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A Debut Novel for Lovers of (or Newbies to) the Greek Classics

Fri, 2014-11-21 07:00

Natalie Haynes’s debut novel is a fascinating mix of Haynes’s diverse interests and talents. A stand-up comedian, television panelist, journalist, and author of a nonfiction book on the Greek classics, Haynes brings all these sources to bear in creating a complex and satisfying narrative. As our reviewer notes, the novel is structured, as a traditional Greek play, into five acts, and offers both perspectives on the teaching of Greek classics: that of the teacher, and that of the student. I haven’t had a chance to read The Furies yet (published in Haynes’s native Britain as Amber Fury), but this review has definitely piqued my interest.

HAYNES, Natalie. The Furies. 304p. St. Martin’s Press. Aug. 2014. Tr $25.99. ISBN  9781250048004. LC 2014016596.

Drawing upon the subject matter from her first nonfiction book, The Ancient Guide to Modern Life (Overlook, 2011), Haynes creates a page-turning portrait of grief set in the modern day. After experiencing a personal trauma when her fiancé is murdered, Alex drastically alters her life by leaving her job as a play director in London and moving to Edinburgh to teach troubled teens drama therapy. Using the Greek classics as course material, the group discusses themes of violence, revenge, and retribution, all issues that parallel the teens’ real lives. An enigmatic element is added to the narrative when diary entries and letters from one of Alex’s students are interspersed with her account, and readers get a dual perspective of what is being taught and what is actually absorbed by the student. Organized into five acts, the flashback structure adds mystery and intrigue to the story, though the tragic ending comes as no surprise. While the five students in Alex’s class often make rash, unwise decisions, teens will relate to the social predicaments they must navigate. This will be especially popular with teens that have difficulty regulating their emotions. As a good introduction for students unfamiliar with the Greek classics, teachers will also appreciate the curriculum connection.—Carrie Shaurette, Dwight-Englewood School, Englewood, NJ

Categories: Library News

A Debut Novel by Indie Rock Darling John Darnielle

Wed, 2014-11-19 07:00

As a (and often the only) member of the indie rock band The Mountain Goats, John Darnielle is responsible for some of the most literate music of the 2000s and early 2010s. This year he turned to the in-no-way-guaranteed-to-succeed extension of that literate nature: a novel. But succeed it does, and I’m not the only one to think so: Wolf in White Van was long-listed for the National Book Award for Fiction. I can’t say I’ve read the rest of NBA’s longlist, but if Darnielle’s book is indicative of their quality, then I’ll have to get to them quickly.

This is a truly remarkable novel, which I’ve decided not to give a starred review to only because I think the teen audience will be fairly limited. Some teens (and some adults, for that matter) will be turned off by the elusive nature of the narrative, as Darnielle keeps pulling away from revealing key facts. And others by the slim plot. But those who stick with it will be greatly rewarded by a tremendous piece of prose, and a very thoughtful exploration of deep themes about violence, responsibility, and the nature of reality. Do yourself a favor and read this book. And while you’re at it, pick up some of Darnielle’s music.

DARNIELLE, John. Wolf in White Van. 207p. Farrar. Sept. 2014. Tr $24. ISBN  9781250048004. LC 2014015427.

Darnielle’s preposterously assured debut novel winds its plot around two tragic incidents. The first, copiously hinted at but not revealed till more than halfway through the novel, results directly in the permanent facial mutilation of the narrator, Sean, at age 17; and indirectly in Sean’s creation of a mail-order role playing game called Trace Italian, designed in part to help him escape from the real world. The second tragedy involves two teen players of Trace Italian taking the game too far into reality, leading to the death of one of the players. The ironic bookends of these two events might seem too programmatic if not for Darnielle’s deft handling of nonlinear storytelling. Sean’s narration is structured around free-associative flashbacks to before and after each tragedy, as well as meditations on Trace Italian, including snippets of gameplay—Sean’s game instructions and the moves of various players. The plot as such is fairly scanty, but the protagonist’s meditations on the events in his life vibrate with intensity and inner depth. And though Sean is an adult in the story’s present day, Darnielle’s psychologically complex portrayal of Sean’s childhood and adolescence, along with the intriguing glimpses at the game, should be more than enough to bring mature teens to this masterful novel.—Mark Flowers, John F. Kennedy Library, Vallejo, CA

Categories: Library News

A Trio of Thrillers

Mon, 2014-11-17 12:00

Valerie Geary‘s debut novel is a family drama, coming-of-age, psychological murder mystery that builds to thriller pitch. Two sisters deal with unusual family dynamics, and put themselves at risk to clear their father’s name.  It seems fitting that one of the authors who has blurbed the novel is Lisa O’Donnell, who won an Alex Award for The Death of Bees, another story of sisters under duress.

Michael Koryta has been writing consistently excellent crime (and horror) novels for several years, and I’m so happy that he has written a book that we can highlight here. Those Who Wish Me Dead stars a teen boy who sees something he never should have seen, and it puts him at terrible risk from some very ugly people. This is a great readalike for Patrick Lee’s Runner, one of my favorite novels of the first half of 2014.

Ben Mezrich‘s latest is in the Indiana Jones tradition. Jack Grady, our adventure-seeking, anthropologist protagonist is opposed by one in a line of women tasked with keeping ancient secrets hidden throughout the ages. Add in exotic locations (we are talking the Seven Wonders of the World), and you get a thrilling launch to a new series.

GEARY, Valerie. Crooked River. 336p. Morrow. Oct. 2014. Tr $25.99. ISBN  9780062326591. LC 2014031348.  

After the sudden death of their mother, sisters Sam, 15, and Ollie, 10, have to live with their hermit father in an Oregonian meadow. Bear, their father, has lived off the grid in a teepee for eight years and this new living arrangement has a trial period of six months stipulated by the girls’ maternal grandparents. Things don’t begin well as the stunning opening sentence reveals, “We found the woman floating facedown in an eddy where Crooked River made a slow bend north, just a stone skip away from the best swimming hole this side of anywhere.” Told in alternating chapters between Sam and Ollie, there’s evidence that points to Bear’s guilt. However, Ollie, who hasn’t spoken since her mother’s death, is sure Bear is not the murderer and is able to convince Sam. When Bear is arrested for the murder of the woman the sisters had discovered in the river, Sam decides it is up to her to prove his innocence. So begins a series of highly questionable and risky actions to do just that. She learns that the dead woman, a reporter, was in town to interview a reclusive local artist. Her digging for proof uncovers a connection between the artist and her father which had a devastating effect on both men. This fast-paced debut novel is filled with memorable characters and the plot twists and turns will keep teens engaged all the way to the final explosive scene.—Jane Ritter, Mill Valley School District, CA

KORYTA, Michael. Those Who Wish Me Dead. 388p. Little, Brown. Jun. 2014. Tr $26. ISBN 9780316122559. LC 2014934962.  

Those looking for a riveting thriller to keep them awake at night need look no further. Thirteen-year-old Jace goes for a forbidden swim in a quarry and witnesses hit men dropping a body into the water. He must stay hidden to testify at a trial, and a hiking program for troubled teens in Montana seems the perfect place. The leader knows that a boy is being hidden within his group, but goes ahead working with the group on survival skills in the mountains as usual. The teens are portrayed realistically and Jace tries to fit in with the others who are there because of delinquency problems. Teen readers will appreciate his role as the smart hero, and will sympathize with the adult characters, especially as they are being murdered by the men who are searching for Jace. The violence is graphic, but the villains needed to be horrid to make the desperate attempt at escape seem reasonable. Tension builds unceasingly even before a terrible forest fire begins.  Koryta is an experienced crime writer with a talent for introducing surprises and portraying a variety of characters.  His teen characters are well written, and readers will look forward to finding more of them in his breath-taking fiction.—Karlan Sick, Library Consultant, New York City

MEZRICH, Ben. Seven Wonders. 314p. Running Pr. Sept. 2014. Tr $26. ISBN 9780762453825. LC 2013957368.  

Moments before his death by ancient ivory javelin, mathematician Jeremy Grady stuffs a flash drive into a keychain knowing that it will be found by his twin brother, anthropologist Jack Grady. It contains information Jeremy discovered that links the modern wonders of the world with the ancient wonders in a way previously unsuspected. Jack is spurred on to discover the meaning of this revelation and the reason for his brother’s murder. The protagonist and his two graduate students meet up with botanist Sloan Costa and travel the world to hunt down artifacts from each of the seven ancient wonders, certain that if placed together, they will lead them to the center of the beginning of all life. They are not alone, however. Ultra-rich Jendari is one of a special line of women tasked through the millennia to manipulate information surrounding those ancient secrets. She is only steps behind Jack and will stop at nothing to discover the center of this ancient inheritance. Jack Grady, handsome and intelligent, is quintessential adventuring anthropologist who will climb 80 feet towers, dive into dark and mysterious pools, and face down crocodiles. Sloan is an able sidekick who uses her scientific mind to deliberate through complicated puzzles as they race to find each important object. While not as intricate and deep as the books by Dan Brown, Michael Crichton, and Robin Cook, teens who enjoy this genre will enjoy this title and look forward to more adventures of this thrill-seeking anthropologist.—Connie Williams, Petaluma High School, CA

Categories: Library News

North of Normal and What is Visible

Fri, 2014-11-14 11:52

On Monday, Angela mentioned that we haven’t had as many nonfiction titles as we’d like this year, and offered up Dr. Mutter’s Marvels for consideration. Today, we’ve got another nonfiction title, this time a memoir, and a novel based on a real person.

