Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Classic Connections: Will in Scarlett, Man Made Boy and Far Far Away

Many young adult authors are incorporating elements of classic stories in a modern tale, which provides the opportunity for teachers to pair these novels with the classics they reflect. By having students read and compare the classic and the related modern novel, we can expose kids to plots that form the backbone of literature and help them appreciate the clever variations that the modern authors imagine.  This month I am recommending three new "classic connections." Man Made Boy by Jon Skovron tells the tale of Boy, the son of the Frankenstein monster and his bride.  Will in Scarlet by Mathew Cody reimagines the Robin Hood story, and Far Far Away by Tom McNeal is narrated by Jacob Grimm, who is stuck in a plane of existence between life and death.

In a reimagining of Shelley's Frankenstein, Jon Skovron's Man Made Boy introduces Boy who performs in his parents'  Broadway revue of fantastical monsters, including Medusa, singing trolls, and sirens.  The audience thinks these characters are real people in makeup. Little do they know Boy's hideous appearance is due to his parentage; he is the son of the Frankenstein monster and his bride. When Boy, a computer hacker in his free time, creates a sentient computer virus that he unleashes on humanity, he must go out into the real world to undo the damage he has done. He embarks on a road trip to L.A., where he takes refuge in a community of magical creatures who work in TV special effects. Fantasy lovers will enjoy this action-packed supernatural mash-up, that has an underlying message about self acceptance and the value of family.

Will in Scarlet, an homage to the Robin Hood legend, introduces Will, whose father Lord Shackley is away on the Crusades with King Richard. Will finds himself fleeing the family manor when he wounds the manservant of Sir Guy, one of Prince John’s men. He ends up in Sherwood Forest where he is taken in by a gang of bandits known as the Merry Men.  He is befriended by Much, an orphan girl disguised as a boy, who has also taken refuge with the group. Determined to get revenge against Sir Guy, who has taken over his family's manor, Will schemes to get the Merry Men to aid him with his quest. Although Will's story is gradually woven into the Robin Hood legend, each of the characters feels like a new individual, some who resemble legendary figures more than others. 

In Far Far Away the narrator, Jacob Grimm, is stuck in a plane of existence between life and death and is the constant companion of Jeremy Johnson, a teenager who is the only one who can hear him. Jeremy’s abilities make him an oddity, and his only real friend is Ginger Boultinghouse, who seems to gravitate toward trouble. Grimm tries keep Jeremy on the straight and narrow, so he can get a scholarship and escape from the town of Never Better, but Ginger’s allure is hard for Jeremy to resist.  When Jeremy and Ginger are abducted and held in a dungeon by the town baker, he must find a way to get word to his father, before they become ingredients in the baker's next batch of Prince Cake. Details about the Brothers Grimm, as well as the tales they told, make this more than a run-of-the-mill fantasy. It is a finalist for the 2013 National Book Award.

Monday, November 11, 2013

New Series: The Naturals, Pawn and Tandem

It's always fun to find a new series which promises lots of future reading pleasure.  This month I have three to recommend.  The Naturals by Jennifer Lynn Barnes is a psychological thriller that launches a group of teens who have special abilities that are useful in solving crimes. Pawn by Aimee Carter is a new dystopian series which focuses on a rebellion against a rigid class system. Tandem by Anna Jarzab is a sci-fi/fantasy about parallel universes where everyone has doubles who look identical but have very different personalities.

The Naturals introduces Cassie, who is gifted at reading people.  She doesn’t think much about this gift until the FBI recruits her for a group of crime solving teens with exceptional abilities.  Cassie agrees to participate, secretly hoping the group will help her find the killer who brutally murdered her mother five years earlier.  As she gets to know her fellow her fellow crime solvers, Cassie finds herself attracted to both Michael, who has a knack for reading emotions, and Dean, who shares Cassie’s gift for profiling, but avoids entanglements. However, there is little time for romance, because a serial killer is on the loose and seems to have his sights set on Cassie.

Pawn, the first book in The Blackcoat Rebellion series, sets up a dystopian world where people are assigned to a social class when they turn eighteen and are labeled with a tattoo on the back of their necks.  Kitty Doe is disappointed to be designated a III which will relegate her to a janitorial crew in far-off Denver. Benjy, her childhood love, is sure to be a V or VI and they will be separated for life.  Then she is abducted and when she regains consciousness, she finds she has been “masked” and is now a VII who will be trained to pass for the missing Princess Lila. Lila’s mother Celia is seeking revenge against those she deems responsible for her daughter’s death and hopes to use Kitty as a pawn in her plans. Kitty has only one goal – getting back to Benjy by any means possible.  Captive, the sequel, follows in 2014.

