Category: Teen


ruin and rising

Ruin and Rising by Leigh Bardugo

The final book in the Grisha trilogy, this is an amazing ending to an incredible series.  After her failed battle with the Darkling, Alina has been hiding in the White Cathedral, slowing healing from the damage of the fight.  But Alina has lost much of her power and must rely on trickery to display the light of the Sun Summoner.  She is surrounded by those who believe her to be a saint, but also by those who would control her for their own means.  It is soon time for Alina to escape, but in her battered body and mind, planning such a thing is insurmountable.  Luckily, she still has some of her faithful friends around her, who are only too pleased to free her and themselves from the protection of the Cathedral.  Now Alina must figure out how to find the final amplifier that will allow her to complete the set and access her full power.  But the Darkling is still hunting her, and he will not stop until she is under his control.

This is one of those books that you read at breakneck pace, turning the pages quickly.  Bardugo has created such a rich world in this series that it is one that is hard to leave behind, and when you do it continues to call to you as a reader to finish the story.  Mixing Russian aspects into the story makes this very unique, but she also has a world that has its own rules, ones that make sense and hold true throughout the books. 

Rife with romance, the book also offers different choices in future lives to Alina.  There is the ever-steady Mal who is the only one who can track the final amplifier for Alina.  There is the prince who is charming and funny, giving Alina freedom but also making her a queen.  And of course, there is the choice of the Darkling himself, destructive and evil but so alluring.  Alina is a wondrous mix of delicacy and steel.  She is a stunning heroine.

Make sure to start this trilogy from the beginning, but also make sure to read it through to this riveting, dark and sun-streaked ending.  Pure bliss!  Appropriate for ages 14-17.

Reviewed from library copy.

fire wish

The Fire Wish by Amber Lough

The war between the jinnis and the humans has been going on for years.  Najwa is a young jinni who is being specially trained in covert operations and visiting the human world.  Zayele is a human, selected to marry a  prince whom she’s never met.  When the two of them meet, Zayele makes a wish on Najwa and switches their places.  Now Zayele is the jinni, living among other jinnis in the crystal caves under the earth and Najwa is the human, heading for marriage to a prince.  The two must keep themselves secret, both knowing that they will be killed by the people around them if they are discovered.  But war and love make everything more complicated and the two discover secrets about themselves and their worlds that will change everything.

Lough’s debut novel is the first in a series.  It intelligently combines the author’s experience in the deserts of the Middle East with the fantasy elements of jinnis and wishes.  The setting is vividly depicted, both the crystal caverns of the jinnis with the lakes of dancing flame and the desert world of the humans are well drawn.  The differing cultures juxtapose clearly against one another, each with different freedoms and neither considered wrong or right.  There is a lot of respect for cultures in this novel.

The two main protagonists are also nicely different from one another.  While Najwa is a character who is very likeable and easily related to, Zayele serves as her foil.  Najwa worries more for her entire people while Zayele makes choices that focus more on herself and her situation.  Neither character would completely work without the other there too and both display nice and natural growth as the story progresses.  The book also has an element of romance to it, it too is handled with a natural pace and progression.

A strong debut book that is a tantalizing blend of romance, magic and wishes.  Appropriate for ages 13-15.

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

beetle boy

Beetle Boy by Margaret Willey

Charlie Porter never expected to have a girlfriend who cared this much for him.  Enough to bring him into her home after he had surgery on his Achilles tendon and care for him while he could not walk.  But now Clara is starting to ask pointed questions about Charlie’s childhood and his family, questions that Charlie does not want to answer.  Clara knows that Charlie was once billed as the world’s youngest author and sold story books about beetles.  She also knows that he has nightmares every night that usually involve screaming.  She doesn’t know though that Charlie’s dreams are filled with huge black beetles or that the books he sold were not really his own stories.  She doesn’t know that his mother abandoned him, that his father forced him to sell books, that his brother hated him then and still does for abandoning him.  She knows so little, but can Charlie open up and let her see the truth about him without her leaving him entirely?

