This YA series opener creates a vivid, evocative foundation for a potential fantasy series.

GLOW OF THE FIREFLIES

In Duga’s (Kiss of the Royal, 2018) YA fantasy novel, a teenager discovers that her childhood trauma has allowed her to forge a connection to a magical realm, and may help her find her missing mother.

Sixteen-year-old Briony “Brye” Redwrell is a competitive swimmer in Knoxville, Tennessee. She plans to spend the summer with her best friend, Isabelle “Izzie” Jennison. After a particularly tough meet, she learns that her grandmother, Willa Kaftan, has broken her leg. Willa lives alone in the Smoky Mountains, in an area called Firefly Valley. Brye’s dad sends her to care for Willa, causing mixed emotions. Ten years ago, Brye experienced a house fire in the valley, during which she lost all her memories up to that point. Her mother, Heather, seemingly abandoned her family during the chaos. Thankfully, Izzie joins Brye on her excursion to the Smokies. Soon after they arrive, Brye learns that the charred remains of her old home are scheduled for demolition. Visiting the site triggers memories of the fire, and of her mother. She soon encounters an attractive young man whom she doesn’t remember—yet his “mere touch” triggers a “powerful sense of nostalgia.” After a supernatural event, Brye realizes that to uncover her past, she must learn to trust people, starting with the young man, who calls himself Alder. Duga conjures a classic American landscape and a sublimely sensuous adventure. The emotional complexity of loving a place as though it were a person—and vice versa—is embodied by this description of the energy radiating from Alder: “The essence of the Smokies...the world’s best aftershave....it was distractingly intoxicating.” Brye learns of realms beyond the purely physical, and meets a spirit emissary named Raysh, who appears as a translucent fox. Elegant fantasy components, such as “mana” (the aforementioned energy), elemental gates, and giant animal deities are reminiscent of the work of genre greats, such as J.R.R. Tolkien and Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki. There are occasional references to modern teenage life—to Instagram, for example—but they never intrude for long. A pleasant finale and the promise of further trips to Firefly Valley should please audiences.

This YA series opener creates a vivid, evocative foundation for a potential fantasy series.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-64063-731-3

Page Count: 350

Publisher: Entangled: Teen

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2019

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A familiar but heartfelt romance for easygoing readers.

ADORKABLE

In O’Gorman’s YA debut, two best friends try to fool people into thinking that they’re in love—and then discover a new facet of their relationship.

Sally Spitz is a frizzy-haired 17-year-old girl with a charming zeal for three things: Harry Potter (she’s a Gryffindor), Star Wars, and getting into Duke University. During her senior year of high school, she goes on a slew of miserable dates, set up by her mother and her own second-best–friend–turned-matchmaker, Lillian Hooker. Sally refuses to admit to anyone that she’s actually head over Converses in love with her longtime best friend, a boy named Baldwin Eugene Charles Kent, aka “Becks.” After a particularly awkward date, Sally devises a plan to end Lillian’s matchmaking attempts; specifically, she plans to hire someone to act as her fake boyfriend, or “F.B.F.” But before Sally can put her plan into action, a rumor circulates that Sally and Becks are already dating. Becks agrees to act as Sally’s F.B.F. in exchange for a box of Goobers and Sally’s doing his calculus homework for a month. Later, as they hold hands in the hall and “practice” make-out sessions in Becks’ bedroom, their friendship heads into unfamiliar territory. Over the course of this novel, O’Gorman presents an inviting and enjoyable account of lifelong friendship transforming into young love. Though the author’s reliance on familiar tropes may be comforting to a casual reader, it may frustrate those who may be looking for a more substantial and less predictable plot. A number of ancillary characters lack very much complexity, and the story, overall, would have benefited from an added twist or two. Even so, however, this remains a largely engaging and often endearing debut. 

A familiar but heartfelt romance for easygoing readers.

Pub Date: Dec. 3, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-64063-759-7

Page Count: 340

Publisher: Entangled: Teen

Review Posted Online: Jan. 7, 2020

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Well-drawn characters and playful twists keep this thriller fully charged.

MALICE

This YA SF novel features a teen who must halt a virus that will kill two-thirds of humanity.

In Silver Oak, Maryland, Alice Sherman is a high school junior enjoying lunch near her campus basketball court. With her is Archie, her brother, a senior and science prodigy who likes equations more than his fellow students. Alice has been Archie’s one true friend since their mother left six years ago. Alice is about to catch up with Lalana Bunyasarn, her best friend, when a sudden “streak of electricity zaps through” her head. The agony intensifies until a Voice enters Alice’s mind, asking her, “Do you want this pain to stop?” The Voice then instructs her to go up to Bandit Sakda, a classmate playing basketball, and say that she loves him. Bandit is a beautiful Thai boy who’s talented and arrogant. Strangely, the Voice calls her Malice and says not to fall for him because “it’ll only make what you have to do later harder.” Eventually, Alice learns that the Voice belongs to someone from 10 years in the future who needs help saving humanity. A virus will be created by a person Alice knows that will wipe out two-thirds of the world population. Following the Voice’s directions can save everyone—except the person Alice is ordered to kill. Dunn’s (Star-Crossed, 2018, etc.) latest YA adventure offers increasingly tantalizing twists that gleam in succession like nested matryoshka dolls. Alice will charm readers with her quirks, especially her devotion to Chris Hemsworth of Marvel’s Avengers films. Tension builds as characters in the large cast, including crushworthy Zeke Cain and the brilliant Cristela Ruiz, become potential targets for Alice’s mission. Details about Thai culture add a splendid dimension to the narrative; for example, Bandit is pronounced “bun-dit” and means “one who is wise.” While the notion of a high school killer may not sit well with some, the author doesn’t use the device lightly. Her book takes a strong anti-bullying stance, doing so through an entertaining narrative that doesn’t resort to preaching. The author’s heart and craftiness make a sequel welcome.

Well-drawn characters and playful twists keep this thriller fully charged.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-64063-412-1

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Entangled: Teen

Review Posted Online: Jan. 16, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2020

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