Similarly, Tandem, the first book in the Many-Worlds Trilogy, introduces sixteen-year-old Sasha Lawson who thinks that parallel worlds are a fantasy created by her grandfather, until she is transported to Aurora, another world where she takes the place of the missing Princess Juliana for whom she is an analog. "An analog is a type of double. We all have them; if not in one universe, then in another and in an infinite number of others besides. Analogs should not touch or one of them is ejected from the universe they both stood in. They are essentially equal, but not identical". The tandem is a force field through which analogs move between universes. As the story opens, Sasha thinks she is going to the prom with Grant, on whom she's had a crush since childhood.  However, Grant is actually Thomas, his analog from Aurora who has been sent to abduct her, so she can pose as Princess Juliana.  If Sasha succeeds in fooling everyone until the princess is found, she can return home.  If not, she’ll be trapped forever. Although Sasha wants to return home, she finds herself falling for Thomas and compelled to help resolve the conflict on Aurora.  The sequel called Tether comes out in the summer of 2014


Wednesday, October 16, 2013

MPIBA trade show: Lauren Myracle, Matt de la Pena & Holly Goldberg Sloan

Last week I went to the Mountains and Plains Independent Booksellers trade show where I met some of my favorite authors and was introduced to their new books.  Lauren Myracle talked about The Infinite Moment of Us that fits into a new category of YA lit "New Adult" which includes books which have fairly graphic sexual encounters between characters.  Matt de la Pena admitted to wanting to try something new with The Living, the first book in his new action adventure series. Finally, Holly Goldberg Sloan (author of Blue Spruce nominee I'll Be There) shared the inspiration for her new book about a highly gifted girl who struggles with her parents' untimely deaths in Counting by 7s.

In The Infinite Moment of Us, high school seniors Wren and Charlie are an unlikely couple.  She has always been an overprotected  parent pleaser and he is a foster child who has finally found a supportive foster family.  She is attempting to assert her independence by taking a gap year in Guatemala before college, whereas he is thrilled with his scholarship to Georgia Tech. But when their eyes meet at graduation, they fall head over heels in love. In alternating chapters that move between Wren's and Charlie's third-person perspectives, we follow their summer romance, that could just be something more.
Matt de la Pena has had a lot success with his character driven explorations of bi-racial kids, so his decision to branch out into the adventure/survival genre is a departure from his comfort zone.  The Living is actually four books in one: a survival at sea adventure, a global disaster tale, a pandemic thriller and  a social-class drama. Shy Espinoza is working on a luxury cruise liner when a massive earthquake in California causes a tsunami which capsizes the boat and leaves him adrift in a life raft with a spoiled rich girl. Her father heads up a pharmaceutical company that is mysteriously involved in the proliferation of an infectious disease from which Shy's grandmother died. After a harrowing few days in shark-infested waters, the two end up on the company island where even greater intrigue awaits.  This action-packed page turner will leave readers anxious for its sequel The Hunted which will be published in the fall of 2014.
 Holly Goldberg Sloan, whose sons attend a school for the gifted, said she is fascinated by some of the quirky geniuses who attend the school, so she set out to write a book focusing on an unusually gifted kid. Counting by 7s introduces 12-year-old genius Willow Chance, who is obsessed with tending her garden, diagnosing medical conditions and counting by 7s. Her life is turned upside down when her adoptive parents die in a car accident and she is taken in by her friend Mai and her mother and brother, who live in a room behind their nail salon.  When social services comes to call, they move in with the kids' misfit guidance counselor Dell Duke and pose as one big happy family.  As Willow tries to adjust to the new normal, she worries about her upcoming custody hearing and what will happen when she is once again at the mercy of the social services system.  Although Counting by 7s is billed as a middle school read, it will tug at the heart strings of readers of all ages.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

New YA Titles for Fall: The Book of Broken Hearts, Falling Hard, and Countdown

Fall is here, school has begun and students find themselves with a lot of  required reading.  But there are many readers who want some fun quality "escapist" novels to complement what they are reading in class.  I have three such books to recommend. Sarah Ockler's The Book of Broken Hearts, finds Jude Hernandez hiring Emilio Vargas to help her Alzheimer's stricken father restore his beloved vintage motorcycle. Falling Hard is the first in Megan Sparks' series about Roller Derby girls and  Countdown by Michelle Rowen is a dystopian thriller for fans of The Hunger Games.