Willey paints a tragic and painful look at a young man continuing to wrestle with the demons of his childhood.  At 18-years-old, Charlie continues to dream about his past and to live as if it is his future as well.  The book shows how difficult dysfunctional and neglectful childhoods can be to escape, even after one has physically left if behind.  Willey manages to create a past for Charlie that does not become melodramatic.  She makes it painful enough but not too dramatically so. 

Charlie is a very interesting protagonist.  He is not a hero, because he is too damaged to be called that.  He is certainly a survivor, wrestling with things that will not let him go or let him progress.  He is frightened, shy, and can’t see a future for himself.  He is a tragic figure, one that readers will root for entirely, but also one that drips with anger, shame and sadness.  One of the best parts of the novel is the end, which does not end neatly or give a clear path for Charlie.  The ending has hope, but continues the complexity of the issues that Charlie faces.  Perfectly done.

A brilliant and powerful look at neglect and abuse and the long shadow it casts over a life.  Appropriate for ages 14-17.

Reviewed from digital galley received from Carolrhoda Books and Netgalley.

blind

Blind by Rachel DeWoskin

When Emma was 14 watching fireworks with her family, a rocket backfired and hit the crowd, burning Emma across her eyes and leaving her blind.  Emma has to learn how to live as a blind person, pitied by everyone but mostly by herself.  She learns to walk with a cane after months of sitting on the family couch not doing anything at all.  She is sent to a special school where she learns to read braille and yearns to be back with her best friend at normal high school.  After working hard for a year, Emma manages to progress enough to be allowed to return to normal high school, but everything has changed.  Not only is it difficult being blind there, but a classmate has been found dead.  Now Emma has to figure out how to process the girl’s death without becoming the PBK – Poor Blind Kid again.

DeWoskin has written a complex book here.  The heart of it, Emma’s blindness is brilliantly captured.  Readers will learn about the limitations of being blind, but also how it makes to listen differently and with more attention than before.  The small coping mechanisms are fascinating, such as always wearing a tan bra so that you know it won’t show through any of your shirts and the fact that blind girls still wear makeup, but theirs has to be labeled in a way you can touch. 

Emma is a great heroine.  Her grieving process is clearly shown as is her determination to return to normal.  She is strong but not too strong, so that she is fully human on the page.  When Emma creates a group of students who meet secretly to deal with the girl’s death, the book slows.  While it is an interesting device to show how teens can come together to help one another grieve and heal, it is far less compelling than Emma’s own journey. 

A book that will reach beyond those interested in visual impairment, this teen novel shows the resilience of a girl suddenly blinded but who discovers an inner strength she had never realized she had.  Appropriate for ages 13-17.

Reviewed from ARC received from Viking.

love and other foreign words

Love and Other Foreign Words by Erin McCahan

Josie attends both college and high school, one in the morning and one in the afternoon.  So she has to be able to speak fluent High School and College.  There are people in her life who speak her own language, her best friend Stu, her parents, and her older sister Kate.  Josie also has to learn the way to talk to Kate about her dismal new boyfriend who doesn’t seem to be going away as quickly as Josie would like.  Even worse, it looks like they might be getting married, but not if Josie can stop it.  As Josie starts to date, she learns that there are Boyfriend languages that she has to learn as well.  But will anyone bother to learn to speak Josie?  And how in the world do you stop a crazy bride-to-be from ruining your life along with her own?

McCahan has written a smart female protagonist who is not afraid of being seen as intelligent and often shows off her knowledge in very humorous ways.  It’s great to have a super-smart girl in a book who relishes her own brains and also manages to have close friends.  Just as lovely is a book with a teen protagonist who enjoys her parents and gets along with her siblings too, most of the time.  Josie is entirely herself with her own sense of identity that often does not match the ones that people want to inflict upon her.  And that is celebrated in this wonderfully clever read.

McCahan has a knack for comedic timing and witty comments.  She doesn’t take it too far or make Josie too very clever.  Instead the humor reads naturally and seems like the sort of things that a smart teen would say.  The use of foreign languages to look at how people communicate in different ways is a very clever take on it.  As Josie stumbles through relationships on different levels, she is acutely aware of when things go awry but also just as confused about how to fix them.

