Thursday, May 3, 2018

CTLC: Young Adult Romance

I attended the Colorado Teen Literature Conference a couple weeks ago and the afternoon keynote speaker was the award-winning romance writer Simone Elkeles, best known for her Perfect Chemistry and How to Ruin trilogies.  Her self-deprecating humor was very engaging, as she talked about her path to writing YA romance.  She frequently does talks at correctional facilities where her novels are wildly popular with young incarcerated males.   Her new novel Crossing the Line, which is about star crossed lovers in Mexico, comes out June 12th. While you are waiting for its publication, I would like to recommend several new YA romances.   Starry Eyes by Jenn Bennett (Alex, Approximately) explores the Romeo and Juliet romance between former best friends whose parents are feuding. August and Everything After by Jen Doktorski (The Summer After You and Me) focuses on two musicians who find solace in each other after the loss of friends in traffic accidents. In The Upside of Falling Down by Rebekah Crane (The Odds of Loving Grover Cleveland), Clementine Haas, an American teen who experiences amnesia after surviving a plane crash in Ireland, falls in love with an Irishman and his country, as she is trying to rediscover who she is.

In Starry Eyes nerdy stargazer Zorie Everhart uncharacteristically agrees to join a group of popular classmates on a "glamping" vacation at a northern California resort, the summer after her junior year.  She plans to attend a meteor shower viewing with her astronomy club at a nearby location after the trip. When the teens come to pick her up for the drive, she is horrified to find out that her former best friend and crush Lennon Mackenzie is going, too.   Their families are feuding because his lesbian moms have opened a sex shop next to Zorie's parents' spa, which seems to be hurting business, and they haven't spoken to each other since he stood her up for homecoming without an explanation.  After a series of unfortunate events, Zorie and Lennon find themselves abandoned by their friends without a ride home, so they decide to hike to the meteor shower event, giving them time to resolve their differences and find their way back to love.  Serious subjects such as grief, betrayal and divorce are explored, but the snappy dialogue, sympathetic characters and an action packed plot are what will make this a winner with teens.

August and Everything After introduces Quinn and Malcolm who meet when they are both grieving the loss of friends in traffic accidents: she her best friend and he two band mates. In the aftermath of loss, Quinn is paralyzed by panic attacks and Malcolm substance abuse.  When Malcolm invites her to play drums for his new album, she finds it the perfect summer distraction.  As their relationship deepens through music and her desire to save Malcolm from his demons, Quinn struggles with sublimating her own desires to Malcolm's demands.  Pressured by her mother and aunt to decide on a master plan for her future, she must decide whether to go on tour with Malcolm after they record his demo or focus on her own goals and healing.  Appropriately named after the Counting Crows' debut album (1993), the book is about change and redemption and forgiving oneself.

The Upside of Falling Down is a step above the usual amnesiac melodrama.  The only survivor of a plane crash outside Shannon, Ireland, 18-year-old American Clementine "Teeny" Haas panics when she wakes up in an Irish hospital, remembering nothing of her former life.  Playing a game of truth or dare, she convinces a hospital volunteer, Kieran O'Connell, to sneak her out of the hospital and take her to Waterville, where Kieran shares a home with his pregnant twin sister Siobhan.  Hoping to regain her memory, Teeny spends time with Siobhan and her boss Clive at a used book, record, and costume shop and helps Kieran with his "do-gooder" projects around town.  Slowly, fragmented memories of her old life surface, meanwhile her father and nurse Stephen are back at the hospital trying to locate her.  Kieran and Teeny continue their game of truth or dare, concentrating much more on dares than telling each other the truth about her identity and his conflicted relationship with his business mogul father.  The colorful characters and Irish setting make this a charming read.  Siobhan is a testy rebel, who is very suspicious of Teeny, and Clive is a flamboyant bisexual who embraces Teeny's impulsive spirited antics in her search for her true self.  Kieran is, of course, a swoon-worthy leading man, whose good looks and supportive friendship lead Teeny to fall in love with him.  The surprising reveal at the conclusion makes this a fun and satisfying romantic read.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Teens Dealing with Death: Children of Blood and Bone, The Beauty that Remains, and Orphan, Monster, Spy

Regardless the genre, teens dealing with death is a familiar topic in young adult literature.  Loss of a loved one is a life-defining moment for the main characters in three new YA novels.   The first book in a new fantasy series, Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi, focuses on a young girl whose mother was murdered when the king decides that all magicians in the kingdom must die. The Beauty that Remains,  a contemporary realistic fiction debut by Ashley Woodfolk, explores the way three teens deal with the death of a beloved  friend.  Finally, Orphan Monster, Spy by Matt Killeen is a WWII historical fiction about a young Jewish girl, who becomes a spy after her mother is killed as they try to escape the Nazis.

