 13th birthday, September chases a peculiar boat across the wheat fields and falls into Fairyland-Below, a dark region without rules. There, everything’s “upside down and slantwise,” shadows are siphoned from Fairyland and September’s shadow, Halloween, orchestrates wild nightly revels. September resolutely pledges to recover all missing shadows, including her own, by traveling to the very bottom of Fairyland to awaken the Sleeping Prince. Her deliberate descent into dark, surreal places where she encounters bizarre, fantastical creatures is chronicled by the perceptive narrator whose familiarity with fairy-tale tradition matches September’s self-conscious determination to behave “as a heroine.” Sophisticated, prodigious blending of familiar and original storytelling elements adds multilayered texture, while the rich prose oozes exotic, imaginative imagery. Juan's black-and-white spot art highlights September’s questing.
Heartless September sprouts a heart during this remarkable, awesome journey.
Two sisters painfully discover that money can’t buy happiness in this provocative family drama.
When Alex and Thea’s struggling single mom marries a Greenwich, Conn., millionaire, the girls’ responses to their elevated lifestyle demonstrate the differences in their personalities. Older sister Alex tries to ignore the new wealth by restricting her enjoyment of it, including the food she allows in her body. Thea, though, sees the money as an opportunity to reinvent herself, even if it means telling elaborate lies to gain entrance to the in crowd. Both girls miss the bond they shared with their mother during the lean times, but that doesn’t keep them from throwing a party at the mansion they call Camelot while the ’rents are away. Their self-destructive behaviors come to a head during the bash, and one finds unexpected redemption, while the other discovers just how low she will sink to get her sister’s attention. National Book Award finalist Griffin repeatedly nails the details of this tony community and its 1-percent residents with perfectly turned phrases that are just right. A high-end handbag is “plopped like an overfed tabby cat on the seat,” while a financially struggling classmate owns a wallet “as ancient as the Dead Sea Scrolls and always flat as a pita besides.”
A sumptuously written examination of sibling rivalry and socioeconomic class.
(Fiction. 14 & up)
The menacing, post-apocalyptic world of Marbury is again richly imagined in this stunning sequel to The Marbury Lens (2010).
Four boys at the heart of the first novel return for another harrowing journey. Jack, whose abduction and near-rape was the catalyst that brought about his descent into Marbury, his best friend, Conner, and Ben and Griffin, two boys they first encountered in the alternate world, begin by attempting to destroy the lens that clutches Jack in its grip, compelling him to return repeatedly to the horrific world of cannibals, monsters and death. When they smash it, they inadvertently create a schism between dimensions—their hometown of Glenbrook becomes a terrifying mirror of Marbury with many variations in between—making escape nearly impossible. As in the first, readers will not be sure what is real, what is nightmare, what may be metaphor. Smith has created a fantastically effective, sinister setting and imbued it with characters that are loyal and decent, even at their most desperate. Unrelentingly harsh in tone and language (“Fuck this…I’ll show you who he is. We’ll fucking go kill him. I’ll bring back his fucking head”), this will be devoured by fans of the first, despite the fact that it offers few clear answers, right to the surprisingly gentle and wise conclusion.
Brilliant and remarkably unsettling.
(Horror/fantasy. 16 & up)
A kick-ass pirate heroine gets into and out of (mostly into) trouble in this invigorating fantasy.
Within the first five pages of this debut, Ananna of the Tanarau ditches her wedding, meant to ally her pirate clan to the Hariri. She may escape this unwanted bond, but she finds herself in another, far more powerful one when she saves the life of Naji, the assassin hired by the Hariri to bring her back or kill her. Now magically connected to the scarred blood magician, she attracts the collateral attention of malignant Otherworldly powers. If she wants any chance at a future that includes her own ship—hell, any future at all—she must quest with Naji for a cure to the curse that binds them together. Clarke’s debut harkens back to the best in fantasy/adventure, offering rock-solid worldbuilding, satisfyingly perilous obstacles and a protagonist whose charismatic ’tude goes way beyond spunk. Ananna’s voice grabs readers from the beginning (“I ain’t never been one to trust beautiful people, and Tarrin of the Hariri was the most beautiful man I ever saw”) and doesn’t let go. Her wry, agreeably foulmouthed (“Sure, sirens are a pain in the ass”) narration is equally smart and funny, incorporating both trenchant observations and frankly beautiful phrasing that never misses a step (“I hadn’t even recognized the hope for what it was until it got dragged away from me”).