This is an outstanding novel with an unusual protagonist that will have you laughing along with Josie as she navigates the many languages of her world.  Appropriate for ages 14-17.

Reviewed from library copy.

through the woods

Through the Woods by Emily Carroll

This graphic novel is haunted by authors like Neil Gaiman and the Brother Grimm.  The tales here are gruesome in the best possible way, frightening and oozy and delightful.  Our Neighbor’s House is a strange tale of a family that disappears one by one into the frigid snow following a man in a wide-brimmed hat until there is only one girl left.  A Lady’s Hands Are Cold tells of a women married into a loveless marriage who begins to hear voices calling from the walls and floors of the house.  His Face All Red is a story of murder and the undead. My Friend Janna tells of what happens when fakery of the occult becomes real and dangerous.  The Nesting Place will have your skin crawling, or perhaps it’s what lurks behind your skin.  Each story is a gem, strange and beautiful and entirely horrific.

Carroll does both the stories and the art here and they are married together so closely that they could not be extricated.  Though they are all clearly done by one person, the art changes from one to the next, definitively showing that you are entering a different place with different people.  There are old stories with coaches, horses and corsets as well as more modern tales too. 

Yet though they are clearly different, you start each one with that unease in your stomach that Carroll seems to be able to generate through her use of colors and the way that her characters gaze from the page.  Something is wrong in each of the stories and you can’t finish until you figure out exactly what it is.  The effect is haunting, haunted and wildly exhilarating.

A true delight of a read, this graphic novel for teens is completely disturbing and filled with horror.  In other words, it’s perfection for horror fans.  Appropriate for ages 12-14.

Reviewed from copy received from McElderry Books.

half life of molly pierce

The Half Life of Molly Pierce by Katrina Leno

Molly has memory problems, she will awaken driving her car on the highway miles from home.  She will find herself on the couch watching a show on TV with her little sister when she had just moments earlier been at school.  She wakes up with her homework half finished and she doesn’t remember even starting it.  So when an unknown boy crashes his motorcycle in front of her and then calls her by name, Molly knows that there is more to her blackouts than she might have thought and that it is time to come clean about them with her parents and therapist.  As she starts to sort out what happens to her when she isn’t there, Molly meets Sayer, the brother of the boy who crashed and someone who seems to know more about Molly than she does.  Molly has to figure out not only what is happening to her but how she is connected to Sayer and his brother.

In this debut novel, Leno skillfully crafts a book of psychological suspense and mystery.  Cleverly, it all takes place in a single person who can’t remember it at all.  The result is a riveting read, one that is emotional and raw.  Molly is a great example of the unreliable narrator, one who knows that she doesn’t have the facts but also one who is incapable of putting it all together.  Readers may guess what is happening in the novel before Molly realizes it herself, but the book won’t let you go until it is revealed in its entirety.

Leno’s writing is noteworthy too.  She beautifully captures falling in love through physical, tangible reactions and poetic language.  She also gracefully shows the physical reactions of Molly as she struggles to live a normal life, such as this passage from the beginning of Chapter 8:

The next day at school I move through the hallways like they’re flooded.  Like I’m swimming through them, coming up every so often for air and clawing my way through seaweed that would hold me down, choke me, suffocate me.  My lungs burn with the effort of breathing.  What I wouldn’t do for gills.

This startling puzzle of a psychological thriller will have readers riveted from the very beginning.  Appropriate for ages 14-17.

