Eight short stories with long memory cut to the quick—all the more as they could be true.
Patrick’s tales from the distant and not-so-distant past shed fresh light on interracial and intraracial conflicts that shape and often distort the realities of African-Americans. The youthful characters possess passion and purpose, even if they remain misguided or too proud to live safely within their historically situated habitats. In one story, “Colorstruck,” Hazel absorbs everything Miss Clotille, her light-skinned, middle-class Negro employer, has taught her: how to say etiquette instead of manners and teal and magenta instead of green and purple, and to wear shoes in public. Living in the shadow of Clotille and her five fair-skinned sisters, Hazel believes that blackness will impede her upward social mobility. She loses her job and nearly loses her life by placing her faith in “Beauty Queen Complexion Clarifier…guaranteed to brighten, lighten and heighten your natural beauty!” As the visage of the “ideal Colored woman” floats through this tale, it illuminates the multifaceted sources of self-hatred and enmity within black families around skin color. The plots and characters change from one story to the next, but each one artfully tells a poignant truth without flinching. Shocking, informative and powerful, this volume offers spectacular literary snapshots of black history and culture. (Short stories. 12-18)
Shocking, informative and powerful, this volume offers spectacular literary snapshots of black history and culture(Short stories. 12-18)
A devastating tale of greed and secrets springs from the summer that tore Cady’s life apart.
Cady Sinclair’s family uses its inherited wealth to ensure that each successive generation is blond, beautiful and powerful. Reunited each summer by the family patriarch on his private island, his three adult daughters and various grandchildren lead charmed, fairy-tale lives (an idea reinforced by the periodic inclusions of Cady’s reworkings of fairy tales to tell the Sinclair family story). But this is no sanitized, modern Disney fairy tale; this is Cinderella with her stepsisters’ slashed heels in bloody glass slippers. Cady’s fairy-tale retellings are dark, as is the personal tragedy that has led to her examination of the skeletons in the Sinclair castle’s closets; its rent turns out to be extracted in personal sacrifices. Brilliantly, Lockhart resists simply crucifying the Sinclairs, which might make the family’s foreshadowed tragedy predictable or even satisfying. Instead, she humanizes them (and their painful contradictions) by including nostalgic images that showcase the love shared among Cady, her two cousins closest in age, and Gat, the Heathcliff-esque figure she has always loved. Though increasingly disenchanted with the Sinclair legacy of self-absorption, the four believe family redemption is possible—if they have the courage to act. Their sincere hopes and foolish naïveté make the teens’ desperate, grand gesture all that much more tragic.
Riveting, brutal and beautifully told.
(Fiction. 14 & up)
Sulky metal head boy meets artsy gamer girl. Awkward teenage love ensues.
When Lesh’s and Svetlana’s worlds collide—literally—in Saint Paul, Minn., it precipitates a time-honored culture clash wherein magic happens, but that’s where predictability ends. In a first-person narration that alternates between the boy in black and the girl dungeon master, Brezenoff conjures a wry, wise and deeply sympathetic portrait of the exquisite, excruciating thrill of falling in love. What might easily have been a stale retread feels fresh and lively in Brezenoff’s hands; he weaves multiple perspectives (school life, game life, dream life) together in threads that tangle into an inevitable knot, with startling consequences. The realistic dialogue, internal and otherwise, captures the uncomfortably iterative process of adolescent self-discovery as Lesh and Svetlana struggle to figure out who they are and what they stand for. The typical obstacles to true love (tempting teen sirens, parents who just don’t understand) are handily and gently overcome, and a subplot involving a jealous suitor peters out unexpectedly early. The juxtaposition of live, real-time role-playing games like Dungeons and Dragons against the detached anonymity of MMORPGs, plus a playfully thoughtful exploration of gender identity and politics, gives the novel depth and heart that will appeal to audiences beyond the gaming set.
This is not the teen love story you’ve read a thousand times before.
(Fiction. 14 & up)
Oliver makes a white-knuckle return to realism that will have readers up until the wee hours.
They’ll be desperate to learn who will win—and even more importantly, who will survive—Panic, a secret game that pits player against player in mental and physical challenges designed to push them to the breaking point. Heather Nill never planned to play, but with a broken heart and nothing to lose, once she’s in, nothing is going to keep her from walking away with the $67,000 prize. Desperate to get out of Carp, N.Y., and determined to protect her sister Lily, Heather puts her life on the line time and again for a shot at a brighter future. Dodge Mason is playing for revenge, and he knows exactly how he is going to get it. After years of planning, nothing, not even the promise of new love, is going to stand in his way. Dodge is going to use the game to right an unforgiveable wrong, even if it kills him. Set in a town so run-down the grit is practically palpable, the book makes suspension of disbelief easy. Readers will understand how the deliberately built characters would and could do just about anything for a shot at getting out.