The memoir is Cea Sunrise Person’s North of Normal, and Person’s first and middle names are a clue to what her book is about: she grew up in Canada, in hippie-like conditions which quickly turned from free-thinking to straight-up neglect and abuse. At my library teens can’t get enough of these stories of childhood travails: A Child Called It, The Glass Castle, Three Little Words–you name it. Add in a clothing-optional lifestyle and I think this title has tons of teen appeal.

The historical novel, Kimberly Elkins’s What Is Visible, is based on the life of Laura Bridgman, who (Wikipedia tells me) was “the first deaf-blind American child to gain a significant education in the English language, fifty years before the more famous Helen Keller.” Elkins build significant fictions into Bridgman’s life, especially a lover, but the basic facts of her life are there and extraordinary. A great recommendation equally as a coming-of-age novel and as a introduction to this fascinating woman.

PERSON, Cea Sunrise. North of Normal: A Memoir of My Wilderness Childhood, My Unusual Family, and How I Survived Both. photos. 352p. Jul. 2014. HarperCollins. Tr $25.99. ISBN 9780062289865. LC 2013032963.

Mention survival in the Canadian wilderness to teens and they’ll likely recall Brian’s adventures in Gary Paulsen’s curriculum-standard novel Hatchet (Bradbury, 1987). But long before fictional Brian learned to hunt and forage, Cea Sunrise Person’s extended family had erected a patchwork tipi in Northern Alberta, far from the oppression of society and completely off the grid. Person tells her story with candor, poignancy, and humor as she looks back on a childhood of the 1970s unlike that of anyone she’d ever known. Papa Dick, Person’s grandfather, was a free-thinking back-to-basics survivalist with negative feelings toward the American government and strong beliefs about how to live a healthy life. Clothing was discouraged (it impedes natural energy flow), and there was no need for privacy for such natural acts as moving your bowels or having sex. He lectured against the evils of sugar and preservatives and for the benefits of marijuana. Born to 16 year-old Michelle, Person recognized that her mother never really grew up as she aged. Michelle flitted in and out of her daughter’s life, perpetually high on pot and the endorphin rush she got from an endless string of boyfriends. Young Cea spent long days alone, entertaining herself with the help of Michelle’s reluctantly handed down doll and an anthology of children’s literature. Reentering society, she ached for a stable, ordinary life. Teens who enjoy vividly written memoirs that tell of overcoming circumstance—in this case a beyond dysfunctional family, abuse, neglect, transience, and poverty—will devour Person’s captivating book.—Paula J. Gallagher, Baltimore County Public Library, MD

ELKINS, Kimberly. What Is Visible. 307p. photos. Hatchette/Twelve. June 2014. Tr $25. ISBN 9781455528967. LC 2013034399.

While history celebrates Hellen Keller, few remember Laura Bridgman, the woman who proved education possible for the deaf-blind. Born in 1829, Bridgman contracted scarlet fever at two. She lost not only her hearing and sight, but also her ability to smell and taste. Elkins introduces readers to 12-year-old Laura, who has spent the last five years at The Perkins Institute in Boston under the direction of Dr. Samuel Gridley Howe. Laura, known for her ability to learn through tactile signing, typically performs for hundreds at Saturday exhibitions. But this day is different; Charles Dickens has traveled from London to meet who he refers to as “the second wonder of North America.” But an audience with the famous author is nothing compared to Laura’s introduction to Julia Ward, a socialite whom she jealously views as her rival for Dr. Howe’s attention. What Is Visible is a coming-of-age novel unlike any other, one whose nearly locked-in protagonist longs for friendship, love, intimacy and a sense of belonging in a world she can only experience through touch. Elkins widens the narrative to include the viewpoints and stories of Howe, Ward (who becomes the doctor’s wife), and Sarah Wight, Laura’s beloved teacher and companion. The author invents a lover for the bold, sardonic Laura, a brash Irish kitchen girl who becomes an outlet for her pent-up passion. Older teens will enjoy this honest, often heartbreaking historical novel that explores broad themes of love, loss, and sacrifice.—Paula J. Gallagher, Baltimore County Public Library, MD

Categories: Library News

Dr. Mütter’s Marvels

Mon, 2014-11-10 07:39

We’ve suffered from a dearth of adult nonfiction for teens this year, but today I am thrilled to bring you a great recommendation. In fact, Dr. Mütter’s Marvels shares some of the very best qualities of Mary Roach’s iconic Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers, especially a gross-out curiosity factor and great story-telling. Add a larger-than-life subject and you have narrative nonfiction magic. Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz tells her story with gusto, taking the reader from the hospitals of Paris to the great medical colleges of Philadelphia in the first half of the 19th century. 

There is a lot of medical history here, but it is so unbelievable, so over-the-top (yet true!) that readers will be riveted. Mütter himself is quite a character, from being orphaned as a child to sailing for Paris alone without a dime, to his entertaining teaching style, his incredible bravado and talent for developing new plastic surgery techniques, and a real empathy for his patients, many of whom were societal outcasts due to their terrible deformities.

Back matter includes extensive paged source notes, which allow the narrative to flow like a novel. Illustrations (carefully credited) are black & white, and include sketches of patients, anatomical drawings, and photographs of equipment or works of art depicting a surgical theater from the time period, for example.

*APTOWICZ, Cristin O’Keefe. Dr. Mütter’s Marvels: A True Tale of Intrigue and Innovation at the Dawn of Modern Medicine. 371p. illus. index. notes. photos. Penguin/Gotham. Sept. 2014. Tr $27.50. ISBN  9781592408702. LC 2014014747.  

You wouldn’t want to be a patient undergoing surgery in Philadelphia in the 1830s. Anesthesia hadn’t yet been invented, so a cup of wine would be used to dull your senses prior to the procedure. A crowd would watch in the operating theater, and the best you could hope for was a surgeon who was quick enough to lessen your stress and pain, but slow enough to do the job correctly. If you were really lucky, he might wash his hands. After the operation, you’d be promptly sent home in a carriage, bouncing on cobblestone streets. When Dr. Thomas Dent Mütter burst onto the scene, medicine was ripe for change. Aptowicz introduces readers to the pioneering young surgeon responsible for helping to lead a revolution.  Mütter stood out in his field as much for his handsome good looks and colorful silk suits as his engaging, outsize personality. Known for his compassionate way with patients, he saw possibilities in the new field of plastic surgery for helping those with debilitating physical deformities. Informed by an abundance of research, Aptowicz’s crackling prose brings the surgeon to life, immersing readers in the shocking world of primitive medicine in the pre-Civil War era. She gives ample page time to his contemporaries, including those who held vastly opposing views on the best way to treat patients. Chock-full of fascinating facts and anecdotes, this page-turning biography will engage those teens who enjoy narrative nonfiction.—Paula J. Gallagher, Baltimore County Public Library, MD

Categories: Library News

Historical Fiction Round-Up

Thu, 2014-11-06 12:25

I have to say I expected more World War I books this year, considering it is the Centennial of that war. We did have the fabulous poetry collection/graphic novel Above the Dreamless Dead. But other than that we haven’t seen a huge push for books about the Great War. One book under review today takes place during World War I, but The End of Innocence was actually first published two years ago under the title Harvard 1914. Perhaps American publishers are waiting for the Centennial of America’s entrance into the war in 1917?

In any case, the three books reviewed today take us throughout the 20th Century and throughout the world–from Kansas in 1965 to Europe in 1914 to Yemen in the 1920s and 30s–and give us new insights into all three historical periods, as well as our own. All three grapple with issues of prejudice born of racial and ethnic differences–religious and cultural hatred in Henna House; American prejudice against Germans during World War I in The End of Innocence; and all kinds of racial, sexual, and cultural prejudice in Last Night at the Blue Angel. All three of these books are great choices for teens looking for that ever elusive category of “Historical Fiction”

ROTERT, Rebecca. Last Night at the Blue Angel. 325p. Morrow. Jul. 2014. Tr $25.99. ISBN  9780062315281. LC 2014008671.

