Delicate Monsters by Stephanie Kuehn (InfoSoup)
Sadie has to return to her family home and public high school after being kicked out of her third boarding school in four years. Sadie can’t seem to keep out of trouble. It could be that she doesn’t care about anything much at all, and definitely not how other people feel. Though she is intrigued to see a boy she knew in her childhood again. Emerson has a deep crush on May, a girl that he lusts after longingly. When Sadie arrives back though, trouble follows and she witnesses Emerson do something that could ruin him entirely. Meanwhile Emerson’s younger brother Miles is struggling too. He has seizures and when he has one, he can see the future. He’s just had a vision of a dark future for himself and he shares that with Sadie. Now the three of them are entwined in a brutal future of their own making and possibly one they can’t escape, because Miles’ visions always come true.
Kuehn has written a very unique book here. First, she does not try to make any of these characters ones that you relate to easily or particularly like. In fact, they are all rather detestable. From the rich girl who doesn’t feel emotions about others to the two brothers who are filled with a powerful mix of self hatred and violence. The themes here are quite mature with sex scenes as well as violence. It is a book that is haunting and frightening and compulsively readable.
Kuehn has carefully set the scene for trouble with a mix of wealth and poverty that makes for sparks between characters but also destructive flames that will harm and hurt. She adds to that a vineyard where the three main characters spent a critical summer together and a series of reveals about the characters that are very disturbing. That slow peeling of the characters in front of the reader creates a blazing book that is a great read. The ending (which I will not spoil) will frustrate some readers and leave others very satisfied. For me, it was the perfect ending for a book like this.
A genre-bending read, this teen novel is part thriller, part mystery and entirely gripping. Appropriate for ages 16-18.
Reviewed from digital galley received from St. Martin’s Griffin and Edelweiss.
The longlist for the 2015 Guardian Children’s Fiction Award has been announced. This British award celebrates the best fiction writing for children.
Here are the books on the longlist:
All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven
Apple and Rain by Sarah Crossan
El Deafo by Cece Bell
Five Children on the Western Front by Kate Saunders
An Island of Our Own by Sally Nicholls
The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge
My Name’s Not Friday by Jon Walter
A Song for Ella Grey by David Almond
The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly by Stephanie Oakes (InfoSoup)
Raised in a cult, Minnow left normal life behind at age 5 to start a new life in the wilderness with her family, other believers, and the Prophet. Minnow was taught to obey, to fear outsiders, to hate people of color, and to not think for herself. When she started to drift too far from the Community’s teachings, she was punished by having her hands cut off. Now she has been taken into custody after attacking a boy. In juvenile detention, she has plenty of time to think about what she has done and all that has happened to her. Her family is in tatters, her community burned to the ground, and Minnow had a part in all of it. Minnow now has to decide how to share the truth and how much of it she can tell without causing even more harm to those she is trying to protect. She also has to figure out what to believe in and how to trust herself at all.
Oakes has adapted a tale from the Brother’s Grimm as the basis of this story. You can hear the echo of those brutal times throughout this novel for teens. The truth of Minnow’s life is told in fits and starts through flashbacks which makes for tantalizing reading and a book that is impossible to put down. Oakes’ portrayal of the cult is very effective, from the wild premises of the faith itself to its leader, the cult is a devastating mixture of the ridiculous and the savage. Trapped in that world, Minnow learns to find beauty where she can and friends in the most unlikely of people and places. The life in the cult contrasts eerily with the order of juvenile detention where there is violence but also protection, enemies but also friends.
Minnow is a protagonist who begins the book almost like a wounded animal with her faith shattered but still clearly influencing her reactions. As the book progresses and she learns not only who she can trust but also of her own strength and her own duty to herself, Minnow grows and evolves. Not only does she turn away from things that she was clinging to in the beginning, but her own beliefs and language change along the way. The growth is organic and subtle. Minnow also thinks in poetry, connected to the wilderness where she spent most of her life. She sees things through that lens, and the beauty of that place returns to her and the reader again and again throughout the novel, strong and pure and lovely.
A book that wrestles with family, faith and truth, this teen novel is a dark and powerful read. Appropriate for ages 14-18.
Reviewed from ARC received from Dial.
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.