A strong, gentle, smart and powerful book about suicide’s aftermath.
Emily Beam is no goody-goody. She breaks the rules of the Amherst School for Girls—a boarding school in Massachusetts where her parents have placed her after her boyfriend Paul’s suicide and her abortion—when she feels she needs to. But the rules are broken in the service of her agency. Emily is driven to write out her grief and horror (Paul shot himself in front of her in her former school’s library) in private poems she models after her inspiration, Emily Dickinson (another one-time Amherst resident). Teasing out strands of the past and the present, Hubbard masterfully twines together a story of one girl’s journey to self-identity. In past-tense flashbacks, readers learn the circumstances of Emily and Paul’s relationship, while the poems Emily writes in her present-day environment infuse those same circumstances with newly realized perceptions. The narrative switches to present tense when it relates Emily’s current life in boarding school, a fresh and unexplored world with emerging possibilities as well as potential pitfalls. The layered story evolves naturally as Emily’s creative courage first unravels and then reassembles her understanding of what has happened to her and what part she has played.
As graceful as a feather drifting down, this lyrical story delivers a deep journey of healing on a tragic theme.
A meanderingly funny, weirdly compelling and thoroughly brilliant chronicle of “the end of the world, and shit like that.”
This is not your everyday novel of the apocalypse, though it has the essential elements: a (dead) mad scientist, a fabulous underground bunker, voracious giant praying mantises and gobs of messy violence. As narrated by hapless Polish-Iowan sophomore Austin Szerba, though, the “shit like that” and his love for it all take center stage: his family, including his older brother, whose testicles and one leg are blown off in Afghanistan; his mute, perpetually defecating golden retriever; the dead-end town of Ealing, Iowa; his girlfriend, Shann Collins, whom he desperately wants to have sex with; and most importantly, his gay best friend, Robby Brees, to whom he finds himself as attracted as he is to Shann. His preoccupation with sex is pervasive; the unlikeliest things make Austin horny, and his candor in reporting this is endearing. In a cannily disjointed, Vonnegut-esque narrative, the budding historian weaves his account of the giant-insect apocalypse in and around his personal family history and his own odyssey through the hormonal stew that is adolescence. He doesn’t lie, and he is acutely conscious of the paradox that is history: “You could never get everything in a book. / Good books are always about everything.”
By that measure, then, this is a mighty good book. It is about everything that really matters. Plus voracious giant praying mantises. (Science fiction. 14 & up)
In this sequel to Amber House (2012), the creepy atmosphere of its predecessor segues into full-blown terror when its heroine finds herself in a world where Nazis and racism prevail.
Picking up where Amber House left off, Sarah Parsons finds herself in a new version of history, created when she altered time by saving her beloved brother, Sammy, and her aunt, Maggie. While the people in her life are the same, the backdrop is different: Racism reigns where she lives in Maryland, part of what is now known as the American Confederation of States. As confusing memories and an overwhelming sense of déjà vu set in, Sarah realizes what she has done—and what she must now do. With the help of Amber House, the “echoes” of her ancestors, and her clairvoyant love interest, Jackson, she vows to once again change history and right the wrongs she inadvertently caused. This installment presents a stark departure from the preceding volume; gone are the creepy ghost children and specters in mirrors, now replaced by Sarah’s confident knowledge that these ghosts are there to guide her. The authors’ vision of this alternate, broken United States slowly comes into focus, rather as a ghost might materialize in the background. Sure, ghosts are scary, but a world where the Holocaust lasted for 75 years and may continue? That’s inconceivably frightening.
A wild ride that leaves its readers breathless for the final installment.
(Supernatural thriller. 13 & up)
In the woods above the quiet mountain village of Nag’s End, five soldiers of the king are mysteriously killed.
Village elders presume it was a wolf attack, but Tom and his brother Jude are convinced that no animal could have inflicted the horror that they saw up on icy Beggar’s Drift. Tom’s best friend, Rowan Rose, is warned by her scholar father not to succumb to the others’ fear of witches, goblins and wood sprites. But it becomes hard to ignore the strange goings-on, especially after Fiona Eira, a cousin Rowan never knew she had, arrives. Tom, who’s looking for a “grand love,” thinks he’s found it with the enchanting Fiona. He gives her a coin he found on Beggar’s Drift that may be connected to a greater evil than anyone imagined. A complex, layered plot highlights a split between those who cling to traditional beliefs and young people who look for rational explanations for what turns out to be a string of grisly deaths in the village and surrounding forest. Twists and turns keep readers in suspense as Rowan, Fiona, Tom and Jude navigate a convoluted path through sibling rivalry and friendship en route to adulthood.