Born and raised in Kansas in the early 1950s, wild and impulsive Naomi knows early on that she is different. Drawn to the pretty and wealthy Laura, they become friends and eventually begin a sexual affair that, once discovered by Laura’s father, forces Naomi to run away from home. She runs to Laura’s older brother, David, in Kansas City where their brief affair leaves her pregnant and adrift. Naomi turns to her childhood teacher and mentor, Sister Idelia and together, they travel to Chicago to move in with Sister Idelia’s transgender brother and friends. There, Naomi is introduced to the underground music scene at the Blue Angel Bar. This perfectly suits her unconventional nature and allows her incredible voice to shine. In alternating chapters, readers also hear from Sophia, Naomi and David’s daughter. It is 1965, and growing up in her unconventional family is leaving it’s mark on Sophia, who only wants her mother’s love and attention. It is left up to Jim, Naomi’s faithful and unappreciated lover, and Sister Idelia to provide the unconditional love and stability that Sophia craves.  When fame finally comes, it is only through great tragedy for Naomi and Sophia. This is for mature teens who may find the variations of sexuality, race, gender and lifestyle fascinating, especially for its time. They may also be surprised to discover the time’s harshness of laws against homosexuality and the rampant racial discrimination. Sophia navigates her world expecting at all times that it will fall apart, and yet holds onto an optimism that will make young adults root for her all the way.—Connie Williams, Petaluma High School, CA

JORDAN, Allegra. The End of Innocence. rev. ed. 320p. Aug. 2014. Sourcebooks. Tr $24.99. ISBN 9781492603832.

German-born Wilhelm von Lutzow Brandle, known familiarly as Wils, is related to much of the royalty in Europe. This prestige holds little sway on student opinion at the Harvard campus in 1914, however. Germans are the aggressors in a war that is sucking in all of Europe. Helen Brooks, a freshman at Radcliffe, is a talented writer who is invited to attend a seminar at Harvard, where she meets Wils and his British cousin, Riley. Wils and Helen fall in love at exactly the wrong moment in history, as they are quickly separated when Wils must leave to fight in the German army. Riley also becomes a soldier, fighting for Britain. Part of the book follows these two men, cousins and former Harvard classmates, as they freeze and starve in the trenches of opposing armies. Jordan’s inspiration for her novel comes from a plaque in Harvard’s Memorial Church that reads, “Harvard University has not forgotten its sons, who under opposite colors also gave their lives in the Great War.” Teens may not realize how deeply that war affected an America filling with European immigrants, bringing the loyalties and enmities of their homeland with them. And while Helen and Wils would be an ordinary couple in today’s world, the hatred of all things German was endemic in America during the war years. An excellent choice for romance lovers and history buffs. (Originally published as Harvard 1914: A War Romance, Gold Gable Press, 2012.)—Diane Colson, Nashville Public Library, TN

EVE, Nomi. Henna House. 320p. Aug. 2014. Scribner. Tr $26. ISBN 9781476740270. LC 2013497612.

Using the rituals of henna as a recurring theme, this story features a young Jewish girl in Yemen in the 1920s and 1930s. As the only daughter and youngest child of aging parents, Adela is in danger of being “confiscated” and adopted by Muslims if her parents die before she is married, so at the age of eight she is engaged to a young cousin, Asaf. Meanwhile, another cousin, Hani, arrives in Yemen from her home in Aden. Hani’s mother, Aunt Rahel, is an expert in the art of henna, and Adela is fascinated by the rituals, the designs, and the community of women surrounding henna. When Adela’s parents die, she moves to Aden with Hani’s family, still awaiting the return of Asaf, who has gone on an extended trip with his merchant father. By the time he returns, Adela is in love with someone else, but she marries Asaf out of obligation to her parents and the marriage contract they had made. But Asaf is not the person Adela has been remembering and imagining all these years. This is a fascinating story of family connections, love, loss, betrayal, and secrets, all tied into the designs that the women paint onto one another’s skin. Teens who like historical fiction will find much to enjoy in this tale from a time and place that is unfamiliar to most.—Sarah Flowers, formerly of Santa Clara County (CA) Library

Categories: Library News

Lockstep & Goodhouse

Mon, 2014-11-03 09:37

Two excellent science fiction titles today, both featuring teen male protagonists.

Lockstep is a hard SF romp that, despite its sophistication, could have been published for a YA audience. Karl Schroeder is a well-known and respected Canadian science fiction author whose output is entirely adult, so his publishers probably did well to keep him in that category. The concept of The Lockstep gives the reader several fascinating worlds to experience via Toby’s adventures, and a terrific challenge wrapping one’s mind around the concept of entire worlds hibernating 360 month for every one month awake–not to mention the consequences  for societies that do not participate. 

Peyton Marshall‘s debut, Goodhouse, is a dystopian novel that comments on a possible United States, a few decades in the future. While there isn’t much to the author’s world-building that is unique, the novel is very well-written, featuring a strong, young protagonist legitimately struggling with both past trauma and hopes for the future. No matter how good his intentions, the corruption of the Goodhouse system makes it impossible for James to “graduate” successfully, and that is going to madden his teen readers! And guarantee their interest in finding out what happens to him.

In other SF news, I’ll take this opportunity to remind you that the second in Mira Grant’s Parasitology series, Symbiont, comes out later this month. I reviewed Parasite last December, and although I don’t anticipate reviewing Symbiont (purely due to time crunch), if you have teen fans of the first you will want to order the second.

* SCHROEDER, Karl. Lockstep. 352p. Mar. 2014. Tor. Tr $26.99. ISBN 9780765337269.  

For the last few years, young Toby McGonigal and his family have been homesteading on a small, icy exo-planet just outside of the Solar System. In order to maintain a monopoly, the family must claim stake to any orbiting moon they find. On his way to claim one such moon, Toby’s ship’s hull is breached, placing him into emergency deep hibernation. And there he sleeps, lost in space until his ship is pulled into orbit around a planet that appears dead. Luckily for Toby, the world below is not dead, frozen yes, but thriving nonetheless because it is part of the greatest and largest human civilization to ever exist, the Lockstep. The Lockstep has endured and thrived by institutionalizing a rigorous cycle of hibernation in which every member of the civilization lives together in 360 months of hibernation for every one month awake. Toby is shocked to discover that while he has been asleep for over 14,000 years, the Lockstep has been ruled by a single family since its creation: his own. Lockstep is one of the year’s best works of hard science fiction, based around an intergalactic civilization bound by the Speed of Light. Against the backdrop of Toby’s fight to rectify the sins of his family, Schroeder explores complicated topics such as the administration and economics of great empires, the effects of cultural diffusion, the relationship between governance and institutionalized religion, relativistic time, and the complications caused by functional immortality. This title will be especially appealing to advanced readers of science fiction, who will appreciate the opportunity to move out of the worlds of the “Force” and Warp Drives, and into a thriving empire that is well within the theoretical possibilities of human achievement.—Ryan Paulsen, New Rochelle High School, New Rochelle, NY

MARSHALL, Peyton. Goodhouse. 336p. Farrar. Sept. 2014. Tr $26. ISBN  9780374165628. LC 2014008671.  

This propulsive dystopian novel is set in the Goodhouse system—boarding school-like juvenile detention centers created in the near-future to house and educate boys whose DNA inclines them toward criminal behavior. At age three, James was placed at La Pine. Now he is 17, and has just transferred to Ione, one of the only survivors when La Pine was burned to the ground by Zeros, radical opponents of the Goodhouse movement. In preparation for their release from the Goodhouse at 18, Ione boys are loaned out to local families to help with chores. During his first placement, James meets Bethany, a teenager who uses her technical prowess to stay in touch after he returns to campus. Meanwhile, James is changing from model student to violent troublemaker. One night he is abducted and taken to the exclusion zone, an area between Ione and the Mule Creek prison next door, and forced to fight to the death against prison inmates. From then on James has no idea whom to trust. He doesn’t know if he’s hallucinating when he sees the man who shot his best friend the night of the La Pine fire, but he fears that Zeros may be infiltrating Ione and planning another attack. After he learns that the man is Bethany’s father and a doctor at Ione, his suspicions multiply. James’ first-person narration sets this novel apart; he is a strong, sympathetic character who seems to be a pawn in a larger struggle that neither he nor readers understand until the very last pages. Fans of Veronica Roth’s Divergent ready for a literary dystopian read are the ideal audience.—Angela Carstensen, Convent of the Sacred Heart, New York City

Categories: Library News

Displaced Persons

Wed, 2014-10-29 17:17

Derek McCulloch’s Gone to Amerikay was one of our favorite books of 2012. In fact, I even (incorrectly) predicted an Alex Award for it. So I was very excited to see that he was out with a new graphic novel, this time illustrated by Anthony Peruzzo. Like Gone to Amerikay, Displaced Persons has an epic sweep–following the travails of a family over several generations, and using intertwined narratives. So if you or your teens liked Gone to Amerikay as much as we did, this is the one to pick up.

* MCCULLOCH, Derek. Displaced Persons. illus. by Anthony Peruzzo. 168p. Image Comics. Aug. 2014. pap. $17.99. ISBN 9781632151216.

