The past month has been a great time for juvenile and young adult fiction. Despite reading well into the wee hours of several nights, I’ve found all the literary input has been great for my own writing. Herewith are some new titles for your consideration.
Tell Me A Secret by Holly Cupala. After reading Holly’s second book which I reviewed last month, I simply had to read the first one to see if it was as good. The answer is yes, possibly even a bit better. Do you recall the old Chinese proverb, “He who forgets the past is condemned to repeat it?” This book is an interesting variation on that. It has been five years since Miranda Matheson’s older sister basically told their parents to go to hell and stormed out on a cold December night with her boyfriend Andre while her skirt burning in the family fireplace. Rand, as she now calls herself, never saw her sister alive again. She’s still pretty fuzzy on what happened that night and all she can get from her control freak mom and emotionally absent dad is that Andre killed Xanda that night and somehow got away with it.
At the beginning of the book, Rand is one lost, hurting unit and pregnant. The first part of the book weaves back and forth between events leading up to the conception and Rand’s attempts to figure out what she’s going to do and who, among her friends, she can still trust. She makes plenty of poor choices, most fueled by her blind quest to figure out exactly where she really does fit in. In the process, she tosses aside her long time friend Essence in part because she thinks she spread word about the pregnancy and instead becomes friends with Delaney who has her own set of secrets. As part of her need to connect and find people to share her feelings with after pretty much all her friends and Kamran, the baby’s father, have shunned her, Rand creates a false persona in an online internet chat room for first-time moms, telling the other participants that she is a happily-married college student. One of the women she connects with suffers a second miscarriage and leaves the group. That same person comes to play a big part later on in Rand’s journey back to wholeness. Factor in family secrets, some real soul-searching after Rand realizes just how shabbily she’s come to treat others, a huge crisis during the pregnancy and finally the truth not only about Xanda’s death, but a secret her mother kept from both daughters and you have what could have deteriorated into an unholy plot mess. Instead, it becomes a can’t-put-down page turner that left me amazed at the author’s ability to get inside her characters’ heads. I sure hope she continues to write in the young adult genre as she’s pretty darn good at it.
Librarians love to share. At the Libraries United Conference on the UMO campus last month, we had a horse trading session in the parking lot, using the bed of my Chevy S-10. We had arranged it via email and were primarily planning on swapping DVDs, but people brought audio books and print items as well. Several librarians, thinking the idea was a hoot, simply stopped by to drop off stuff that they wanted to find new homes.
One of the books offered by a school librarian looked really intriguing, so I brought it home with the intention of adding it to the collection. I started reading it and couldn’t put it down. Torn to Pieces by Margot McDonnell, is one of those YA books that blends plot twist after plot twist in a most skilled way. As each one reaches a solution, the answer builds your anticipation as well as the suspense. 17 year old Anne is used to her mother’s quirky and unpredictable ways. Mom is often absent, supposedly off on an assignment, interviewing someone famous so she can ghost write their biography. Anne, her mom and her grandparents who live down the street, have also moved numerous times, sometimes with almost no notice. This town, small as it might be, is more like home than any place Anne has ever known. She’s got a close friend, she’s in the band and some of the boys are finally starting to notice her. The hot new guy in school seems extremely interested in her and she’s trying to figure out the quiet, loner boy, Evan who watches her, but never speaks.
Then everything starts to change. Mom should have been home weeks ago, the hot guy starts acting funny, strange things begin happening while Anne is alone, Evan starts talking to her. Before long, Anne starts finding clues in a long letter her mom left for her to read. I really liked the way one page from the letter is read by Anne after each chapter to help explain what’s happening. Is her mother the person who she is called to identify in the morgue? Who is the blonde her friend Bianca keeps seeing the hot guy meeting at the mall? What isn’t Evan telling her more about his abusive dad? What is the secret her grandparents are hiding from her? Why is the big estate her mom left her suddenly frozen and by whom? Who were the two guys who assaulted her when she caught them ransacking her house and what, exactly were they looking for?
By the end of the book, the author has done one heck of a nice job answering these and a bunch more questions, leaving the reader wrung out, but oh, so satisfied.
The Aviary by Kathleen O’Dell was a serendipity. My wife, Beth and I review a lot of YA books for a program offered by the Central Maine Library District through the Maine State Library. We pay a minimal amount, review the book, send the review to the Maine State Library and add the book to the Hartland Public Library. Beth made the comment that this one was particularly good, so I read it before adding it to our collection. She was absolutely correct.
This historical mystery, set on the seacoast, begins with young Clara wondering about many things. Why does her mother keep her isolated and unable to attend school? What happened to her father and why won’t her mother even tell her his name? Why is the aging owner of the decaying mansion they live in so sad all the time? What really happened to her six children and why are there only five childrens’ names in the mausoleum where Mrs. Glendoveer’s husband is buried? What’s the story behind the five screeching birds in the ornate outdoor aviary?
