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.

Review: The Children and the Wolves by Adam Rapp

children and the wolves

The Children and the Wolves by Adam Rapp

I made it through about the first 30 pages of this book and set it down, packed it in my bag to return it to the library, and started a new book.  But.  I could not get the story out of my head.  I couldn’t leave Wiggins and Frog there, so I finished it and loved it, after all. 

Frog is three years old and being held captive in a basement by three middle schoolers.  Bounce is the mastermind of it all, a wealthy and very intelligent sociopath who decides to kidnap a little girl in order to murder an old poet who upset her.  Orange is the boy whose basement they keep Frog in, his father is confined to a wheelchair and high on painkillers.  Wiggins takes care of Frog, washing her clothes and making sure she takes vitamins.  The three of them take drugs, get into lots of other trouble as well, and take revenge where it suits Bounce.  The book cycles through all of their points of view, including Frog’s.  It is a book filled with so much hate and aching that it hurts to read.  It pushes the limits of teen books, exploring all of the dark places possible while at its heart having something shining with truth.

Rapp doesn’t shy away from anything here.  The book is filled with swear words and not only the four letter ones.  Drugs are seen as ways of release, not things that get you into trouble.  Sexuality is explored in a matter-of-fact way.  Violence is in almost every scene, and even when it’s not there you as a reader are waiting for it with shallow breaths. 

And yet, there is something here beyond the shock value and the clawing desperation.  There is somehow hope.  I’m not sure where it comes from, it’s like a green sprout in the torn-up sidewalk.  Rapp through the vileness of this book also gives us moments that shine.  In any other book they may have been tragic scenes, but here they are light and warmth.  It is all in comparison with the rest, just like the lives of these children.  Victims all.

Stunning, violent, vile and filled with heart wrenching beauty of its own unique sort, this book is one that you can’t turn away from, though you may want to.  Amazing.  Appropriate for ages 16-18.

Reviewed from library copy.

Accomplice

Accomplice by Eireann Corrigan

This book will be released in August 2010.

It was a perfect plan, but then it all went wrong.  When their college prep advisor tells them that it takes more than good grades and community service to get into the best schools, Finn and Chloe decide to make themselves and their college essays very special.  They stage Chloe’s kidnapping, hiding her in the basement of Finn’s grandmother’s house because she is out of town.  It was supposed to be simple, but their carefully staged deception starts to wear on Finn as she is forced to lie to everyone, carefully staging her emotions and reactions to not only keep the lie going but to make sure that they get enough attention from the media.  When CNN shows up to cover the kidnapping, Finn and Chloe know that it cannot end the way they had planned and are forced to make dreadful choices.  Don’t pick up this page turner without clearing your day first, it is impossible to put down!

With a great premise, the book opens with Finn in the midst of the situation already.  There is little time to draw breath as readers are immediately plunged into a faked kidnapping staged by two very smart but very naive girls.  The drive to have a bit of fame combined with the pressures of college applications make for a potent combination for a book. 

The story is told from Finn’s point of view as she deals with attending school and lying to everyone in her life, including Chloe’s parents and her own. Finn is in denial about a lot of things throughout the book, facing complicated feelings about her best friend.  This tension about their relationship and what is at the heart of it makes the book even more compelling as Finn tries to navigate a situation of her own making.

This riveting novel is tightly written.  The book builds tension as Finn struggles with her emotions and with the fallout from the kidnapping.  It is not breakneck paced, rather it is woven into an intense read. 

Ideal for booktalking to teens, this book will have everyone right from the premise.  It completely lives up to its promise as a thrilling look at lies and fame.  Appropriate for ages 14-17.

Reviewed from ARC received from Scholastic.

Stolen

Stolen by Lucy Christopher

In a Bangkok airport on her way to Vietnam with her parents, sixteen-year-old Gemma stops for a cup of coffee to take a break from arguing with them.  It was then that her life changed.  She was drugged and taken to the outback of Australia where Ty, the man who took her, had created a self-sufficient home for both of them.  Gemma fought back as best she could when the drugs wore off, tried to escape multiple times, but the outback itself kept her bound at home with Ty.  Ty is handsome, well-built, and deeply in love with Gemma, whom he has been watching for years.  Readers get to experience their strange, disturbing, but captivating relationship grow and change through the form of a letter from Gemma to Ty. 

Christopher’s book explores what freedom really is, what love means, and how relationships can morph and change despite ourselves.  In Gemma, Christopher has created a strong modern female that readers will instantly relate to.  She has domineering but distant parents, close friends, and much to miss.  But the most remarkable character Christopher created is Ty.  Ty the monster, the angel, the wronged, the wrong-doer.   He is so complex yet so simple to understand.  And readers will come to understand him, and perhaps like Gemma love him in the end.  The writing masterfully takes readers on the same course as Gemma, loving Ty despite themselves.

The third character in the novel is the setting itself.  The Australian Outback is vividly rendered from its incredible heat to the redness of the sand to the plants and animals that make their home there.  It forms the walls of Gemma’s prison, beautiful and horrible at the same time.  Christopher weaves imagery from the setting into much of her writing, further tying the book closely to the setting.  She does it with skill and subtlety.

Highly recommended, this book is one that twists underneath you, bringing you to a place you never expected to reach.  Beautifully written, this book is appropriate for ages 14-18.

Reviewed from ARC received from Scholastic.

Also reviewed by Melody’s Reading Corner.