With stylish prose, richly developed characters and well-realized worldbuilding, Templeman plumbs archetypes of folklore to create a compelling blend of mythic elements and realistic teen experience
. (Fantasy. 12-17)
In a lyrical and hard-hitting exploration of betrayal and healing, the son of a Connecticut socialite comes to terms with his abuse at the hands of a beloved priest.
From the moment readers see Aidan escape his mother’s Christmas Eve party to snort Adderall in his absent father’s opulent office, it is clear that the teen is unhappy. Some of the reasons emerge when Aidan witnesses Father Greg, a priest he greatly admires, in an intimate—and, refreshingly, not graphically described—moment with a younger boy. The first thing Aidan feels in reaction to the sight is hurt that Aidan himself is not the only boy to have received Father Greg’s attention. Only over time, and through the cracks of Aidan’s denial and attempts to ignore the truth, do readers begin to see other reactions: anger, disgust, the need to re-enact Father Greg’s coercions with his peers. The story is set in late 2001 and early 2002, and the news stories of the time—the 9/11 attacks, the capture of John Walker Lindh, and eventually, devastatingly, the Catholic Church abuse scandals—are woven in easily and seamlessly. Each of Aidan’s relationships is carefully and subtly drawn, revealed slowly through Aidan’s elegant, pained and often circumspect narration.
Often bleak, eventually hopeful and beautifully told.
(Historical fiction. 14 & up)
Billy Dean is the forbidden child of a priest and a hairdresser, born in the English village of Blinkbonny on a day of terrible destruction and locked away for all his 13 years.
Much to the chagrin of his tempestuous, estranged father, Billy Dean struggles with words: “He wos a secrit shy & thick & tungtied emptyheded thing.” He’s a lonely boy, longing for his father’s rare visits, muddling through Bible stories, and scratching out letters and pictures on dried-out mouse skins with blood-mixed ink. When Billy’s lovely Mam finally exposes her son to the war-ravaged “shattad payvments” of Blinkbonny, Billy is overwhelmed…and utterly wonderstruck. Local medium Missus Malone has her own plans for Billy, and as rumors spread of “The Aynjel Childe” and his power to cure the sick and speak to the dead, the boy becomes another kind of prisoner entirely. Skellig-creator Almond’s books are always mystical—close to the warm, dark heartbeats of man and beast—but this one, spelled mostly phonetically to show how Billy Dean might actually have written it, is perhaps even more raw, sensuous and savage.
Dark, unsettling and fluid as water, Almond’s suspenseful tour de force considers the cycle of life, themes of war, God and godlessness, and, as ever, “How all things flow into each other.” (Fiction. 14 & up)
A black teen finds himself sold to a brutal chain gang in post-Reconstruction Georgia.
The period following Reconstruction in the American South was particularly difficult for blacks, many of whom worked on plantations as sharecroppers. Cy Williams and his father, Pete, work for John Strong as he tries to eke out a living on a once-thriving plantation. Cy’s mother has abandoned the family, forever changing Pete. The one friendship Cy has is with Travis, Strong’s young son, who fears his often drunken father. After an enraged Strong abuses the horse beloved by the boys, Travis flees with the animal, and Cy tries to retrieve them—a venture that ends with Travis dead and Cy in peonage, a system by which blacks were sold to work camps or chain gangs for minor infractions or no charges at all. Cy’s life changes from tough to nightmarish as he is linked to other men and boys with little hope of release. This is a story of relentless brutality, with the prisoners enduring almost every possible indignity. There are too few instances of story tension to lift the narrative, with the result that it often feels flat despite the horrors described. Characters are primarily victims and villains, and the use of derogatory racial language is used often to make that point.
A tough, important read, though many readers will need prior background knowledge to fully understand it. (Historical fiction. 14 & up)
From an award-winning Icelandic author comes a parable of hope against a backdrop of unrelenting emotional hardship.
