Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘YA’

exchangeIn Max Barry’s inventive futuristic thriller Lexicon, which I raved about last summer, words are weapons. In Alena Graedon’s futuristic first novel The Word Exchange (Knopf Doubleday, digital galley), words prove dangerous, too, even life-threatening. Make that civilization-as-we-know-it threatening. Print is pretty much dead in Graedon’s not-so-distant digital age. Libraries, bookstores, newspapers and magazines are obsolete because everyone communicates with “Memes,”  intuitive personal devices that make smart phones look prehistoric. Imagine Siri as a psychic Big Brother and wish-granting genie, and you have an idea of  Synchronic’s best-selling product. Can’t remember a word? Your Meme will supply it, or find you another one on the popular Word Exchange.

But not everyone is enchanted by this brave new technology. Lexicographer Doug Johnson is famously anti-Meme at he works to finish the last edition ever of the North American Dictionary of the English Language. His daughter Anana has been working with him, but when he disappears — leaving the one-word clue “Alice” — she follows him down the rabbit hole and discovers a dangerous realm of conspiracies and secret societies. And then the virulent “word flu” begins infecting people, causing a deadly aphasia.  “The end of words would mean the end of memory and thoughts,” warns a resistance group. “In other words, our past and future.”

Graedon alternates chapters between Ana’s narrative and her colleague Bart’s journal entries. The structure works mostly, but sometimes Graedon’s ambitious, clever world-building falters, and she resorts to digressive info dumps. Still, The Word Exchange is trippy, provocative — and what’s the word I’m looking for?  Oh, yes, “cautionary.”

lavenderLeslye Walton’s first YA novel The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender (Candlewick, digital galley) is a strange and beautiful fantasy, a family saga that reads like a fable, a coming-of-age tale melded with magical realism. Narrator Ava Lavender looks back from the present to her teenage years in the 1950s  in a lyrical prologue, but then views family history through the eyes of her grandmother Emilienne and mother Viviane.

Born in 1904 France, Emilienne travels to New York with her peculiar family, whose romantic travails lead her to marry baker Conner Lavender because he can take her far, far away. They eventually settle in an isolated house in Seattle, where their daughter Viviane suffers her own heartbreak. Enter Ava, born in 1944, with “a slight physical abnormality” — wings.

Ava grows up considering her speckled wings a useless bother and agrees with her mother’s decision to keep her and her twin Henry close to home. “It was safer for us there. Dangers lurk around every corner for the strange. And with my feathered appendages, Henry’s mute tongue, and my mother’s broken heart, what else were we but strange?” But as Ava grows older, she likes pretending to be normal, and with her friend Cardigan, ventures into the outside world. There will be consequences — for Ava, her family and household, the ghosts that live with them, and the assorted neighbors who have failed to understand that strange is also special.

snickerNatalie Lloyd’s first novel for middle-graders A Snicker of Magic (Scholastic, digital galley) reads like a favorite folktale, what with its colorful characters, mountain setting, dueling magicians, a long-ago curse, a plucky heroine and homespun tone. Because her mama has a wandering heart, 12-year-old Felicity Juniper Pickle, her little sister Frannie Jo and their  dog Biscuit have landed in Midnight Gulch, Tenn. Once upon a time, it was a magical place, and Felicity, who can see words spelled out in the air, still detects a shimmer of magic. Make that a snicker.

After making friends with schoolmate Jonah, meeting an eccentric ice cream tycoon, and learning the town’s history, Felicity just hopes that they can live with Aunt Cleo for a long, long time and make Midnight Gulch home for good. Even though she suffers from stage fright, she has entered the school’s talent show, the Duel, where words will be her weapon. But first she and Jonah want to see if they can reverse the town curse, bringing magic back to Midnight Gulch and all its residents, including her sad mama.

Read Full Post »

dicamilloWhen a vacuum cleaner swallows a squirrel, obsessive comic-book reader Flora Belle Buckman rushes to the rescue, resucitating the now-not-so-furry creature only to discover she has a superhero on her hands. Ulysses — as Flora calls him after the vacuum cleaner model — has somehow acquired the superpowers of strength, flight and poetry-writing.

