More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera (InfoSoup)
Aaron has always scoffed at the claims that the Leteo Institute could successfully erase memories of traumatic events and allow people a fresh new life. But when his father kills himself in their home, Aaron struggles to go on. After making an attempt on his own life, by carving a smile into his wrist, Aaron has to figure out how to cope in a different way. He does have a great girlfriend, one whose father is rarely home and that gives them time to fool around. He also has a new friend in Thomas, another teen who has a great setup on the roof of his apartment building to watch movies on a huge screen. When Aaron’s girlfriend leaves for an art program, he finds himself growing much closer to Thomas and even starting to think that he may possibly definitely be attracted to him. As Aaron grapples with this new insight into his sexuality, he drifts away from his neighborhood friends: kids who would not accept him being gay. Aaron has to figure out what the truth is about himself and whether he wants to forget it all and start again, straight this time.
Silvera’s book is pure joy. He has teens who talk like teens, swear like teens, fight like teens. They play vicious games based on childhood playground themes that are brilliant and sadistic and real. His teens have sex, multiple times, and deal with the consequences. His urban Bronx setting is a brilliant mix of poverty, race and community that echoes with intolerance and also support. It’s all wonderfully complicated and nothing is simple. There are no real villains, no real heroes and the book is all the better for it.
I don’t want to spoil this book for anyone, so I will not refer to how the book resolves or ends. Let me just say that Silvera writes it like it is one book and then it twists and turns and takes you down several roads until you reach the final one with tears streaming down your face. It’s just as sadistic as the playground games the characters play. It’s unfair and brutal and brilliant and alive.
This is a book that speaks volumes about LGBT hate, self-loathing and the lengths we will go to in order to start again fresh and different. One of the best of the year. Appropriate for ages 15-18.
Reviewed from library copy.
Supermutant Magic Academy by Jillian Tamaki (InfoSoup)
The award-winning Jillian Tamaki returns with a collection of comics that she has been serializing online for the last few years. Set in a boarding school for magical mutant teens, this graphic novel is filled with an engaging mix of fantasy, science fiction and teen angst. Various characters appear in different strips. There is the self-absorbed lizard-headed Trixie who mourns her lack of a modeling career. Marsha is unable to speak about her crush on Wendy, her best friend. Everlasting Boy continues to both escape to death but also embraces what makes life amazing. Other characters appear with moments of touching nuance juxtaposed against others that produce laughter because of how real they are.
Tamaki completely captures what it feels like to be a teenager, magical or not. She twists in the superhero and magical tropes, cleverly playing against the Avengers and Harry Potter experiences into something more realistic and heartfelt. Even in her most fantastical moments, she creates universal themes. Riding brooms becomes a chance to look up someone’s skirt. Magic wands are the key to removing pimples. It’s all a beautiful mix of reality and fantasy.
I deeply appreciate a book that embraces gay and lesbian characters this clearly. Not only is Marsha a main lesbian character grappling with how to come out to her best friend, but there are two male friends who are clearly attracted to one another and act on it. Throughout there is also a sense of connection to the world, the deep depression of high school, and capturing fleeting moments in time.
Teens will love this book and those who play D&D will find a world where they fit right in effortlessly. This graphic novel was love at first sight for me and I’m sure it will be for many kids who are outsiders in high school. Appropriate for ages 14-18.
Reviewed from library copy.
The Last Leaves Falling by Sarah Benwell (InfoSoup)
Sora has ALS, a disease that will slowly ravage his muscles and eventually kill him. There is no cure and no slowing the disease’s progression. Sora’s mother takes care of him and he spends his days at home, unwilling to leave and expose himself and his mother to the pitying gazes of strangers as she pushes him in his wheelchair. Then Sora joins an online chat room for Kyoto teens and after lurking for awhile, accidentally posts a very big scream to one of the rooms. Some people reach out to him and he becomes online friends with two of them, Mai and Kaito. His mother thinks they are friends from school, and she insists that she meet them too. But Sora hasn’t revealed his diagnosis to them at all, pretending instead to be a regular school-attending teen online. What will happen when they discover his illness? Will be begin to treat him differently just like everyone else?