Sarah Ockler (Twenty Boy Summer and Bittersweet) has another winner with The Book of Broken Hearts.  When Jude Hernandez hires Emilio Vargas to help her father restore his vintage motorcycle, she knows she has to keep it a secret from her three older sisters. They made her swear in their Book of Broken Heats to stay away from Vargas men, who are notorious heartbreakers. But Emilio is the best man for the job and she is hoping the project helps stave off the onset of her father’s Alzheimer’s symptoms. Jude tells herself she can resist Emilio's charms; but as she struggles with her father's increasingly erratic behavior, Emilio is there for her and she finds herself falling for him.  The author provides realistic details about motorcycle restorations, as well as the trials of dealing with a loved one's deterioration when stricken with early onset Alzheimer's.  Jude, who should be at an age where she can focus on her own future, must think of her family first in every decision she makes.  Jude and Emilio's Hispanic heritage is reinforced with a sprinkling of Spanish phrases throughout the book which give it an authentic feel.
Falling Hard introduces Annie Turner who, after her parents' divorce, transfers from London to a high school in Liberty Heights, Illinois, where she must make a decision about what path to follow.  After a growth spurt Annie is now 5’11” and must give up gymnastics. She tries out for cheerleading in which she could use her gymnastics skills, but Roller Derby is what really intrigues her. If she chooses cheerleading, she will please her dad who wants her to take the safer route, and she might attract the attention of Tyler, the cute soccer star she is crushing on. But her new friends, punk rocker Jesse and artist Lexie, think she will be selling out.  In the sequel Hell's Bells Annie's roller derby team, the Liberty Belles, are finally winning, but Annie sprains her ankle and may not be able to play in the grudge match against their arch rivals. To make matters worse Tyler is flirting with other girls. However, Jesse seems to be there when she needs him. Annie is an amazing athlete and the details about roller derby tactics make this an informative, as well as fun series.
Finally, Michelle Rowen's Countdown was an adult book which her publisher convinced her to rewrite for a YA audience.  When I first picked it up, I thought it would be a rip-off of The Hunger Games, but I found it to be so much more.  Kira Jordan wakes up in an empty cell, chained to the notorious Rogan Ellis, who is suspected of murdering her family.  They live in a plague devastated city and she has been living on the streets, counting on her psychic abilities to keep her alive. He is scheduled to be sent to a maximum security prison for his supposed crimes.  Now she and Rogan are thrown into competing in a televised game that gives them tasks that must be completed in a specified amount of time in order for them to survive to reach the next level.  They can never be more than 90 feet apart and must cooperate to succeed.  As Rogan proves to be her savior in more ways than one, she begins to sense that his gory past crimes may have been trumped up to create drama for the TV show. If they win the game, he will be freed and she will be allowed to move into the domed city for the privileged class. As the powers that be manipulate what is happening to them, Kira has to decide whether to trust Rogan or think only of herself.




Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Satisfying sequels: Dark Triumph, A Spark Unseen and The Dream Thieves

Satisfying sequels are hard to find in the world of trilogies and series.  The second book frequently seems to be a bridge to the next or final book and leaves readers frustrated that the denouement is a year away. Robin LaFever in her His Fair Assassins series has come up with a winning formula to solve this problem. Each of the books in the trilogy is about a different woman, who was fathered by Saint Mortain, the God of Death, and brought to a mysterious convent to be trained as an assassin.  Dark Triumph is the latest offering in the series. Although the stories overlap, each book stands on its own.  A Spark Unseen by Sharon Cameron continues The Dark Unwinding saga, which chronicles the story of Katharine Tulman, who in 1852 is sent to Stanwyne Keep, her uncle's estate, to have him declared insane. There she finds a clockwork factory which employs hundreds of people from the workhouse, and an uncle who is lovably eccentric. The sequel follows Katherine to Paris where she flees with her uncle after an attempted kidnapping.  The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater is the follow-up to The Raven Boys, which introduces Blue and her family of clairvoyants, as well as the Raven Boys, four prep school students who are searching for the ley line, which is a link to Glendower, a long dead Welsh king.  

The first book in the His Fair Assassins Trilogy is Grave Mercy, which I reviewed in May of 2012. It introduces seventeen-year-old Ismae who escapes her abusive father and an arranged marriage, finding sanctuary at the Convent of St. Mortain.  There she discovers she has special powers and is to serve as an assassin for the God of Death.  In her first assignment Ismae must protect the Duchess Anne of Brittany and kill the traitor in her court. Set in medieval France with historically accurate details, Grave Mercy combines political intrigue with romance and mystery. The sequel Dark Triumph focuses on Sybella, a minor character in the first book, whose mission requires her to return home to her earthly father D'Albret's cruelty and her half-brother's incestuous obsession with her.  There she covertly plans to thwart D'Albret's plot to capture Duchess Anne and frees her champion, the Beast of Waroch.  In doing so, Sybella is inadvertently knocked out and taken by Beast to Anne's hideout, where together they work to end D'Albret's reign of terror. Mortal Heart , which comes out in Spring 2014, follows Annith, a trained assassin, who rebels against the abbess's decision to make her a Seeress, forever sequestered in the convent.