That, in a nutshell, is the premise of Flora and Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures (Candlewick, purchased hardcover), which this week won author Kate DiCamillo her second Newbery Medal, the most prestigious award in children’s literature. She won her first 10 years ago for The Tale of Despereaux,  and her first book, Because of Winn-Dixie, set in the small-town Central Florida where she grew up, was a Newbery Honor Book in 2000. She now has more than a dozen books for young readers to her credit, including the popular Mercy Watson series. I wrote about her when I was at the Orlando Sentinel and again on this blog a few books back, http://tinyurl.com/owbs4av.  I was getting ready to write about her again because earlier this month, Kate DiCamillo was inaugurated as the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature at the Library of Congress. Then came word that Flora and Ulysses had captured the Newbery. Super!

Or holy bagumba, as Flora might say. Like her creator, Flora has a “capacious” imagination, a super-sized vocabulary, a droll wit and a tender heart. All are shown to advantage in the book, where the narrative is nicely complemented by K. G. Campbell’s illustrations and cartoon panels. It’s altogether funny and charming, a whimsical winner if ever there was one.

lockwoodI love books that successfully bend/blend genres. Jonathan Stroud kicks off his new series about teen ghost detectives, Lockwood & Co., with the frightfully funny and wickedly smart The Screaming Staircase (Disney-Hyperion, digital galley). London has a Problem: disagreeable ghosts, spirits and spectres of all kinds. The solution: teenagers with specially honed psychic abilities who have the best luck vanquishing the supernatural foes. Narrator Lucy Carlyle, who hasn’t always been lucky, joins the independent psychic detection agency, Lockwood & Co., teaming up with ambitious Anthony and aggravating George. They rid one London structure of its ghostly occupant only to discover a corpse and burn down the house in the process. Nevertheless, another haunted mansion awaits — Combe Carey Hall, site of way too many sudden deaths, surprising secrets and, of course, the screaming staircase. Great fun for kids (and adults indulging their inner kid).

hollowI’m halfway through Ransom Riggs’  Hollow City (Quirk Books, purchased e-book), the sequel to his fascinating fantasy Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar  Children. So far, it’s just as good, if not better, as Jacob and a group of other peculiars flee their Welsh island time loop to participate in the war against the nightmarish creatures known as “hollows.” They’re accompanied by Miss Peregrine in bird form — they’re hoping to find help to change her back — and meet other peculiars, including animals. Really, you have to read the first book, you must, to fully appreciate the exciting and well-crafted backstory in which Jacob discovers he’s more like his mysterious and extraordinary grandfather than he ever supposed. Again, odd black-and-white vintage photos enhance the the tale. I’d write more, but those pages won’t turn themselves. At least not yet . . .

Read Full Post »

shadowsWhile waiting what seems like forever for Veronica Roth’s Allegiant, the conclusion of the Divergent trilogy due out Oct. 22, I’ve been catching up on other YA offerings. There be magic aplenty.

Robin McKinley, who is known for her retellings of classic fairy tales (Beauty, Spindle’s End) and her original fantasies (The Hero and the Crown, Sunshine) gives a nod to both in the inventive Shadows (Penguin, purchased e-book). “The story starts like some thing out of a fairy tale. I hated my stepfather.” That’s 17-year-old Maggie talking about Val, the short, hairy, badly dressed immigrant from Oldworld her mom married. Actually, Maggie can’t really explain her antipathy to Val, except that she’s unsettled by the weird shadows surrounding him. Magic may still be accepted where Val’s from, but he wasn’t supposed to bring it to Newworld, where science rules and the “magic gene” was erased. So why is it only Maggie sees the shadows? It takes her awhile to figure it out, and McKinley’s story is on a slow burn until “cohesion breaks” threaten the reality of Maggie’s world and family. Her algebra book develops a mind of its own, a good friend undergoes a startling transformation, her border collie refuses to stay home, and the shadows reach out to touch Maggie’s mind and body. As always, McKinley’s a star at world-building, but Maggie’s teen-speak of made-up words like “dreepy” grows tiresome. Still, I’d like a sequel.

