Category: Teen


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.

complicit

Complicit by Stephanie Kuehn

Jamie and his sister Cate were adopted by a wealthy couple whose own children died.  But money can’t fix everything.  Two years ago Cate was sentenced to juvenile detention for burning down their neighbors horse barn and injuring a girl.  Now Cate is free and she’s returning to Jamie’s life though he wants nothing to do with her.  When Jamie had first heard of the barn burning down, his arms went completely numb and non-functional.  He’s gotten better in the last two years, but hearing that his sister is returning and looking for him specifically has his arms going numb again.  Cate bears a truth that Jamie might finally be ready to hear, and Jamie knows that there is something about the fire at the barn that just isn’t right.  This tense and twisting thriller will keep readers enthralled right to the incredible ending.

Kuehn won the William C. Morris Award for her first book, Charm & Strange.  Her skills is on display here too as this second book is a completely engrossing read that is one wild ride.  Told entirely from the point of view of Jamie, readers can only guess at what he is hiding from himself.  Tension builds as Jamie starts to piece together clues about Cate and what she was doing the night the barn burned and then why she turned herself in days later.   As Cate starts to call Jamie and provide hints herself, the tension creeps up higher.  The explosive ending will confirm some reader’s guesses but will also stun with its revelations.

Skillfully written and plotted, this novel explores mental illness in a very close and personal way.  Jamie is a wonderfully flawed narrator, filling the pages with his unique point of view that readers know from the beginning is skewed though they are not sure exactly how.  That is part of the brilliance of the book, that there are many ways in which Jamie can be misunderstanding his sister and his past.  That’s what keep readers turning the pages, the need to know what in the world is the truth.

A riveting and breathtaking read, this is a perfect summer read to share between friends.  Appropriate for ages 14-17.

Reviewed from digital galley received from NetGalley and Macmillan.

creature of moonlight

A Creature of Moonlight by Rebecca Hahn

Marni lives with her Gramps on the edge of the woods where they grow flowers that the wealthy lords and ladies from the castle come to buy.  The woods is not just a normal woods, it is filled with small creatures and a lady who has sung and knitted with Marni since she was a child.  Marni doesn’t speak with the creatures of the forest anymore, but she had spent many hours as a child with them.  Marni is not just any peasant girl, she is the daughter of the sister of the king, and her Gramps was once king himself.  The current king, her uncle, killed her mother and now may be turning his attentions to Marni.  After all she is not just human, she is half dragon, and her dragon father is expanding his woods to find her.

A large part of the delight of this book is uncovering secrets along the way.  Hahn plays with this in her many-layered story, slowly revealing things that the reader may have guessed at.  Startling readers with revelations at other times, ones that make perfect sense and click into the story with a neat precision.  Told in a series of parts, the book takes place in three distinct locales.  There is the hut that Marni lives in with Gramps and their odd but also stable life together.  There is the king’s court where Marni is not only out of place but also targeted and unsafe.  Finally, there is the world of the dragon, the lure of the woods and its dangerous beauty.

At the heart of all of this is Marni, also called Tulip, who finds herself a princess raised as a pauper.  She is separate from the royal court but not entirely, still connected through her flowers and through her mother and the violent act that killed her.  She is a girl who is strong enough to deny the fairies in the woods what they want, smart enough to survive at court without understanding the politics, and determined enough to find her father when she needs to.  She is one of those heroines who is vulnerable and real but also startling and incredible.

Complex and rich, this debut novel gives us a new voice in high fantasy for teens.  One who is definitely worth exploring and reading.  Get this into the hands of fans of Seraphina.  Appropriate for ages 14-17.

Reviewed from digital galley received from Edelweiss and HMH Books for Young Readers.

infinite sky

Infinite Sky by C. J. Flood

This book begins with the death of a boy but the identity of the dead person is not revealed.  We are then taken back to the beginning of summer, three months after Iris’ mother has left their family and just as the travelers come to stay in the field near Iris’ home.  She lives with her father and Sam, her brother, who continues to struggle with his mother leaving.  Iris starts watching the travelers in the field and becomes friends with Trick, a boy who is easy to talk to and easy to listen to.  Tensions start to rise as a theft is discovered and the travelers are blamed for it.  The long, hot British summer inexorably leads towards the death of one of the boys, but who is it?  Is it Trick or Sam?

Flood’s writing is beautiful and detailed.  The setting she creates of the British countryside in summer is one that is so finely drawn that you can see it in its entirety.  In fact, you can hear it, feel it, smell it too, so clear and strong are her descriptions.  The book’s structure of starting with the tragedy that defines the story adds a great amount of tension.  Because the boy who dies is not revealed until towards the end of the book, that mystery is a focus.  Yet at times one is also lost in the summer itself, its heat and the freedom it provides.

Flood has also created a complicated group of characters in this book.  All of the characters have complicated family lives, whether it is a mother who left or an abusive father.  Yet these characters are not defined by those others, they are profoundly affected by it, but are characters with far more depth than just an issue.  This is a book that explores being an outsider, falling in love, expressing emotions, and most of all being true to yourself and doing what you know is right.

A perfect read for a hot summer day, this is a compelling mix of romance, mystery and tragedy.  Appropriate for ages 12-14.

Reviewed from copy received from Atheneum Books for Young Readers.

this one summer

This One Summer by Jillian Tamaki and Mariko Tamaki

Rose goes to Awago Beach every summer with her parents, but this summer things don’t feel quite the same.  Rose’s friend Windy is also there and the two of them hang out together just like every other summer.  But Rose’s parents are always arguing and her mother won’t go swimming with them at all.  Rose and Windy find their own way to escape the fighting, they rent horror movies from the local shop.  While they are there picking out and returning their movies, they watch a summer of teenage drama unfold in front of them.  This is a summer unlike any others, one where secrets are hidden and revealed and where sorrow mixes with the summer sun.

Done by the pair that did Skim, this is an amazing graphic novel for teens.  It deals with that fragile moment in life where children are becoming teens and everything around them is changing.  These two girls are suspended in that time during the summer, learning about themselves, about their parents and witnessing events around them in a new way.  The use of a summer vacation to capture that moment in time is superb.  Yet this book is not a treatise on the wonder of childhood at all.  It deals with deeper issues, darker ones, ones that the two girls are not ready to handle yet.  And that’s what makes it all the more wondrous as a book.

The art in the book is phenomenal.  The two girls are different physically, one a little stouter than the other and both are real girls expressing real emotions.  And the larger of the two girls is not the shy, meek one.  She has a wonderful sassiness to her, an open grin, and rocks a bikini.  Hoorah!  The art captures summer days, the beach, what a face of sorrow looks like and how it tears into ones entire physique.  Done in blue and white, the images are detailed and realistic.

A glimpse of one summer and what happens during it, this book is about capturing a moment in time, one that is filled with depth, despair and desire.  Appropriate for ages 13-16.

Reviewed from digital copy received from

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