The Dark Unwinding introduces Katharine Tulman, who is sent by her conniving aunt to investigate her uncle, who seems to be squandering away the family fortune. Her aunt wants her to have him committed to an asylum. But instead of a lunatic, Katharine discovers an eccentric inventor of automatons and his devoted community of workers including his handsome apprentice Lane, whom she grows to love.  In A Spark Unseen Katherine thwarts a kidnapping attempt and spirits her uncle off to Paris, where she hopes to hide him and at the same time search for Lane, who left Stanwyne Keep to hunt Ben Aldridge, and is rumored to be dead. Her quest embroils her in a complicated maze of political intrigue involving the court of Napoleon III. Meanwhile she is also worrying about keeping one of Uncle Tully's inventions away from people who want to use it as a dangerous weapon. As with its predecessor A Spark Unseen is filled lots of action and plot twists that keep the reader guessing about whom Katherine can trust. The book will be released September 24, 2013. Although the ending wraps up all the plot lines completely, the author leaves herself a little wiggle room for another installment if she is up for it.

Maggie Stiefvater's The Dream Thieves is the second book in her Raven Cycle. In the first book, The Raven Boys, a great deal of time was spent introducing Gansey, Noah, Ronan and Adam and setting up the boys' quest to find the ley lines which will lead them to the Welsh King Glendower.  As the book closes, they have a mystical experience in the Cabeswater forest and their friend Blue continues to stress over the prophecy that she will kill her true love with her kiss.  As The Dream Thieves opens, Cabeswater has disappeared and The Gray Man, a new adult nemesis, has arrived in town searching for the Greywaren, which allows the owner to steal objects from dreams. Ronan's supernatural abilities and their connection to his family are the main focus of this installment, although the other boys and Blue continue to have struggles of their own. Fans of the series will love the fast pace and the intricate story lines that resolve themselves by the end of the book. Of course, the tantalizing hint about the next book is supplied in the epilogue. I'm not usually a fan of drawn out dream sequences in books, but Maggie Stiefvater's lyrical writing kept me feverishly turning pages in this outstanding sequel.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

New Books with Embedded Research: Fallout, The Social Code, and Plague in the Mirror

 I recently attended the School Library Journal's virtual book show and got some great suggestions for the upcoming school year.  I read three books that fit into the embedded research unit that I outline in my book, What's New in Young Adult Novels? and Ideas for Classroom Use. Embedded research is information that is embedded so seamlessly into the story that it enriches the detail and realism in the story without seeming didactic.  Students might ask, "What is the difference between historical fiction and fiction with embedded research?" In answer to that question I would say that historical fiction has main characters, who actually existed in situations that really happened.  Stories with embedded research are about fictional characters in situations that really happened or involve accurate details about things that take place in the story. Todd Strasser's Fallout asks the question, "What would happen if a nuclear bomb was dropped and your family was the only one in the neighborhood with a bomb shelter? Sadie Hayes' The Social Code introduces twins who grew up in foster care and are now at Stanford University. They create a revolutionary computer app and are being courted by the biggest tycoons in Silicon Valley.  Deborah Noyes' Plague in the Mirror involves time travel back to 14th Century Florence where the Black Death is ravaging the countryside.

Todd Strasser grew up in the 1950s and experienced the Cold War first hand.  His family had a fallout shelter and he has parlayed some of his own experiences into a story about a twelve-year old-boy named Scott whose family is ridiculed for building and stocking a bomb shelter. Then the Cuban Missile Crisis occurs and his neighbors are singing a different tune. In Fallout the author suggests that a bomb is actually dropped and  neighbors force their way into the bomb shelter which was only provisioned for a family of four. Without enough food, water and air for all of them, tensions break out.  But the biggest question is if they can survive until the radioactivity outside abates, what will they find when they get out?

In The Social Code eighteen-year-old  scholarship students Adam and Amelia Dory find themselves out of sync with their privileged classmates at Stanford.  Then Amelia, who is happiest in a computer lab writing code, creates a computer program that allows users to control all their mechanical devices from their phones. Adam who longs for the privileged lifestyle enjoyed by those around them, talks her into creating a company and getting involved with a Silicon Valley mogul. However, their past comes back to haunt them in the cut throat, back stabbing world they have entered. The accurate portrayal of the computer programming culture make this a riveting read. This is the first book in the author's new "Start Up" series. The Next Big Thing, which continues to chronicle the lives of the Dory twins, will be available in November.