Children of Blood and Bone, from the new Legacy of Orisha series, introduces Zelie, a diviner with latent magic abilities, who is hoping to bring magic back to her kingdom.  King Saran has killed most of the maji, including her mother, but his daughter Amari escapes his palace with a scroll containing the power to reignite magic. Amari's is devastated when her maid, who is a diviner, is killed by her father.  During her escape she is aided by Zelie, who realizes that the scroll Amari has stolen is one of the three relics need to perform a ceremony to restore magic powers to diviners.  Aided by Zelie's brother Tzain, they are traveling to a mythic island, which they must reach to perform the ceremony before the solstice. Prince Inan, Amari's brother is hot on their trail, but en-route he discovers, he is a diviner as well.  Along the way, allegiances shift and a cliff hanger ending will leave readers anxious for the sequel to this new action-packed page turner.

In The Beauty that Remains Autumn, Shay and Logan, teens who are loosely connected by their interest in an Indie band known as Unraveling Lovely, have all lost a loved one.  Autumn's best friend Tavia, who is Autumn's boyfriend Dante's sister, died in a car accident.  Shay's twin sister Sasha died after a long battle with leukemia, and Logan's ex-boyfriend Bram committed suicide. They are all struggling in unhealthy ways.  Autumn, who is blaming herself for opting out of the party from which Tavia was driving, is lashing out a everyone around her, including Dante, leaving her without a support system.  Shay, whose family doesn't really know how to cope without focusing on her dying sister, is having panic attacks and skipping school.  Logan, the lead singer in Unraveling Lovely, derails the band when he turns to alcohol to assuage his pain.  The self- and life-defining nature of grief is examined, as these characters learn that things change after someone dies, but they must focus on the beauty that remains.  The story, which is told in alternating voices, involves three empathetic teens about whom readers will care deeply, as their separate lives ultimately converge in this exploration of loss.

In 1939 Germany Sarah and her mother are trying to escape to Switzerland, but her mother is killed.  Blond, blue-eyed Sarah has been trained by her actress mother to assume various identities because she is a Jew.  She is aided by a British spry, who convinces her to help him steal Nazi blueprints for a nuclear bomb.  She enrolls in a Nazi boarding school, befriends a scientist's daughter, sneaks into a fortress where the bomb is being built, but not without a vast amount of intrigue and danger.  With references to real-life characters, Orphan, Monster, Spy has a unique story line from which to investigate a variety of familiar topics, including the Holocaust, the race to get the nuclear bomb, and the complex spy network during WWII. This fast paced and cleverly constructed spy thriller is also a coming-of-age story about an incredibly imaginative and resourceful young girl, who lives in constant danger.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

New Fantasy Duologies: Tess of the Road, Between the Blade and the Heart and The Belles

Three new fantasy duologies, that I think teens will like, debuted in early 2018. Rachel Hartman returns to her Seraphina series with Tess of the Road, a tale about Seraphina's stepsister Tess Dombegh, who disguises herself as a boy to seek a legendary serpent.  Between the Blade and the Heart, the first in the Valkyrie duology by Amanda Hocking (Trylle Trilogy and Kanin Chronicles), introduces Malin, a Valkyrie whose job it is to slay immortals and return them to the afterlife. The Belles by  Dhonielle Clayton in her solo debut introduces a world where a jealous God has made everyone gray and ugly. The wealthy  pay women known as Belles to use their magic to transform them into something beautiful, depending on the latest fads and personal ideas of beauty.

