Apple and Rain by Sarah Crossan (InfoSoup)
Apple has lived with her Nana for eleven years, ever since her mother abandoned her at age 3. Nana is strict and won’t let Apple even walk back home from school. When Apple’s mother returns, she is sophisticated and charming and not strict at all. She wants Apple to live with her and it seems like a great idea, after all she will let Apple wear makeup, walk home from school, and even shares some sips of wine. Apple agrees to move in, leaving Nana living alone, and then she discovers that she has a younger sister, Rain. Rain carries a doll around with her and pretends that it is a real baby. As the sisters grow closer together, Apple’s mother starts to spend more time away, leaving Apple caring for Rain and missing school. When tragedy almost strikes, it will take a serious choice by Apple to figure out what sort of family she really wants to be a part of.
Nominated for the British Carnegie Medal, this novel’s writing is clear and lovely. Throughout this novel, Crossan deals with serious situations and large emotions. She uses metaphors to show the depth of emotion and also ties Apple’s emotions into the poems she writes. The images she uses are strong and compelling, allowing the reader to truly understand what Apple is feeling even when her emotions are at their most turbulent.
Crossan also excels at creating relationships between characters and this book is all about relationships on a variety of levels. We have friendships both budding and decaying, maternal relationships that are troubled, and sibling relationships that are problematic yet positive. In each of these, the people are human and real. They are invested in the relationship in their own unique way, often either unable to speak to its importance in their life or unable to see beyond themselves to its importance. Apple is a strong protagonist, longing for a relationship with a mother who even after she returns cannot be the mother than Apple needs. Apple is capable, caring and wonderfully like her Nana in many ways, a touch that I particularly appreciated.
This novel about families, abandonment, and freedom will resonate with middle school readers who may be feeling their own need to be a little less monitored too. Appropriate for ages 12-15.
Reviewed from ARC received from Bloomsbury.
The Teens’ Top Ten list is entirely nominated and voted on by teens. Books are from the previous year. Voting opened on August 15th and runs through Teen Read Week which is October 18-24.
Visit the Top Ten Tumblr page.
Head here to see the nominees and to vote if you are a teen.
Honor Girl by Maggie Thrash
Released September 8, 2015.
Maggie attends the same summer camp that her mother did and her grandmother did. Camp Bellflower for Girls is one of the oldest camps in the South, and nothing has changed there since it was founded in 1922. Maggie spends her summer with friends she made there previous years. She hates the tether she has to wear to keep herself from sleepwalking at night and she’s really into the Backstreet Boys. Maggie lies the rifle range and finds herself getting better at shooting at least when she can stop herself from thinking too much. That gets a lot harder when she notices Erin, a counselor in the younger girls’ camp. Maggie struggles with her feelings for Erin and though she tries to disguise what she is feeling, other girls at camp notice. Some are supportive while others think that it is very wrong. As Maggie’s summer plays out, she finds ways to deal with the pressure of the rifle range, an angry rival, and also to explore her sexuality.
Thrash’s memoir is told with a broad humor about Christian summer camp and how it feels to be a girl different from most of the others there. At the same time, the humor is never pointed and the girls around Maggie are supportive most of the time and in their own ways. Some want to protect Maggie from her crush, others want to just tease. Yet there is no hate here, which is very refreshing. Thrash also does a nice job of allowing a crush to play out, naturally and tantalizingly. Their feelings for one another are clear even as they themselves feel confused by them. The result is a book about the confusion of being a teen, the tensions of both friendships and attractions with the added dimension of being a lesbian. It is a beautifully done memoir.
Thrash’s book is in full color, but the advanced copy I received is in black and white only. Even with that limited color palette, the illustrations are clear and clever. The characters are unique on the page, which is not easy to do with a camp full of teen girls. Each has a distinguishing feature and it all works so that heroine, her crush, her rival, her friend and others are easily recognized. Throughout the entire book, a river of humor carries through and that same humor is evident in the illustrations. This is a book that could have been heavy and still is emotionally charged. The humor helps that be bearable and makes the book a great read.
A strong and important graphic memoir, this book belongs in every public library graphic novel collection for teens who will enjoy meeting such a strong protagonist. Appropriate for ages 12-14.
Reviewed from ARC received from Candlewick Press.
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.