Monday, March 24, 2014

Debut Series: Alienated, Half Bad and Defy

New series by debut authors or authors new to young adult literature are always exciting discoveries.  One wonders if the series will be huge successes like Veronica Roth's Divergent series or Lauren Oliver's Delirium series, or if they will languish on remainders tables. This month I am recommending three new series that I hope will find an audience. Alienated by Melissa Landers, explores what might happen when alien exchange students come to Earth.   Sarah B Larson's Defy introduces a familiar story about a girl who must pose as a boy to survive, but the plucky heroine and the unexpected twists make it a fun read. Finally, Half Bad by Sally Green imagines a world where two factions of witches  Black and White, battle for dominance.

In Alienated high school student Cara Sweeney is chosen to host the first alien exchange student, Aelyx, on Earth. Not only will she get a college scholarship, she will also get to visit his planet L’eihr. What she doesn't anticipate is the prejudice against the L’eihrs and the danger it creates for her and Aelyx. As one by one her friends abandon her, she turns to Aelyx for love and support, but he is harboring secrets plans with deadly consequences. Will his love for her persuade him to abandon the plot, or will his loyalty to his planet prevail? Aelyx's fish out of water behavior and Cara's initial annoyance with him, followed by their slowly developing affection for each other, are just a few highly entertaining  plot elements in this refreshingly new exploration of prejudice. 

Taking place in the war torn kingdom of Antion, Defy, chronicles the story of Alexa, who, after her parents are murdered, must disguise herself as Alex to avoid being sent to the breeding house.  She and her brother Marcel join Prince Damian's elite guard, where her sword-fighting skills, coupled with her emerging magical powers, make her a force to be reckoned with.  When Marcel, the only one who knows her secret, is killed, she doesn't know who to trust.  Then a visiting sorcerer kidnaps her, the Prince and her fellow guard Rylan, in the hope of finding a way to negotiate an end to the war.  As the three are held prisoner, Alex is faced with her emerging romantic feelings for both men, as well as her conflicted emotions about her duty to serve the king, whose plans are not in the country's best interest.  All is not as it seems in this story of political intrigue and romance.

Although Half Bad was not my favorite of the three series, it probably has the best chance of success, as it has already been optioned for a movie by Fox Searchlight and rights have been sold in 27 countries.  The series, which is set in a modern day London filled with witches, introduces Nathan, a Half Code, a half white, half black witch.  His father, Marcus, who is the world's most powerful black witch, has been absent Nathan's whole life and his mother is dead.  After being forced to go through yearly evaluations to determine whether he is a black or white witch, Nathan is finally locked up in a cage and tortured by the witch council, which is hoping to persuade him to kill his father.  Nathan escapes and begins the hunt for Marcus, so that he can convince him to bestow upon him the three gifts promised to witches when they turn 17. The first book in the new trilogy sets up a world where the forces of good and evil are ambiguous at best, yet Nathan is an anti-hero that readers can root for.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Reality Boy, Fangirl and The Scar Boys

Many young adult novel protagonists travel to the beat of a different drummer. This month I have three new novels to recommend that focus on teens who are out of sync with the mainstream. In A. S. King's Reality Boy Gerald Faust is still dealing with the fallout from his family's appearance on a reality series when he was a 5-year-old boy with anger management problems. Rainbow Rowell's Fangirl explores the problems twins, who are obsessed with and write fan fiction for a fictional character, face when one of them is ready to move on. In Len Vlahos's The Scar Boys, Harry Jones, who was severely burned when he was 8 years old, lives as a recluse until a friend convinces him to join a band.

Reality Boy, Gerald Faust became a celebrity when he was five years old and his mother involved his family in a reality TV show that showcased his problems with anger management. What isn't exposed in the show is that his anger is triggered by the torment he suffers at the hands of his psychopathic older sister. Now twelve years later, he is haunted by his TV persona. No one cares that he has his anger under control. When he is befriended by Hannah, a girl with family problems of her own, they decide to run away together in an attempt to find a safe haven they can call their own. A.S. King, who will be speaking at the Colorado Teen Lit Conference in April, creates a sympathetic main character, who bears the brunt of a dysfunctional family's problems. With Hannah's support Gerald is finally able to tackle the problems head on and derail his sister's ability to sabotage anything good that happens to him.

Fangirl Cath and her twin sister Wren became obsessed with the Simon Snow series when they were just kids and their mother left. Hanging out in Simon Snow chat rooms, dressing up as characters for movie premieres and writing fan fiction consumes their lives until they go to college and Wren wants to leave all that behind, including her sister. Coupled with her sister's defection, Cath also worries about her father's fragile mental stability, now that he is alone. Cath’s new roommate and her boyfriend, as well as her creative writing teacher who abhors fan fiction, try to take Cath out of her comfort zone. Can she leave Simon Snow behind and write her own stories, or is she doomed to hide forever in her fandom?

Eight-year-old Harry Jones’ life changed dramatically when neighborhood thugs tied him to a tree during a lightning storm and he was burned severely when the tree was struck by lightning. Living with physical and emotional scars, Harry is a recluse until eighth grade when charismatic Johnny rescues him from bullies and convinces him to join a band. After modest success in their hometown, The Scar Boys, who play punk rock, hit the road in a funky van to play gigs in college towns along the coast. Harry takes great solace in the music, but is also harboring a crush on Cheyene, the band's bass player. As with many bands, the personal dynamics are complicated by the members' close proximity. When his relationship with Johnny becomes toxic, Harry doesn't know where to turn.

The characters in these three books are really something special. I hated to leave them behind when the stories came to a close. As with many realistic YA novels, these seem to be stand alones. It will be interesting to see if teens embrace the characters, they way they did Hazel and Gus in The Fault of our Stars. I definitely think Gerald, Cath and Harry are worthy of such affection.