This graphic novel time travels through three generations of one family, whose connections are symbolized, and realized, by a house in the hills of San Francisco. The themes of politics, family, and crime are showcased in the intertwined narratives, changing through the years only in the details. During the Great Depression, a loving father, pressed by economic forces he’s unable to control, makes a shady deal to keep his loved ones together. Grandiose or ambitious, there’s a lot here to consume, and digest; readers may have to check the proffered time lines more than once to keep their bearings. The sins of the past destroy some characters and cast off others, leaving a faithful few to find their way home. Drug use and dealing cast a pall in the 1960s chapters, and César Chávez gets a mention through a well-meaning in-law as things fall apart in the 1990s. It seems a bit random, but in an interesting play-within-a-play conclusion, a friend writing a book and a time traveling relative find each other and some answers to the family saga. The work’s narrative held together by the art: Shaded in multiple sepia tones to signal different time periods, the drawings are roughly chiseled and remarkably detailed; whole rooms, complete with clues, appear in single frames. This part mystery, part sci-fi graphic novel was crafted over ten years.—Georgia Christgau, Middle College High School, Long Island City, NY

Categories: Library News

Rainey Royal

Mon, 2014-10-27 08:43

Dylan Landis offers a novel in 14 connected stories that spans 10 years, beginning with the title character, Rainey Royal at 14 years old. It is set in the 1970′s New York City of Landis’s own adolescence.

This book explores teenage sexuality, and it can be dark. Rainey is abused by her father’s best friend, and she also uses her beauty and sexuality to get what she wants. She is victim and bully, and she lacks the adult role model she needs. Her father does nothing to protect her.

Like last Monday’s featured books, How to Build a Girl and Not that Kind of Girl, this is most likely to be enjoyed by older teens. I’m sorry I haven’t read this one yet, because I get the feeling that there could be some interesting parallels between Rainey and Dolly, although their goals and methods seems quite different. Add it to the pile!

LANDIS, Dylan. Rainey Royal. 246p. Soho Pr. Sept. 2014. Tr $25. ISBN 9781616954529. LC 2014009580.  

Rainy Royal is the original Manic Pixie Dream Girl—her coolness directly in proportion to the damage done to her. She says cutting things to teachers and wears amazing handmade clothes like armor against her peers. But the dysfunction in her family is most definitely not fabulous. Only her best friend Tina knows what is really going on behind the doors of her townhouse in Greenwich Village: Rainey’s father may be a famous jazz musician but he lets young, beautiful musical acolytes crash in Rainey’s room and steal her clothes; his best friend, Gordy, visits her room at night to give backrubs and stroke her hair; and her mother has fled to an ashram leaving behind a broken sewing machine and useless advice about love. Rainey Royal follows a beautiful, damaged girl from her crumbling townhouse in the twilight of Free Love and into the seediness that was 1970s New York City. Landis takes real risks in presenting Rainey’s story, including allowing her two best friends their own chapters. The unique structure of the book makes for a full, rich, coming-of-age story. Teens who love Holden Caulfield in The Catcher in the Rye will be drawn to Rainey Royal and her jaundiced view of the world, but she holds equal appeal for “Gossip Girl” (Little, Brown) fans, as she is the ultimate beautiful, wise-beyond-her-years, mean girl.—Meghan Cirrito, Brooklyn Public Library, NY

Categories: Library News

The Final Book in the Southern Reach Trilogy

Fri, 2014-10-24 07:00

You can’t say I didn’t warn you. I’ve been raving about Jeff VanderMeer’s Southern Reach trilogy all year, and promising a review of the final volume. So here it is. VanderMeer once again takes readers into the heart of his mysterious Area X (after merely skirting around it through the middle volume in the trilogy), this time expanding our perspective to almost every crucial character in the Area’s bizarre history.

In some ways, this final book is the most traditional of the three, with a plot that seems to be heading towards a real climax, and multiple developed point-of-view characters. But that traditionality turns out to be a bluff as well, as (possible spoiler, but not for anyone whose been paying attention), VanderMeer refuses to answer any of the most key questions, or offer any real resolution to the central mystery and characters. This steadfast commitment to ambiguity, though, is the series’s greatest strength, and what makes it stand out from the over-crowded masses of dystopian/post-apocalyptic SF.

This book most certainly can’t be read as a stand-alone. But for those who have read the first two, it is absolutely essential reading.

VANDERMEER, Jeff. Acceptance. 341p. (Southern Reach: Bk. 3). Farrar. Sept. 2014. pap. $15. ISBN 9780374104115. LC 2014016962.

VanderMeer takes readers for one last trip into Area X in this stunning conclusion to his chilling sci-fi trilogy. Once again, VanderMeer offers a radical change in narrative perspective: in place of the single-character limited viewpoints of the previous two installments, he jumps dramatically through time, space, and character, to give readers the perspectives of every main player. In addition to the biologist from Annihilation—picking up her narration where it left off—and Control from Authority (both Farrar, 2014)—as he travels with the biologist’s doppelganger into Area X—readers follow the thoughts of the previous director of the Southern Reach and her actions leading up to the events of Annihilation; the biologist’s doppelganger, as she helps Control through Area X; and most intriguingly, the Lighthouse Keeper as he lived and worked in the months just before and after the Event which caused Area X. Despite this expansive narrative perspective, the themes and tone from the first two books remain remarkably consistent. The author hammers on the malleability of boundaries, the ambiguity between humanity and nature, and the ineffability of the great mysteries of life. This is heady stuff, but teens who followed VanderMeer through the phenomenal previous volumes should be more than up to the challenge of completing the journey with him.—Mark Flowers, John F. Kennedy Library, Vallejo, CA


Categories: Library News

Halloween Reading

Wed, 2014-10-22 07:55

The days grow shorter. The evenings grow darker. You’re trying to figure out a costume to wear to school next Friday. In the spirit of the season, we review three new novels for those seeking a thrill this Halloween.

Edgar Cantero’s first book in English, The Supernatural Enhancements, is a secret society mystery/haunted house gothic that moves closer and closer to horror as it goes along. In case it isn’t clear, A’s mute friend Niamh is a teen, and she proves to be one of the most intriguing elements here. (And their dog, Help, is the most lovable.) Any readers you know who are obsessed with dreams–and I’ve certainly run into a few through the years–will LOVE this book.

The Boy Who Drew Monsters is by Keith Donohue, known for his haunting fantasy debut, The Stolen Child. He is a literary writer, whether tackling fantasy or horror, so you know you can expect excellent writing in his latest. If you are a horror reader, you will enjoy Peter Straub’s review in the Washington Post, which is like a short course in the appeal of the genre.

A Sudden Light is something new for Garth Stein, known for his hit debut, The Art of Racing in the Rain. A Sudden Light is the #1 Library Reads pick for October and found a spot on the Indie Next list this month as well–so, a favorite of both librarians and booksellers. This ghost story of family secrets is more creepy than scary, but certainly intriguing.

More? This would be a great time to recommend Josh Malerman’s Bird Box, one of 2014′s most effective scary novels, and let me point out that Horns is coming to theaters on October 31st, starring Daniel Radcliffe. Put Joe Hill’s novel on display now, and watch the hype build!

CANTERO, Edgar. The Supernatural Enhancements. 368p. diags. illus. photos. Doubleday. Aug. 2014. Tr $26.95. ISBN 9780385538152. LC 2013027730.  

Judging by the cover, this is a gothic horror tale focused on a creepy house. And that’s correct, but it’s so much more. A (no longer name given) inherits a mansion he’s never seen in Virginia, and, with it, a mystery.  Ambrose, his distant relative, was a member of a mysterious group of men that met annually, and A wonders if Ambrose was murdered, instead of being driven to suicide by the house ghost.  A and his female companion Niamh, a mute, are determined to discover the secrets of the cursed house, its old-fashioned visitors, and cryptic messages from Ambrose.  Told through dream journals, video transcripts, letters, photographs, and other writings, the novel is unique in design and doesn’t fit into a genre easily. The setting might be gothic, but the two main characters are lovable and bright new adults. The platonic interaction between A and Niamh keeps readers questioning and the twist at the end of the novel is unexpected. Cryptology, crystal balls, break-ins, a loyal dog, ancient mysteries—what’s not to like? Give this to smart teens who appreciate the witty dialogue in John Green’s An Abundance of Katherines (Dutton, 2006), the creepiness of the books by Ransom Riggs, or the nerdy codes and clues of Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore (Farrar, 2012), although this is a more rural tale.—Sarah Hill, Lake Land College, Mattoon, IL

DONOHUE, Keith. The Boy Who Drew Monsters. 272p. Picador. Oct. 2014. Tr $26. ISBN 9781250057150. LC 2014018914.  