Benwell has written a stunning read in this teen novel set in Kyoto, Japan. The setting is beautiful and a sense of Japan runs through the entire novel, making sure that western readers will never lose the sense of the setting. Benwell grapples with many issues here and yet the book is intently focused on Sora and his journey. Sora wants answers to questions that have none, like why people treat those with disabilities differently and what happens to you after you die. With those issues weaving throughout the book, Benwell also offers up a look at a devastating disease and its effect but also still reminds us all the it is each day that matters and the small things that delight.
The three teen characters are very well drawn. There is Sora, the central character and a boy who is serious and studious. He searches for deep answers and has lots of time alone to think. Yet he is still approachable, friendly and caring, never becoming a stereotype of any kind. Mai is a girl who loves art but is unable to explain to her mother that she’d rather be an artist than a lawyer. Through her reaction to meeting Sora for the first time, Benwell offers one view of courage and the willingness to try again. Kaito is a boy who loves coding and computers, but struggles to do it as well as he would like. He is impatient and clever. The two teens learn much from Sora, but not right away allowing them the time and space to be truly motivated by Sora.
This is a powerful novel that speaks to the beauty of life and calls teens to make the most of their dreams. Have your tissues ready! Appropriate for ages 12-16.
Reviewed from copy received from Simon & Schuster.
Dime by E.R. Frank (InfoSoup)
At age 14, Dime is kicked out of her foster family’s home and finds herself on the streets where she is helped by a woman who brings her a coat to keep her warm and feeds her. When she goes home with her, she finds herself in a safe place, one managed by Daddy, a man who only seems to want to help Dime. Quickly though, she is drawn into a life of prostitution in exchange for being kept safe, warm and fed. Dime falls in love with Daddy, one of the first people to shower her with gifts and compliments. She knows that she has to work on the streets to keep them all fed and happy, but soon things begin to turn sour and wrong. Dime is asked to leave school and not read any books anymore. She also finds herself helping teach and take care of a new girl who is only 11 years old named Lollipop. As Dime realizes that she is not part of a family and that she doesn’t love Daddy at all, she has to continue the charade to stay alive. When one final thing happens that is so horrific that Dime can’t go along with it, how will she be able to make things right?
This was one of the toughest reads I’ve read in a long time. It was gut wrenching and horrible, but it all rings so very true. Frank is a psychotherapist who specializes in trauma and this novel demonstrates her knowledge of real trauma. Frank manages to be honest about the life of a teen prostitute with all of its beatings, sexual acts and fear and yet she also shows how Dime is able to survive it and endure. The novel balances on that edge, where Dime is entirely human and understandable, and yet doing things that the average reader will not be OK with. As the book builds and things get worse and worse, it is impossible to look away and yet nearly impossible to read. It is only Frank’s skill as a writer that keeps this book readable by the end.
Dime is a protagonist who puts a face and a brain to teen prostitutes. The knowledge that a girl has never had a safe place to live and sees prostitution as a place of safety is presented in a way that makes readers realize that this is often the case. The grooming of Dime as a prostitute is particularly well drawn, giving the reader an understanding of her mental reasoning and the way she is seduced by her pimp. With everything presented through Dime’s point of view, the book is a powerful glimpse of desperation and survival.
Brace yourself before you read this one, but know that it’s important and beautifully written. Appropriate for ages 14-18.
Reviewed from ARC received from Simon and Schuster.
Shadowshaper by Daniel Jose Older (InfoSoup)
Sierra is working on a huge mural on the wall of an abandoned tower in her Brooklyn neighborhood when she notices that many of the other murals in the area are starting to fade. Then she sees one of the murals weep with a tear starting in his eye and rolling down. Sierra’s Puerto Rican family has clearly been hiding a secret from her. One that explains why her grandfather is bedridden and why her mother and aunt refuse to discuss anything with her. As she follows the clues that her grandfather is able to leave her, she discovers that her family are shadowshapers, people with the ability to see spirits and put them into their art. No one in her family will train her in her shadowshaping skills, so Sierra starts to learn things from a boy in the neighborhood. But when dead bodies start coming back to life and Sierra is attacked by a shadow made up of thousands of mouths, she knows that something bad is happening in their neighborhood, something that only she can stop.
