The Librarian’s view

I received an email from a fellow Maine librarian after my column two months ago. He observed as how he was overstocked with YA fantasy and wondered where all the mysteries for this age group were. As you might have noticed, I am a real YA paranormal/fantasy junkie, but I did some research and found a number of books coming to publication in the next few months that are certainly mysteries, or have some real mystery elements. Herewith is the list I sent him.

All Unquiet Things by Anna Jarzab
Dirty Little Secrets [Hardcover] C. J. Omololu
The tension of opposites / Kristina McBride
The secret year / Jennifer Hubbard.
Choker / Elizabeth Woods.
Shine / Lauren Myracle
Kiss in the dark / Lauren Henderson.
Matinicus : an island mystery / Darcy Scott
Sudden moves : a young adult mystery / Kelli Sue Landon.
One Came Home [Hardcover] Amy Timberlake
The Friday Society [Hardcover] Adrienne Kress
Deadly Little Lessons (A Touch Novel) [Hardcover] Laurie Faria Stolarz
The Believing Game [Hardcover] Eireann Corrigan
Colin Fischer [Hardcover] Ashley Edward Miller, Zack Stentz. This features a protagonist with asperger’s)
Dead Girl Moon [Hardcover] Charlie Price
Blind Spot [Hardcover] Laura Ellen-Another with an interesting protagonist, this time a legally blind teen)
The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin **And the sequel coming in October: The Evolution of Mara Dyer
**Series: MICHAEL D. BEIL teaches English at an all-girls Catholic high school in New York City. The Secret Cellar is the fourth installment in his Edgar Award-nominated mystery series, The Red Blazer Girls.
Chasing the Skip [Hardcover] Janci Patterson
Rmily’s Dress by Kathryn Burak
Seconds Away: A Mickey Bolitar Novel [Hardcover] Harlan Coben. Shelter, the first book in this series was awesome.
Ten [Hardcover] Gretchen McNeil (Author)
Lindsey Lost [Hardcover] Suzanne Phillips
Betrayal (Empty Coffin) [Hardcover] Gregg Olsen **Also a 2011 entry by the same author: Envy / by Gregg Olsen.
The Edge of Nowhere [Hardcover] Elizabeth George **Seems like everyone’s getting into the Ya act.
Don’t Turn Around [Hardcover] Michelle Gagnon
Beautiful Lies [Hardcover] Jessica Warman
The Little Woods [Hardcover] McCormick Templeman
The Girl Is Trouble [Hardcover] Kathryn Miller Haines **Followup to Edgar nominee The Girl is Murder which I read and really liked.
Secret Letters [Hardcover] Leah Scheier
Tokyo Heist [Hardcover]Diana Renn
Zoe Letting Go [Hardcover] Nora Price
Bridge of Time [Hardcover] Lewis Buzbee **It has a supernatural flavor, but sounds like one boys would really like.

Here are two reviews of ones I read recently. In Freaks Like Us, Susan Vaught has given readers a mystery with some refreshing and even disturbing twists. This entry in the juvenile/YA market takes readers inside the head of Jason Milwaukee, aka Freak, in such a way that they will never be able to think about schizophrenia the same way again. Freak and his childhood friends, Drip and Sunshine, refer to themselves as alphabets, a term they use as shorthand for the diagnostic labels the behavioral health and education communities have assigned them. It is easier to call themselves this instead of GAD (General Anxiety Disorder) and SCZI (Schizophrenic), ADHD, and SM (Selective Mute). They trust each other, understand each other and support each other, especially when other ‘labels’ as they call troubled teens bully and demean them.

Freak endures particularly brutal auditory hallucinations that seldom give him any peace. Over the years, Sunshine has come to be the person who can mitigate these voices and offer him comfort and even a little happiness. When she vanishes shortly after the three get off the small bus that transports them to and from the special education classes they attend together, it sets in motion a nearly unendurable nightmare for Freak.