Jack Peter has never been the dream son Holly and Tim Keenan had hoped would complete their small family. But things became far worse the summer Jip turned seven and he and his only friend Nick nearly drowned in the surf. Now, 10-year-old Jip is terrified to leave the house, preferring to spend his homeschooled days with his father. The boy has had many obsessions over the years that he demands Nick share (from war to board games to model ships), but his latest is the most disturbing: drawing monsters. Jip appears to have developed a sudden talent for rendering the macabre. Soon Holly begins to have auditory hallucinations at home in their coastal Maine saltbox—it sounds like someone or something is trying to get in. Tim is certain he sees a naked man or some type of beast in the headlights, running off on the beach. Holly is worried about Jip, who is increasingly agitated and even violent. She looks to a priest for help, coming away instead with unbelievable stories of shipwrecked undead. Now Nick’s parents have gone away for Christmas, leaving him with the Keenans. He begins to realize the power of Jip’s pencil as his friend draws like a boy possessed. Donohue masterfully turns real life family drama on its ear, with a Stephen King-worthy spin that gleefully extends the novel’s title. Teens will love this psychological horror story, which combines chilling atmospherics with unsettling nightmares come to life.—Paula J. Gallagher, Baltimore County Public Library, MD

STEIN, Garth. A Sudden Light. 416p. S. & S. Sept. 2014. Tr $26.95. ISBN 9781439187036. LC 2014006886.  

Fourteen-year-old Trevor isn’t happy that his parents have separated temporarily.  He is stuck traveling with his dad to Riddell House, his father’s childhood home outside of Seattle.  Something drove his father away from Riddell House years ago—Trevor hasn’t even met this side of the family before. His stunningly beautiful Aunt Serena and Alzheimer’s patient Grandpa Samuel help him feel at home. After only a few hours at the decaying mansion, Trevor discovers mysterious family secrets. Does the house have a ghost? If so, whose ghost is it? Coming off the success of his bestselling debut novel, The Art of Racing in the Rain (HarperCollins, 2008), Stein returns with this eerie novel. The first half reads like creepy gothic novel—haunted house, mysterious characters, and a dysfunctional family. But the work takes a spiritualistic turn when Trevor is able to see, hear, and converse with family ghosts. The surprises he uncovers from family letters and journals are unsuspected, but the conversations with ghosts in and out of dreams seemed out of place. Give this to teens who want a Halloween read that isn’t as scary as Joe Hill’s Horns (William Morrow, 2010) or as complicated as Helen Oyeyemi’s White Is for Witching (Knopf/Nan A. Talese, 2009).—Sarah Hill, Lake Land College, Mattoon, IL

Categories: Library News

Caitlin Moran and Lena Dunham

Mon, 2014-10-20 08:40

Today I review two books that have the potential to be wildly popular with teens–and wildly challenging for school librarians. Caitlin Moran and Lena Dunham are media forces, women who excel in professions dominated by men. They both succeed through the sheer force of their personalities, and to some extent through their willingness to say outrageous things out loud.

Both of their books are best suited to the New Adult, college-age, early 20’s reader. But older teens are going to be attracted to them, as they are basically the misadventures of two girls growing up.

I’m going to start with How to Build a Girl, one of the most exciting books I have read this year. I can’t remember the last time I dog-eared so many pages in a book. Not just for the pitch-perfect voice and comedic timing, but also for the many beautiful coming-of-age moments.

But can I add it to my high school library’s collection? No. I hope teens find it–perhaps at their public libraries?–but I can’t hand it to them personally. Because the author goes a couple steps too far. It’s not the voice or the language, outrageous as they are. It’s certainly not the family dynamics or the good heart of its heroine, who even in her most raunchy moments retains a certain naivete and sweet determination to pursue her passions. If you read this book, you probably won’t agree with me–until the final quarter. And that’s when the graphic quality of the sex scenes goes over the top. Yes, they are followed by a most lovely denouement, where a girl gets to know and love herself–not the self she layered over her real self, but herself. Still, it’s too much for my community. 

But, if you serve teens in a more liberal community? Oh, please buy this. Please promote it. Readers will love this girl, and they will feel for her so deeply. She quotes the musical “Annie” in her first meeting with a group of hard-core rock music journal executives and expects them to get her humor! She is in some ways wonderfully self-aware, in others completely naive. Either way, she throws herself into situations completely beyond her experience. In the bathroom checking herself out before that first big meeting, “I can see where I have drawn Dolly Wilde on top of my own face–the two uneasily co-existing–but perhaps others can’t. If I walk and talk fast enough, maybe no one will notice.” That’s Dolly all over–fake it ’til you make it.

They will ache to read moments like this one. Sitting next to a co-worker on an airplane, she can’t let him know that it’s her first time flying. “I don’t want him to see what I look like when I do something for the first time. I dont’ want anyone watching me change. I will do all my changing in private. In public I am, always, the finished thing. The right thing, for the right place. A chrysalis is hung in the dark.”

Or cheer for the moment her roll as a vicious, feared critic ends after a trusted friend tells her: “You need to see loads of girls, screaming, because that’s what you are. A big screaming girl from the Midlands. You’re an enthusiast, Dolly. Come and enthuse. Come and be a teenage girl again. Come and be a fan.” I think about his saying that. His words are like Glinda’s kiss on my forehead. I’m an enthusiast who’s been pretending to be a cynic. But I have been correctly labeled now. I am for things–not against them. I must remember this. Mainly because this is more fun.”

And now for Not That Kind of Girl. It was an interesting experience reading these two books one week apart. I read How to Build a Girl first, and I can’t help but think that I might have been more impressed by Dunham’s writing if that hadn’t been the case. But after all of the life in Moran’s prose, all the bravado of her young protagonist, Dunham’s determination to paint herself as the most bumbling and awkward of all girls fell a bit flat.

Of course, Moran’s book is (presented as) fiction and Dunham’s is a book of personal essays. Maybe it isn’t fair to compare. I almost gave up on Not That Kind of Girl about a third of the way through, annoyed by the voice. But I picked it up the next day and read to the end. Then read the whole thing over again more carefully. Dunham is very smart and she’s a unique storyteller. She is talking directly to today’s young people and their experience. But it wasn’t a satisfying experience, and I’m still trying to figure out why. Is it because, despite all the personal stories, I finished feeling like I knew almost nothing about her? Is it because despite placing her book in a feminist context in the introduction, she gives only the barest glimpses of the successful businesswoman she has become? Maybe I’d like to be able to see the connection between her earlier life and what she has achieved?

Will teens agree? I did add Not That Kind of Girl to my library’s collection, because I want to see if Dunham approaches the popularity of Tina Fey and Bossypants, which was such a hit. So far, it’s been on display for a week and no one has picked it up. Maybe this really is more New Adult.

I leave you with two quotes, in which the books end with similar moments of acceptance:

Moran: “And some versions of you will end in dismal failure… Others will achieve temporary success…But one day you’ll find a version of you that will get you kissed, or befriended, or inspired, and you will make your notes accordingly, staying up all night to hone and improve upon a tiny snatch of melody that worked. Until–slowly, slowly–you make a viable version of you, one you can hum every day…until you stop having to think about who you’ll be entirely–as you’re too busy doing, now.”

Dunham: “Soon you will find yourself in more and more situations you don’t want to run from. At work you’ll realize that you’ve spent the entire day in your body, really in it, not imagining what you look like to the people who surround you but just being who you are. You are a tool being put to its proper use. That changes a lot of things.”

MORAN, Caitlin. How to Build a Girl. 341p. HarperCollins/Harper. Sept. 2014. Tr $26.99. ISBN 9780062335975.  

This hilarious, raw, profanity- and sex-filled novel is a gold mine of perfectly turned phrases that illuminate the pain and glory of growing up. Fourteen-year-old Johanna Morrigan lives with her parents and brothers in a council flat in a small town north of London. After humiliating herself on live television, she determines to reinvent herself. She will become a rock journalist and call herself Dolly Wilde. It doesn’t matter that she’s never been to a live show and can’t afford records. She borrows albums from the library and writes reviews and sends them to the editors of Disc & Music Echo magazine. They invite her to London for a meeting. Everything about Dolly is completely outrageous—her actions, words, outfit, makeup. And it works! She leaves high school and proudly uses her earnings to help support her family. Life is full of music, alcohol, and men who will sleep with her even though she’s overweight. She soon becomes notorious for her vicious reviews. The teen also wants to become legendary for having lots of sex, and she does. But by 17, Dolly realizes that she is losing touch with herself, and those realizations ring true and earned. This thinly veiled autobiography is wise and revealing and has a heart of gold at its core. Give it to mature teens and new adults with a high tolerance for profanity and graphic sex. Readalikes range from the poverty and family devotion of Angela’s Ashes (Scribner, 1996) to the bold sexuality of Grasshopper Jungle (Dutton, 2014).—Angela Carstensen, Convent of the Sacred Heart, New York City

DUNHAM, Lena. Not That Kind of Girl: A Young Women Tells You What She’s “Learned.” illus. by Joana Avillez. 265p. Random. Sept. 2014. Tr $28. ISBN 9780812994995. LC 2014029492.  