Henry, an outcast with a clubfoot and a stutter, has lived with brutality his whole life. Shunted from school to school by a mother desperate to regain control over her own life, Henry’s anger finally explodes in violence against her. The state sends him to a remote, coastal corner of Iceland to live with other troubled boys at the Home of Lesser Brethren. On a farm run by the neurotically zealous Rev. Oswald and his kind wife, Emily, he feels truly accepted only by the farm animals he tends. Still unable to build relationships with the people around him, his loneliness threatens to overcome him. He finds a kind of inner peace on the lava outcroppings that loom above the sea. With the help of a golden-haired little boy who finds his way into Henry’s heart, he’s finally able to overcome his reticence to communicate and to see that others also struggle with the fine line between good and evil. Erlings’ poetic, graceful language is an overt tribute to Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince.
A powerful, Christian-themed exploration of a journey to self-acceptance and hard-won friendship.
(Fiction. 12 & up)
Mike Klingenberg has just finished another boring, socially awkward year in middle school and is staring down a solitary two-week stint at home, thanks to his mother’s latest round of rehab and his father’s “business trip” with a suspiciously attractive personal assistant. Just as he’s watering the lawn, imagining himself lord of a very small manor in suburban Berlin, class reject Tschick shows up in a “borrowed” old Soviet-era car, and the boys hatch a plan to hit the road. Mike’s rich interior life—he meditates on beauty and the meaning of life and spins self-mocking fantasies of himself as a great essayist—hasn’t translated well to the flirtatious physical swagger required by eighth grade. Tschick, meanwhile, is a badly dressed Russian immigrant who often shows up to school reeking of alcohol and who is also given to profound leaps of psychological insight. Their road trip (destination: Wallachia, a German euphemism for “the middle of nowhere”; also a region of Romania) is peopled by unexpected, often bizarre, largely benign characters who deepen Mike’s appreciation for humanity and life. Each episode in the boys’ journey grows more outrageous, leading readers to wonder how far they’ll go before coming to a literal screeching (and squealing) halt.
In his first novel translated into English, Herrndorf sits squarely and triumphantly at the intersection of literary tall tale and coming-of-age picaresque.
After 20 years of economic recession, the gaps between England’s rich and poor are wider and starker than ever.
Young lovers Lizzie and Adam are keenly aware of the challenges they face: She’s been raised in a bubble of privilege, while he’s from a family barely scraping by due to his father’s disability. Against this backdrop of economic and social inequity, the hot new recreational drug is Death, which gives its users one extraordinary last week of life, followed by, well, death. Adam and Lizzie are curious, but they steer clear of Death until Adam’s brother, Jess, who’s been keeping their family afloat financially as a chemist, is suddenly revealed to be a member of the revolutionary political group the Zealots (akin to the hacker group Anonymous, if they resorted to self-immolation and suicide bombings). Shattered by the news of his brother’s secret life and presumed death, Adam attends a disastrous party with Lizzie, steals a stash of Death and in a reckless moment of grief, takes the drug. From there, the plot—jam-packed with ill-advised escapades, secret identities, fights and chases—threatens to spiral out of control, but in spite of some Grand Guignol violence administered by grotesque villains just this side of Carl Hiaasen, Burgess’ surprisingly gritty hero and heroine are able to enjoy some muted hopefulness for their pains.
Refreshingly rooted in the issues of the day, Burgess’ near-future thriller stands out.
(Dystopian thriller. 15-18)
Rich characterization, exquisite worldbuilding and rock-solid storytelling make this a fantasy of unusual intelligence and depth.
Brilliant and wealthy Lady Kestrel seems destined for either an illustrious military career or a magnificent marriage, but all she cares about is her music—a passion her Valorian culture disdains, almost as much as they despise the Herrani they have enslaved. After Kestrel pays an outrageous sum for the slave Arin, society has even more to gossip about, particularly when Kestrel betrays her growing attachment to him. But Arin harbors his own deadly secrets, and the price might cost Kestrel everything she holds dear. Precise details and elegant prose make this world fresh and vivid. The intricate and suspenseful plot, filled with politics, intrigue and even graphic violence, features neither heroes nor villains; every character displays a complex mixture of talents, flaws and motives. Kestrel is an especially compelling protagonist, both determined and hesitant, honest and manipulative, ferociously observant and painfully naïve. Her bond with Arin develops slowly and naturally from congruent personalities. As much as it informs their choices, neither can (nor wishes to) elevate an impossible romance over loyalty to friends, family or nation. This integrity keeps them apart right through the heartbreaking (yet necessary) conclusion—but also kindles a tiny spark of hope for the next volume in the trilogy.
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.