The only thing more terrifying than the game itself is not getting the chance to play it.
(Thriller. 14 & up)
Basketball-playing twins find challenges to their relationship on and off the court as they cope with changes in their lives.
Josh Bell and his twin, Jordan, aka JB, are stars of their school basketball team. They are also successful students, since their educator mother will stand for nothing else. As the two middle schoolers move to a successful season, readers can see their differences despite the sibling connection. After all, Josh has dreadlocks and is quiet on court, and JB is bald and a trash talker. Their love of the sport comes from their father, who had also excelled in the game, though his championship was achieved overseas. Now, however, he does not have a job and seems to have health problems the parents do not fully divulge to the boys. The twins experience their first major rift when JB is attracted to a new girl in their school, and Josh finds himself without his brother. This novel in verse is rich in character and relationships. Most interesting is the family dynamic that informs so much of the narrative, which always reveals, never tells. While Josh relates the story, readers get a full picture of major and minor players. The basketball action provides energy and rhythm for a moving story.
Poet Alexander deftly reveals the power of the format to pack an emotional punch.
(Verse fiction. 9-12)
A thriller that challenges readers’ understanding of the universe.
Laureth’s best-selling novelist father, Jack Peak, left for Switzerland to research his latest book, so why did his notebook turn up in New York City? In this departure from Sedgwick’s atmospheric historical fiction and fantasy, the British 16-year-old (named for a shampoo ingredient) suspects foul play. Seizing on her parents’ troubled marriage and her mother’s trip to visit family, Laureth books a flight to New York. She also takes her younger brother, Benjamin, not just because she’s in charge of him, but because she needs him: Laureth is blind. After recovering the notebook, she learns more about her father’s latest idea-turned-obsession. Well-known for his humorous books, Jack Peak experienced a coincidence that changed his life—and writing. Since then, he’s been chasing down answers to Carl Jung’s theory of synchronicity, more commonly known as coincidence. Snippets of his notebook offer true, fascinating revelations about Albert Einstein, Wolfgang Pauli, Edgar Allan Poe and other scientists and authors involved in exploring coincidence. Now the determined teen uses the notebook (excerpts of which are printed in faux handwriting interspersed throughout the narrative) to search for clues about her missing father. In short, taut chapters, her first-person narration allows readers to experience the intrigue through her abilities and shows her tender relationship with Benjamin.
It’s no coincidence that Sedgwick has crafted yet another gripping tale of wonder.
(Thriller. 13 & up)
A teenage baseball star struggles not only with game-day stress, but also with the ever-present fear that his world is about to end.
Brock Nickerson, whose name was Tommy last week, has more than his fair share of problems. Just like plenty of other kids, he worries about finals, baseball and bullies, but he also has to think about which microwave meal he’ll heat up for himself for dinner and when his dad will announce it’s time for them to leave again. For good. His dad’s job is mysterious and dangerous, and it requires them to stay on the run. Moving abruptly has only gotten harder as Brock gets older, and when he finds a great baseball coach and a good friend—and a potential girlfriend—the thought of leaving it all behind terrifies him even more. Best-selling author and former NFL defensive end Green delivers a riveting book about the complexities of being a teenager caught in unusual circumstances beyond his control. His writing is both compelling and intelligent, and even the implausible scenes—like a visit from a baseball great—still maintain a feel of authenticity. Even readers who aren’t sports fans will find plenty of familiar drama and entertainment in this book.
Exciting, romantic and thought-provoking, this book scores a home run.
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.
Drawn from both video gaming culture and the rich tapestry of Jamaican myth and folklore, blending pointed social satire and mystical philosophy, this exuberant, original hero’s journey is a real trip.
Dylan’s one stressed-out sixth grader. His health’s iffy, he’s a target for bullies, and his eccentric sister, Emma—three years younger, but taller and in the same accelerated class—is a huge embarrassment. Now the Professor, their ornithologist guardian, has lost her job. No wonder he often feels “like he had sixteen browser windows open in his head all at once.” Dylan escapes into the world of “Xamaica,” an exciting video game at which he excels. With his friend Eli, and Emma tagging along, Dylan enters a tournament sponsored by the game’s manufacturer that promises a big payoff. “Xamaica” proves to be more than a video game. Guided by Ines, the CEO’s daughter, they probe its mysteries and, after Emma’s pulled into the game, search for her there, meeting Nestuh, a Rastafarian spider, a squadron of hummingbirds with a Wall Street mindset, the mysterious Nanni (good witch or villain?) and a host of other equally colorful beings. The debut’s wild plot wobbles at times but, supported by its sturdy premise, always regains its footing. The illustrations, capturing the mystery and menace of Xamaica’s denizens, along with their whimsical charm and pathos, are a treat.
Exhilarating, thought-provoking and one of a kind. (glossary, bibliography) (Fantasy. 10-14)
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)