Dunham, writer, director, producer, and star of the TV show Girls offers a collection of personal essays in which she hopes to make her own misadventures useful to other young women. “I am a girl with a keen interest in having it all, and what follows are hopeful dispatches from the frontlines of that struggle.” She begins with “Love & Sex,” in which she relates losing her virginity and her attraction to men who treat her badly. Dunham’s writing is self-deprecating, clever, and original, and touches upon deep topics, such as self-respect. Other entries cover summer camp, her first mindless retail job, and what she’s learned from her parents. She throws in humorous lists, such as “My Top Ten Health Concerns” (lamp dust and tonsil stones?). Among the compulsions, obsessions, and insecurities, readers get glimpses of the strong woman who is creating her own media empire. In “Body” Dunham shares what it’s like filming nude sex scenes, and why they’re important in the fight against media images that tell us “our bodies aren’t right.” She is upfront about her relationship with food and dieting, in serious and hilarious turns. The final essay, “A Guide to Running Away for Twenty-Seven-Year-Old Women” is about coming-to-terms with loving your work, becoming yourself, and choosing to settle with a person who is good to you as only Dunham could write it. Teens who watch Girls will consider themselves mature enough for the content, and the overall message is one they need to hear—we all deserve success in work and in personal relationships, even if we are not perfect.—Angela Carstensen, Convent of the Sacred Heart, New York City

Categories: Library News

Poetry from the Streets

Wed, 2014-10-15 07:00

For teen in my community, in Vallejo, CA, mentioning Tupac Shakur is pretty much guaranteed to give you some credibility, and his book of poetry, The Rose That Grew from Concrete is one of our most read (and lost) poetry collections. So when I saw that David Tomas Martinez’s debut collection, Hustle, not only name-checks Tupac, but recounts much of the same street-lifestyle recounted by Tupac in his hip hop and poetry, I new it was bound to be a hit at my library.

The cover, with its stark, graffiti-style type face, doesn’t hurt either. Give this one to fans of poetry of all kinds, but especially teenage boys who will feel an instant connection to the life Martinez recounts.

MARTINEZ, David Tomas. Hustle.  84p. Sarabande. May 2014. pap. $14.95. ISBN 9781936747771. LC 2013031026.

These energetic verses by a young poet from San Diego about growing up in a world of gangs will appeal especially to teenage boys. Martinez chooses unusual topics for his vivid, original poetry.  In “Calaveras,” he lyrically depicts the story of a car that wants to be taken and used as a getaway vehicle in a planned murder.  “A car wants to be stolen,/as the night desires to be revved.” Suspense builds as the boys run through a cactus field to evade the police and continue home to “only a hot bath and plate of papas fritas/from a grandmother’s hands.” Several entries are about the death of a school acquaintance. “Forgetting Willie James Jones” tells of Willie’s demise, which could have happened to any of the boys. “That was the season death walked alongside us all,/wagging its haunches and twisting its collared neck/at a bird glittering along a branch.” The narrator is sorry he wasn’t “in the car that drove by/and dumped death and sickle/ in the yard of Willie’s graduation party.” Readers will see how confused the boys are when they regret deaths yet want to participate in killing. The speaker wants to go to prison as others do to earn the respect of teens in his town.  “Tupac finally turned off/the life he left on/ in an empty Vegas street/ but he was always a winner/ around my block where people got shot.” Martinez is an unusual young poet to read with pleasure and to watch in the future.—Karlan Sick, Library Consultant, New York City

Categories: Library News

Malala Yousafzai Wins Nobel Peace Prize

Mon, 2014-10-13 07:00

I thought readers here might be interested to know, if they hadn’t heard already, that Malala Yousafzai has just been named a co-recipient of this year’s Nobel Peace Prize. Malala is, of course, the author of I Am Malala–reviewed here back in December–which chronicles her struggle for education for girls in Pakistan, and eventual shooting by the Taliban at the age of 16. Now 17, she is the youngest winner of the Nobel Peace Prize ever.

The Prize cites Malala and her co-recipient, Kailash Satyarthi “for their struggle against the suppression of children and young people and for the right of all children to education.”

If you go our review, you’ll see that Angela was a bit ambivalent about the book itself, and I agree with her that it has its weaknesses, but there is no doubt that Malala herself is an extraordinary young woman–a genuine teen hero–and we offer her hearty congratulations for the Prize.

Categories: Library News

A Little Lumpen Novelita from Roberto Bolano

Mon, 2014-10-06 07:00

One of the greatest Latin American writers of the turn of the 21st Century, Roberto Bolaño has unfortunately only been known to English readers since his premature death, at the age of 50, to liver disease. His two most famous works here in America, 2666 and The Savage Detectives, are massive, complex novels filled with weighty themes and intricate plots. Fortunately for teens, then, the year before he died, he published this very brief, narratively straightforward novella which nevertheless contains many of the same themes and contrivances that make his longer work so enriching.

Coincidentally, A Little Lumpen Novelita also features a teenaged narrator and a strange-but-recognizable coming-of-age plot. There’s no question that Bolaño’s style, and refusal to resolve ambiguities will be off-putting to some readers, whether teens or adults, but I for one read it in a single sitting and have been thinking about it fairly frequently in the months since I first encountered it.

Note: I quite like the lovely photograph that adorns the English translation–but check out the original cover art.

BOLAÑO, Roberto. A Little Lumpen Novelita. 128p. New Directions. tr. from Spanish by Natasha Wimmer. Sept. 2014. Tr $19.95. ISBN 9780811223355.

Originally published in Spanish the year before Bolaño’s death, this perfectly titled “novelita” begins with a shocking, but ultimately misleading statement from the narrator: “Now I’m a mother and a married woman, but not long ago I led a life of crime.” After her brother and she are orphaned as teenagers and left to their own devices, living in a small house in Rome, Bianca’s “life of crime” begins when her brother and two friends concoct a bizarre plan to rob a wealthy former movie star. Bianca is to seduce him and use her access to his house to find a hypothetical safe filled with riches. But the protagonist  never searches for the safe more than half-heartedly, and eventually comes to believe that it doesn’t exist. Instead, she forms a bond with the overweight, blind, aging man she is supposedly duping. Rather than a story of crime, this novelita is a classic, if off-kilter, story of teen dislocation: Bolaño captures perfectly the ennui and confusion of a teenaged girl being thrust into the world of work, money, and sex before she is able to understand it. And the extra layers of orphanhood, economic distress, and cultural differences help to magnify and clarify the decisions Bianca must make and their ultimate consequences. An excellent introduction to Bolaño for teens.—Mark Flowers, John F. Kennedy Library, Vallejo, CA

Categories: Library News

Asian Identity

Mon, 2014-09-29 07:00

The Year She Left Us concerns the search for belonging and identity, both personal and cultural. Ari was abandoned in China as a baby, taken to an orphanage, then adopted by a Chinese American woman, Charlie, who raises her in San Francisco with the help of her sister and mother. Now Ari is 18 and angry, especially after a “heritage tour” to China. She’s told she should be grateful for being adopted into a family that looks like her, but she just can’t feel it and spirals into depression. Ari is the center of Kathryn Ma‘s debut novel, but her story intertwines with those of the other women–her adopted mother, grandmother and aunt–and turns into a multi-generational novel that some have compared to The Joy Luck Club.

Ma’s novel was inspired by a trip to China during which she stayed in a hotel where several international adoptions were being facilitated. “I began thinking about international adoption as a lens for looking at complicated questions of race, immigration, and the meaning of family. Would my main character, Ari, be one of the smiling babies I saw, or like the little girl crying as though her heart had broken?”

With Above the East China Sea by Sarah Bird we move to the Japanese island of Okinawa, and a novel that moves back and forth between the present and the past. Both are times of war (WWII and Afghanistan) and both feature teenage girls who contemplate suicide. In the past, we have a pregnant 15-year-old who fears the approaching Invasion of Okinawa. In the present, an army brat in despair after her older sister is killed while serving in Afghanistan.

Having spent an idyllic part of her childhood living in Okinawa as an army brat herself, Bird is passionate about sharing the history and culture of the island, and particularly that of the WWII era which is little-known in the western world. More people were killed in the Battle of Okinawa than in Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined, yet we never hear about it. Fortunately, this novel shares the island’s history in a way that both does justice to its horrors and remains engaging thanks to its fascinating characters.

Bird has written about teenagers before in The Gap Year and The Yokota Officers Club. The latter is also partly set in Okinawa.

MA, Kathryn. The Year She Left Us. 321p. HarperCollins. May 2014. Tr $25.99. ISBN 9780062273345.  

Told in alternating chapters, this powerful debut novel recounts the story of four Kong women; Gran, Les, Charlie, and Ari. The title refers to the year that Ari, 18, spins out of control after a visit to the orphanage in China from which Charlie, her mother, had adopted her. Growing up in San Francisco and raised, as Ari says, by three mothers (“Four, counting the one who threw me away”), Charlie, her aunt Les, and her grandmother, there were early signs of Ari’s unhappiness and her unending search for a sense of belonging.  The teen is not alone in her search, for each of the Kong women have their own internal battles. As Les says, “to be a Kong woman was to be drawn straight into battle—sometimes with others, more often with oneself.” Ari returns home from her trip to China after a disturbing self-inflicted “accident” and is deeply troubled. She goes to Alaska in search of what might be an unlikely father figure but spends her time trying to avoid the “black ditch” that wants to suck her in. It is Gran’s trip to her homeland China, on her own quest, and her insistence that only Ari can come to her rescue, that begins to pull the young woman out of her deep despair. At times painful to read, this novel is ultimately about the power of family and reconciliation. Teens will be drawn in by the unique points of view of these four unforgettable women.—Jane Ritter, Mill Valley School District, CA

BIRD, Sarah. Above the East China Sea. 320p. maps. Knopf. May 2014. Tr $25.95. ISBN 9780385350112. LC 2013024336.  

