Pet by Akwaeke Emezi (9780525647072)
Jam lives in Lucille, a place cleansed of monsters by the angels who still live among them. There are no monsters in Lucille any more. But just as Jam is learning about the original angels, who looked more like monsters than humans, she accidentally releases a creature from her mother’s painting. The creature is Pet, who has crossed dimensions to hunt a monster. Pet reveals that the monster is living in Jam’s best friend, Redemption’s house. Now Jam must figure out how to enlist Redemption’s help without accusing his family of doing something terrible and harboring a monster. Or perhaps Pet is the real monster as he hunts without remorse? Jam must learn the truth and then get others to believe her.
Wow. What a book! The voice here is what hits you first, unique and strong, it speaks in a Nigerian-laced rhythm that creates its own magic immediately. Add in the power of Jam herself, a black, trans girl who often chooses not to speak aloud but with sign language. Then you have the amazement of Pet, the nightmare creature who hunts for monsters but also explains the importance of not hiding from the truth. Surround it all with families who love and care and are wonderfully different from one another.
Emezi leads readers through this wonder of a book, filled with LGBTQIA+ moments that are so normal they become something very special. They insist that you understand what is meant by a monster and by an angel, that one can be disguised as another, that monsters are normal people, but must not be tolerated. It’s a book about abuse, about standing up, about angels and demons, and about humans.
An incredible middle-grade fantasy full of power, monsters and beauty. Appropriate for ages 12-14.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Make Me a World.
The Feather by Margaret Wild, illustrated by Freya Blackwood (9781760124212)
A giant white glowing feather floats down into a dystopian world where the sky is always gray. Two children find it and take it to the village, amazed by how light it is to carry. The children know it doesn’t belong inside. The adults in the village though want to contain its beauty, but before they can, the feather changes. It becomes dirty and dull, absorbing the weight of their ideas and thoughts. The villagers disperse, angry at being tricked. The children carry the heavy feather back with them, caring for it through the night until in the morning it is brilliant once more. The children decide to set it free, and as the feather floats skyward, it leaves behind a promise of blue skies.
Wild’s story is deep and wondrous, rather like the feather itself. The gigantic nature of the feather, its ability to remind people of blue skies and fresh breezes, makes it magical. And yet, it can be squandered by needing to own that magic, to contain it. The dulling of the feather is a profound answer to that selfishness. The children’s own willingness to care for the feather cleanses it once more. It’s a lovely analogy about selflessness, sharing joy, and finding hope together.
Blackwood’s illustrations are glorious. She creates a feather that is both light and weighty, radiant and white. It lights the world around it, then absorbs the darkness into itself in a way that is heartbreaking. Her vision of the gray world is haunting and aching for a brightening, a possibility.
A picture book that will spark discussion about hope, change and making a difference in your world as a child. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from library copy.
Once Upon a Goat by Dan Richards, illustrated by Eric Barclay (9781524773748)
A very naive king and queen tell their fairy godmother that they want to start a family. They’d like a child that they can place either on the hearth next to a vase or out in the garden by the roses. They say that a boy would be great, but “any kid will do.” So at the next full moon, they open their castle door to discover a baby goat on their doorstep. They reluctantly bring the goat into their perfectly designed home where it immediately starts eating things, butting statues, and even pooping on the floor. When they remove the goat to the garden though, they eventually rush out on a rainy night to rescue it and bring it back home. They think it is only for one night, but soon the goat has lived with them for months. When the fairy godmother returns though, she is surprised about the goat and realizes that a mistake has been made! When the human child is discovered living with a goat family, she abruptly moves the children back to their biological parents. However, families aren’t quite that simple.
This fractured fairytale sets up the scene very quickly and the entire story moves at a wonderful pace. The text is simple and carries the story well, offering just enough detail to create plenty of humor. The chaos of a goat in their perfect lives is just right, eating everything in sight and destroying plenty of the rest. It’s a great metaphor for any new child entering a home and the destruction of the ideal plans that have been made. The resolution of the confusion of the child and kid is very satisfying and will have readers cheering along.
The illustrations by Barclay are wonderfully detailed and rich. He uses a nice mix of simple scenes and then more elaborate ones with some images having elaborate borders and others showing the splendor of the castle. The mix is very successful, always paying attention to leaving enough white space for the eye.
Let’s not kid around, this is a great picture book. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Knopf Books for Young Readers.
We Rule the Night by Claire Eliza Bartlett (9780316417273)
The war has been going on for years, the Union of the North now scrambling to keep ahead of the flying machines that are being used by the Elda. When her city is firebombed, Revna barely escapes death as she leaves her factory job in her wheelchair. The only reason she survives is that she uses illegal Weave magic to save herself; yet by doing so she reveals her powers. Her father is already in prison, so Revna expects the worst. She is saved by a new program that will teach female pilots to fly using Weave magic. That same program is where Linne finds herself after being discovered to be female while she served in the Union military. The daughter of a Union general, she desperately wants to fight rather than fly. Linne doesn’t trust Revna to be more than a liability thanks to her prosthetic limbs. Still, the two of them form a team in the air, neither of them willing to give up their one chance to fight and fly.
Bartlett weaves fantasy with a military story line that really creates something special on the page. Coming into a war that has been ongoing for years gives the book an immediate fatigue and desperation. It is that backdrop that allows the entire premise of the book to work, and one that is immediately believable. The world building is sound and interesting, based on the Soviet Night Witches who flew in World War II. The naming conventions in the book reflect that Soviet influence as well.
