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.
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
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 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
YALSA has announced their selections for the 2014 Quick Picks list. The list features 77 titles and three series and represents books specifically chosen for teens who do not like to read. I always find new titles and fresh faces in this list.
They also selected a top ten:
100 Questions You’d Never Ask Your Parents: Straight Answers to Teens’ Questions about Sex, Sexuality and Health by Elisabeth Henderson and Nancy Armstrong
Boy Nobody by Allen Zadoff
How to Speak Dog: A Guide to Decoding Dog Language by Aline Alexander Newman and Gary Weitzman
Killer of Enemies by Joseph Bruchac
Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong by Prudence Shen
Proxy by Alex London
Star Wars Jedi Academy by Jeffrey Brown
The Testing by Joelle Charbonneau
Vietnam #4: Casualties of War by Chris Lynch
Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass by Meg Medina
Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge
A stunningly inventive retelling of Beauty and the Beast, this debut novel turns the entire tale around over and over again. Born into a world captured under a paper sky, Nyx has been promised as a bride to their demon ruler since she was born. Her father promised tribute when he made a deal with the demon, so Nyx is to be sacrificed. But her sacrifice is not to be without results, so she has been trained to kill her demon husband. On her seventeenth birthday, she is sent to live with her new husband whom she has never met in his incredible castle. She is not expecting to be beguiled by her new husband or by his silent shadow that serves him. But once in the realm of her husband things are different, answers are not as clear, and even the questions shift and change just like the rooms and doors in the castle. Nyx must figure out how she can save not only her family and her world but whether her newfound love can be saved too.
I was amazed when I discovered that this is a debut novel. The writing has a polish and steadiness that would not lead one to believe that when reading. Hodge has managed to take the foundation of the Beauty and the Beast storyline but then transform it, writing her own original world on top of it yet never quite leaving the original too far behind. It is a critical balance in reworking familiar stories, and Hodge manages it admirably. She turns it into something wilder, more frightening and just as beautiful.
Nyx is a wonderful protagonist. I love how prickly she is, how feisty and fiery. She can stand right up to a demon and match wits with him. Yet she is also entirely human, torn by the fact her father chose to sacrifice her, awash with a mix of love and hate for her twin sister, and at times overcome with the situation she finds herself in. Hodge allows these opposite forces to linger, building the tension and not resolving it until the end.
Dramatic, romantic and completely beguiling, this retelling of Beauty and the Beast will get teen hearts racing even as the world twists and turns changing the story. Appropriate for ages 14-17.
Reviewed from digital galley received from Edelweiss and Balzer + Bray.
YALSA has announced their choices for Great Graphic Novels 2014. Selected from 122 nominations, the list has 78 graphic novels for teens ages 12-18 that are that special mix of quality literature and teen appeal.
They also named a Top Ten:
The Adventures of Superhero Girl by Faith Erin Hicks
Boxers & Saints by Gene Luen Yang
Dogs of War by Sheila Keenan and Nathan Fox
March: Book 1 by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell
MIND MGMT v. 1: The Manager by Matt Kindt
Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong by Prudence Shen and Faith Erin Hicks
Rust v. 2: Secrets of the Cell by Royden Lepp
Strobe Edge v. 1-6 by Io Sakisaka
War Brothers: The Graphic Novel by Sharon McKay and Daniel Lafrance
Will & Whit by Laura Lee Gulledge
YALSA’s list of the Best Fiction for Young Adults has been announced. There are 98 titles on the list from 175 nominated. The books are appropriate for ages 12-18 and have that winning mix of great writing and teen appeal.
From the 98 titles, there is also a Top Ten List:
All the Truth That’s in Me by Julie Berry
Better Nate Than Ever by Tim Federle
Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
Far Far Away by Tom McNeal
Freakboy by Kristin Elizabeth Clark
Golden Boy by Tara Sullivan
Midwinterblood by Marcus Sedgwick
Rose under Fire by Elizabeth Wein
Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys
Winger by Andrew Smith
And We Stay by Jenny Hubbard
Emily has been sent to a private board school in Amherst so that she doesn’t have to face all of the questions at her public high school. Her boyfriend, Paul, brought a gun to school. Emily is sure that Paul never meant to hurt her, though he did threaten her with the gun. She is also sure that he never planned to kill himself with it, though that is what he did. At her private school, she doesn’t quite fit in. She doesn’t wear the right shoes and her reluctance to talk about what happened and why she is there mid-term doesn’t lead others to get closer to her. Emily finds herself more and more interested in Emily Dickinson whose home is in Amherst. She starts writing poems herself, putting her grief and confusion on the page in poems that she plans to never share with anyone. But as the days go by, she becomes closer with her room mate and other girls on campus, including one of the teachers. It is now up to Emily to figure out how much she is willing to share of her own role in Paul’s death.
Hubbard’s writing is crystalline and brilliant. She captures the stunned nature of sudden loss with clarity and understanding. Emily could easily have become and inaccessible character to readers as well since she is prickly and shut down. Instead though, Hubbard creates a space around Emily for readers to understand her and feel her pain.
A large part of this is through her poems which honor Dickinson, follow her structure and voice closely at times, and other times reveal Emily’s soul in brief lines that shine. These poems serve as islands in a sea of pain and grief. They are concrete and dazzlingly good. They are bright with hope as one can see in each one Emily moving forward toward the future after putting her pain on the page.
Beautiful writing, a strong heroine, and plenty of poetry make this a very unique and exceptional book about loss and suicide. Appropriate for ages 14-16.
Reviewed from digital galley received from Edelweiss and NetGalley.
Why We Took the Car by Wolfgang Herrndorf
Originally published in Germany, this is a gorgeous coming-of-age story that is dark and immensely funny. It is the story of Mike who just doesn’t fit in. He’s considered one of the most boring people in his school, ignored entirely by girls and laughed at when he reads his writing out loud. He’s not even invited to the best party of the year though everyone else is. Everyone but Andre, better known as Tschick, who comes to school drunk, looks like he’s been fighting, and wears outdated clothes. Tschick and Mike have absolutely nothing in common, but when Tschick shows up unexpectedly in a stolen car when Mike has been left home alone for an extended time, they head on a road trip that no one will ever forget.
Winner of several awards in Germany, this book is much more than a standard teen road trip book. What could have been cardboard stereotype characters instead blossom in the hands of Herrndorf to become much more complex and intriguing. They get more and more interesting as the book progresses, steadily revealing themselves to one another and to the reader. It turns out that Mike is far from boring in any way and Tschick is far from any sort of stereotype.
Readers know from the beginning how the road trip ends, but the joy is in getting to that point. I guarantee it is not a straight line! The setting of modern Germany is one that many teens may not have explored, especially through the eyes of native Germans. The translation is done very well, leaving it particularly European, but also making it flow for English speakers.
I am usually not a fan of road trip stories, but this is definitely one trip worth taking. Funny with a lightness but also depth, this is a wonderful teen read. Appropriate for ages 14-16.
Reviewed from digital galley received from Arthur A. Levine Books and NetGalley.