Category: Teen


The 2014 Street Lit Book Award Medal winners have been announced.  The books are nominated based on their popularity in school, academic and public libraries.  They have a category for Young Adult literature.

The winner is a series:

16245125 Nicki Minaj Lil Wayne (Hip-Hop Biographies)

Hip Hop Biographies published by Saddleback Educational Publishing.

 

There are also three honor books:

Grace, Gold, and Glory: My Leap of Faith Way Too Much Drama Butterfly: A Novel

Grace, Gold and Glory: My Leap of Faith by Gabrielle Douglas and Michelle Burdord

Way Too Much Drama by Earl Sewell

Butterfly by Sylvester Stephens

winners curse

The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski

Kestrel refuses to join the military like her father wants her to.  They live on an island conquered by the Valorian army and her father is a general, but Kestel wants to continue playing her music not killing people.   She also doesn’t want to get married, which is her other option in Valerian society.  When in the markets with her best friend one day, Kestrel finds herself at the slave market and then against her better judgment she buys a young man.  Arin is an unusual slave, a gifted blacksmith, he also has a connection to music though he tries to hide it.  The two of them slowly begin to fall in love with one another, though both of their societies forbid it.  But the world is about to twist and turn around them, bringing their love into question, their motives into doubt, and placing their very lives at risk. 

Rutkoski has created a world tinged with magic but not overflowing with it.  While her book has the feel of a light romance, it has much more depth than that.  It is a book that explores questions about slavery, about what victors in a war should be able to take and own, about protection and when that becomes a sort of slavery or jail.  There is romance, definitely, but it is a romance built on unequal footing and even lies. 

This is a society in a precarious state, delicately balanced and written so that  the reader is very aware not only of how uncertain things are but also of the forces at work to destroy that balance.  Rutkoski does a great job of creating a world where the enslaved people had recently lived in the homes where they now work as servants.  The tug and pull of this and their connection to the land is a vital part of the book and makes the world unique and riveting.

The two main characters each have chapters of the book from their points of view.  Kestrel struggles against the constraints of her warrior upbringing, a society that is strict and formal but also bloodthirsty.  Arin has lost everything and much of the story is the reader trying to figure out what and who Arin once was.  Their relationship mirrors the world they are caught in.  It is rebellious, as delicate as blown glass, and yet with a core of strength. 

A stunning cover will have teens finding themselves thrown headlong into a world of corruption, war and slavery but also one of romance and beauty.  Powerful and magnificent, there are no easy answers between these covers but the questions are certainly worthy of exploration. Appropriate for ages 14-18.

Reviewed from copy received from Farrar Straus Giroux.

story of owen

The Story of Owen by E. K. Johnston

When the world saw Lottie Thorskard fall from a girder, everyone wondered what she would do next.  No one expected her to move to the tiny town of Trondheim and start slaying dragons there with her wife, her brother and his son.  But that is how Owen started attending the same school as Siobhan.  Siobhan is not a popular student, but she gets good grades and loves to play and write music.  None of this should have made her even noticeable by Owen, whom everyone wanted to know better.  Somehow though Siobhan with her biting wit gets invited over to Owen’s home for dinner and Owen’s family including the famous Lottie have a plan that involves Siobhan.  They want her to be Owen’s bard.  Which will involve being nearby when they fight dragons.  So Siobhan must train to defend herself with a sword, learn more about different types of dragons, and she becomes an important piece of Owen’s story herself.

This is one of those books that surprises right from the beginning.  Somehow I didn’t realize that this is a modern-day dragon tale set in Canada.  In this book, the world has always had dragons and they form the heart of literature and song going back into history.  Johnston takes the time to rewrite the lives of famous people for the reader, building her world so successfully that it all makes perfect sense that dragons are here and have always been. 

The juxtaposition between the two main characters is brilliantly done.  But perhaps the very best part is that this is not a romance.  Yes, a male and female main character but no sparks, no kissing, no sex.  Instead they are busy trying to save their community together.  Siobhan and Owen are both vibrant and intelligent.  They have the sort of brilliant dialogue that one would expect from a John Green book.  Except they do it while fighting dragons!  Amazing.

A completely incredible debut book, this takes fantasy and turns it on its head with a thoroughly modern take on battling dragons and extraordinarily deep world building.  This is one of the best and most unique fantasy novels I’ve read in years.

Reviewed from digital galley received from NetGalley and Carolrhoda Books.