In Tess of the Road the main character Tess is recovering from a catastrophic downfall after being seduced and abandoned.  Although she tries to redeem herself, all is lost when she ruins her twin sister Jeanne's wedding by drunkenly punching the groom.  Disguising herself as a boy, she hits the road to help her childhood friend, a quigutl dragon, find a legendary serpent. Along the way she must pose as a priest, work as a manual laborer and fend off robbers, as she slowly makes peace with her past.  At first bitter and self-pitying, Tess ultimately shows her worth through her courage, resilience and empathy. Her triumphant quest to find the serpent allows her to begin to reenter society in this tale of female empowerment.  The first in a duology, this novel sets the stage for further adventures on the road.

Between the Blade and the Heart, the first in the Valkyrie duology, introduces Malin, a Valkyrie-in-training, whose job it is to slay immortals and return them to the afterlife.  When she discovers that her mentor/mother failed to carry out an assignment, resulting in the death of a fellow Valkyrie, Malin joins her son Archer to find the culprit and kill him.  Malin's roommate Oona, a sorceress-in-training, and her ex-girlfriend Quinn come along for the ride.  The story is immersed in Norse mythology and includes many fascinating creatures, making this novel heavy on world-building, but not lacking in action and romance.  The obligatory love triangle has a new twist in that Malin is bisexual. The cliffhanger ending will leave readers thrilled that the sequel From the Earth to the Shadows, comes out April 24, 2018.

In The Belles the God of the Sky in the opulent world of Orleans becomes jealous of the Goddess of Beauty's love for their children, so he curses them with ugliness.  She in retaliation creates the Belles, who have magical powers allowing them to transform people's ugliness.  Camellia and her 5 sisters are Belles who have just finished their training and are about to enter society.  A contest is held to determine which one will get to serve in the royal household.  Although not chosen at first, Camellia ultimately ends up in the palace, where she finds the crown princess in a coma and her younger sister obsessed with power.  As Camellia struggles to unravel the political plot, she uncovers the secret to the Belle's origin in a culture obsess with beauty.  This novel challenges readers to think about their own ideas of beauty and what women go through financially and physically to attain it. The Belles, as well as the other two novels reviewed, are most appropriate for mature readers.

Friday, February 9, 2018

Colorado Blue Spruce Young Adult Book Award

Yesterday at the CCIRA convention in Denver, the 2017 Blue Spruce winner, Six of Crows by Leigh Barduga, and the 2018 nominees were announced. The winner focuses on six dangerous outcasts in the magic infused city of Ketterdam, who are offered vast sums of money to liberate a scientist from a maximum security prison.  Kaz, who heads the crew, recruits his friends to help him with the heist.  The story is told from multiple points of view and along the way readers find out each person's backstory, which leads them to Kaz's gang.  This page turner ends with a cliff-hanger ending, followed by the sequel Crooked Kingdom.
The 2018 nominees include several previously reviewed in this blog, including Everything, Everything, by Nicola Yoon, The Inexplicable Logic of My Life by Benjamin Alire Saenz, Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard, and The Hate You Give by Angie Thomas. In addition to these titles, the following novels are up for the 2018 award.
Caraval by Stephanie Garber
Two sisters leave their cruel father to attend Caraval-a faraway once-a-year performance where the audience participates in the show.  Along the way one is kidnapped and the other is aided by a mysterious sailor and finds herself enmeshed in a game of love, heartbreak and magic.
 Daughter of the Pirate King by Tricia Levenseller
When the pirate king discovers that a legendary treasure map can be found on an enemy ship, his daughter Alosa knows there is only one pirate for the job - herself.  Leaving behind her beloved ship and crew, Alosa deliberately facilitates her own kidnapping to ensure her welcome on the ship.
 The Forgetting by Sharon Cameron
Canaan is a quiet city on an idyllic world, hemmed in by high walls, but every 12 years the town breaks out in a chaos of bloody violence, after which all the people undergo the Forgetting, in which they are left without any trace of memory.  But Nadia has never forgotten.
 Kill All Happies by Rachel Cohn
Victoria Navarro has one night to throw the ultimate graduation party at Happies, a legendary restaurant that is closing.  She hopes to say goodbye to lifelong friends and make sure her crush never forgets her, but all doesn't go as planned.
The Marvels by Brian Selznik
The author of The Invention of Hugo Cabret, once again employs pen and ink drawings, as well as text, to tell the story of the Marvels, a brilliant family of London actors.
Nyxia by Scott Reintgen
Emmet accepts an interstellar space contract, but learns en route that to win the promised fortune, he and the other recruits face a brutal competition, putting their very humanity at risk.
 Refugee by Alan Gratz
Three teens separated by continents and decades embark on harrowing journeys in search of refuge. Joseph flees Nazi Germany in 1930, Isabel leaves Cuba on a raft to America in 1994 and Mahmoud begins the journey from Syria to Germany in 2015. Surprising connections tie their stories together.
 Turtles All the Way Down by John Green
John Green's latest novel focuses on Aza whose OCD threatens to derail her attempt to get control of her life, as she pursues the mystery of a fugitive billionaire.
Wax by Gina Damico
Poppy Palladino, with the help of a wax boy called Dud, attempts to uncover an evil plot that threatens her hometown of Paraffin, Vermont.
We All Looked Up by Tommy Wallach
The lives of 4 high school seniors intersect weeks before a meteor is set to pass through Earth's orbit with a 66.6% chance of striking and destroying all life on Earth.