Plague in the Mirror weaves the horrors of the 14th century plague in Europe into the story of a young girl struggling with her parents' breakup. Hoping to escape the turmoil, May travels to Florence for a summer with her best friend Liam and his mother.  But once there, Christofana, a haunting doppelganger from the past, appears at the foot of May's bed and escorts her into the plague ridden Florence of 1347. There May meets Marco, an artist with whom she feels an immediate connection.  Christofana is hoping to trap May in the past so that she can take her place in the 21st Century. Meanwhile back in the present, Liam is intimating that he would like to be more than friends, which panics her.  When she tries to tell him about Christofana, he suggests that the stress of her parents' divorce may be sending her over the edge.  Is the time travel real or is it just a figment of her imagination? In a historical fantasy authors' panel at the trade show, Deborah Noyes discussed the extensive research she did, which is reflected in the story which is rich in detail about the Black Death, the Italian art world and life in the 14th Century.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Summer Beach Reads: The Moon and More, All I Need, and The Avery Shaw Experiment

July is nearly upon us and many of us are heading to the beach.  It's time for some summer beach reads.  Sarah Dessen, who has not published a new book since 2011's Along for the Ride, just released The Moon and More, which is about a high school couple who have grown up together in a small beach town. Susan Colasanti, another popular YA romance writer, uses her alternating-voice style in All I Need to tell the story of two summer soul mates. Finally, when Avery's best friend/crush breaks her heart, she finds solace in his womanizing older brother in Kelly Oram's The Avery Shaw Experiment.
Devoted fans have been anxiously awaiting Sarah Dessen's latest book, The Moon and More. The protagonist Emaline seems to have it all: a great boyfriend, a supportive family and acceptance to an Ivy League school. But somehow her inner turmoil is taking over what should be a perfect summer before she heads to college.  Although she and Luke are good together, Emaline finds herself attracted to Theo, a documentarian who is town for the summer. The solid foundation provided by her mom and stepdad doesn't seem to trump her rocky relationship with her biological father who all of a sudden wants to be part of her life. Finally she wonders is  going to the Ivy League school, which she can't really afford, what she really wants or is she just trying to please Dad?   Although this is not Dessen's strongest book, Emaline takes readers along with her as she struggles to decide what path she wants to take.

In All I Need Seth and Skye feel an instant connection when they meet each other at the last beach party of the summer. But he is leaving for college and she is still in high school. When their final meeting to say goodbye is thwarted by Seth's mother's plans, they don't even know each others' last names. They spend a year wondering if they'll ever see each other again. The following summer their paths finally cross and the spark is still there.  But at the end of the summer, they are separated again. As they struggle to navigate differences in schedules, backgrounds and a long distance relationship, their love is tested again and again.  Will it stand the test of time?

 The Avery Shaw Experiment introduces Avery,  a science geek, whose social anxiety disorder has made her way too dependent on Aiden, her life-long best friend and secret crush.  When Aiden falls for another girl who objects to his relationship with Avery, her heart is broken.  She decides to deal with it the best way she knows how.  She will do a science experiment exploring the stages of grief for mending a broken heart. The problem is she has no partner now that Aiden is out of her life. Enter Grayson, Aiden's super jock older brother, who is off the basketball team unless he gets his grades up. He enlists Avery as a tutor and helps her with her science project to gain extra credit. Although Grayson is supposed to be an "objective outside observer," he has an ulterior motive. He thinks a makeover and a new social life will be a much better antidote for her broken heart and he is just the guy to facilitate this recovery.  Along the way he finds himself becoming more and more enamored with the sweet girl who has become more than a "little sister."  The story is told from both Avery and Grayson's points of view. Grayson's cocky self assured voice is tempered by some keen insights into human nature, and Avery's devastated whining evolves into the excited wonder of a young girl falling in love for the first time.  The result is a sweet, funny love story about two characters who had me at "hello."


Friday, May 24, 2013

Fantasy Fare for Summer: Invisibility, The Fifth Wave, and Midwinterblood

School's out and it's time to dive into books that transport us to another world.  David Levithan, author of Every Day, is back with Invisibility, a romance between a boy cursed with invisibility and the one girl who can see him. Rick Yancy, author of the Monstrumologist series, introduces The Fifth Wave, the first book in a new trilogy about invading aliens.  Finally, British author Marcus Sedgwick offers Midwinterblood, seven intertwining stories that revolve around the cycle of midwinter blood on the mysterious island of Blessed.

