Thursday, September 22, 2016

Noted authors trying something new: Something in Between, And I Darken, and Kids of Appetite

When choosing books to read, I admit I am tempted to choose books by recognizable authors with a proven track record.  This month I will review new novels by three popular authors, who are trying something different. Melissa de la Cruz, who is well-known for her popular vampire series Blue Bloods, has written Something in Between, a stand alone novel about a Filipino girl who wins a National Scholar Award, only to find out she is undocumented. Kiersten White, who teens will recognize as the author of the Paranormalcy series, has penned And I Darken, the first book in a new historical romance trilogy. Finally, David Arnold, author of the critically acclaimed Mosquitoland, offers Kids of Appetite,  a murder mystery, whose main character is a boy with Moebius syndrome, the inability to move one's facial muscles.

In Something in Between Jasmine de los Santos, who emigrated from the Philippines at age nine, receives the National Scholar Award, complete with a full ride to the college of her choice. Naturally, she thinks her dreams of attending Stanford are within reach.  Expecting her parents to be thrilled, she is shocked when they reveal that they are undocumented immigrants and her accepting the scholarship could jeopardize their freedom.  All her years of striving for success, academically, as well as on an award winning cheerleading team, could go unrewarded.  To complicate matters Jasmine has started dating Royce Blakely, another Stanford hopeful, whose father is a California congressman, who has sponsored an anti-immigrant bill.  As Jasmine's family struggles to obtain visas, so that she can pursue her dreams legally, she searches for a solution through Stanford's need-blind international student program.  The story is semi autobiographical for the author, who attended Columbia on a need-blind scholarship, which she discusses in an author's note.

And I Darken, the first book in a new historical romance series, introduces Lada and Radu, children of Vlad Dracul, prince of Wallachia, who offers them as hostages to the Ottoman Empire, in the  hope of securing his throne.  They befriend Mehmed, the Ottoman heir, and the three grow up together, awaiting Mehmed's ascension to the Ottoman throne.  Homely, but fierce, Lada trains as a warrior, whereas, the beautiful Radu seeks peace and converts to Islam; yet both fall for the charismatic Mehmed.  As political intrigue and changing loyalties abound, the strange love triangle moves toward a denouement, setting up the sequel. This historical romance, set in the Ottoman Empire during the early to mid 1400s, weaves historical fact, including the real-life figure who served as the inspiration for Dracula, into an action-packed tale of war and romance.

In alternating chapters in Kids of Appetite, teens Vic and Madeline are individually questioned by the Hackensack Police Department about a recent murder.   In flashbacks to the days leading up to their interrogations, we meet the Kids of Appetite (KoA), a group of semi-homeless kids, who take in Vic, a boy with facial paralysis known as Moebius Syndrome, after he runs away from home.  Vic's father recently died from cancer, and when his mother's new boyfriend proposes, Vic grabs the urn filled with his dad's ashes and leaves. He is on a mission to scatter his ashes, as per dad's cryptic instructions, around NYC, and the group decides to help him.  Baz, a 27-year-old refugee from the Congo, is the group's father figure.  His mute brother Zuz and snarky 11-year-old Coco take a back seat to Madeline, Vic's love interest.  She is dealing with grief over her parents accidental deaths and abuse at the hands of her uncle, who takes in her and her demented grandmother after the accident. As the group helps Vic with his quest, he begins to feel a sense of belonging, and the stirrings of first love when he experiences his first kiss with Madeline. The solution to the murder mystery is secondary to the story of Vic's healing process, as he shows the KoA what it means to be a "heart thinker."  This is a book for kids who enjoy quirky reads with lots of character development. An added bonus is Madeline's obsession with S. E. Hinton's The Outsiders which she references frequently.