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.
Here’s the first trailer for the second Maze Runner book, The Scorch Trials:
Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman (InfoSoup)
The Captain is always watching, constantly there, even before the ship. Caden knows the Captain well and knows enough to both respect and fear him. As he spends more time on the ship, he also gets close to the parrot who is working to plot against the Captain and bring Caden onto his side. But at times the ship fades away and reality comes back to Caden. He realizes that he’s pushing friends away and becoming more and more alone in his life. He’s always been popular and had plenty of friends but his new oddness and the strange way his mind is working keeps them at a distance. As the ship approaches the deepest part of the ocean, others join the crew, teens who have their own roles on the ship, those who navigate and those who look into the future. As Caden begins to get the treatment he needs for the voices in his head, these are revealed as the other patients around him. Caden has to journey across the dark sea alone, figure out who is on his side, and hopefully come out the other side alive. It’s a journey through a mind that is fighting an internal chemical battle against itself but it is also a journey of brilliance and beauty.
Shusterman writes from experience about the impact a mentally-ill teen can have on a family. His own son battles mental illness and the illustrations throughout the novel are ones that his son did as he got treatment. The book is raw and stunning in its depiction of the vivid world that schizophrenia can create, the voices making sense in this alternate reality of captains, parrots, ships and crewmen. There are moments of breathtaking clarity, where the deception is swept clear and the reader sees what had been clouded before. It is in these moments that the power of mental illness is striking and blazing bright. And then the clouds descend again and the fiction takes over the brain.
Shusterman writes a brave story here, one that doesn’t try to explain the fictions of the mind, but instead allows readers to ride the waves of paranoia and delusion along with Caden. Caden himself is a character that is so caught up in the throes of mental illness that one realizes that the battle all along has been for himself and his own survival. Shusterman plays with perspective, changing the narration from first person to second person and back again. It’s disarming and wild, something that readers may not notice at first, except as a strange jarring that slowly builds. It’s a very smart use of perspective, creating its own jittery feel for the reader.
A journey through mental illness, this book for teens speaks to the hope that treatment brings but also the hard work that it takes to leave the world of the mind behind and enter reality again. Appropriate for ages 13-16.
Reviewed from digital galley received from Edelweiss and HarperCollins.
Lumberjanes by Noelle Stevenson, Grace Ellis, and illustrated by Brooke Allen
The Lumberjane scout camp is for “hardcore lady types” who celebrate “Friendship to the max!” Five friends are spending their summer together here and they are in for unexpected adventures as they earn their badges. When they head out to get their nighttime badge, they encounter the first of the supernatural monsters, a pack of three-eyed wolves. Luckily the friends, Jo, April, Mal, Molly and Ripley, are also elite fighters so they manage to defeat the wolves. Back at camp, their counselor marches them to the office for discipline, but the head of the camp seems more intrigued than surprised by their find. As the summer progresses, the girls face hipster yetis, polite boy campers with a dark side, stone statues that come to life, and plenty of traps. Summer camp has never been this full of wild creatures and epic battles, all done by a group of amazing girls.
I first heard about how wonderful this comic book was when it was not yet a graphic novel, and I am so thrilled that the first four comics have been turned into this novel that is perfect for libraries. I had high expectations for this comic and was still dazzled by it and rather twitchy to get my hands on the next one. The characters are phenomenally well done, each girl having her own distinct personality and style. Add in the delight of finding a budding lesbian love story and it’s pure magic. I love kick-ass heroines, and this series has FIVE to fall for.
The art is well done too with its own vibe. It has the friendly feel of a Telgemeier combined with more edge that make the battle scenes really work. There is plenty of action and humor to make the book race along. I love the addition of extra art at the end done in a variety of styles. It invites fans of the characters to draw them and create their own stories about these great girls.
This is a graphic novel to devour in one sitting and immediately turn to the beginning and start again. Pure girl-power perfection. Appropriate for ages 12-16.
Reviewed from library copy.
The Winner’s Crime by Marie Rutkoski (InfoSoup)
This second book in The Winner’s Trilogy continues the story of Kestrel and Arin. In a strategic choice, Kestrel has given herself into an engagement to the prince of Valoria, never revealing to Arin that she did so to save him and his country from destruction. Now Kestrel is in Valoria, being treated like a princess, but her heart is still with Arin. The emperor is impressed with his son’s new fiancé, and works to hone her into his pawn. But Kestrel has her own political plans that include continuing to try to help Arin from her new position. At the same time, she works to keep Arin at a distance so that he never finds out the sacrifice she is making. But this fragile set up cannot be maintained forever, something must give, and it may end in complete destruction for them all.
Rutkoski’s second book keeps the political thrills of the first and continues to stir in romance and deception. As with the first, the reader and Kestrel really don’t know who they can trust or even if they can trust anyone at all. As with any second book in a series, this book is as much a bridge to a conclusion as anything. Rutkoski plays nicely with pacing throughout the book, allowing things to maddeningly slow for the reader as Kestrel is caught in a trap of her own making. She picks the pace up at the end as tension mounts, creating a book that is captivating to read.