A ripsnorting series opener; may the sequels arrive soon. (Fantasy. 13 & up)
Two unlikely teens find a connection despite the reluctance of one and the vastly different life obstacles they confront.
Autumn Knight is good at several things: She's a great friend, a terrific cook and a fiercely competitive wrestler, the only girl on her team. She is not good at reading or most of her other school subjects. Despite this, she is drawn to the smartest boy in school and determined that he will like her in return. Adonis Miller, severely physically disabled since birth, wants no part of Autumn. She is everything he hates: “I despise her. Nothing about her appeals to me. All those muscles. Not to mention her IQ. I’m sure it’s exceptionally low.” Since he was a little boy, he has striven to be the best at whatever he attempts, from academics to school leadership. His role as manager of the wrestling team often brings him into contact with Autumn, and he has trouble reconciling the successful athlete with the irritating girl who haunts his dreams. This brilliantly realized story is told alternately in their two distinctive voices, and readers will cheer Autumn’s spirit and Adonis’ drive. The narrative is further enriched by intriguing secondary characters, including Autumn’s best friend Patricia (aka Peaches), who has her own secrets, and the loving parents and caring teachers of both teens.
An uplifting story that convincingly celebrates the power of perseverance.
(Fiction. 14 & up)
The wild freedom of the imagination and the heart, and the tragedy of lives ended just as success is within view—such a powerful story is that of the Brontë children.
Reef’s gracefully plotted, carefully researched account focuses on Charlotte, whose correspondence with friends, longer life and more extensive experience outside the narrow milieu of Haworth, including her acquaintance with the novelist Elizabeth Gaskell, who became her biographer, revealed more of her personality. She describes the Brontë children’s early losses of their mother and then their two oldest siblings, conveying the imaginative, verbally rich life of children who are essentially orphaned but share both the wild countryside and the gifts of story. Brother Branwell’s tragic struggle with alcohol and opium is seen as if offstage, wounding to his sisters and his father but sad principally because he never found a way to use literature to save himself. Reef looks at the 19th-century context for women writers and the reasons that the sisters chose to publish only under pseudonyms—and includes a wonderful description of the encounter in which Anne and Charlotte revealed their identities to Charlotte’s publisher. She also includes brief, no-major-spoilers summaries of the sisters’ novels, inviting readers to connect the dots and to understand how real-life experience was transformed into fiction.
A solid and captivating look at these remarkable pioneers of modern fiction.
(notes and a comprehensive bibliography)
A dark and dangerous thrill ride pushes teen readers to the brink of their comfort zones when it comes to issues of love, lust, politics, family and war.
Despite repeated warnings, Jamie can’t resist the sexy and mysterious Caro. He would do anything for her, and she knows it. What he doesn’t know is that Caro and his older brother Rob have a secret past. Rees revels in an unapologetic exploration of extremes in this smart and well-crafted novel. The brothers are perfect foils for each other, with Jamie an eager-to-please, typical teen, and Rob a menacing and tragic war veteran prone to terrifyingly violent outbursts. Though Caro’s manipulations of the brothers for her own political gain drive the action of the story, the relationship between the two siblings provides its molten emotional core. As Rob becomes increasingly unhinged, Jamie’s desperation to claim Caro as his own and to assert himself in his relationship with his brother becomes a matter of life and death.
Though the portrayal of Rob’s deteriorating mental state is raw and often uncomfortable, in the end, the honest, uncensored storytelling makes this a tale that will stay with readers long after the final page is turned.
(Fiction. 14 & up)
War has been declared, and the young, royal, exiled FitzOsbornes are immediately in the thick of things as Cooper's Montmaray Journals trilogy comes to its conclusion.