In Invisibility David Levithan and Andrea Creamer, author of the Nightshade series, have paired up to tell in alternating voices the story of Stephen, who has been invisible since birth, and Elizabeth, a girl who only wishes she were invisible.  After her gay brother survives a vicious attack by homophobic classmates in Minnesota, Elizabeth's mother moves the family to New York City where she hopes they can make a new life for themselves.They move down the hall from Stephen, who has been alone since his mother died a few months back.  He is shocked when Elizabeth is able to see him and begins to hope that the invisibility curse, placed on him by his cursecaster grandfather, is beginning to weaken.  However, they find out the reason Elizabeth can see him is that she is a spellseeker. Together they set out to find a way to reverse the curse.

After four waves of alien invasions, including loss of electricity, then coastal destruction, plague and brutal murders, Cassie, the heroine of The Fifth Wave, finds herself alone and on the run. Then she meets Evan Walker who may be her only hope for saving herself and possibly finding her younger brother.  But Cassie can't decide whether to join forces with him or kill him.  He may be an alien in disguise.  Told by a variety of narrators, this first installment  in a new trilogy focuses on what it means to be human in a world where aliens in human form make it impossible to know who to trust.

Midwinterblood is a journey back through the centuries, chronicling the stories of a journalist, an archaeologist, an airman, a painter, a ghost, a vampire and a Viking.  These stories take place on the Scandinavian island of the Blessed, where two characters, Eric and Merle, are bound together throughout time, but their relationship is never the same.  In this unconventional mystery/horror/love story the island is the backdrop for  each reincarnation, as the characters struggle to find a way for the cycle of midwinter blood to be broken. Comparisons  to Cloud Atlas promise a dark, brooding mystery filled with mystical elements that keep the reader turning pages, and Midwinterblood does not disappoint!

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Futuristic Fiction: The Archived, Project Paper Doll and Nobody

Even with all the fantasy, dystopian and science fiction books on the market now, it's hard to find one that doesn't make me think, "Oh, this is just like..." I just finished The Testing by Joelle Charbonneau, which is a highly publicized first book in a new trilogy that is a Hunger Games clone, down to the cover. This month I would like to suggest three fantastic novels that have a unique twist. First, The Archived by Victoria Schwab  introduces the premise that after we die our souls are archived and monitored by keepers. Project Paper Doll: The Rules by Stacey Kade is the first book in a new science fiction series whose main character  is part human and part extraterrestrial. Finally, Nobody by Jennifer Lynne Barnes takes place in a futuristic world populated by Normals, Nulls and Nobodies.

The Archived is the first book in a new series that  introduces a world where the dead are called Histories and rest on bookshelves in the Archive. Mackenzie Bishop is a keeper who stops violent Histories from escaping into the Outer World.  Obsessed with communicating with her dead brother, Mac lets it cloud her judgment. She gets involved with Owen, a history who has a strange calming effect on her.  Meanwhile, someone is altering the histories and with the help of Wes, another keeper, she must save the Archive before it is destroyed. Kirkus reviews calls it, " a refreshingly angel free departure in afterlife fiction that features nuanced characters navigating a complex moral universe."

Having escaped from a genetics lab where she was created, Ariane Tucker, the main character of Project Paper Doll: The Rules, wants nothing more than to blend in with the human students at her high school. Part human, part extraterrestrial, Ariane can read people’s minds and move objects telekinetically, but she has trouble controlling her abilities. When Rachel, the school’s queen bee, plays a cruel prank on Ariane’s best friend Jenna and then turns on Ariane, the anonymity Ariane sought is a thing of the past. Seeking revenge, Ariane finds unexpected support from Zane Bradshaw, one of the popular boys in Rachel’s crowd.  This first book in a new science fiction series will leave readers clamoring for the sequel.

In Nobody's  futuristic world of Normals, Nulls and Nobodies, Claire and Nix live under most people’s radar.  They are Nobodies, who are rarely noticed and have the ability to fade, becoming invisible and able to transport themselves great distances. Nix has been trained as an assassin by the Institute and is tasked with killing Claire.  But when he sees her, he is immediately drawn to her kindred spirit. Together they decide to take on the Institute in the hopes of having a future together. This book is a stand alone sci/fi romance that kept me riveted until the last page.