dreamthievesThe Dream Thieves (Scholastic, digital galley) is the sequel to Maggie Stiefvater’s The Raven Boys, and offers even more paranormal thrills as a mythical quest takes a dark turn. In the first book (and you really should read it), small town girl Blue got to know four students from a nearby prep school — Gansey, Ronan, Adam and Noah.  All are still looking for the sleeping Welsh king Owen Glendower, but now that the “ley” lines running through the Virginia area have been opened, their paths diverge. Dark and dangerous Ronan is learning more about his murdered father’s legacy and his ability to retrieve items from dreams. The friendship between privileged Gansey and proud Adam is strained  to the breaking point, a mysterious “Gray Man” is tracking their movements, and Blue’s family of clairvoyants are keeping secrets. Stiefvater easily merges an ordinary world of pizza parlors, street races and summer fireworks with one where time is circular, a forest disappears, and terrifying night creatures descend from the skies. It all makes fabulous sense. Two more books are promised in the Raven cycle.

coldtownYou say you’ve had it with vampires? Then imagine how 17-year-old Tana feels when she passes out at a party and wakes up surrounded by bloody corpses. Someone has left a window open, which is just asking for trouble in Holly Black’s dark and daring The Coldest Girl in Coldtown (Little Brown, digital galley). When Tara discovers two more survivors — the glam vampire Gavriel and her ex-boyfriend Aiden, who has been bitten and infected — she decides to try and save them all by going to the nearest Coldtown, a walled city where the government has quarantined the hedonistic bloodsuckers and their deluded followers. But once you go to Coldtown, you can’t come back — at least that’s what Tara, who lost her own mother to vampirism, understands. But perhaps if she embraces her doom, she may yet escape it. Maybe.

hereafterTeenage Rory has yet to accept her fate, much less welcome it, in Kate Brian’s Hereafter (Disney/Hyperion, digital galley), the second in the provocative Shadowlands series. In the first book, Rory and her family were placed in witness protection and relocated to Juniper Island to escape a serial killer. But the picturesque island, with its shifting population, rolling fogs and mysterious bridge, is really a way station for the dead, who will either be moving to the Light or to the Shadowlands. Except for Kate and a group of party-hearty teens. They’re the Lifers who must usher the dead on their designated paths, like it or not. But the weather vane indicates that something has changed in the eternal order. Exactly what remains up in the air as readers await a third book. Think of  this one as a necessary way station.

quarkbeastLet’s lighten up with Jasper Fforde’s The Song of the Quarkbeast (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, purchased e-book), the second installment in the silly-but-clever Chronicles of Kazam. As we learned in the first book, The Last Dragonslayer, pragmatic foundling Jennifer Strange runs a mystical arts management company for workaday wizards in the Ununited Kingdom. The properly certified rewire houses, relocate trees and keep track of creatures like the metal-munching quarkbeast. But now the noxious king is proposing Kazam merge with rival firm iMagic by way of a duel, with the victor taking over the loser company. With the help of her assistant Tiger, Jennifer prepares her team of eccentrics for the challenge. Expect copious wordplay and full-frontal whimsy.

goldendayUrsula Dubosarsky’s dreamy The Golden Day (Candlewick Press, digital galley) is more mystery than fantasy, but magic tinges the writing and the plot. In 1967 Australia, Miss Renshaw takes her class of 11 11-year-old girls to a nearby park to write poems and ponder death. One day, the mysteriously poetic groundskeeper, Morgan, guides Miss Renshaw and the girls to a cave on the beach to look at Aboriginal paintings. The girls, shuffling in the darkness lit only by Morgan’s flashlight, can’t wait to leave. “It was Cynthia who couldn’t wait, wheezing, gasping for breath, who went first, and then the others after her. . .They stumbled along in a line, back the way they had come, crawling out the low tunnel, back to the cave’s mouth, back outside, back to the world they knew.” They wait outside in the sunshine, but Miss Renshaw and Morgan don’t come out. Ever. The girls are then haunted by their teacher’s disappearance in more ways than one. Dubosarsky’s atmospheric tale is haunted by echoes of the classic 1975 film Picnic at Hanging Rock. I liked it very much.

Read Full Post »

madnessSometimes I think I want to go back to school. Not ordinary school-school but someplace exotic, like Hogwarts or Brakebills.

Wexford, the London school in Maureen Johnson’s The Madness Underneath (Penguin Young Readers, digital galley), isn’t all that unusual unless you are 17-year-old Louisiana teen Rory Devereaux. As a new student at Wexford in 2011’s The Name of the Star, Rory’s near-death choking experience left her with the ability to see ghosts. And that led to some rousing ghostbusting adventures with the “Shades of London,” a super-secret trio of young police officers on the trail of a ghostly Jack the Ripper copycat.