Older has created a very interesting blend of fantasy and art in this book. I love that the protagonist is a girl of color, something we see all to rarely in fantasy novels. Even better, it is her Puerto Rican heritage and the art of the urban city that she uses for her powers. This book is rooted in her culture and her community, making her background an integral part of the book. The same can be said of her Brooklyn neighborhood which is thoroughly explored as Sierra and her friends try to save the world. This is a book connected closely to a real place, one that is woven into the fabric of the story so tightly that it could not be set anywhere else.
Sierra is a great heroine. She is vividly drawn, a girl who does not back down and whose art is a natural part of her life. Her issues with her family are drawn clearly, as is her anger at being left out of the family heritage simply because she is a girl. Her powers make sense and the connection between powers and art is fully realized on the page and the limits of her power also make the book more interesting too. The pacing is swift and the world building is well done and creative.
I’m hoping we see more of Sierra’s world and her signature style of magic and art in future books that celebrate diversity and urban life. Appropriate for ages 13-16.
Reviewed from ARC received from Scholastic.
Fell of Dark by Patrick Downes (InfoSoup)
This novel for teens is told in two voices, Erik and Thorn. Both boys are mentally ill and struggling with what they see and hear. Erik believes that he is a saint, able to do miracles like having a picked flower that never dies and the sign of a cross formed by his wet body that never evaporates. Erik is silent on the outside but constantly thinking on the inside. His hands bleed with stigmata and he sees things that no one else can. Erik searches for a girl he knows is his destiny. Thorn is haunted by the voices in his head, ones that push him to do things that he would never do otherwise. If he doesn’t submit to the voices, he gets horrible headaches that he barely withstands. As the voices grow more powerful and insistent, Thorn finds that he needs them more and more to make sense of his life. But what he sees as the solution may just be final step in his insanity when his path crosses Erik’s.
Downes has written a beautiful and dark mess of a book where madness lurks everywhere and nothing is quite what it seems, or is it? Woven into it are moments of coherence, times of loving families that turn brutal and cruel eventually. There are moments of love, barely seen through mental illness and still glowing and true. And then there is the insanity itself that winds around, crouches low and threatens everything. It’s impossible to tease apart what is reality and what is delusion until another perspective enters their world and tilts it on its axis.
The voices of the two boys dance together and blur, at times they are indistinguishable from one another and other times they are so distinct that they pierce with individuality. This too is masterfully done, the perspectives are unique and troubling. The two boys are writhing with their inner pain, but in two very different ways. The language is superlative, filled with darkness and horror and also a deep beauty that can’t be mistaken. There are images that dance in that darkness, ones that open it up and let in light and others that close it in so tight you can’t breathe.
Riveting reading, this book is not for everyone. Teens who enjoy a journey into a different haunting perspective will find themselves captured by the writing and the characters in this novel. Appropriate for ages 14-17.
Reviewed from ARC received from Philomel.
A new trailer has been released for the upcoming film of Paper Towns by John Green:
In theaters on July 24, 2015.
The Porcupine of Truth by Bill Konigsberg
17-year-old Carson has moved from New York City to Billings, Montana with his mother to take care of the dying alcoholic father he hasn’t seen in 14 years. When they first get to town, his mother drops Carson off at the zoo to spend the day while she handles the initial contact with his father. At the zoo, Carson meets Aisha and finds himself able to speak to a pretty girl for the first time. Aisha is cool, she doesn’t mind his odd sense of humor, and she is also a lesbian. Carson also discovers that Aisha is homeless, thrown out by her father once he found out about her sexuality. Carson begins to discover that there are secrets in his own family, ones that lead him and Aisha to head out on a road trip to explore what happened to his grandfather and what caused him to leave his family and never return. Carson hopes that the answers to these secrets may be enough to help his father heal, but they also have the potential to hurt him badly as well.
I adored Openly Straight by Konigsberg and I am equally excited about this novel. In both, Konigsberg manages to speak to the gay teen experience but he does it in very inventive ways. The focus here is on Carson, a white straight male, but one who is beautifully and hauntingly damaged. Throughout the book, that damage is explored and exposed. Aisha is an incredible character too, an African-American lesbian character who refuses to be anyone’s sidekick or any novel’s secondary character. This is her journey as well, though the two of them are looking for different things along the same path. Konigsberg also takes a hard look at AIDS and early gay activism in this novel, something that is important for modern teens both gay and straight to understand.
