Surrender by Sonya Hartnett.

If you are looking for a dark, deep, disturbing read for teens, look no further.  Hartnett’s latest is a psychological study of a dying boy.  Gabriel is slowly dying and remembers his strange childhood growing up in a small town but being shunned by the majority of the community because of his strange parents.  He lives under their cruelty and does not find freedom until he meets Finnegan, who volunteers to be the bad boy while Gabriel strives to be perfectly good.  Finnegan is a wild boy, who has no family and lives on his own in the forest.  He begins to exact revenge on people who are mean to Gabriel and over the course of several years burns down buildings, sets fire to cars, and eliminates the welcome sign to the town.  He is never caught even though the police and Gabriel’s father, the town attorney, devote years to it.  The relationship between the two boys is always a struggle, and never a real friendship though they are like two sides of a coin.

Psychological thrillers are always hard to review, because they rely on the surprises and twists to be thrillers.  I don’t want to reveal too much about the plot and lose some of the tortured thrill of the novel.  The book reveals its secrets slowly and revels in the twists and turns of the plot.  It is a book that drags the reader into a web and leaves them there, fighting to figure out what is really happening.  I can’t think of another book that does this so very well.

I do need to mention that the writing is exquisite.  Hartnett uses words to hide, reveal, puzzle and shock.  She is a master.  Her art moves this book to another level.  It is a horror of a novel, but written with beauty and art.  A true conundrum that really functions well. 

Recommend this to good readers who enjoy horror or thrillers.  The cover is wonderful and will lead the right readers straight to the book. 

Babies in the Bayou

Babies in the Bayou
by Jim Arnosky.

This book is filled with evocative illustrations of bayou animals.  The illustrations are deep colored, naturally accurate, and reveal the hidden life of the bayou.  They are combined with text that is simple but also has hidden depths.  Together the words and pictures form a perfect match that will be welcoming to small children.

I appreciated the fact that the book comes full circle, demonstrating the cycle of nature in a subtle way without being heavy handed.  I also enjoyed the various perspectives of the illustrations which often reveal the relationship between two species without words. 

The book is simply lovely.  Don’t save it for a swamp unit, instead share this one whenever you do a story time on alligators, ducks, or turtles.  It is too lovely not to share.