In the entertaining new book, Rory is still recovering from her Ripper encounter when she returns to Wexford. The Shades — serious Stephen, enigmatic Callum and gregarious Boo — need her help, especially after Rory discovers that Wexford is built atop the graveyard of Bedlam, the old insane asylum. But there also are other mysterious forces who want Rory’s particular talents, which were enhanced by her last brush with death.

Rory again narrates with verve as Johnson expertly combines the ordinary problems of school (exams, boyfriends, roommates) with the extraordinary (murder, secrets, ghosts). But doesn’t Johnson know it’s not nice to leave readers hanging by their fingernails from such a steep cliff?!

etiquetteManners are the thing in Gail Carriger’s first book for teens, Etiquette and Espionage (Little, Brown Young Readers, purchased e-book), set in the steampunk fantasy England of her Parasol Protectorate adult series. As a “covert recruit” at Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Finishing School for Young Ladies of Quality, 14-year old Sophronia and her classmates have lessons in dancing, drawing, music, dress and modern languages, as well as “the fine arts of death, diversion, and the modern weaponries.” Swords can get caught in skirts, which is why the student assassins-to-be use knives even as they practice advanced eyelash-fluttering.  The school itself is located in huge, interlaced dirigibles floating above the moors, and the professors include a vain vampire and a roguish werewolf.

You can tell Carriger had a blast (and tongue firmly in cheek) coming up with the quasi-Victorian details, outrageous names and over-the-top hi-jinks. Both clever and silly, this genre-bending romp involves agile Sophronia and her sidekicks, including a “mechanical” steam-powered dog, fighting off “flywaymen” for possession of a prototype allowing for better communication through the ether. It’s billed as “Finishing School — Book the First” so the ending is happily not the finish.

nightmareSixteen-year-old Destiny “Dusty” Everhart is a relatively new student at Arkwell Academy in Mindee Arnett’s The Nightmare Affair (TOR Teen, purchased e-book). And she’s having a rough time at this boarding school for magickind, being the lone Nightmare among the cliques of witches, sirens, faeries, etc. But her ability to feed off others’ dreams also earns her a certain reputation, although not as scandalous as that of her estranged mother. But that could change now that The Will, the magickind governing regime, demands that she partner with the handsome human Eli Booker to predict the future.

Arnett’s world-building is engaging, especially the classifications and characteristics of magickind, but the plot is a predictable mash-up of high-school coming-of-age and  Arthurian mythology. Here’s hoping the next entry in the Arkwell Academy series offers more challenge.

Read Full Post »

faultJohn Green’s novel The Fault in Our Stars (Penguin) continues to blaze in the literary sky, appearing on many best of the year lists. All credit to Time magazine for lauding the smart, funny and moving story of teens with cancer as its No. 1 fiction book of the year, even though other publications put it in the YA — young adult — category.

First published in January, the fourth solo novel from Green — who grew up in Orlando — was a pre-pub bestseller and garnered praise from the get-go with numerous starred reviews. It’s been optioned for a movie, is a Goodreads winner, and Barnes and Noble will issue a special hardcover collector’s edition next month. As far as I’m concerned, it couldn’t happen to a better book. I first read it last fall in a manuscript galley after signing a promise not to review it before publication. I laughed at the beginning, and then I cried later on, even as I smiled. Same thing when I recently reread it. Yes, it’s that good, and characters Hazel and Augustus that memorable.

It’s also a good time to be a YA author, with both realistic novels and fantasy titles finding large crossover audiences. Sure, the success of Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games trilogy further enhanced YA’s popularity, but Harry Potter deserves the real credit. Not only did the series let grown-ups admit to reading kids’ books without apology, it also created a generation of readers thirsty for good books.

fairylandTime magazine’s No.5 fiction book for 2012 is also ostensibly a kids’ book, but anyone who loves layered storytelling and lush language will be enchanted by Catherynne M. Valente’s The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There (Feiwel and Friends/Macmillan, paperback ARC). It’s a follow-up to last year’s The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, which first introduced the Nebraska girl named September.