Saturday, March 9, 2013

New novels involving prejudice

According to Robert Selman, the chair of Harvard Graduate School of Education’s Human Development and Psychology department, “Good children's literature not only raises moral dilemmas, but also generates the feelings that are associated with situations where moral conflict and confusion exists.” He suggests that through reading about social conflict students can vicariously experience the resolution of problem situations. Perhaps this is why the subject of prejudice is seen so frequently in young adult literature. This month I am recommending three new books that involve a variety of problems with prejudice.  Out of Nowhere by Maria Padian focuses on the problems Somalian refugees face when they immigrate to Maine. The main character in Hooked by Liz Fichera is a Native American girl who joins the boys' golf team at her high school. Finally,  Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, a 2013 Printz honor book by Benjamin Alire Saenz, examines the friendship between two boys who are coming to terms with their sexuality, as well as their Mexican identity. 

 Out of Nowhere is set in a small town in Maine that has a large Somalian immigrant population, that not everyone is happy about.  Tom Bouchard, the captain of his high school soccer team, to whom race doesn't matter, notices that a Somali boy named Saeed and his friends are amazing soccer players and recruits them for the team.  Not only does he have to convince his teammates to accept the Somalians, he also has to help Saeed to convince his mother to let him play. After a practical joke gone wrong, Tom finds himself with 100 hours of community service and volunteers at a program that helps
Somali kids get their homework done.  There he meets a college girl who makes him think twice about his ditzy girlfriend. As she helps him learn about the Somali customs and the Muslim religion, he becomes more sensitive to their problems.  Then the mayor takes a stand against accepting more refugees from the Somali war zone,and the townspeople begin to take sides. The author fairly portrays both sides of the issue and clearly has done a lot of background research. I was really invested in the characters and would highly recommend this book.

In Hooked  a Native American girl joins the boys' high school golf team and experiences problems with racism, as well as gender bias. Fred (Frederieca) Oday realizes that playing competitive golf will be the easiest part of being on the team.  Ryan Berenger, a spoiled rich boy from the suburbs whose best friend was cut from the team to allow Fred to have a spot, at first is furious, but he can't deny that Fred's golf game is amazing.  As the two strongest players on the team, they are partnered and for the first time in years the team is vying for a spot in the playoffs. As Fred struggles with her teammates' prejudice, as well as her feelings for Ryan which he ultimately reciprocates, she wonders if it is all worth it. Alternating between Fred and Ryan's points of view, the story explores realistic social issues involving gender, class and race.  This is the debut novel of a new series.  The next book Played will involve supporting characters from the book.

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe explores a variety of prejudicial issues. Fifteen-year-olds Aristotle and Dante meet in the summer of 1987 when Dante offers to teach Ari how to swim at the local pool. Both loners, they bond over feelings of isolation and issues of Mexican identity.  As they get to know each other better, Dante reveals his homosexual desires.  Although Ari doesn't reject Dante as a friend, he struggles with his own conflicted feelings, and finds himself coming to Dante's defense as he is attacked when he openly acknowledge his homosexuality. Both boys have a wonderful relationship with their parents, although Ari's family is dealing with conflict over his older brother's incarceration. Saenz, who is also a poet, uses sparse language to convey powerful emotions. He challenges the stereotypes about Hispanic males by writing about boys who like poetry, reading and star gazing. This book is a must for any GLBT collection, but will appeal to a wide variety of readers.



Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Colorado Blue Spruce Award 2013

