Bardugo’s Grisha Trilogy comes to a thunderous conclusion.
If opener Shadow and Bone (2012) was a magical coming-of-age story and middle-volume Siege and Storm (2013) was a political thriller, then this third book is an epic quest. Together with faithful childhood friend and would-be lover Mal and the last few remnants of the rebellious Grisha who aided her in the failed rising against the Darkling, Alina leaves the dubious protection of the Rasputin-like Apparat and the zealots who hail her as a saint to go looking for tsarevich Nikolai and for the fabled firebird. They seek Nikolai as the last political hope for Ravka’s future and the firebird for the third amplifier that will make Sun Summoner Alina invincible against the Darkling and powerful enough to unmake the Unsea that divides Ravka in two. Neither quest is easy or obvious, as Bardugo places obstacles both physical and emotional in Alina’s path at every turn. She is most successful at delineating Alina’s internal conflict as she struggles to balance love for Mal against both pragmatism and fondness for Nikolai, desire for peace and justice against naked lust for power. Secondary characters truly come into their own here, particularly the ragtag band of Alina’s Grisha, in whose friendship she finds salvation. Every time readers may think she’s written herself into a corner, Bardugo pulls off a twist that, while surprising, will keep them turning pages furiously.
When the dance team purloins the band’s funding, a fat boy fights back.
Gabe, so fat that even his friends and teachers call him Chunk, has two joys: playing in the school band, his sole source of self-worth, and soda from the vending machine that funds the band. Both joys are stolen from him. A sudden, drastic price increase makes his pop habit unaffordable, and the money that should have been funding summer band camp has been diverted to a new dance team for the cheerleaders. Tired of being a joke and pushover, Gabe fights back, organizing a campaign to save band camp. The animosity between band geeks and jocks quickly escalates, unjustly threatening band’s existence, leading to a vending-machine heist. Coming into his own as a leader, Gabe also deals with emotional pain, and his former-bodybuilder grandfather coaches his physical improvement. The narration is Gabe’s account of the theft, recorded by his lawyer, and this concept fumbles in execution, as Gabe constantly addresses his lawyer, hindering readers’ immersion in the story. Nevertheless, the funny, profane text embraces the idea that nobody is perfect—Gabe himself is a jerk, and his discovery of his own jerkiness prevents him from being a one-note victim and provides delightful organic growth. The funding-feud storyline wraps up too easily, but Gabe’s character growth will satisfy any appetite.
A funny popcorn read with more fiber than empty calories.
In an alternate world where humans and dragons battle over fossil fuels, the tale of one slayer and his bard becomes a celebration of friendship, family, community and calling.
Once, every village had its own dragon slayer, but those days are long gone; now, slayers are drafted by governments or sponsored by corporations. Sixteen-year-old Owen Thorskard, scion of a renowned line, wants to help reverse that—starting with the rural Canadian town of Trondheim. While Owen is brave, dedicated and likable, this story really belongs to Siobhan McQuaid, dauntless bard-in-training. In her witty account, Siobhan learns alongside Owen from his heroic aunt and her blacksmith wife, schemes with classmates to create local Dragon Guards and enlists the entire county in a daring scheme to attack the dragons’ own turf. Humor, pathos and wry social commentary unite in a cleverly drawn, marvelously diverse world. Refreshingly, the focus is on the pair as friends and partners, not on potential romance; Siobhan places as much emphasis on supporting her allies as extolling Owen’s deeds. Smart enough to both avoid unnecessary danger and be scared when appropriate, they prove all the more valiant when tragic sacrifices have to be made.
It may “[take] a village to train a dragon slayer,” but it takes an exceptional dragon slayer to deserve a village—and a storyteller—like this one.
A bright, conflicted hero struggles to free himself from the past’s tightening bonds in this corkscrew of a thriller.