I am rarely a fan of road trip novels since they often meander too much for my liking. That is not the case here where the journey is part of the discovery about the characters. The journey is also a way to give these two teens time to talk about big things like families and faith. It offers the core of the novel, a connection between two very different personalities where both of them discover home in one another. Even better, it’s not a romance book at all even though it has a male and a female in the lead roles. Hurrah!
An important addition to the LGBT collections, this book explores faith, sexuality, and family with humor and depth. Appropriate for ages 14-16.
Reviewed from ARC received from Scholastic.
Finding Audrey by Sophie Kinsella (InfoSoup)
Released June 9, 2015.
The bestselling author of the Shopaholic series has released her first novel for teens. Audrey stays at home all of the time wearing dark glasses and unable to look into anyone’s eyes except for her four-year-old brother’s. After a horrible bullying incident, Audrey has had to put her life slowly back together. Now her therapist wants her to start making a documentary film about her family and also to get out of the house and meet people. But how can Audrey do that when just the sight of one of her older brother’s friends in the house is enough to send her running away? As Audrey makes slow progress with her anxiety disorder, her family is struggling too. Her mother is obsessed with getting her brother off of computer games even though he’s prepping for a gaming tournament. Her father is focused on his Blackberry and work all of the time. Audrey begins to realize the impact of her disorder on her family, but could she push herself to get better too quickly?
Firmly set in Britain, this book will appeal to Anglophile readers. Audrey’s anxiety disorder is shown with great humanity but also with humor. The book has a natural cadence to it, a pacing that is slow but steady and where readers will realize the progress that Audrey is making before she does. This natural feel works very well for a book about recovery and even when Audrey starts to push things too fast, the results feel organic and honest. I must also mention how well this also works for the romantic piece of the book. That too feels real and it makes the connection between the two characters all the more believable and lovely.
The characters here are particularly well done. From Audrey who is the voice of the novel and who is struggling to her entire family who all deal with the stress in their own way. Each person is unique and it is their mix of family warmth and striking out at one another that makes this book work so well. Filled with humor, the book is very funny making it one of the lightest and easiest to read books about anxiety that I’ve ever read. Teens who enjoy books about issues will be surprised to see how well a lighter tone works when dealing with very serious issues.
Refreshing and funny this book will delight teen readers who will hope that Audrey will return for another book. Appropriate for ages 13-15.
Reviewed from digital galley received from Delacorte Books for Young Readers and Edelweiss.
I Am Princess X by Cherie Priest
Released May 26, 2015.
This is the first YA novel by Priest, a well-known fantasy author for adults, and it’s a treat. May and Libby have been friends for years, the best of friends after meeting in fifth grade on a playground. The two of them wrote comics together about Princess X, a katana-wielding heroine. But then one day, Libby was gone, dead after a car crash from a bridge. Three years later, May has returned to their hometown and notices an image of a princess holding a katana on a sticker, a sticker that is brand new. May tracks down the image to a web comic where she realizes there are real similarities to the story that she and Libby had created. How can that be? And how strange is it that some of the stories seem to have messages only May could understand hidden inside of them?
There is a real joy in finding a book that does digital life so very well. The online elements of the story and the web comic are clear and make perfect sense. The hacking and dark net also work well in the way they are portrayed where there is information to be found but often it’s not legal to access it. That aspect alone, so often mismanaged in novels, is worth this read. But add to that a determined friend who quickly believes that her dead friend is still alive, an online and real life quest for information, horrible bad guys, and the exploration of Seattle both above and underground. It’s a book that is a searing fast read thanks to its pacing and the need to find out the truth.
The online comics are shared as comic inserts in the book, and were not completed in the galley that I have. The first couple of comics were available and add to the drama of the book. The mix of words and images works very well here with Priest using it both to move the story forward and to show the drama and appeal of the comic itself.
Smartly written with great characters and an amazing quest for the truth, this book is satisfying, surprising and impressive. Appropriate for ages 12-15.
Reviewed from ARC received from Arthur A. Levine Books.