 To read more about the award and find book talks for the new nominees go to http://www.coloradobluespruceaward.org/






Sunday, January 28, 2018

New from favorite authors: Far from the Tree, The Inexplicable Logic of My Life, and The Whole Thing Together

The 2018 edition of my book What's New in Young Adult Novels? and Ideas for Classroom Use is now available. I have added over 80 books from 2017 with recommendations for using them in the classroom.  Many of the books have been reviewed in this blog already, however, before I move on to 2018 titles, I would like to recommend three 2017 novels by some of my favorite authors.  Robin Benway (Emmy and Oliver) won the 2017 National Book Award for Far from the Tree, her saga about three siblings who find each other after being adopted out to different families.  Benjamin Alire Saenz (Aristotle and Dante Discover Secrets of the Universe) follows the senior year of Salvador, who was adopted by a gay Mexican-American man after his mother dies in The Inexplicable Logic of My Life. Ann Brashares (Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants) focuses on two half-siblings who share a room at a family beach house, but have never met each other, in The Whole Thing Together

In Far from the Tree Grace, an only child who was adopted at birth, finds herself pregnant and decides to find her biological family, after giving the baby up for adoption.  She reconnects with her younger sister, Maya, a confident gay teen who was adopted by a well-to-do family who also have a biological daughter, and Joaquin, their stoic older brother who is a product of the foster care system. Grace is much more interested in finding their biological mother than either of her siblings.  Chapters alternate between their third person perspectives, as each teen struggles to navigate personal challenges that they keep secret. Maya's mother is a closet alcoholic, Joaquin's latest foster parents want to adopt him, and Grace is trying to decide if she wants to maintain a relationship with her baby and adoptive family.  This touching family saga is truly deserving of its National Book Award.

The Inexplicable Logic of My Life introduces Salvador, whose gay Mexican-American father adopted him when he was three, after his mother, who was Dad's best friend, dies. Sal finds his world turned upside down when his adoptive grandmother Mima is diagnosed with cancer, his best friend Samantha moves in with him after a family tragedy, and his streetwise gay friend Fito is kicked out of his home by his drug addicted mom.  Complicating matters, Sal uncharacteristically gets into several fist fights and wonders if he inherited violent tendencies from his biological father. When his adoptive dad gives him a letter his mother left for him, Sal hesitates to open it, thinking it might be better to leave that chapter of his life closed.  In short journal like chapters and text messages, this novel reveals a story of love, loss and the value of family.

After Robert and Lila bitterly divorce, in The Whole Thing Together, they and their three daughters take turns sharing the family's Long Island beach house every summer. The parents remarry and each have another child, Ray and Sasha, who share the same bedroom in the beach house on alternate weeks.  Although they share toys, books and even a bed, they have never met, until they unexpectedly run into each other at a NYC party and feel an instant attraction. When their stepsister Mila gets engaged, the two families decide to bury the hatchet for an engagement party at the house, with disastrous results. Then a family tragedy initiates a truce, and they begin to deal with long standing issues and healing begins.  This exploration of split family dynamics is both funny and tragic with a little romance thrown in as well.