Reviewed from digital galley received from Edelweiss and HarperTeen.

vanishing season

The Vanishing Season by Jodi Lynn Anderson

After her mother lost her job in Chicago, Maggie and her parents move to Door County, Wisconsin to a home they have inherited.  Just as they move to the peninsula, teen girls start to disappear and are found floating in the water.  Maggie misses her best friend and all of the activity of Chicago, but she is also taken in by the quiet and the beauty of Door County.  She quickly makes friends with the unusual girl next door, Pauline, who is beautiful, wealthy but also ignores both those facts and is downright childlike most of the time.  There is also Liam, a boy desperately in love with Pauline, though Pauline just wants to remain friends forever.  Maggie enters their world of canoe rides, building saunas in the woods, bonfires and marshmallows, that is interrupted as the winter comes with more deaths of teen girls.  Soon a curfew is imposed and no one is allowed to travel on their own.  Maggie can still hang out with Liam and Pauline, but the isolated peninsula begins to become even more separated from the rest of the world.  Add to this a voice in the novel that speaks of death, of being dead, and you have a haunting teen read.

Anderson’s prose is incredible.  She has written a book where it is all about isolation, winter, and death.  Yet at the same time it is rather desperately and fragilely about life too.  There is warmth, first love, beautiful friendships, and the wonder of nature.  It is a novel of contrasts, one that hints at a ghost story but is not overtaken by it.  It is a book about love, but it moves beyond that as well, turning to life and death eventually.

As I said, Anderson’s writing is beautiful.  She captures moments with a delicacy and poignancy that makes even the smallest moments of life spectacular.  Here is one example from Page 61 in the digital version of the ARC:

If I could show you the lives of the people below me – the colors of what they all feel heading into this chilling, late fall – they’d be green and purple and red, leaking out through the roofs, making invisible tracks down the roads.

She plays with perspectives in the novel.  Maggie’s story is told in third person, while the voice of the ghost, as seen in the quote above, is told in first person.  Anderson is not afraid to create a book filled with tiny pieces that come together into one full work by the end.  She writes without the need for action to carry the book forward, instead capturing a place and a time with an eye for detail and discovery.

Haunting and wildly beautiful, this quiet book is not for everyone but those who love it will love it desperately.  Appropriate for ages 14-16.

Reviewed from digital galley received from Edelweiss and HarperTeen.

Mockingbird Trailer

President Snow’s Panem Address:

things you kiss goodbye

The Things You Kiss Goodbye by Leslie Connor

Bettina has been raised in a very strict family.  She’s not allowed to do anything other than attend dance classes, which ended when her best friend moved away.  Otherwise it is only school and home.  So when a very sweet basketball player at school asks her out, she is forced to say no.  But he doesn’t accept that and manages to charm Bettina’s family enough that she is allowed to go out with him.  At first everything is wonderful and Brady is a perfect boyfriend, who takes things very slow and doesn’t pressure.  But as they date more, Brady begins to change.  He gets angrier as pressure goes up on the basketball court.  Then Bettina meets a man who is everything that Brady isn’t.  He doesn’t ask for anything from her, never gets mad, and Bettina finds herself longing to spend more time with him even though her family would never approve.  Bettina knows she has to leave Brady before he hurts her more badly, but as she hesitates something happens so that the truth of the two men in her life must be revealed.

Connor captures an abusive relationship with a delicacy that allows the reader to begin to rationalize what happens to Bettina along with her.  This is not straight-forward beatings, but rather teasing taken too far, anger expressed in the wrong way, and as Bettina learns to tiptoe around Brady the reader realizes that they too have been drawn into the wrong relationship alongside her.  It is powerfully done.  When Connor adds the character of Cowboy to the book, it is a surprising choice.  His gentleness and quiet in an older man makes for a charismatic character unusual in teen novels.  While he is a foil for the young and angry Brady, he is also himself a complicated and intriguing figure.

Connor seems to write only complicated characters, much to her credit.  Bettina is a girl who is eager to leave the confines of her upbringing, pushing against her parents’ control.  Yet even her parents are completely drawn characters, struggling to do their best for their daughter.  The book plays with overprotective parents who don’t manage to protect their daughter from anything in the end.  Yet their love is what lingers beyond that.

A powerful read with moments of breathlessness from surprise and shock, this book is not only about an abusive relationship but about true love and hope too.  Appropriate for ages 14-17.

Reviewed from digital copy received from Edelweiss and Katherine Tegen Books.

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