Review: Half Bad by Sally Green

half bad

Half Bad by Sally Green

I always approach fantasies that are supposed to be the “Next Big Thing” with a lot of caution.  But this one is a wonderful surprise.  Nathan lives in a cage outside of the house where the woman paid to keep him lives.  He is let out of his shackles at dawn, forced to run for miles, train in combat, and kept close to home by wristbands filled with acid that will detonate if he goes too far.  Nathan is a witch.  But that is not why he is in a cage.  He is in a cage because he is a mix of white witch and black witch and worse, he is the son of the most notorious black witch of all time.  The white witches who keep Nathan imprisoned are training him to kill his father.  Through a series of flashbacks, Nathan’s childhood and the abuse he suffers from the white witches is exposed.  The question quickly becomes who the bad guys really are and how Nathan can survive in a world where no one trusts half of him.

Set in an alternative England where witches are real and in a constant battle for power, Nathan is trapped not just in a cage but also in between the two powerful factions.  The writing here is wonderfully clean and clear, even when it turns to violence which it does often.  Thanks to the quality of the writing, the moral questions shine on the page, clearly linking this witch world to the various moral questions at play in our own world.  Yet this does not become overbearing at all, since the world is compellingly built.

The characters are also well done.  While the “white” and “black” labels designate the factions, the question of good and evil goes much deeper.  Nathan is an exceptional protagonist.  He is complex and both in his character and the world, nothing is simple.  As he learns the truth about his parents, his family and himself, his reactions are honest, violent and superbly done.

This book is worthy of all of the fanfare it has received, but the reason to read it is to enter the violent world of witches where everyone is at least half bad.  Appropriate for ages 15-18.

Reviewed from copy received from Viking.

she is not invisible

She Is Not Invisible by Marcus Sedgwick

Released April 22, 2014.

Laureth keeps tabs on her famous father’s emails, making sure that his fans are responded to in a kind and timely way.  But one day, she gets an email from someone claiming to have her father’s writing journal.  The problem is, her father is supposed to be in Europe, but this person is in New York City.  Laureth’s mother doesn’t seem to care about her father being missing, so it is up to Laureth to figure out how to reach him and find out what happened.  But Laureth has an additional obstacle to her rescue mission: she is blind.  So she must fool her 7-year-old brother into joining her on a flight across the Atlantic Ocean to a huge city to find her father.  This is a quest unlike any other, written by a master.

Sedgwick’s writing is beautiful and effortless.  He has created a truly incredible character in Laureth, a girl who doesn’t even realize how brave she is.  Her blindness is both a huge factor in the novel but also never a factor in Laureth’s self perception.  She tries to pass as sighted throughout the novel, managing it at times and failing at others.  There are frightening encounters, moments of disorientation, and other times where blindness is the reason she survives. 

Sedgwick’s book is about far more than a girl who is blind making a quest.  It is about moments of coincidence too.  Sedgwick works this theme in by pulling quotes from Laureth’s father and his research into coincidence.  But it is also a large theme of the book itself, those breathtaking moments where the universe seems to be speaking just to you.  And it is those moments that make the connections we have with others stand out clearly.

A remarkable protagonist in a magical book, this is another winner for Sedgwick.  Appropriate for ages 13-15.

Reviewed from digital copy received from NetGalley and Roaring Brook Press.

never ending

Never Ending by Martyn Bedford

Shiv is unable to live with her brother Declan’s death, particularly her own role in it.  So she is sent to the Korsakoff Clinic where she hopes to be cured and be able to continue her life.  Unable to see past her own guilt and loss, Shiv finds herself in an unusual clinic where she is first forced to focus on her brother and then forced to look directly at his death without turning away.  She is joined in the clinic by several other teens who all lost people in different ways but all feel as responsible and guilty as Shiv does.  As they are forced to see the truth of their loss, all of them react in different ways.  When hope is highest though, the ground falls out below Shiv and she must figure out that saving someone else may be the answer to saving herself.

Bedford has created a very compelling read.  He slowly reveals Shiv’s life before Declan’s death.  Along the way, readers get to know Shiv and Declan and their warm and loving parents.  They see directly what grief and loss do to people and the way their relationships are torn asunder.  They also see how hard it is to return to life after such a loss.  Bedford maintains a large level of complexity throughout the novel, moving into flashbacks and also showing Declan as a human rather than a lost angel.  The relationship between the siblings is good until a gorgeous young man enters their lives and creates waves for both of them.

As the flashbacks to Declan’s final days continue, the tension in the book mounts.  The pressure is also building in Shiv’s recovery as she starts to recover and then suffers setbacks.  There are no easy answers here.  Declan’s life as well as Shiv’s are complex.  The therapy she undergoes is unusual but it is up to Shiv to really do the work of recovery. 