Kestrel is one strong female protagonist. She works against the entire society she lives in to try to set her own course and to be in charge of her own destiny, even if her heart calls for her to do something else. Arin too is a finely drawn character, a romantic figure who is also thoughtful and while he may realize that Kestrel is not telling him the truth cannot force her to give up her game. It’s a dance of two people against an empire, embroidered in romance and dazzling with political intrigue.
This strong second book in this series will have readers desperate to read the third and final book to find out what happens next. Appropriate for ages 14-17.
Reviewed from copy received from Farrar Straus and Giroux.
The 2014 LA Times Book Prizes have been announced. Reading Rainbow’s LeVar Burton won the Innovator’s Award.
Here is the winner for Young Adult Literature:
Candace Fleming for The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion, and the Fall of Imperial Russia
The nominees for the 2015 Teens’ Top Ten were announced by YALSA. Teen are encouraged to read the nominees and vote for their favorites starting on August 15th and running through Teen Read Week. The titles with the most votes become the Teens’ Top Ten for the year. Here is the video announcing the nominees:
Bone Gap by Laura Ruby (InfoSoup)
Finn and Sean had been abandoned by their mother years ago, leaving Sean taking care of Finn. Finn is called Moonface and Sidetrack by people in Bone Gap because he never makes eye contact and is often day dreaming. But things changed for the brothers when Roza appeared. Beautiful Roza lived with them, cooked them Polish food, and fell in love with one brother. Then Roza disappeared. Finn witnessed her being abducted but could not give a full description of the man who took her. The people of Bone Gap had always assumed that Roza would leave, people leave Bone Gap and never return. Now Finn has fallen for a girl who keeps bees and who is known in town as a homely girl, but Finn just sees beauty when he looks at Petey. Finn will need to figure out things about his family, himself and the unique way he sees the world before he can set out to rescue Roza and everyone he loves.
Ruby has created a unique and amazing read. Her world shifts under your feet, seemingly something solid at first and then changing on you, revealing itself and exposing both wonder and horror in the same breath. It is a challenging read, one that puts you on a journey of discovery about all of the characters and about the town itself too. As the book peels open and you see deeper inside, it will surprise you with what it shows. And you will question whether this book is a new genre, one that is not clearly fantasy or horror or reality fiction, though it may read as more real than most of that. it’s a genre bender, one that needs no classification to be great.
The characters in this book are complex and detailed. Each one, even the secondary and tertiary characters have backgrounds and histories. They have all witnessed things and reacted to their pasts in ways that turned them into who they are today. Ruby reveals many of these details while others are untold but also richly displayed. The main characters of Finn, Roza and Petey all have great details and histories. They are thoughtfully shown, moments captured in crystalline details that shimmer and sparkle.
A stunningly beautiful and amazing teen novel, this unique book will impress and delight readers who make the journey to Bone Gap. Appropriate for ages 14-17.
Reviewed from library copy.
The 2015 Bisexual Book Award finalists have been announced. One category is focused on teen and young adult readers and has two finalists:
Frenemy of the People by Nora Olsen
Otherbound by Corinne Duyvis
The Truth Commission by Susan Juby (InfoSoup)
There are books you never want to end, and this is one of those. These characters are so fresh and new and real that I wanted to spend even more time with them. This novel is about three teenage friends who attend a private art high school together. There is Dusk, the stunningly beautiful girl who creates tiny tableaus for stuffed shrews. There is Neil, a boy stuck in the 1970s and who paints portraits of beautiful women like Dusk. And then there is the protagonist, Normandy, who does tiny needlepoint work and is best known for being the younger sister of the famous graphic novelist. The three start The Truth Commission, where they decide to start asking everyone the truth about things they may be keeping secret. Nothing is off limits from sexuality to love to angry ostrich-raising school secretaries. But Normandy’s family survives on secrets and the question becomes whether she can face the truth about herself and those she loves.
Juby has created a witty and dazzling read for teens. Done entirely in Normandy’s voice and writing as “narrative nonfiction” the book offers footnotes that are often asides between Normandy and her English teacher. This framework creates a real strength of the story, allowing for not only the story to be told but for Normandy to be writing about the past and offer some perspective on what happened. Filled with plenty of clever humor, this book is an impressive mix of tense mystery and gentle romance.
The characters are the heart of the book. Normandy reveals herself on the page and hides nothing. She shows through her own reactions to her sister’s graphic novels, which depict Normandy as entirely useless and ugly, as the only one who is thoughtful and credible in her family. As she hides from the wrath of her sister, making herself small and quiet, she also becomes her sister’s confidante. Her best friends too are intriguing mixes of truth and denial. Dusk is the artistic daughter in a family of doctors, and yet one can see her own ties to medicine through her art. Neil seems to be the son of a stereotypical middle-aged man who hits on teen girls, but both he and his father are far more lovely than that.
Strongly written with great characters and a dynamic mix of humor, romance and mystery, this teen novel is one of the best of the year so far. Appropriate for ages 14-17.
Reviewed from ARC received from Viking Books for Young Readers.