Thursday, December 14, 2017

New YA Fantasy/ SciFi Recommendations: Warcross, All Rights Reserved and Rosemarked.

It's time for holiday gifts and my thoughts turn to fun YA reads, which provide a break from assigned reading.  Fantasy novels immediately come to mind, so this month I will recommend three books that introduce new series that I think teens will enjoy. Warcross by Marie Lu (Legend series) focuses on Emi Chen, a bounty hunter who hacks into a popular virtual reality game tournament.  All Rights Reserved by Gregory Scott Katsoulis is set in a world where every word and gesture are copyrighted and must be purchased for use.  Rosemarked by Livia Blackburne takes place in a plague ridden world where Zivah, a healer, and Dineas, a rebel, join to fight a mutual oppressor.

Warcross is the first book in a new high tech sci/fi series by acclaimed author Marie Lu.  Emi Chen is a hacker who makes a meager living working as a bounty hunter, tracking down people who bet illegally on a popular virtual reality game known as Warcross.  When she hacks into a Warcross tournament game to scavenge, she is discovered by the game's creator, Hideo Tanka.  He flies her to Tokyo and hires her as a hacker spy in order to find a villain known as Zero, who is after him.  She poses as a player on one of the tournament teams, but in this virtual world filled with double crosses, it is hard to know who to trust.  A former video game artist herself, the author's attention to game detail makes this a very believable futuristic read. The bombshell revelation and cliffhanger ending will leave readers clamoring for the next book in this thrilling new series.


The clever premise in All Rights Reserved sets up a dystopian world ripe for rebellion.  In the future all words, gestures and sounds are trademarked, cataloged and monetized, and everyone over the age of 15 is required to wear a cuff that charges them for every word they speak, causing many to go bankrupt. When Speth is about to give her last day speech and be inducted into the paying world, her boyfriend commits suicide, rather than work off his family's crippling debt.  Shocked and distraught, Speth refuses to read her speech and elects to remain silent.  Her defiance of tradition incites a media frenzy and inspires others to follow her lead and rebel against the powers that be, who have a stranglehold on communication.  Speth is a reluctant hero, who pays a high personal price as the figurehead of  the "Silents" movement. The ending, although satfisfying, sets up the upcoming sequel. I would recommend this to fans of Scott Westerfeld's Uglies and other series about teen rebellion against a repressive dystopian society.


Rosemarked, the first book in a new fantasy series, introduces a plague ridden world where the authoritarian rule of the Amparans tyrannizes the people they subjugate.  The story is told by Zivah, a Daran healer, who has contracted the rose plague when she treats infected occupying Amparan soldiers, and Dineas, a Shidadi soldier rebelling against Amparan rule. He has survived the plague and is now umbertouched or immune, but she is highly contagious and can expect a shortened life span. Because Zivah saved the life of the Amparan commander, she is invited to live in the Capital to heal other plague stricken Amparans.  When the Darans ally with the Shidadi, the two are engaged as spies in order to find a weakness in the Amparan forces. Dineas infiltrates the Amparan military to learn the empire's plans for dealing with the rebels and then reports to Zivah in the Capital.  As they join together to fight a mutual oppressor, Zivah and Dineas develop a deep affection for each other. The detailed world building and complex characters will engage readers in this tension filled page turner.  The unresolved ending sets up the sequel Umbertouched, which will be released in 2018.


Saturday, November 18, 2017

Quirky Teens: 36 Questions, Speed of Life, What to Say Next and Holding Up the Universe

Although the books I am recommending this month could be characterized as quirky teen relationship novels, they all involve teens who are dealing with the loss of a parent in unusual ways. 36 Questions that Changed My Mind About You by Vicky Grant weaves a story around the real life psychological study where strangers develop relationships after asking each other 36 questions designed to create intimacy. Speed of Life by advice columnist Carol Weston involves a teenage girl who begins corresponding with a teen advice columnist after the death of her mother.  What to Say Next by Julie Buxbaum (Tell Me Three Things) explores the relationship between an autistic boy and a popular girl, who has just lost her father. Finally, Holding Up the Universe by Jennifer Niven (All the Bright Things) focuses on a girl who gains several hundred pounds after her mother's death. All of these books involve characters, who are quirky, yet sympathetic, and engaging stories that I did not want to put down.