Don’t let the pastoral cover fool you—inside is a compelling contemporary novel intertwined with a tragic historical fiction tale. This contemporary portion centers around Luz, who has grown up on military bases and is currently living with her (largely absent) mother in Okinawa, Japan. Her older sister was killed in Afghanistan just 13 days after she arrived there on active duty.  The parallel story is Tamiko’s—a native Okinawan who becomes a teenage nurse during World War II, but gets a rude awakening as to what the Japanese really think of their country cousins, the Okinawans. The stories intersect when Luz nearly drowns and believes she encounters a spirit that belongs to Tamiko. The bulk of the contemporary narrative takes place during the three-day festival of Obon, which honors the spirits of the dead. That Okinawa is so rich in heritage regarding these spirits allows the magical realism to be quite believable. The author also spent her youth at an Okinawan military base, as is relayed in the acknowledgements, and has researched the customs thoroughly. The parallel stories have immense teen appeal. Luz’s life as a military brat, her relationship with her sister and possible love interest Jake, and her search for her ancestors are resonant. But no less so is Tamiko’s life—forced to care for her mentally fragile older sister under horrific circumstances. All of the mysteries within the novel are solved, but one of the biggest isn’t uncovered until the final pages and teens will be turning pages quickly until it is.—Jamie Watson, Baltimore County Public Library, MD

Categories: Library News

The Spark and the Drive

Thu, 2014-09-25 07:00

Wayne Harrison’s The Spark and the Drive is one of my favorite debut novels of the year, and like so many debut novels it appears to have been based on the author’s life. Like his young narrator, Harrison worked as an auto mechanic in Waterbury, CT and he uses that background for all it’s worth, making the reader smell the exhaust fumes in this novel which combines the coming-of-age of a young man, and the slow decay of an old industry. For anyone interested, Harrison has an excellent website with photographs of some of the book’s key elements, including the extremely important 1969 ZL1 Corvette.

HARRISON, Wayne. The Spark and the Drive. 272p. St. Martin’s. Jul. 2014. Tr. $25.99. ISBN 9781250041241. LC 2014000133.

In his fantastic debut novel, Harrison finds surprising resonances between his main plot of a fiery love triangle and an underlying paean to the great American muscle cars and the mechanics who maintained them. The heart of both stories is Justin Bailey, a young man who has put off college to work at the garage of his idol, Nick Campbell, one of the best auto mechanics in Connecticut. When Nick and his wife Mary Ann lose their young son to SIDS, Nick begins to make mistakes at the garage and draws away from those close to him. Mary Ann, desperate for intimacy, turns to Justin, and the two begin a passionate affair. Justin, who loves Nick as a father, finds himself torn between helping Nick regain his edge and hoping that his mentor will finally pull away altogether and leave Mary Ann. Set in the early 1980s, as smog laws and computers are bringing about the death of the American muscle car, and the end of careers of mechanics like Nick, the novel sets up a brilliant parallel to the love triangle as Justin finds himself caught in the middle at the garage as well. He is old and idealistic enough to love Nick’s old ways, but young enough to be able to surpass Nick in the new ways. Harrison’s lovingly detailed descriptions of engine mechanics are almost more gorgeous than his romantic plot. No knowledge of cars is necessary, but teens with an interest in engines should find this coming-of-age story especially poignant.—Mark Flowers, John F. Kennedy Library, Vallejo, CA

Categories: Library News

Ghost Stories

Tue, 2014-09-23 07:00

Two ghost stories today, both more atmospheric than scary. We begin with the first adult novel from YA phenomenon Lauren Oliver. Before I Fall is one of my go-to recommendations, and was a huge hit with my high school bookgroup a couple years ago. And of course, there’s the Delirium trilogy, so I was quite looking forward to reading this one.

Rooms, releasing today, is certainly a more adult story. It is moody, contemplative, and full of rather unlikeable people. That said, it features a sympathetic teen character and it is a ghost story. Rooms may well appeal most to readers who enjoy a dysfunctional family story, because it is definitely that. Alcoholism, child abuse, neglect, divorce, it’s all there. The structure is intriguing (each section takes place in a different room of the house), as are the parallels that emerge between the lives of the Walkers and the former lives of the ghosts who observe them. Readers will genuinely want to know what happened to trap the ghosts in this particular house, and Oliver expertly keeps those answers a mystery until the very end.

Danica Novgorodoff‘s graphic novel, The Undertaking of Lily Chen brings together love, death, ghosts and gorgeous watercolors that evoke Chinese landscapes. Take a look at its striking official book trailer.

There seems to be some question as to whether this is adult or YA, but SLJ reviewing decided to place it as adult. (You might notice that the Printz blog has it on their longlist, so obviously this is still up in the air!)

OLIVER, Lauren. Rooms. 320p. Ecco. Sept. Tr $25.99. ISBN 9780062223197.  

After Richard Walker dies (an awful man, everyone agrees), his ex-wife and two children return to the house in Coral River, New York that they had left years earlier. Alice and Sandra, the ghosts trapped within its walls, are shocked by how much they’ve changed. Last they saw Trenton he was a beautiful boy; now 16, he’s an “awkward, gummy, sullen thing.” Minna, 27, has a habit of using sex with strangers as a panacea, and their alcoholic mother, Caroline, has put on quite a few pounds. Each section of the book takes place in a different room of the house, and is comprised of short chapters, told in first person from the ghosts’ perspective (observing, reminiscing and bickering), and in third person for each of the family members. In the Basement, Trenton considers suicide after being humiliated at a party. Richard’s memorial takes place in the Living Room. The story is punctuated by visitors—a pretty neighbor confronts Trenton in the Greenhouse (and later accidentally sets fire to the Attic during a séance), a lawyer arrives bearing Richard’s surprising will, and a new ghost appears. The spirits provide the most intriguing mysteries. How did they die? Why are they trapped in this house? Too many vague descriptions of what it feels like to be a ghost and unlikable (if not unsympathetic) characters marr this first adult offering from a hugely popular YA author. Still, teens may enjoy the mysteries and the occasional flashes of comedic timing in this mixed-bag of a dysfunctional family/ghost story.—Angela Carstensen, Convent of the Sacred Heart, New York City

NOVGORODOFF, Danica. The Undertaking of Lily Chen. illus. by author. 429p. First Second. Mar. 2014. pap. $29.99. ISBN 9781596435865. LC 2013030816.  

“Parts of rural China are seeing a burgeoning market for female corpses….” With a small clipping pulled from a 2007 news story, graphic novelist Novgordoff grabs readers from page one. Readers learn about an ancient Chinese custom dictating that men must share their grave with a wife or risk a dark and lonely afterlife. Not only must Deshi bear the guilt of having killed his brother Wei, but Wei’s entire afterlife is in Deshi’s hands as now he must find Wei a dead wife by the end of the week. Thanks to high demand, the only corpse he can find is too old and rotten to do the trick. Fate seems to be on Deshi’s side when he meets beautiful, headstrong Lily who is on the run from her own arranged marriage, but turning her into a corpse bride turns out to be a bigger headache—and heartache—than he bargained for. Although the story is predictable, the plot takes a backseat to the illustrations—a spectacular homage to traditional Chinese watercolor paintings. With splashes of blue and gold, the art is clearly influenced by traditional paintings, but the characters themselves are modern. This juxtaposition is evident in the panels that uncover the roots of ghost marriages, while the alternating pages narrate the aftermath of Wei’s death. Teens will be able to sympathize with Deshi’s feelings of familial obligation, while also rooting for Lily, a fearless young girl who resists outmoded tradition. Hand this to those who appreciate skilled artwork or to any reader looking for adventure/romance.—Rachael Myers-Ricker, Horace Mann School, Bronx, NY

Categories: Library News

On the Road

Thu, 2014-09-18 09:17

All We Had is a road trip novel that follows a mother and daughter from Los Angeles to the East Coast. In Lucky Us, a family moves from Ohio to Hollywood, then back East to New York. There are two main appeal elements in these road novels. All We Had exemplifies the first–grappling to survive and find security. Lucky Us is about survival, but even more about the other element–reinvention. 

Annie Weatherwax is a sculptor and visual artist. All We Had is her debut novel, narrated by precocious 13-year-old Ruthie. Ruthie and her 29-year-old mother are drifters who end up in a small town in upstate New York when their old Ford finally gives out. Weatherwax characterizes her writing as “comic realism,” and uses the 2008 economic downturn as the novel’s backdrop. This small family is struggling just enough to be hit hardest by the recession. Last year my school had a “teach-in” on hunger in America, which focused on food insecurity. I cannot help but see this novel as an ideal literary example of this problem. For more, take a look at the Washington Post review, which focuses on this element in detail.