After their troubled young mother’s death in an accidental shooting, Jamie and Cate were adopted by loving, affluent parents in Danville, Calif., themselves still grieving the loss of their two biological children in a car accident. The kids respond differently to their comfortably sheltered existence. Jamie becomes a high-performing student and talented pianist, while Cate, still passionately loyal to the mother Jamie barely remembers, grows into a wild, reckless teen. Released two years after her incarceration for burning down a neighbor’s barn, killing horses and critically maiming a classmate, Cate’s heading for Danville, and Jamie’s terrified of what she’ll do next. Years of treatment with a sympathetic therapist haven’t helped him overcome his bouts of amnesia and, when severely stressed, the loss of sensation in his hands. With his first romance on the horizon, he’s stopped taking his meds, which have deadening side effects. Vivid characterization and Jamie’s sharply observed narration lend credibility to the proceedings and divert attention from a few holes in the logic. In the service of her plot, Kuehn takes liberties with current child welfare practices (some may take issue with the skewed portrait of older-child adoption), but her strong suit—building suspense—is bound to keep even skeptical readers turning pages.
Crushes, missteps and genuine loyalty on the road to deep friendship.
As she enters her senior year of high school, Amy—hemiplegic due to an aneurism following her premature birth and near the top of her class—uses her augmentative and assistive communication device to argue successfully that she needs peer helpers in school rather than adult aides. Her mother, Nicole, is dubious, but Amy knows which buttons to push: “If I’m going to go to college, I need to practice relating to people my own age.” Amy particularly wants to work with Matthew, whose unvarnished honesty fascinates her. Unlike her awkward relationships with her other peer helpers, Amy develops a real friendship with Matthew immediately. Due to their frank conversation and Amy’s quick discovery of Matthew’s OCD, their relationship is balanced and reciprocal, though their growing mutual affection goes largely unaddressed. Unlike its most obvious read-alike, The Fault in Our Stars, this is not a tragic romance: Amy and Matthew’s relationship is messy, fraught and tantalizing, but it’s not threatened with imminent death. McGovern’s triumph is how well she normalizes and highlights the variety of disability experiences among teens and their often circuitous journeys toward claiming their voices and right to self-determination. It’s slightly overplotted and occasionally heavy-handed, but it’s easy to forgive these flaws.
Ultimately, a deeply engaging and rewarding story.
A teenage beach bum turns private eye in this unexpectedly sweet story about friendship and loss from the author of Paranoid Park (2006).
Robert “Cali” Callahan ran away from his Nebraska foster home when he was 14. Now 17, he lives in a kind hippie’s backyard treehouse in Venice Beach, Calif., roams the boardwalk on his skateboard, plays basketball and tries to avoid trouble. When he is asked by a frustrated private investigator to locate another runaway, Cali discovers a natural talent for finding people. At first he’s thrilled to be earning money for nothing more than making a few innocent inquiries. But when Cali agrees to help find a wealthy missing girl named Reese Abernathy, he starts questioning the motivations of the people who are hiring him and finds himself in the middle of a dangerous game of cat and mouse. When Cali ultimately sides with his target instead of his client, the results are tragic and leave him wondering if he made the right decision. Nelson’s spare style and nuanced portrayal of street kids is strongly reminiscent of the classic work of S.E. Hinton. The gritty beach setting, compelling cast of sensitively drawn secondary characters and spot-on dialogue elevate the story beyond that of a typical genre mystery.
The ending hints at Cali’s willingness to take on fresh cases, and readers can only hope that a new teenage private detective series is in the works.
The true story of a 10-year-old who climbed to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro and subsequently summited the tallest mountains on the other six continents by the age of 15.
Inspired by a school mural, 9-year-old Jordan Romero announced to his father his goal to climb each of the Seven Summits, the tallest mountains on each continent. He reached his first, Kilimanjaro, when he was 10 and conquered Everest at 13. At 15, Romero completed his final climb in Antarctica, becoming the youngest person to reach all Seven Summits, plus Mount Carstensz in New Guinea, and setting several world records. Romero’s father and stepmother, both professional athletes, were unwaveringly supportive in helping him achieve his goal. Funding the expeditions was accomplished through corporate sponsorship, T-shirt sales, a lemonade stand and support from small businesses in Jordan’s hometown. Now 17 (and with the assistance of LeBlanc), Jordan vividly chronicles his preparation for the climbs, his impressions of the countries he visited, the dangers and thrills of the ascents, and the physical and emotional endurance required to achieve his goals. A sheaf of color photographs documenting Romero’s climbs is bound into the middle of the book.
