Grown by Tiffany D. Jackson

Grown cover image

Grown by Tiffany D. Jackson (9780062840356)

This gripping novel for teens takes readers into a world of high-rolling musicians and the abuse and exploitation of Black girls. Enchanted, age 17, is in high school, on the swim team and dreaming of making it big in the music industry. When she lies to her mother to get her to take her into the city for an audition, Enchanted doesn’t get the spot but does catch the attention of legendary R&B singer Korey Fields. As Korey begins to shower Enchanted with attention, her parents agree to let Enchanted leave high school and tour with Korey. What starts as a rocket to her singing career, quickly turns to a relationship with Korey. As Korey becomes more and more controlling, Enchanted finds herself unable to contact anyone for help, held against her will, and manipulated into staying. When Enchanted wakes up to find blood all around her and Korey’s body nearby, she needs to figure out what happened that night and what she did.

Jackson writes with such raw power here. She harnesses growing tensions, fear for Enchanted’s life, and reader’s horror at the situation that Enchanted finds herself in. Jackson shows how even a close and caring family can be conned into allowing their daughter to travel with an adult man and be taken advantage of. She shows how the families too are manipulated, beaten down and forced to be separated from the children they love. Readers will recognize many of the details in the book in the recent exposures of R. Kelly’s abuse of young Black girls.

Enchanted is a marvelous depiction of a seventeen year old. She is a mix of child and adult, yearning to be even more adult, to launch her life and be seen. But she is certainly still young, naive and innocent as Korey manipulates her, drawing her deeper and deeper into the world he has crafted to control her. The book is almost suffocating as their interactions become more and more abusive, leaving readers looking for a way out alongside Enchanted.

Powerful truth about Black girls and their place in the #MeToo movement. Appropriate for ages 15-18.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Katherine Tegen Books.

Daring Darleen, Queen of the Screen by Anne Nesbet

Daring Darleen, Queen of the Screen by Anne Nesbet

Daring Darleen, Queen of the Screen by Anne Nesbet (9781536206197)

Darleen has grown up in the movie industry, first appearing as a baby and now at age twelve as “Daring Darleen” in a series of silent films. It is 1914 and the trend is to have the worlds of film and real life converge, so Darleen’s uncles make a plan for her to be kidnapped from outside a movie theater while being filmed by them. Everything seems to be going to plan until Darleen is snatched by the wrong kidnappers and discovers that she has been taken along with Victorine, a girl just her age who is an heiress. The two must figure out how to escape, using Darleen’s natural penchant for heights and daring moves that her dead mother also had. Still, she had promised her father to keep her feet on the ground, but that’s hard to do as her adventures continue almost like being in a real screenplay.

There is so much to love here! Nesbet creates the daring and inventions of early film-making in this middle-grade novel. The chapters are meant to be episodes, some offering a great cliffhanger until the next installment. The series of adventures makes for a page-turner of a book with two girls at its center who form a grand friendship along the way and adore one another for being just who they are.

Darleen is a heroine through and through from her day job in front of the camera but even more so in real life as she skillfully figures out puzzles, finds ways to escape, and does it all with real courage. In many ways, Victorine is her opposite. She wants to tell the truth at all costs, knows all sorts of facts and loves books and travel. The two together form an unstoppable force. It is also great to see Nesbet pay homage to Alice Guy Blache by having her as a secondary character in the novel.

A grand adventure of a novel that will have readers enthralled. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Candlewick.

Show Me a Sign by Ann Clare LeZotte

Show Me a Sign by Ann Clare LeZotte

Show Me a Sign by Ann Clare LeZotte (9781338255812)

A deaf author writes the story of a deaf protagonist living on Martha’s Vineyard in the 19th century in a community with many deaf residents where the majority of people use sign language when they speak. Mary has never known any other place than her beloved village on Martha’s Vineyard where her deafness is not seen as a disability. Her great-grandfather came from England and settled on the island over a hundred years ago. So when a scientist intent on figuring out the cause of the deafness of the island community enters their world, he is first welcomed. Mary and her best friend decide to follow him around, since Mary has noticed him saying derogatory things about the deaf. When Mary gets too close, the scientist reveals his frightening plan of taking a “live specimen” from the island. Mary is taken to Boston, where she discovers the harshness of being a prisoner and being unable to communicate with anyone about her plight. Mary’s fight to survive and be understood speaks to what we see as disabilities even in our modern world.