Katie Holmes is set to play the mother in a movie version of All We Had. It also marks her directorial debut. Josh Boone, director of The Fault in Our Stars, will adapt the script.

Amy Bloom’s Lucky Us is set in the 1940s, which gives this lively family story of continuous reinvention a wartime backdrop. NPR calls its half-sisters “as endearing and comically annoying as any you’ll find in contemporary fiction.” The older of the two teens wants to be an actress, and even does well in Hollywood for a brief time. She has the ability to make herself into whatever she needs to be to survive. Readers will be thrilled by the unpredictability and life to this story.

Other road trip novels? Don’t forget The Last Days of California, which we reviewed earlier this year.

WEATHERWAX, Annie. All We Had. 272p. Scribner. Aug. 2014. Tr $24. ISBN 9781476755205.  

At first blush, a story about a young girl and her mother making a road trip from Los Angeles to Boston with the last few dollars they have may seem like a repeat of other novels.  However, All We Had rises above that trend to highlight Ruthie’s journey from hopelessness to hope, from being with only her mother to finding a family in a way that readers will remember long after the last page. Ruthie is the only good thing Rita has going for her; she would do anything for her daughter. And that means anything – running out on landlords and lovers, making the move East (because Rita just knows that Ruthie is so brilliant she’ll shine at Harvard), and taking menial jobs to keep a roof over their heads. For all Rita’s sacrifices, it isn’t until they land in Fat River, Upstate New York, that either of them finds a family of sorts. It’s an odd family, from Arlene and Peter Pam to the Hansons and Miss Frankfort, but each of them reaches out to help the pair survive. Because, of course, just when things start looking up—a roof over their heads that they actually own, stability in schooling and work—things start going downhill, due to the financial reversals in this rust belt town. The struggle to build a successful life will resonate with students who have seen their families (and towns) suffer financial hardship.—Laura Pearle, Miss Porter’s School, CT

BLOOM, Amy. Lucky Us. 234p. Random. Jul. 2014. Tr $26. ISBN 9781400067244. LC 2013017648.  

After her mother’s death in 1939, 16-year-old Iris meets Eva, the daughter of her father’s mistress when Eva is abandoned to this family’s care. The father Eva knew only on Sundays and the occasional Thursday accepts her into their family and Iris and Eva become sisters. Iris, intent on pursuing her dream of becoming a Hollywood star, and Eva, equally intent on staying close to Iris, discover one day that their father is a cheat and liar, so they pack up and head west to follow Iris’s dream. The budding actress makes it into the movie business and encounters the rarified world of 1940s Hollywood. As the siblings meet interesting people and begin to make a life for themselves, their father joins them. Sex is the medium by which stars often progress and Iris discovers that lust and love aren’t always the same thing. After Iris is blackballed by her jealous girlfriend, the family heads to New York. Disguising themselves as a governess and an English butler, Iris and her father gain employment with the wealthy Torelli family. This quirky story is told in short chapters from differing character viewpoints. It is for older teen readers who can handle mature sexual themes. Adroit writing keeps readers willing to accept this eccentric and unconventional family for who they are and what they do. Eva is the glue that keeps the family together and readers will root for her all the way.—Connie Williams, Petaluma High School, CA

Categories: Library News

A Whole Lotta Secrets

Mon, 2014-09-15 07:00

Today we begin with a psychological mystery then highlight two thrillers, one suspense-filled, another action-packed.

I am excited to recommend Tana French’s new Dublin Murder Squad novel to teen readers. I have enjoyed French’s novels since her 2007 debut, In the Woods. She is among the finest literary crime novelists writing today, and in The Secret Place she takes on the world of an all-girls boarding school and the intricacies of female friendships. This is not a book for readers who want fast answers and non-stop action. Rather, it takes the reader gradually deeper and deeper into the lives and minds of its subjects. I tried to make this clear in my review—it will reward patient readers who are attuned to detail and nuance. 

While part of a series, it definitely stands alone. This is particularly true for teen readers because the only relationships that continue from past books concern two of the detectives. Series readers will enjoy watching these two men struggle with their new circumstances, but new readers won’t miss the extra layer.

For your suspense thriller readers, and particularly those who enjoy a good serial killer book, we have The Butcher by Jennifer Hillier. This is one of those stories where supposedly the serial killer was stopped years ago but, yikes, they may have fingered the wrong man. Extra points here for the Seattle foodie scene and the twists and turns of both the central plot and the troubled romance between the two main protagonists.

In The Furies, we find a non-stop action thriller with a science fiction angle–turns out that witches are the result of a genetic mutation. Sarah’s review, below, does a great job of describing the reading experience here, and which readers will enjoy it and why.

FRENCH, Tana. The Secret Place. 451p. (Dublin Murder Squad). Viking. Sept. 2014. Tr. $27.95. ISBN 9780670026326. LC 2014004500.  

Four best friends boarding at the exclusive St. Kilda’s girl’s school outside Dublin are at the heart of French’s latest literary mystery. Chris Harper, a student at St. Colm’s, the neighboring boy’s school, was found dead on the grounds of St. Kilda’s. He’d been killed in the middle of the night, bashed in the head with a hoe. One year after his death, a St. Kilda’s student, Holly Mackey, brings new evidence to Stephen Moran, a young detective stuck in Cold Cases who yearns to work Murder. Moran seizes his chance, and takes it directly to the lead detective on the Harper case, Antoinette Conway. The Secret Place has multiple meanings. For one, it refers to the cypress grove where Chris’s body was found, which is also the place Holly and her three best friends, Julia, Selena and Rebecca, hang out late at night, sneaking out of the dorm using a stolen key. It was there that they all vowed never to date St. Colm’s boys. Now, a year later, intensive interviews by Moran and Conway reveal cracks in their sisterhood. This is a detailed psychological study of the players that slowly reveals the who and why of the murder. By including chapters that focus on the girls, in the past and present, along with chapters from Moran’s point of view, French achieves a stunning depth of motivation and consequence. She clearly understands the secrets and social dynamics of girls and the pure beauty of first love. Strong, patient readers will be entranced.—Angela Carstensen, Convent of the Sacred Heart, New York City

HILLIER, Jennifer. The Butcher. 352p. S. & S. July 2014. Tr $25. ISBN 9781476734217. LC 2013047237.  

In the 1980s, policeman Edward Shank became a hero and eventually the police chief for gunning down “The Beacon Hill Butcher”—a serial killer who targeted young women. Now he’s moving into an assisted-living home and his grandson is given the family home. But Matt, an up-and-coming Seattle chef, makes a gruesome discovery in the backyard—something that makes him question his familial ties and his own sanity. Meanwhile, Matt’s girlfriend, Sam, is researching The Butcher for a true crime book because she believes he murdered her mother, two years after The Butcher was caught. As Sam arrives closer to the truth, she wonders if the discovery of her mother’s killer will be her own downfall.  Even though readers know the identity of the killer at the very beginning, Hillier fills the novel with mystery, suspense, and plenty of surprises. Even the love story is unexpected. Matt and Sam have their flaws, which make them feel more real, and the nonstop action is set firmly in the fascinating foodie world of Seattle. Matt’s emotional turmoil is scary and heartbreaking, and the troubled relationship between Matt and Sam will resonate with teens. Give this to readers who love fast-moving serial killer books like Geoffrey Girard’s Cain’s Blood (Touchstone, 2013) and Barry Lyga’s I Hunt Killers (Little, Brown, 2012).— Sarah Hill, Lake Land College, Mattoon, IL

ALPERT, Mark. The Furies: A Thriller. 312p. St. Martin’s/Thomas Dunne Bks. Apr. 2014. Tr $25.99. ISBN 9781250021359. LC 2013031726.  

John Rogers is depressed and lonely—but all that changes when he meets Ariel at a bar in Greenwich Village. He falls for her instantly, but their romantic tryst is interrupted by gunshots. John, a former gang member and military boot camp dropout, knows more about evading bullets than the average person, but Ariel is a professional. Ariel’s family are called the Furies—witches (but don’t call them that!) who have discovered the fountain of youth as a protein mutation that can only be passed through females. John is fine with Ariel’s explanations of the violence and her life story that spans hundreds of years—he’s in love. While many of the Furies’s male companions have initiated a rebellion, John is happy to leave his life behind and dedicate himself to Ariel and her family’s plan to save the world from evil. Readers who suspend their disbelief are in for addictive non-stop action akin to an all-night marathon of the television show 24. The reading level is low enough for quick reading, the action is fast, and the theory that real-life witches were behind many historical events is fascinating. Give this to fans of Michael Simmons’s Finding Lubchenko (Penguin, 2005), Andrew Smith’s Grasshopper Jungle (Dutton, 2014), or any medical or shoot ‘em up thrillers.—Sarah Hill, Lake Land College, Mattoon, IL

Categories: Library News