Last week I  presented a workshop at the 2013 CCIRA conference announcing the winner of the Colorado Blue Spruce Young Adult Book Award for 2013 and the nominees for 2014. The first book in Rick Riordan's Heroes of Olympus series, The Lost Hero, is this year's winner. This new series introduces three of the demigods mentioned in the prophecy in the Percy Jackson series, which says 7 demigods will bear arms at the Doors of Death.  Their nemesis is Gaea who aims to defeat the Olympians and take over the world. A list of the  2014 nominees and book talks for each are available on the Blue Spruce website at http://www.coloradobluespruceaward.org.  In addition to promoting the new nominees, I was also excited to announce that the Blue Spruce Award won an honorable mention for the Intellectual Freedom Award from the NCTE. It was commended for providing young readers an opportunity to communicate about books without adult censorship and promoting books that might not have otherwise come to the attention of young readers. Over half the books that have won the award during the last 27 years have been challenged by one entity or another.
Although I have read many of the nominees, one book that I was prompted to read through its nomination is I'll Be There by Holly Goldberg Sloan, who is a film writer and director. This book, which is a riveting combination of the romance and survival genres, introduces Emily Bell who believes in destiny. When she is forced to sing "I'll Be There" as a church solo, despite her mediocre voice, she decides its fate because during her humiliation she locks eyes with Sam Border who is sitting in the back of the church. At first sight, they are connected. Sam and his little brother, Riddle have spent their entire lives being constantly uprooted by their mentally unstable father. Sam takes solace in attending random churches, where for a few moments he can escape his life. When he falls for Emily and she introduces him to her family, everything changes. As Sam and Riddle are welcomed into the Bells' lives, they witness the warmth and protection of a family for the first time. Then tragedy strikes, and they are once again on the run with their evil father.  When they escape from him, they're left fighting for survival in the desolate wilderness, and wondering if they'll ever get back to the family they have learned to love.
Ruta Sepetys, acclaimed author of Between Shades of Gray, has a new book out called Out of the Easy, about a prostitute's daughter in 1950s New Orleans, who is trying to escape from her mother's fate and attend college. 17-year-old Josie Moraine dreams of going to Smith College, but then a mysterious death in the French Quarter derails her plans.  Working in a book store owned by the father of her best friend Patrick, Josie meets Forrest Hearne, a wealthy man from Tennessee who turns up dead soon thereafter.  Josie is sure her mother and her gangster boyfriend are somehow involved. She turns to Willie Woodley, the madam of Conti Street, for advice on avoiding getting embroiled in the investigation and escaping to the East Coast. Although Willie has sincere affection for Josie, she has other plans for her future. No matter how hard Josie tries to get away from the Big Easy, the clandestine world of New Orleans throws up road blocks at every turn.
Finally, the 2013 Alex Awards (adult books with special appeal to teens) include Where'd You Go Bernadette: A Novel by Maria Semple and The Round House, the National Book Award winner by Louise Erdrich. While reading both of these books, I thought about the possible appeal for young adult readers. In the first book Bernadette Fox, a revolutionary architect, disappears and her teenage daughter Bee follows her to Antarctica in hopes of finding her mother, whom everyone else assumes is dead.  In The Round House the rape of a Native American woman is seen through the eyes of her 13-year-old son, who is also trying to get to the bottom of what happened to his mother.  I can recommend both of these books for mature readers.


Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Realistic YA Fiction: The Firehorse Girl, The Tragedy Paper, Lovely, Dark and Deep,

I am excited to say I just published the latest revision of What's New in Young Adult Novels? and Ideas for Classroom Use.  It includes over 120 new titles from 2012 and is available at lulu.com. You can access it by clicking on the icon in the upper right hand corner of this blog.   Now that I have finished my 2012 reviews, I am ready to jump into reviewing books for 2013.  I have already read ten new titles and would like to recommend three new realistic fiction offerings.  The Firehorse Girl by Kay Honeyman is a riveting tale about Chinese immigration in the early twentieth century. The Tragedy Paper by Elizabeth Laban chronicles the tale of two boys who attend a private boarding school and struggle with relationships, as well as their senior thesis. Finally, poet Amy McNamara's debut novel Lovely, Dark and Deep lyrically explores the grieving process.
Jade Moon, a 17-year-old Chinese girl born in 1906, the year of The Firehorse, is willful, stubborn and impetuous, all signs of a Firehorse Girl. She agrees to emigrate with her father, after her cousin Sterling Promise proposes a plan to use false "paper son" documents to enter America. After the interminable boat ride, she is detained on Angel Island. She ultimately disguises herself as a boy and escapes to a life of homelessness and involvement with the tong, a Chinese crime syndicate. The author's detailed research of the history of Angel Island and turn-of-the-century San Francisco is evident throughout the story. Filled with danger and suspense, this historical romance is a must read for fans of the genre.
The Tragedy Paper is a story within a story, told from alternating points of view.  On his way to enroll at the prestigious Irving School, Tim Macbeth, a 17-year-old albino, meets Vanessa Sheller, the girlfriend of Irving's King Bee. To his dismay, she befriends him and they begin a clandestine relationship.  As Tim searches for a topic for his tragedy paper, Irving's version of a senior thesis, he records his story and the tragedy that waits him on CDs.  Tim's story is told by Duncan, the new Irving senior, who finds the CDs in his room, which Tim inhabited the year before.  Duncan has his own intrigues and their alternating stories make for a compelling read. 
Lovely, Dark and Deep introduces Wren Wells, after she survives a car accident that killed her boyfriend and retreats to the Maine Woods to live with her artist father, rather than begin college with her best friend. Her self-imposed isolation is threatened when she meets Cal Owens, who has troubles of his own.  Their mutual need for support and the chemistry between them, just may bring Wren to terms with her broken heart and help Cal deal with challenges ahead. Like the Frost poem alluded to in the title, the story is lovely, dark and deep and I would highly recommend it.