This ownvoices novel is a rich glimpse into the world of the deaf community and its long history in the United States. Based on the history of Martha’s Vineyard, the author’s note mentions how she recreated the sign language used on the island which is no longer in use. Her care with acknowledging the land issues between the white settlers and the native tribes of the island is evident on the page. She offers detailed accounts of the community itself, giving a deep understanding to the reader of the warmth, love and acceptance of the community. That is then shown in stark contrast with the reactions of the rest of the world. 

The writing is frank and clear. The author speaks about how she comes at English from a different angle, both as a deaf person and being bilingual. She also shares in sign language conversations some direct translations that allow hearing readers to better understand how conversations flow in that language. The characters are all seen through Mary’s eyes, including her parents. Mary shines at the center of the novel, her experiences and perceptions make up the story, which at times is incredibly difficult to read as Mary is abused and veers towards despair of ever seeing her family again. 

This historical novel is both important and impressive. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from ARC provided by Scholastic.

Useless Bay by M. J. Beaufrand

useless-bay-by-mj-beaufrand

Useless Bay by M. J. Beaufrand (InfoSoup)

When a boy goes missing on Whidbey Island, it’s expected that he’s hiding out at the Gray’s house. But Grant isn’t there. Pixie is one of the Gray quintuplets, large kids who seem to have special talents. When Pixie heads out with her scent dog, the best in the state, to find Grant, she discovers something else instead – the body of his mother. Henry, Grant’s half brother, is also part of the search. He knows the attention and problems that come with living in a very wealthy family. His family has staff that travel with them, and it could have been any of them who took Grant and killed his mother. Through the ensuing search, secrets are exposed and powers are discovered in this teen book filled with magical realism.

 

This book is great fun to read. One never quite knows when something mythical and amazing is going to suddenly happen. Those are mixed in with more mundane happenings like murder and kidnapping to create quite the setting for mayhem. Still, there is a feeling of truth through it all, of teens rising up through difficulty to heroism. There is a sense of fate and of purpose too, of destiny combined with the wonder of magic and myth.

The writing is strong and direct. It is haunted with death and pays homage to the damage of abuse and the strength of family. This book is not simple or easy, it is strung with danger and traps. The entire feel of suspense and the claustrophobic island setting combine to create a feeling of doom laced beautifully with hope and love.

A teen novel that is a compelling and vastly enjoyable read, this is a winner. Appropriate for ages 12-14.

Reviewed from copy received from Abrams.

The Leaving by Tara Altebrando

The Leaving by Tara Altebrando

The Leaving by Tara Altebrando (InfoSoup)

Six kindergarteners were taken and now eleven years later, five are returned. The six teens who had disappeared have no memories of their captivity or those that took them. Now they are sixteen and seem to be remarkably OK. They have vague memories of one another, but none of them have any memory of the six child who was taken with them. Avery, the younger sister of that still-missing boy, finds it difficult to deal with the others returning but her family being forgotten. Scarlett, one of the teens taken, returns home to find a sober mother with a serious boyfriend, a vast difference from her mother before. Scarlett though feels that she is not able to figure out the person she actually is. Lucas returns home to see his father die in front of him and is accused of being involved in his death. As all of them struggle to figure out what happened to them and what their future is bringing, there are more questions than answers.

This taut thriller of a book takes a daring look at memories, families and what makes us who we are. Readers will have to set aside their incredulity at the memory loss and go along for the ride here, allowing themselves to be part of the whiplash of the riveting plot and the horror of what happened to these children. There is real depth in this novel for teens, looking beyond the bleakness of the kidnapping and into the question of childhood trauma and what makes a normal teen and adult.

The three main characters are well developed and interesting, particularly Avery, who has a unique point of view and intact memories. Her skepticism at the teens’ story of memory loss will echo that of the reader. Her continued concern for her own brother demonstrates the additional victims of the crime, the family members. Scarlett and Lucas are strong characters as well, searching for any clues they can find to unravel what happened to them. The other teens who were returned are less well drawn, with one of them almost disappearing from the novel until much later in the story.

Told through specific points of view, this novel keeps its edge right up to the end. Appropriate for ages 14-17.

Reviewed from ARC received from Bloomsbury.

 

After the Woods by Kim Savage

After the Woods by Kim Savage

After the Woods by Kim Savage (InfoSoup)

Julia can’t remember what happening in the woods except in brief flashbacks. She knows that she saved her best friend from an attacker and then was taken by the man for 48 hours. A year later, Julia is still trying to understand what happened to her in the woods. Liv, her best friend, is urging her to forget and move on. Then a girl’s body is found in the same woods, triggering more memories that Julia had suppressed. Liv too is caught up in what happened, seemingly intent on her own destruction by dating a dangerous boy and participating in other risky behavior. As Julia starts to recreate what really happening in the woods, the incredible truth will lead to understanding what makes someone a hero.