Compounding the harassment from the voices he hears is a fragile boundary between reality and the insanity these hallucinations kick up on a constant basis. Freak’s life is further complicated by his divorced parents’ rocky relationship and different ways of interacting with him. Mom is a straight-laced career military type, while dad is a more laid back, but somewhat inept fireman. Neither is able to see beyond Freak’s illness to figure out who is hiding under the hallucinations and fairly high doses of medication.

The bulk of the story revolves around an intense effort involving the FBI, local police and all those who know Sunshine, to figure out what happened to her. Was she kidnapped, is she dead, if so, was it murder or suicide? Who might have perpetrated the crime, if one occurred? The story, told in first person by Freak does a stellar job of showing how seriously auditory hallucinations can distort reality, create emotional confusion and completely demoralize an individual.

How Freak sorts fantasy from reality, how the various minor characters evolve in ways that help readers to frame the mystery in their own minds and who did what in terms of Sunshine’s mysterious vanishing make for one heck of a good read. Parents and librarians should keep in mind that some juvenile readers may be put off or confused by the frequent insertion of stream-of-consciousness dialogue reflecting Freak’s auditory hallucinations. Encourage them to stick with the story and if the opportunity arises, start a dialogue about the effects of severe mental illness on people, especially teens. Freaks Like Us is part love story, part mystery and part psychological thriller and they add up to a book that should be in every library where staff care about providing really good reads for kids.

Another fun read with a mystery bent for kids is Into The Trap by Craig Moodie. It reminded me of a modern Hardy Boys caper. Eddie Atwell comes from a lobstering family. Generations of Atwells have been setting traps off the Massachusetts coast and making a good, but hard living. Eddie’s dad injured his rotator cuff and is off getting it fixed when the story opens. Someone stole all of their lobsters from the holding pen under their dock. This has been happening to other local lobstermen recently, but none of them have gone to Chief Snow, the local lawman because he thinks they’re all a bunch of no-goods. Eddie’s not supposed to go out on the ocean alone while his parents are away, but his sister Laurie’s sort of boyfriend, Jake told him that the bassin’ out by Greenhead Island was really good and Eddie wants to see if he can hit the stripers hard enough to make up for some of the lost lobster money.

When he gets out to the island, he has no luck until he goes ashore and discovers a tidal pool teeming with stolen lobsters. Mindful of his father’s distrust of Chief Snow, Eddie hears another boat approaching and hides. He overhears Jake and his crony Marty, a mean-tempered fellow working at a nearby camp for rich kids, talk about stealing more lobsters that night. Eddie decides to fill his boat with stolen lobsters and bring them home as a vigilante way of evening things. Unfortunately, the bad guys notice his boat and after realizing who it belongs to, they tie it behind theirs and head off, leaving Eddie stranded.

He remembers seeing a small sailboat anchored in another cove on the island and sets out to see if the owner is willing to give him a ride home. Enter Briggs, an amiable and extremely awkward rich kid from the nearby camp. He took the sailboat, hoping to get away from the torture and humiliation inflicted upon him on a daily basis by Marty. While Eddie and Briggs have little in common and are on opposite ends of the wealth spectrum, necessity allows them to forge a quick bond. While he’s really reluctant at first, Briggs gets pulled into Eddie’s scheme to repatriate the lobsters. The biggest question Eddie must answer is whether his sister Laurie is involved in the lobster thefts and this lends a nice tension to the rest of the story as do the numerous things the two boys must do to evade both the bad guys and the super-critical Chief Snow while returning their haul of crustaceans.

This is a fast and easy read, the type that is perfect for juvenile boys and girls to ease into for a day of fun and escape. Reluctant readers will find the action and the setting are enticing enough to overcome their unease at trying a chapter book.

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2 Responses to The Librarian’s view

  1. Lea Wait says:

    I definitely second your review of FREAKS LIKE US. I loved it. Loved the characters, loved their views of the world and themselves — and loved the ending, which made a lot of sense. You’re right. It needs to be in every library. Now I need to read a lot of other books …..

  2. MCWriTers says:

    Wow! Freaks like Us sounds like a must-read.

    And thanks for sharing this list. I hope a zillion people see it.


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