It doesn’t take Clara long to start finding answers; some on her own and others once she makes friends with Daphne, a new girl in town who spots her at an upstairs window. O’Dell uses some very unusual plot devices to pull the reader into the varied strands of mystery that include a mass kidnapping, hypnotism, the truth about Clara’s father and some dandy ghosts. This is aimed at the juvenile market, but adults will enjoy it as well.
I’m exercising librarian’s privilege on three non-mystery YA books because we’re at the time of year when kids have more recreational reading time and it’s always good to get word out there about immersive and engrossing books. First up is Dreamless the sequel to Starcrossed by Josephine Angelini. I absolutely loved the first book and pre-ordered this one as soon as it was announced. Both books are modern re-tellings of the Helen of Troy story. Set on Nantucket Island, this one begins with Helen Hamilton descending to the underworld night after night in a frantic effort to find and eliminate the furies before they destroy the Scions, powerful super mortals who threaten the gods return from exile. Helen is terribly torn by her attraction to Lucas who is her cousin. She didn’t know this when she first fell for him, but giving in to their mutual passion would create a huge war among the four scion families , particularly if children were born.
The bulk of the story involves Helen trying to get along with the rest of Luke’s family, dealing with the deadly effects of ongoing sleep deprivation because of her nightly descent into the underworld and the unexpected complication created when she meets Orion, another black sheep of the scions who has been on his own since age ten. How the author handles the romantic tension, all the evil players intent upon doing in the main characters and her blending of mythology into the plot elements make for one terrific read. If you missed book one, get both and plan to be out of circulation for several very pleasurable days.
Shadow and Bone, a first novel by Leigh Bradugo reminds me of Tamora Pierce at the top of her writing game. The story is influenced by Russian folklore, but set in the fantasy world of Ravka where a forbidding rift of darkness known as the Fold was created by a powerful wizard-like creature known as the Darkling hundreds of years ago. The main characters, Alina and Mal who were orphaned during the endless war that was sparked by the Fold, were taken in by one of the more compassionate nobility. When the story begins, they are in the military and approaching the Fold to cross in sand-skimming boars powered by wind mages. Alina is an apprentice map maker while Mal is a skilled tracker. When they are attacked by Volcras, fierce bird-like creatures spawned by the Fold, Mal is badly wounded and when Alina sees this, she hurls herself over him to protect his life. As she does, a sudden blinding light explodes outward, driving off all the attackers.
When informed of this, the current Darkling a supposedly good guy descendent of the one who created the Fold, has her hustled to the king’s palace because he believes she is the long sought Sun Summoner. Once Alina reaches the palace, she is involved in intense training to make her newly discovered power greater and more focused in order that she can burn away the Fold. Much of the story involves her growing realization that her childhood friendship with Mal was more important than she ever realized, particularly as she is pulled into the society of the king’s court and has to compare the clothing, the food and the pettiness of most of the nobility to her simple life before the advent of her powers. The old woman who trains her mercilessly keeps hinting at something that only becomes clear when it is almost too late. In the process Alana realizes that the Darkling isn’t so nice after all and escapes from the palace, intent upon finding the magical stag that is her only hope. How the tricky situation at the end of the book is solved makes for a great AHA moment. This is the first in a proposed trilogy, but doesn’t leave you nearly as hungry at the end as many such series books do.
Last up is a vampire story with some fresh twists. The Hunt by Andrew Fukuda, again a first novel and part of a proposed series, centers around Gene. He’s hiding in plain sight, a heper (human) in a society overwhelmingly dominated by vampires. His mother and sister were caught and eaten a long time ago, while his dad recently disappeared, Gene goes to school and as long as his fake teeth stay in place, he eats the bloody half-raw food served in the cafeteria, makes sure he controls body odor and hair while avoiding any situation where he might sweat, he’s OK. Shortly after the book begins, the president announces a heper hunt to be done by lottery and televised for all to enjoy. Everyone gets a set of numbers and ten winners will go to the Heper Institute to be trained for the hunt. As luck would have it, Gene and another student at his school, Ashley June are selected.
The tension builds as Gene is forced to be in close proximity to the other nine contestants minus deodorant, water or a razor. The way the author ramps up the tension during training, tossing in some odd romantic interaction between Gene and Ashley and then a friendship with one of the female hepers who is going to be the prey, make you hate to put this one down. There are a few things that don’t seem to make sense early on in the book, but turn out to be great hints/red herrings later on. How Gene manages to find a solution to his dilemma and the wild chase at the end of the book made me wish the next one in the series was at hand now and not a year from now. It will remind some readers of the Hunger Games series, but is a fresh twist and stands alone quite nicely.
John…you may feel like you don’t get much reaction, but I know that our cousins in Ithaca read this and will share your reviews with schools and libraries. So sometimes, you don’t know the impact you have. This set of reviews really made me want to read more Y/A
If room permitted, I would have added two more I just finished that were addictive as hell. Half-Blood and Pure by Jennifer Armentrout the first two in her Covenant series. She gets EVERYTHING right in these two: Great plot, likable characters and the romantic tension between Alexandra and Aiden, complicated by Onyx is done better than by any other YA author around right now.