Romero’s incredible, inspiring story may not inspire all readers to become record-setting mountaineers, but it will motivate them to set sights on goals of their own to achieve.
A summer of family drama, secrets and change in a small beach town.
Rose’s family has always vacationed in Awago Beach. It’s “a place where beer grows on trees and everyone can sleep in until eleven,” but this year’s getaway is proving less idyllic than those of the past. Rose’s parents argue constantly, and she is painfully aware of her mother’s unhappiness. Though her friendship with Windy, a younger girl, remains strong, Rose is increasingly curious about the town’s older teens, especially Dunc, a clerk at the general store. Jillian and Mariko Tamaki (Skim, 2008) skillfully portray the emotional ups and downs of a girl on the cusp of adolescence in this eloquent graphic novel. Rose waxes nostalgic for past summers even as she rejects some old pursuits as too childlike and mimics the older teens. The realistic dialogue and sensitive first-person narration convey Rose’s naïveté and confusion, and Windy’s comfort in her own skin contrasts with Rose’s uncertainty. Both the text and art highlight small but meaningful incidents as readers gradually learn the truth behind the tension in Rose’s family. Printed in dark blue ink, Jillian Tamaki’s illustrations feature strong, fluid lines, and the detailed backgrounds and stunning two-page spreads throughout the work establish the mood and a compelling sense of place.
The zombie apocalypse begins on a Venturer Scout camping trip in the hills outside of Los Angeles when Cassie’s would-be boyfriend, Mark, reanimates after an unfortunate paintball accident.
It soon becomes appallingly clear that Mark is just the first in a sudden, worldwide phenomenon. In very short order, Cassie and five other camping-trip refugees find themselves in a van headed across the country in hopes of finding the twin sister of one of her companions alive in New York City. Heartbreak, humor, a very large number of crushed skulls and even romance ensue. Titchenell avoids trying to explain the zombies, just plunging her protagonists into a landscape teeming with shambling corpses and littered with abandoned cars. As with any good road trip, the pleasure in this book resides mostly in the evolving relationships among the teens, who must progress from fractious individualism to solidarity in order to survive. For all its formulaic nature, this progress is accomplished with beautiful emotional honesty. The author provides some moments of grace amid the horror: A handful of survivors welcome the teens at the Tulsa Zoo; the kids have an epic movie night at Graceland. Cassie’s first-person “confessions” are smartly paced and voiced, and they end on just the right note.
Readers who don’t mind a little brain spatter on the windshield will be happy they took this particular trip
. (Horror. 12-16)
In a light and gently humorous romance, self-centered Alice learns to run, to cope with disappointment and to consider other people’s feelings.
Alice is heartsick after Yale rejects her Early Action application. However, as a family friend both wise and wisecracking points out in a heavy-handed but nonetheless insightful speech, her crushed feeling is less about Yale itself than about not having gotten her own way. Stubborn, snarky and sometimes glaringly un–self-aware, Alice has a smart retort for everything her mom, dad or family friend Walter tries to tell or offer her. She is kinder to Jenni, the best friend for whom Alice’s parents serve as a sort of surrogate family, but astute readers will notice the imbalances in the pair’s relationship long before Jenni herself points them out. What keeps readers engaged with Alice is her devotion to her beloved pet rat, a comical, curious and deeply lovable creature also named Walter, who inspires enthusiastic and endearing rat-related asides to readers. As Alice follows up on her hastily made New Year’s resolution to start running and meets the kind and driven head of a running shop as well as a down-to-earth and dreamy boy runner, her growth is palpable. Lessons—of the life-skills variety and the SAT-vocabulary variety—are many, but the vibrant characters and lively dialogue make them easy to digest.