Their island kingdom of Montmaray was captured by the Nazis several years earlier, and they have been living in London ever since. Teenagers at the start of the war, they are flung headlong into adulthood; Simon and King Toby are in the Royal Air Force, Princess Veronica does something secret in the Foreign Office, and Princess Sophie works in the Food Ministry, where she churns out information regarding rationing. It is her voice, as true and clear as ever in her long-running journal, that paints a detailed and nuanced portrait of life in the madness of war, with its deprivations, bombings and disruptions; devastating damage to life, property and spirit; constant fear, heartbreaking loss and brief moments of giddy laughter. The family is foremost in the narrative, but the wider cast of characters includes Churchill, the Kennedys and several other historical figures. Seamlessly weaving fiction with fact, Cooper makes it all personal. Modern readers, whether or not they know more than a few basic facts about that era, will be completely caught up in Sophie’s nightmare and will gain an understanding that only the best historical fiction can provide. (Readers are advised not to peek at the family tree, as it contains spoilers.)
When a stone giant is found on a farm in upstate New York, William Newell sees the chance to get rich quickly.
On October 16, 1869, in Cardiff, N.Y., Gideon Emmons and Henry Nichols went to William Newell’s farm to dig a well. After a few hours of hard digging, they hit stone and eventually unearthed a 10-foot stone man, so anatomically detailed that examiners suggested a fig leaf in case the “unclothed giant might provoke the village women to have sinful thoughts.” Was it an “old Indian”? A Stone Giant of Onondaga legend? A petrified man? Farmer Newell capitalized on the “discovery,” and before long, lines of people were paying good money for the chance to see the marvel, demonstrating that Charles Ponzi and Bernie Madoff were not the first to make money on people’s will to believe. Murphy effectively recreates the place and times that made the Cardiff Giant famous, building on solid and well-documented research. A generous mix of newspaper illustrations, carnival posters and photographs lend a period feeling to the thoroughly engaging volume.
After reading this fascinating story, young people will appreciate the old expression, spawned by this very hoax, “There’s a sucker born every minute.” (research notes, source notes, bibliography, photo credits, index) (Nonfiction. 10-14)
In a follow-up that turns the Breadwinner Trilogy into a quartet, 15-year-old Parvana is imprisoned and interrogated as a suspected terrorist in Afghanistan.
When her father’s shoulder bag is searched, Parvana’s captors find little of apparent value—a notebook, pens and a chewed-up copy of To Kill a Mockingbird. Parvana refuses to talk; her interrogator doesn’t even know if she can speak. The interrogator reads aloud the words in her notebook to decide if the angry written sentiments of a teenage girl can be evidence of guilt. Parvana is stoic, her keen mind ever alert as she has to “stand and listen to her life being spouted back at her,” a life in a land where warplanes are as “common as crows,” where someone was always “tasting dirt, having their eardrums explode and seeing their world torn apart.” The interrogation, the words of the notebook and the effective third-person narration combine for a thoroughly tense and engaging portrait of a girl and her country. This passionate volume stands on its own, though readers new to the series and to Ellis’ overall body of work will want to read every one of her fine, important novels.
Readers will learn much about the war in Afghanistan even as they cheer on this feisty protagonist.
(Fiction. 11 & up)
Torture and treasure, treason and trust, and the triumph of true love: All come to fruition in the stirring conclusion to this epic fantasy series.
Raisa ana'Marianna has claimed the Gray Wolf throne, but her grip is tenuous: Every faction—clans, wizards, army, flatlanders—both within and without the Fells hates all the others, and each pushes Raisa to accept its preferred candidate for consort. Meanwhile, Han Alister has taken his seat on the Wizard Council at the queen's command, but every other member secretly wants to use him or kill him. Furthermore, there are the mysterious murders of wizards, marked with Han's old streetlord sign; all this disarray signals a weakness that encourages invading armies from the South. Together, Han and Raisa seek the long-lost Armory of the Gifted Kings as the only way to avoid re-enacting a 1,000-year-old tragedy; but to wield such a weapon may well trigger an even greater catastrophe. Chima manages to resolve this impossibly tangled skein of politics, intrigue, history, prejudice and passion with style and grace. Grim scenes of shocking violence alternate with moments of tenderness and humor, and the high body count is balanced by the almost fairy-tale–romantic conclusion. While some of the depth and complexities of the supporting characters—along with the nuanced subtleties of their conflicting worldviews—are sacrificed to help demonize (or valorize) their respective positions, nothing can overshadow the cathartic satisfaction for those caught up in this sweeping saga.