Fat Angie by E. E. Charlton-Trujillo
Angie has hit rock bottom. She tried to kill herself in front of the entire school and now she just wants to make it through each day. She numbs herself with lots of junk food, eating her way past the pain of her sister being held hostage in Iraq and her adopted brother being cruel to her both in public and at home. Her mother is just anxious for Angie to be normal or at least to appear normal to everyone. But Angie’s entire world changes when the new girl is nice to her. KC Romance is not from Dryfalls, Ohio and it is obvious. She is innately cool, something that Angie has never even tried to pretend to be. Best of all, KC sees past the fat and the walls that Angie puts up to the real Angie, the one that Angie herself has never really known was there. Now Angie is inspired to do more and that means big changes both inside and out.
This teen novel deals with all sorts of issues, all focused through Angie herself. There is suicide, binge eating, being overweight, a sister missing in Iraq, cutting, and sexuality. One might think that it all doesn’t fit into a single novel, but it does thanks to the incredible character of Angie. The author writes with a wonderful snarky voice yet one that is ultimately human and smart. She is entirely herself even though she isn’t sure who that is.
I particularly enjoyed the snippets of therapy that are shared along with the therapist’s notes. This is the sort of humor that pervades this book. Yet there is incredible sadness within it as well. There is grief that others don’t share, mean girls that are beyond cruel, and a family that doesn’t try any longer. Angie has a lot to be angry and sad about, but somehow she rises beyond that. Most remarkable of all though is that in this book, she does it herself. And along the way, she helps others rise too.
Beautifully written, dark and wildly funny, this book will have you crying, raging and cheering. Appropriate for ages 15-18.
Reviewed from library copy.
Black Helicopters by Blythe Woolston
Valley’s mother was killed by the black helicopters while she was out in the garden when Valley was four years old. Raised by her father, she has been taught to hide at all times. There is a den in their house where she and her brother Bo can never be found. Valley knows above everything else that Those People will kill her without even thinking about it, just like a coyote. But now Valley is out of the house and on the road with explosives strapped to her and the trigger waiting for her to decide exactly when to use it. When the first explosive goes off prematurely, Valley is left on her own in a world she has had little contact with. But Valley knows how to read people and how to manipulate them, right up to the end she is in complete control. Or is she?
This taut thriller turns the world on its head. Valley’s story is told in flashbacks so readers know that they are learning the backstory of a domestic terrorist. And what is amazing about the writing and the storytelling here is that despite that knowledge, readers will begin to understand Valley and the way she was raised and how she came to be the person she is now. That alone is a tremendous achievement.
Then there is Valley herself. A girl who is bitter, strong and lonely. She has lived much of her life in the company of only her father and brother and much of that she spent hiding completely alone. She is bright and fierce, burning with a hatred for Those People that her father carefully instilled in her. And she is wrong, oh so very wrong, about the world and about others and about her own family. She is flawed and ever so human under that bomb.
Well written and carefully paced, this book is tantalizingly taut and thrilling. In the end though, it is about a girl caught in a web of lies that she cannot see past. Appropriate for ages 15-18.
Reviewed from library copy.
YALSA has announced the finalists for the 2013 Teens’ Top Ten. The list is nominated and chosen by teens. Voting will take place online from August 15 – September 15. Winners will be announced during Teen Read Week, October 13-19. Here are the 28 nominees:
172 Hours on the Moon by Johan Harstad
Between the Lines by Jodi Picoult
Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore
Butter by Erin Jade Lange
Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein
Crewel by Gennifer Albin
Croak by Gina Damico
Enchanted by Alethea Kontis
Every Day by David Levithan
Falling Kingdoms by Morgan Rhodes
The False Prince by Jennifer Nielsen
Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers
The Hunt by Andrew Fukuda
I Hunt Killers by Barry Lyga
Immortal City by Scott Speer
Insurgent by Veronica Roth
Kill Me Softly by Sarah Cross
Monument 14 by Emmy Laybourne
Of Poseidon by Anna Banks
Poison Princess by Kresley Cole
Pushing the Limits by Katie McGarry
The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater
Seraphina by Rachel Hartman
Skinny by Donna Cooner
Son by Lois Lowry
Tilt by Ellen Hopkins
Underworld by Meg Cabot
Wake by Amanda Hocking
War Brothers: The Graphic Novel by Sharon E. McKay, illustrated by Daniel LaFrance
This is the graphic novel version of McKay’s teen novel of the same title. Based on interviews with child soldiers, this novel pulls no punches when telling the story of Jacob, a Ugandan boy taken by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) as a soldier. Jacob is a teenager who is headed to a boy’s school. Knowing the danger from Joseph Kony and his LRA, Jacob’s father provides additional armed guards at the school. But it is not enough, Jacob and his friends are taken as child soldiers. That begins a story of brutality, murder, starvation, and survival. But this story is not without hope and resilience and heroism that flies in the face of the desperate and violent situation the boys find themselves in.