Inspired by the 1990 psychological study "The Experimental Generation of Interpersonal Closeness," which was popularized in The New York Times36 Questions is the story of two strangers, Hildy and Paul (aka Betty and Bob), who show up to participate in a PhD student's experiment and collect $40 for their trouble. All they have to do is ask and answer 36 questions of each other, to see if it fosters affection between them.   However, making it to the end of the questionnaire is a major challenge for these two volatile characters.  Paul, the "bad boy" artistic loner, is only there for the money, and answers the questions in a caustic, snarky, manner.  "Good girl" Hildy's nervousness is manifested by earnest oversharing, which Paul taunts, resulting in Hildy exploding, throwing a tropical fish at him (it's complicated), and stomping out. Although they aren't supposed to know each other's true identity, Paul finds her on Facebook and messages her about meeting and finishing the experiment.  Attracted to him, but wary, she agrees to answer the questions online. By the end of the book they've laughed, cried, lied and discovered each other's secrets, but have they fallen in love? Their witty authentic dialogue, complemented by Paul's drawings, make this a fun read with serious undertones, which I highly recommend. I found myself marveling at the way the author wove the story around the study's questions and thinking about my own answers as I read. Rights for publication have already been sold in 19 countries!

Speed of Life focuses on Sofia Wolfe, who is still struggling with the death of her Spanish mother, almost a year earlier.  When teen advice columnist, "Dear Kate," speaks at a school assembly, Sofia talks her dad into attending Kate's talk for parents.  Sofia begins corresponding with Kate, who seems to be the only one she can turn to for solace.  When she finds out Dad has begun dating Kate, with whom he has rekindled a former acquaintance,  Sofia initially feels betrayed, but ultimately adjusts.  Complications ensue when Sofia goes to live with Kate and her angry daughter Alexa for the summer, and Sofia falls for Alexa's former boyfriend, Sam. Then an unexpected change in the family's dynamics creates a bond between the soon-to-be stepsisters. The struggles of changing schools, blended families, first love and grieving are dealt with sensitively by the author whose advice column "Dear Carol" appears in Girls' Life magazine.

The title of Julie Buxbaum's latest novel, What to Say Next, refers to a helpful hints notebook, David Drucker's sister has created for him. David is brilliant, but on the spectrum, and typically responds inappropriately in many social situations. The book is especially useful when popular Kit Lowell begins sitting with him at lunch, after the death of her father in a car accident.  Kit finds it difficult to reenter her high school social circle and finds David's quiet ways and blunt honesty refreshing.  As they grow closer, David's social awkwardness is further exposed when the notebook, which also contains his commentary on peers, is stolen, and many of his comments are posted on the internet.  In trying to help him navigate this disaster, Kit's own secrets are revealed, bringing their relationship to a poignant resolution.  The author uses split first person narration to give the reader insight into each character's perspective. David's insensitively direct comments are frequently hilarious, but troublesome. Kit's journey through grief and recovery makes for an interesting vehicle for this quirky love story, which I think readers will enjoy.

In Holding Up the Universe, the main character Libby Strout is known as the girl who had to be cut out of her house.  After her mother's unexpected death, Libby took solace in eating and became morbidly obese.  A medical intervention helped her go from 600 to 300 pounds, and she decides to reenter public school.  There she meets resident cool boy Jack Messelin, who is peer-pressured into bullying Libby and ends up with a bloody nose for his actions.  They end up in detention where they develop a fragile friendship.  He confides in Libby that he has prosopagnosia (face blindness) and is hiding it from the world. She encourages him to seek help and let people know that his insensitivity is frequently inadvertent, because he doesn't know who people are when he sees them. Together they navigate a new friendship, helping each other meet their problems head on.  Written in short chapters of alternating perspectives, this is a story of two understandably flawed characters, learning to love themselves, as well as each other.