The story is told from the point of view of both main characters. Revna is a young woman who has been scarred by an accident, saved by her father, and then has suffered losses. She makes friends easily, yet is angered when people treat her as if she needs coddling. Linne meanwhile is pure steel, fighting to be taken seriously and always managing to anger the other female pilots along the way. She takes honor very seriously, clinging to the military structure to keep her world aright. Their interactions are difficult and angry, exactly what this book need to set it on fire.
A dramatic and magical look at war, resilience and respect. Appropriate for ages 14-17.
Reviewed from library copy.
The Merciful Crow by Margaret Owen (9781250191922)
Released July 30, 2019.
Fie is one of the Crow class, despised and ignored by all of the other classes. Denied the right to have a home other than the open road or any weapons to defend themselves with, they are hated because their class alone is immune to the plague. They serve to come into villages and homes, remove the plague dead and cleanse the space, firing up a funeral pyre away from town. So when Fie’s clan finds themselves caught up in royal court intrigue with the crown prince and his double, who faked their own deaths, Fie is not amused. The only people she cares about are her clan, so the two interlopers despite their charm, mean nothing to her. When an offer is made to save the Crows and give them protection though, Fie knows that she must make it truly stick and gets the prince himself to swear a Covenant oath on it. Now she just has to get them to safety in time before they are all killed.
Owen has woven an incredible world in her debut novel, which is the first in a series. I’m always impressed when an author can toss readers directly into the story with almost no exposition to help and it all works and makes sense. The world building is unique and fascinating, creating both a wide world to explore but also a microcosm of several people as they navigate their fractured and magical society. The magic too is interesting, using bones and teeth to create witchery is wonderfully gruesome and delightfully in keeping with the entire book’s themes. Particularly welcome is a deft use of LGBTQIA+ throughout the novel in the society and several characters.
The character of Fie is also compelling. She is a young woman haunted by the loss of her mother by killers on the open road. She has powers but they are in their infancy and her destiny is to become a chieftain among her people. She is armed with a biting sarcasm that lights up the story like flames, and a deep understanding of what is wrong with the world. Her connection with Tavin grows organically throughout the story and adds its own heat to the book.
A great new voice in YA fantasy, this novel is dark, bloody and compelling. Appropriate for ages 15-18.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Henry Holt.
The Locus Science Fiction Foundation has announced the 2019 finalists for the Locus Awards. The winners will be announced in late June at the Locus Awards Weekend. There is one category that covers young adult fiction. Here are the finalists in that category:
YOUNG ADULT BOOK FINALISTS
The Agony House by Cherie Priest and Tara O’Connor
The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton
Cross Fire by Fonda Lee
The Cruel Prince by Holly Black
Dread Nation by Justina Ireland
The Gone Away Place by Christopher Barzak
Half-Witch by John Schoffstall
Impostors by Scott Westerfeld
Mapping the Bones by Jane Yolen
Tess of the Road by Rachel Hartman
The finalists for the 2019 Hugo Awards have been announced, including the ones for the Lodestar Award for Best Young Adult Book. Here are the YA finalists:
The Belles, by Dhonielle Clayton
Children of Blood and Bone, by Tomi Adeyemi
The Cruel Prince, by Holly Black
Dread Nation, by Justina Ireland
The Invasion, by Peadar O’Guilin
Tess of the Road, by Rachel Hartman
The finalists for the 2018 Nebula Awards have been announced by The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. Winners will be announced in May. The awards are given in several categories, one of which is focused on youth adult science fiction and fantasy. Here are the finalists in that category:
THE ANDRE NORTON AWARD FOR OUTSTANDING YOUNG ADULT SCIENCE FICTION OR FANTASY BOOK
Aru Shah and the End of Time by Roshani Chokshi
Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi
Dread Nation by Justina Ireland
A Light in the Dark by A.K. DuBoff
Peasprout Chen: Future Legend of Skate and Sword by Henry Lien
Tess of the Road by Rachel Hartman
We Set the Dark on Fire by Tehlor Kay Mejia (9780062691330)
Dani is the best Primera student in her class. As she nears graduation, she knows she will be paired with one of the most powerful men in society along with a Secunda. The Primera helps her husband with business and politics while the Secunda bears and raises their children. Dani has worn a mask for her entire time at school, living under an assumed identity in order to have a life different from her parents who live in poverty near the border of the wall. When her papers are about to be inspected, she is rescued by a man who brings her new ones. But when Dani is asked to spy on her new husband, she realizes she must start to make choices about what world she wants to live in. As time goes by, Dani gets closer with Carmen, the Secunda in their trio. Carmen had bullied Dani at school, but as tensions rise and arrests are made, Dani must find someone to trust. Her heart believes she can trust Carmen, but is that just desire talking?
Mejia has created a magnificent look at our modern society through the lens of a fantasy world. The world has a large wall that marks the border. There is strong rhetoric by the ruling class that those on the other side of the wall are less than human. Beautifully, she uses Latinx elements to create a deep and rich world in which her characters live in constant danger. Dani and the reader have no idea who to trust or who is working with the rebels. The use of the marriage of one man to two women adds a creepy note to the book and says even more about the value of women in a society and the extent of the privilege at play.
Dani is a character I loved from the very first pages. She is immensely flawed in ways that make sense given her traumatic experiences and the secrets she must keep. She remains emotionally connected with her family, thinking about them often even as she keeps a placid face all the time. As she struggles with feeling desire for Carmen, it is not about Carmen being a woman but about her training as a Primera. Their connection is an example of how Mejia takes trust and twists it, making for a book that is a wild and wonderful ride.
Latinx, LGBTQ love, political intrigue, and a vivid fantasy world come together to make an impressive teen read. Appropriate for ages 15-18.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Katherine Tegen Books.