McKay warns readers right from the beginning about the violence of the storyline. Through a letter from Jacob, the book warns of the brutality of what happens, ending with “There is no shame in closing this book now.” McKay does not try to lessen that brutality, showing how child soldiers are indoctrinated into the LRA and broken. Jacob struggles with having to commit atrocities himself, despite the food that is promised for him and his friends. One of his friends does become a soldier, well fed and cared for, but with his spirit entirely decimated by what he has done. It is an impossible choice, kill others or die yourself.
LaFrance does an admirable job of showing violence but without adding drama to an already volatile and horrific situation. He does not shy away from showing the brutality, often using close ups and unique lighting to show what happened without becoming too bloody. It is a fine line to walk, demonstrating that this is real and actual, while leaving it powerful enough to speak on its own.
Highly recommended, this is a story that is riveting to read as long as you are brave enough to continue turning the pages. The fact that this is based on true stories of child soldiers adds to the compelling nature of the tale. Appropriate for ages 14-18.
Reviewed from copy received from Annick Press.
Slated by Teri Terry
Kyla is just about ready to be released from the hospital after being Slated, her memory erased after she committed a crime. She is sent to live with a new family and in a new life, unable to find out about who she had been and what caused her to be Slated. But Kyla is different. She has horrible nightmares that may or may not be flashbacks to her past. She can draw, with both hands, something that she realizes could cause problems if discovered. She has a voice in her head, cautioning her about things and not revealing too much. But because Kyla is different, she may also be in more danger than anyone else. Can she continue to follow the rules and pretend to be just another happy Slated teen? Or will the truth she discovers be too much to maintain the façade?
In her debut novel, Terry has created a dystopian science fiction future that is dangerously possible. The setting is the United Kingdom, but one that has changed entirely to a police state where ideas that are dangerous to those in power are worthy of getting Slated. Against that already tense background, the drama of Slated teens plays out, struggling to learn to live, to think for themselves, and to find their way. Teens will see their own struggles here, relating quickly to the premise.
Kyla is an intriguing heroine, she realizes she is different, but has no perception as to why. Terry allows Kyla to be a true enigma to herself and to the reader. This makes for a compelling read, but the reveal is placed so close to the end of the book that it feels hurried. I would have liked to see either another chapter after the final one to help with that feel or for more hints to have been given ahead of time and along the way. But that is a minor quibble and I was happy to see that this is the first in a series.
This fascinating and dark look into a possible future is filled with foreboding and lifted by strong writing. Fans of Hunger Games will enjoy this new heroine facing different challenges in an equally ferocious world. Appropriate for ages 14-16.
Reviewed from copy received from Penguin.
All My Noble Dreams and Then What Happens by Gloria Whelan
This sequel to Small Acts of Amazing Courage continues Rosalind’s story. Rosalind lives in British-controlled India. She is the only daughter in a well-off family, though she avoids the Club and all of the other British girls there. Instead she runs a small school for the village boys, one that is not government sanctioned and so can continue to run. She is a follower of Gandhi, something her father certainly does not approve of. He wouldn’t approve of the school either, but he doesn’t know about it. The book also tells of what happened to Hari, the infant that Rosalind rescued in the first book and how her aunts are now doing living in India. As Rosalind gets drawn further into British life, she finds her two worlds colliding and the question is how she will remain true to herself and the cause she believes in so fiercely.