Beautifully written and structured, this novel of recovery, pain and guilt weaves a mesmerizing web for the reader who is never quite sure how things are going to end.  Appropriate for ages 15-17.

Reviewed from copy received from Random House Children’s Books.

no place

No Place by Todd Strasser

Dan seemed to have it all from being popular to his hot girlfriend to probably getting a baseball scholarship to college.  But then his family started having financial problems and they got worse and worse.  Finally, they were forced to leave their home and live in Dignityville, a city park reused as a tent city for homeless people.  Dan struggles to figure out how to continue being the same person with his friends, how to stay focused on his future, and how to keep dating one of the wealthier girls in town.  On a daily basis, Dan is confronted with the differences in lifestyle and priorities.  But Dignityville is not without some good aspects.  Dan gets to spend more time with his family and he gets to know Meg, a girl who attends his high school and who also lives in Dignityville with her brother and family.  Then Meg’s brother is brutally attacked and it quickly becomes evident that there is a conspiracy to destroy Dignityville, one that may end up hurting those that Dan loves.

Strasser tackles the issue of homelessness head on here.  Yet he does in such a way as to make it accessible to those who have not experienced it.  The emphasis is on the fact that there are all sorts of people who are homeless, not just those with addiction and mental health issues.  Seeing the slow fall to homelessness by Dan’s parents and their reaction to being homeless further underlines that people are doing their best in trying and exceedingly difficult situations. 

Dan is a very engaging character, one who quickly learns how profoundly his life has changed.  The other characters at Dignityville are also well drawn and interesting as are Dan’s parents.  The only character I found two-dimensional was Talia, Dan’s girlfriend, who seemed distant and aloof from what was happening.  As the book progressed, the mystery of who was trying to shut down Dignityville moved to the forefront of the story.  I felt that this distracted from an already powerful story and took it over the top.  It was an unnecessary addition to the book.

An important book about a teen and his family experiencing homelessness, teens will find much to love in these pages.  Appropriate for ages 14-17.

Reviewed from copy received from Simon & Schuster.

BEA logo

The committees have selected the books for the 2014 BEA Editor Buzz panels.  Here are the book on the YA and Middle Grade Buzz lists:

YA Buzz Books

The Jewel Lies We Tell Ourselves The Walled City

I’m Glad I Did by Cynthia Weil

The Jewel by Amy Ewing

King Dork Approximately by Frank Portman

Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley

The Walled City by Ryan Graudin

 

Middle Grade Buzz Books

Life of Zarf: The Trouble with Weasels 

Life of Zarf by Rob Harrell

Pennyroyal Academy by M.A. Larson

The Truth about Twinkle Pie by Kat Yeh

The Witch’s Boy by Kelly Barnhill

Zoo at the Edge of the World by Eric Kahn Gale

scar boys

The Scar Boys by Len Vlahos

Trying to fill out a college application, Harry decides to ignore the word limit and tell his full story to that point.  When he was 8 years old, kids in his neighborhood tied him to a tree during a thunderstorm.  The tree was struck by lightning and set ablaze with Harry tied directly to it.  Harry has severe scars both physically and emotionally from that day.  Harry had no friends until Johnny came into his life, a charismatic and confident boy who swept down and saved Harry from obscurity and loneliness.  Together the two of them started a band, one that really sucked at first, but then amazingly got better and better.  Called The Scar Boys, the band transported Harry from his dull life into a different type of storm, one of music and pure joy.  But bands often fall apart and so do high school friendships on the brink of college.  As the future looms closer, Harry has to figure out what to give up on and what is worth fighting to keep.

Vlahos’ debut teen novel is a screamingly funny wild ride.  The author was in a band himself when he was younger and the moments onstage read honest, zany and completely true.  The writing throughout is smart and clever, making points with arrow-sharp zingers that are surprising and make for a great read.  Here is one from page 97:

Truth is, if we’d had a shred of sense, we’d have known we were getting in way over our heads.  But you can’t buy shreds of sense, and even if you could, we were pretty much out of money.

Harry is a great protagonist.  He is witty and smart himself, since the book is written in first person from his point of view.  Vlahos manages to never lose track of Harry’s scars but also manages to make his scars much deeper than his skin and therefore the book about much more than that as well.  It is a book that explores friendships, power and dreams. 

An amazing debut novel, it has a winning mix of punk rock, guitars and real life.  Appropriate for ages 14-17.

Reviewed from digital galley from Edelweiss and Egmont.

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