In the new book, nearly a year has passed since September has returned home, keeping her extraordinary trip to Fairyland a secret. But soon after she turns 13, a sweet, green-smelling wind ruffles the pages of her book, and September falls into Fairyland Below, where her lost shadow reigns as Halloween — the Hollow Queen — and old friends and new adventures await.

“The revolving door spun shut behind them and vanished. Satiny, perfect blackness greeted them, blacker than the Panther of Rough Storms in the midst of the most livid thundercloud, blacker than the ink-sodden page in Avogadra’s book. September’s eyes ached with trying to see through the crowblack air. Iago, being a cat, had a somewhat better time of it. He stepped forward carefully, his paws landing quietly as footsteps in snow.

“Someone lit a candle.”

Open Book: I read a lot of YA fiction, especially fantasy. I can recommend Aly Condie’s Reached (Penguin, purchased hardcover), the conclusion to the Matched trilogy; Laini Taylor’s Days of Blood and Starlight (Little, Brown, purchased e-book), the second in a trilogy; Veronica Roth’s Insurgent (HarperCollins, purchased e-book), the second in the Divergent series; and Kerstin Gier’s Sapphire Blue (Henry Holt, paperback ARC), the second in the Ruby Red trilogy.

Read Full Post »

Wildfires out West and floods in Florida. Just more weird weather, or — dum, dum, dum — the end of the world as we know it? In this summer’s most buzzed-about book, The Age of Miracles, first-time novelist Karen Thompson Walker posits an end-days scenario triggered by the slowing of the Earth’s rotation.

“We didn’t notice right away. We couldn’t feel it,” begins narrator Julia, a Southern California sixth-grader. She recalls that they were distracted by weather and war, worrying about the wrong things: “the hole in the ozone layer, the melting of the ice caps, West Nile and swine flu and killer bees. But I guess it never is what you worry over that comes to pass in the end. The real catastrophes are always different  — unimagined, unprepared for, unknown.”

As far as global castastrophes goes, “the slowing” is a pretty good one. Birds plummet from the sky as gravity shifts. Whales beach themselves. Long days stretch into  white nights. Some plants begin to die, some people sicken, including Julia’s mother, who like many others, begins hoarding canned goods and candles. A period of panic sets in before the government decides society should continue 24/7, even if it means school begins in the middle of the night. The “real-timers” rebel, preferring to stick to circadian rhythms, although they are ostracized by their neighbors. A good many pick up and light out for the territory to establish their own communities.

Apocalypse nigh, of course, is a speculative fiction staple, and dystopia the favorite setting of current YA novels. But The Age of Miracles lacks the vitality of many of those books, such as Veronica Roth’s Divergent. Walker’s tone is elegiac, her writing elegant as Julia details both the ordinary travails of early adolescence — best friends, first loves, sleepovers, soccer games — and such extraordinary events as raging solar storms and rips in the magnetic field. It’s this counterpoint that makes for an intimate, involving narrative.

“We kids were not as afraid as we should have been,” Julia confesses. “We were too young to be scared, too immersed  in our own small worlds, too convinced of our own permanence.”

How much you enjoy The Age of Miracles will depend on how much you care about Julia’s small world of family and friends — her weary mother, her secretive father, her feisty grandfather, her classmate Seth — and all the little dramas of life going on.

Open Book: I read a digital galley via NetGalley of Karen Thompson Walker’s The Age of Miracles (Random House). Soon it will disappear from my Nook, but not from my memory.

Read Full Post »

I’m not sure why I put off reading Code Name Verity, the new historical novel from Elizabeth Wein that was published last month. I’d heard good things about it, and I’d had the galley for awhile. But a story about two English girls during World War II, one of whom has been captured by the Gestapo, sounded like something that might end in tears, and the cover didn’t help, with its picture of two arms bound at the wrist with twine and “verity” spelled out in blood-red type. So not a beach book.

Then I started reading it Sunday during a rain delay in the French Open finals, and just as well the match was eventually postponed. “I am a coward.”

I couldn’t put it down. “I wanted to be heroic and I pretended I was.”

Really, I think I carried it into the kitchen to get another Diet Coke   “I have always been good at pretending.”

I finished it as the evening news came on. Even then, I half-expected a report on the Nazi occupation of France and RAF missions over the Channel. I was still in 1943 with Verity.