I simply adored the first book in this series and am so happy to say that the second is just as wonderful. Whelan captures the period of British rule in India very clearly, never flinching from the harsh realities of the period, including the injustices of the British, the selling of child brides for money, and the severe poverty brought on by the caste system. It is a book that is filled with the dust and clamor of the streets, the laughter of close trusted friends, and the grandeur of a prince’s visit.
Rosalind shows a lot of growth from one book to the next. In the first book, she would rush headlong into trouble. Here the trouble she gets into is still there, but much of it she walks into with her eyes open and understanding what she is doing. She is a radiant character, filling the pages with her passion for change and her love of India. It is Rosalind who carries the story, because one never knows quite what will happen to her next.
A worthy sequel to the first gem of a book, fans of the first will welcome this second story of Rosalind and India. Appropriate for ages 12-16.
Reviewed from copy received from Simon & Schuster.
Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong by Prudence Shen and Faith Erin Hicks
Released May 7, 2013.
Nate and Charlie are friends, but mostly it’s about sharing a ride to school. Then when the cheerleaders threaten Nate’s robotics competition, Charlie is caught up in the middle of the conflict. Nate decides to run for Student Body President and Charlie’s cheerleader ex-girlfriend forces him to run against Nate. Things quickly get out of control in this jocks against the geeks sort of storyline that ends with both groups stripped of their school funding. Now the only way forward is to work together to fund and build a robot that can win the robot death match. And of course, just like with all plans, nothing can possibly go wrong.
The storyline could have been cliché, but it steps away from that fairly quickly and into much more intriguing collaborative efforts. Shen and Hicks have created a great gang of characters here. Nate is laid back and really the normal one of the group. Charlie is alpha-geek, neurotic, ballsy and intellectual. Mix in the cheerleaders who are clearly at the top of the popular food chain, and this is regular high school on steroids. While some of the characters are left as stereotypes, Charlie and Nate are well developed and interesting.
The art is hip and fun. Done in black and white, the images play up the funny moments beautifully and often the dance of words and image is sheer perfection. It’s hard to believe that it was done by two people rather than just one.
Geeks and jocks alike will enjoy this one, after all who doesn’t love to see a robot death match! Appropriate for ages 13-15.
Reviewed from copy received from First Second.
Dark Triumph by Robin LaFevers
Sybella has been forced to return to her family after fleeing to the convent for safety. There she learned the art of assassination, but nothing prepared her for returning to the family that abused her for years. Now she has to play the dutiful daughter while waiting to see if the marque of Death will appear on her father’s body. She has been promised the right to personally murder him. Around Sybella, politics are being played out. Loyal to the Duchess, unlike the rest of her family, Sybella is able to send a message to warn them and turn the result of a battle. When the convent orders her to rescue a valuable prisoner from under her father’s nose, Sybella risks losing her entire protective disguise. She doesn’t realize that she risks losing her heart as well.
I adored the first in the Fair Assassin series and looked forward to this second book. The heroine in this book is Sybella rather than Ismae. While the first book was awhirl in the politics of 15th century Brittany, this one is much more about a person and her own personal history. Sybella is a compelling and rich character. As the abuse she suffered is slowly revealed, readers will discover more and more about the incredible strength of this girl turned killer.
Sybella also questions her own loyalties and ties to Mortain, the God of Death. She wonders whether the convent may be wrong about things or if perhaps she herself has overstepped and lost the God’s favor. These questions of faith against the dark stain of familial abuse add to the depth of the novel. As with the first book, there is a passionate romance that rings true and honest. Sybella slowly falls in love, so gradually that she doesn’t notice until she is fully intoxicated with it. It is beautiful and glorious, especially as she is accepted as she admits the entire truth about her life.
A killer book, this is a strong sophomore book in a riveting series. Not for the faint of heart, this book has abuse, murder and true tragedies in its pages. Appropriate for ages 16-18.
Reviewed from library copy.
Romance Writers of America announced the 2013 RITA finalists. Winners will be announced on July 20th. They have a YA category that has four nominees:
Young Adult Romance Finalists
Bound by Erica O’Rourke
The Farm by Emily McKay
Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers
Pushing the Limits by Katie McGarry