Savage’s writing is dark and gorgeous. Early in the novel as the two friends enter the forest, the writing shows the danger coming:

Despite the desolation  – no one runs at four p.m. in November after weeks of rain – the woods pulse. The canopy shatters fast-dropping light into glittering shards. A chipmunk skitters close to my foot and ducks into a hole.

Throughout the novel, Savage offers clues of what happened in her language. It’s a wrenching combination of what Julia is discovering herself and also allowing the reader to see a bit farther ahead towards the conclusion without revealing all quite yet. The tempting and seductive mixture makes this book an especially great read.

Julia is a jagged character, covered in the pain of what happened to her, striking out at those who protected her, reaching out to those who wronged her. At the same time, she is very bright, looking at the world and this mystery as something that logic can solve. And she is funny and sarcastic too. She’s a survivor, a hero and everything that that complexity brings is shown on the page.

A brilliant novel for teens about heroism, survival and what bravery it takes to keep on going. Appropriate for ages 14-18.

Reviewed from digital galley received from Farrar, Straus & Giroux and Edelweiss.

Review: I Am Princess X by Cherie Priest

I Am Princess X by Cherie Priest

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.

Review: The League of Beastly Dreadfuls by Holly Grant

league of beastly dreadfuls

The League of Beastly Dreadfuls by Holly Grant

Anastasia started her day by attending a funeral alongside her father, a funeral at the compost pile for her father’s dead venus flytrap. Other than that unusual start to the day which ended with her mother bellowing for waffles from her bedroom, Anastasia was an entirely average girl. There was simply nothing special about her at all. But then at school that morning everything changed when she is kidnapped by two old women calling themselves her “great aunties.” She finds herself trapped in an old Victorian house that was once St. Agony’s Asylum for the Criminally Insane. She is fed only Mystery Lumps and no dinner. She is forced to clean the asylum and at night she is locked into her room. Slowly though Anastasia starts to put together the mystery of her great aunties and what is actually going on in the creepy asylum. An escape plan begins to brew when she meets the frightening gardener and his brother, but can they get past the electrified fence and the guard poodles?

Grant has created a marvelous farce of a book that is filled with broad humor. She also manages to combine that humor with real scares, devious villains, and a nearly hopeless situation. Grant’s use of a quite ordinary young woman as a protagonist adds to the fun, making the scares work better even though they are done just as broadly as the humor is. It is that sense of joy in the situation and the delight that Grant writes with that makes this book such fun to read.

Anastasia is an average girl but also a strong heroine. There are moments in the middle part of the book where readers will want to shake her awake and make her realize what is happening, but in once she realizes she is certainly up to investigating the mystery. The other characters are great fun, including the two horrible aunties who are purely awful in the very best way. The two boys arrive later in the story along with other great characters and they add to the twists and turns of the tale.

A great mix of Victorian and modern fantasy, humor and horror, this book will appeal to fans of Roald Dahl. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from digital galley received from Edelweiss and Random House.

Review: The Bunker Diary by Kevin Brooks

bunker diary

The Bunker Diary by Kevin Brooks

The controversial winner of The Carnegie Medal in 2014 has arrived in the United States. It is the story of Linus, a teenager living on the streets who is kidnapped and placed in a bunker. The bunker has six bedrooms, a kitchen and a bathroom. In the kitchen are six plates, six cups, six sets of plastic utensils. Each room has a Bible and a notebook and pen. There is is no hot water, only cold. Linus is there alone at first but then others start to arrive. Someone is watching them through the vents in the ceiling, even in the bathroom there are cameras and microphones. That someone responds to written requests for food and supplies via notes sent in the elevator. Until someone does something wrong, then the food stops and the real horror begins.

Brooks has crafted an intense and horrific story here. It could have descended into pure hate and the proof that people are inherently evil. But something else happens here. There is hope, there are dreams, there are memories of human connection, and new connections are forged too. At the same time, there is no denying that it is bleak and desperate and frightening. It is a book that asks what you would do in this circumstance, who you would become. It is a book that challenges, that doesn’t offer easy answers and that is beautifully terrible.

While Linus is the narrator of the book with the story told in his own writing in his notebook, the story is also that of the others in the bunker with him. They are all just as well crafted, their responses to their kidnapping entirely personal and appropriate for who they are, and there are at least two of them who are heroes of the story too. They are the ones that imbue it with humanity and make the book worth the endurance needed to finish it.

Powerful, compellingly written and achingly human, this novel is challenging and exquisite but certainly not for all readers. Appropriate for ages 14-17.

Reviewed from digital galley received from Edelweiss and Penguin.