Of course, that’s a code-name. Her friends call her Queenie, because she comes from a family of aristocratic Scots with their own castle. Really, if it hadn’t been for the war breaking down class barriers she’d probably never have met Maddie, whose Russian grandfather has a bike shop near Manchester. The two would never have become best friends, “a sensational team” until a mission to France goes awry, with spy Queenie parachuting early into enemy territory and pilot Maddie crash-landing their plane.

I’m not going to tell you a lot more because it would spoil a plot so cleverly constructed that you race through the book as if running pell-mell through the woods, no time to stop and look at the trees much less picture the forest.

Queenie is writing for her life, confessing “absolutely every detail” to a Gestapo captain and his henchwoman in exchange for no more torture and a few more days before her inevitable fate. She’ll give up codes, locate airfields, detail all the planes Maddie flew. Just keep her in ink and paper — creamy hotel stationery from the chateau-turned-prison, a Jewish doctor’s prescription pad, sheet music from a vanished student. She is alternately terrified, impudent, rebellious and self-deprecating as she writes about herself in the third-person from Maddie’s point of view, mostly because she can’t stand to think about her old self, “so earnest and self-righteous and flamboyantly heroic.”

I’m going to stop now. There are only so many times I can reread certain phrases, like quotes from Peter Pan, or “Fly the plane, Maddie,” or “Kiss me, Hardy!” without scaring the cat with my sobs. And that’s the truth.

Open Book: I read a digital galley of Elizabeth Wein’s Code Name Verity (Hyperion via NetGalley). It’s being marketed as a YA book, but like John Green’s recent The Fault in Our Stars, it should reach a wide crossover audience.

Read Full Post »

“She was cyborg, and she would never go to the ball.”

Laugh if you want. I admit to a chuckle upon reading that sentence early on in Cinder, Marissa Meyer’s first novel, a YA SF reboot (sorry, couldn’t resist) of the familiar fairy tale. It’s an inventive adventure, but most of the humor is inadvertent. Meyers immerses readers in the future dystopia of New Beijing, whose teeming population is threatened both by the mind-bending residents of the moon, knows as Lunars, and by a dreadful deadly plague.

So, Cinder has more to worry about than going to the ball and dancing with handsome Prince Kai. And it’s not just because her wicked stepmother won’t pay for a party dress for her, like those being fashioned for her stepsisters Pearl and Peony. Nor is it just because Kai doesn’t realize that the pretty, if grease-stained, teen-age mechanic repairing his android has a steel-plated foot and other non-human parts and wiring.

Cinder is cyborg, which means she has no human rights and is thus vulnerable to being drafted as a guinea pig for palace researchers testing for a new plague vaccine. Once drafted, the “volunteers” are never seen again, much like the human plague sufferers who are quarantined and warehoused.

The exception is Kai’s father, the emperor, who is dying in isolated splendor in the palace. Beware evil Lunar Queen Levana, who comes bearing the gift of a possible antidote. She wants to marry Prince Kai in exchange for the secret. Pity her niece Selene didn’t survive girlhood or she could have rightfully assumed the Lunar throne and set free her enslaved people. Now Levana plans on conquering Earth, starting with New Beijing.

Don’t worry. I’m not giving away anything that Meyer doesn’t within the book’s first 50 pages. And the mash-up plot isn’t Cinder’s strong suit, anyway. That would be the world-building, which is just fantastic, from the crowded market streets of New Beijing, with omnipresent net-screens blaring the latest headlines, to the cold palace labs where doctors use holograms to decipher the exact cyborg make-up and biometric engineering of second-class citizens. Then there are the sophisticated androids, although Cinder’s assistant Iko is a little too girly R2D2 for me.

Cinder is the first of four planned volumes of “The Lunar Chronicles,” so, of course, it ends with some cliff-hanging. Hope my nails last until the sequel. Or I maybe I’ll just get some fancy fake ones.

Open Book: I picked up an advance readers edition of Marissa Meyer’s Cinder (Feiwel and Friends/Macmillan) at SIBA last fall. It’s just one of several new YA books I’ve been reading. Definitely the best cover.

Read Full Post »

Paranormal is the new normal, especially in teen fiction. Ask teens if they’ve read any good books lately, and nine times out of 10, they’ll name a fantasy. Make that 10 out of 10. For this year’s recent Teen Read Week, 9,000 teens across the country voted at their local libraries for the 2011 Teens’ Top Ten, http://tinyurl.com/3hwnpy Steampunk, dystopia, apocalypse nigh. Vampires, zombies, aliens and angels. Many, many angels.

Karou is the girl with blue hair, the girl raised by demons, the girl who falls in love with an angel. She is also  the title character of Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone, a scintillating mix of myth and magic, religion and romance.

In the storybook setting of 21st-century Prague, Karou is an art student who occasionally puzzles her best friend with unexplained absences and detailed drawings of fantastic creatures. But how to explain her errands for the chimaera Brimstone, who looks like a monster and who trades in wishes and teeth? It’s what Karou has always known until enigmatic handprints start appearing on the portals to “Elsewhere,” and she is attacked in Marrakesh by a beautiful man with blazing eyes. He is the seraph Akiva, and he and Karou soon learn their destinies are joined by a 1,000-year-old war between angels and demons.

Taylor nicely tempers the exotic and epic with teen angst and snark. Karou may discover she has secret powers, but she still is a teenager with a cell phone and boyfriend trouble. The book doesn’t end so much as stop, leaving readers longing for the next in the series.

Maggie Stiefvater’s The Scorpio Races is a dark horse tale. On the island of Thisby, which is rural and Gaelic, riders risk their lives every fall riding fierce water horses on a strip of beach. The stallions are predatory carnivores who pluck people off of horses and boats, drowning them in the sea.

At 19, Sean Kendrick is a Scorpio Race veteran and winner. This year he’s racing for the right to buy the red stallion Corr. Young Puck Connelly decides to race her land mare for the prize money she and her orphaned brothers desperately need. Both know they are just as likely to die as to win as they take turns narrating chapters.

Stiefvater’s atmospheric, present-tense story fairly gallops along. The water horses rise realistically from the waves, and the race itself is harrowing. Readers win.

Open Book: I bought the e-book versions of both Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor (Little, Brown) and The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater (Scholastic). I’m also about halfway through a digital galley of Lia Habel’s first novel Dearly, Departed (Random House via NetGalley), an inventive steampunk-zombie hybrid slowed by some clunky writing. But I want to find out what happens to New Victorian teen Nora Dearly and the oddly attractive and very undead soldier Bram Griswold.

Read Full Post »

Are your memories of high school heavenly, or are they hellish? Perhaps a bit of both, which is why high school often feels like limbo, the necessary way station before whatever happens next.

The students in Dead Rules, Randy Russell’s killer YA debut, can relate. Their lives interrupted by sudden death, these teens find themselves at a ghostly school wearing the clothes and wounds of their passing. Poor Jana Webster. She has on bowling shoes! For an aspiring actress bent on a Broadway career with boyfriend Michael Hayes, this is totally humilating. Sure it could be worse — she could have arrived with a lawn dart sticking out of her head, or missing a major limb. Jana’s pretty lucky with just a bloody bump on the back of her skull and a tube of lip gloss in her pocket.

But Jana doesn’t feel lucky. Michael isn’t with her. How can she go on without the love of her life? Webster and Hayes for all eternity!  Michael must die, even if she has to kill him herself.

She can’t do it alone though. Dead School, like other high schools, has classes and cliques and rules. As a Riser almost assured of salvation, Jana has lost connection with the “Planet.” Only with the help of a more warm-blooded Slider,  a student who retains an earthly connection because of past misdeeds, can she hope to communicate with Michael. Mars Dreamcote, for instance, is a Slider who frequently risks expulsion by going off campus as a ghost of his former self and already has broken the rules by explaining some of them to Jana. That he also knows more about Jana’s life and death than she realizes still awaits her discovery. First, though, they need to attend Jana’s funeral.

Wickedly clever. Or cleverly wicked. Either way, Russell’s tale is also funny, thoughtful and poignant, with a fully realized world of quirky, recognizable teens. I’m totally crushing on Mars, the blue-eyed “bad boy” secretly seeking redemption. Expertly plotted, the story builds to a final, brilliant sentence. But don’t skip ahead or you might miss the impact. This once you’ll want to follow the rules start to finish.

Open Book: I bought the e-book version of Dead Rules (HarperTeen), and my longtime friend Randy Russell has not bribed me to say nice things. I’m just sorry I haven’t gotten around to saying them sooner.

Read Full Post »

« Newer Posts - Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: