Last Minute Reading Gifts, Anyone?

John Clark with a bunch of YA book suggestions in case you’re looking for a gift for a teen, or YA fiction-loving adult. These are some of the best out of the 237 I’ve read thus far in 2021.

Monsters Among Us by Monica Rodden Published January 5th 2021 by Crown Books for Young Readers
This is a tale of two festerings that eventually collide with grim, then healing results. Catherine is in a world full of numb pain and horror after a brutal sexual assault she can only remember bits and pieces of. Henry is still hurting because of her rejection after their being childhood friends and maybe more. It takes the murder of a thirteen year old girl who Catherine cared for over several summers, the guilt of Andrew who shows up with the coat and wallet she lost during the assault and some pretty scary detective work in order to solve the murder and help Catherine get on a path to recovery. Well played clues make this a true page flipper.

The Last Secret You’ll Ever Keep (Jane Anonymous #2) by Laurie Faria Stolarz. Published March 16th 2021 by Wednesday Books
So twisty it would make a pretzel jealous. Terra was already eye deep in guilt and trauma after being the sole survivor when her house burned down. Now she’s dealing with an additional double whammy, getting kidnapped and stuck in what she thinks is an abandoned well would be horrific by itself. Having all the people left in your life who you count on, start to doubt it happened is an added soul killer. Sprinkle with faulty reality checks and top with mean girls. Stir well and savor. A very satisfying tale.

Amelia Unabridged by Ashley Schumacher. Published February 16th 2021 by Wednesday Books.
Two teens haunted by ghosts of those they loved. Amelia’s best friend Jenna died in a car crash shortly after a painful situation that left them estranged. Reclusive and mysterious Nolan, a famous author while still a teen, is haunted by his two younger sisters. Amelia’s haunting seems to be propelling her in an unimaginable direction while Nolan’s are holding him in a very painful stasis. Her obsession with his two books about a magical world called Orman is heated by the arrival of a limited edition copy of the two books, sent from an obscure book store in a small Michigan town. What follows is magical, painful at times, and ultimately beautiful. Reading this was like waking after a particularly vivid dream, one that haunts you in a very emotional way. A terrific read!

The Girl from Shadow Springs by Ellie Cypher. Published February 9th 2021 by Simon Schuster Books for Young Readers.
You get just enough about the world away from the icy wasteland to frame it and that’s done nicely. So is the Flats and it becomes as much a character as Jorie and Cody the deeper they go into it. The story is extremely well crafted and one that’s easy to visualize in your head while reading it. Plenty of action and interesting use of different ways of using the same language between the two teens adds authenticity. Endless action and tension, coupled with a nifty plot reveal made this one of those books I had to read in one sitting. I’ll be very much interested in subsequent books by this author.

Lost in the Never Woods by Aiden Thomas. Published March 23rd 2021 by Swoon Reads.
This is a great take-off on Peter Pan. In this instance, Peter’s impact spans two generations, Wendy’s and her mom’s, who is a nurse. This time, Wendy is a shell-shocked high school senior, still unable to get past missing memories and other traumatic effects of what happened to her and her younger brothers five years ago. She reappeared six months after the three of them vanished. Her brothers did not. When Peter appears, or more accurately reappears, he needs her help to capture and re-attach his shadow. What ensues is a mix of scary, evil, hopeful and highly emotional. The ending left me with the same bittersweet sense the I had when I finished reading The Golden Compass, and that’s very high praise.

The Secret Life of Kitty Granger by G.D. Falksen. Published March 2nd 2021 by Carolrhoda Lab (R)
An excellent story featuring a girl on the autism spectrum whose unique weaknesses and strengths are both skillfully woven into a fast moving plot. From the moment Kitty senses something off about the twitchy man who smells like cigarettes sitting on the bus beside her, until the final slam bang caper, readers are in for a treat. I’m particularly impresses with how the author gives you a front row seat to the running inner dialogue that has run so much of her life and how at life and death moments, Kitty finds a hidden strength to save the day.

Hold Back the Tide by Melinda Salisbury.Published January 5th 2021 by Scholastic Press.
What do you do when you believe you live with a killer…and he’s your father. Even more frightening, the victim was your mother and you were in the next room. This is life for Alva. She lives with her dour and scary father who is the watcher for a loch where the local mill is drawing so much water that the level drops daily. Add in an evil and grandiose mill owner, villagers who shun Alva, and an outcast boy who has strong feelings for her. Mix in ancient secrets, Alva’s plan to escape to a new life and events leading to a gut-punch of an ending and you have one heck of a read. I was particularly impressed with the way many of the characters were depicted.

Barbed Wire Heart by Tess Sharpe. Published March 6th 2018 by Grand Central Publishing
There’s sufficient blood shed in this book to supply a Red Cross drive, but not a drop is gratuitous. I found my thoughts returning to the same question time after time-“How much of the story was based on the author’s personal experience?” If any, or much was, then this must have been one heck of a catharsis, wrapped into an incredible read. I turned to this after reading her two YA novels, both of which I loved. This is equally good and I hope she continues to write as she’s a stellar author.

The Sky Above Us by Natalie Lund. Published April 13th 2021 by Philomel Books
Reading this is like watching an approaching storm from an emotional standpoint. When you open it, you find half the main characters, Izzy, Cass and Janie on a beach amidst classmates and the aftermath of an end of school party. Suddenly the sky above is rent with the sound, then the sight, of a low flying plane. Right after it passes overhead, it starts a steep climb, stalls and plunges, nose first into the ocean. It’s not long before the three girls begin to suspect the worst, that Izzy’s twin brother, Israel, Cass’ ex-boyfriend, Shane and Janie’s next door neighbor Nate, who’s given her mixed messages forever, are in the plane and most likely dead. How did three high school kids manage to get a plane and why did they fly it? Those, along with the dynamics of all six teens, plus their parents, are what you the reader discovers as the book moves along. Told in alternate viewpoint and time lines, each chapter takes you ever deeper into the mind of each teen, peeling away layers of secrets and pain until you, and the three girls are left with an answer. It’s a masterfully done revelation and a book many public and school libraries should have on their shelves.

Fade Into the Bright by Jessica Koosed Etting. Published April 27th 2021 by Delacorte Press.
At times gritty, at others sad, and at still others, sweet, this is the story of what happens to two sisters when their estranged father drops a bombshell on them after vanishing years before. The news is followed by months of suspense until each sister gets to learn whether they’ve inherited Huntington’s Disease. Abby gets the dread brass ring, while older sister Brooke gets a massive case of premature survivor’s guilt. When Abby accepts an invitation to spend the summer with her estranged dad’s aunt on Catalina Island, it’s the beginning of things she has no inkling about. She may be perceptive about other people’s dynamics, but is completely in denial/clueless about her own. How this is spun out, with the help of her aunt and the friends she makes, especially Ben, the boy she falls for makes for one heck of a read. It’s sensitive, well researched and the players are vividly drawn. It makes me want to read their earlier books.

The Box in the Woods (Truly Devious #4) by Maureen Johnson. Published June 15th 2021 by Katherine Tegen Books
A perfect followup to the three Truly Devious books. New setting, familiar characters, perfectly twisting then and now story with a great aha at the end. I could read books like this every day and not get jaded.

Firekeeper’s Daughter by Angeline Boulley. Published March 16th 2021 by Henry, Holt and Co. (BYR)
This reminds me in very favorable ways of the late Tony Hillerman as well as the terrific author William Kent Krueger. It blends Native American mythology/culture with contemporary issues many teens face. Think fitting in, drug and alcohol abuse, family violence, prejudice and secrets. All of these are mixed together to offer readers a seamless and enthralling plot.

Homewrecker by Deanna Cameron. Published May 18th 2021 by Wattpad Books
Bronwyn might be a teen, but she often feels much older thanks to an absent father and a drug addict mother. She pays the bills, cooks the meals and bails Mom out of jam after jam. All she wants is to graduate and get away. When a tornado smashes through her town, destroying the trailer she and Mom share, it takes her from an old crisis-taking care of her mother, to a new one-being scooped up by her rich dad who’s a U.S. senator and being cared for by family.
She struggles mightily with her new reality, but as she starts to look more closely at the family dynamics now surrounding her, she can’t help but wonder whose truth is stronger, the one her mother created for her, or the one surrounding her now. Reading along as she sorts everything out, coupled with the eventual identification of the person who murdered her mother makes for a very satisfying read.

That Weekend by Kara Thomas. Published June 29th 2021 by Delacorte Press
This is one of those books that has you off-kilter with your head spinning right from the start. Claire was skipping prom to support her best friend Kat. She was supposed to accompany her best friend and boyfriend Jesse, while bringing her own boyfriend along for a secluded weekend at Kat’s Grandmother’s lake house. However, when Claire spots her boyfriend heading into a room at a party with another girl, the plan and her relationship blow up.
Next she knows, she’s bleeding from the back of her head, lying cold and alone on a hiking trail where an elderly woman finds her. Claire remembers nothing about coming to the lake house, or what happened afterward. The story pulls you along through the increasingly frantic search for Kat and Jesse, a very troubling series of revelations and then you’re returned to Claire’s reality some time later. She’s been through a giant emotional wringer and is determined to piece together her memories and find out what really happened on that mountain. Doing so is not only risky, but even more painful as she digs until she finally comes up with an answer. At the end, there are no winners, just badly scarred survivors. It’s an excellent YA mystery.

14 Ways to Die by Vincent Ralph. Published June 1st 2021 by Sourcebooks Fire
One aspect of a good book is what I call ‘pull power’, the ability to grab you during the first few pages and maintain its hold until you resurface much later, see what page you’re on and go “How in heck?!?” This is one of them. I started reading it when I crawled into bed and resurfaced at page 300. It combines mystery, the contemporary power of social media and how a very determined teen uses her grief and accompanying anger to flush out the serial killer whose first victim was her mom. Great tension and red herrings make is very satisfying. I very much look forward to more from this author.

The Dead and the Dark by Courtney Gould, Published August 3rd 2021 by Wednesday Books
An excellent blend of horror, mystery and romance with some dandy plot twists and gotchas. Even though events are revealed in a smooth manner, most readers (I sure was) will find themselves surprised more than once. A very satisfying story with an ending that feels like a rainbow following a terrible storm.

All These Bodies by Kendare Blake Published September 21st 2021 by Quill Tree Books
Serial killer(s) roaming the midwest, bodies piling up, drained of blood, is their town next? This is the atmosphere at the start of this book, and Michael, son of the sheriff in Black Deer Falls, Minnesota finds himself in the middle of a firestorm when three members of the Carlson family are found with their throats slit and drained of blood. Unlike all the other crime scenes, this time a baby is left unscathed, AND a fifteen year old girl is also found alive, drenched in blood. Once things begin to be sorted out, the girl, Marie Catherine Hale, or so she claims, is a suspect, but everyone believes she had to have an accomplice. There are no other fingerprints, footprints, of signs of a second killer, so what really happened?
Marie and Michael form a connection and she soon tells the authorities he’s the only person she’ll talk to about the crimes. What follows is a twisty, torturous account that comes in fits and starts, intertwined with seemingly supernatural events that ramp up distrust and violence, the longer the hunt for a second killer goes on. Reading along through these events, the gradual revelations and the intriguingly cloudy ending is fascinating. That ending, while quite ambivalent, is also satisfying in the way it encourages readers to imagine what’s unsaid

Dark and Shallow Lies by Ginny Myers Sain Published September 7th 2021 by Razorbill
Magical realism at its finest describes this story about a girl returning to the remote town near the end of the Mississippi River after her best friend and spiritual twin disappeared several months before. Grey and Ellora were part of ten kids everyone in La Cachette, LA considered a group. The two of them were born on the same night in the same room. After Grey’s mother killed herself when she was eight, she began splitting the year, going to school in Little Rock where her dad lives, and spending the hot months helping her grandmother run her small psychic shop in La Cachette.
When she returns not long before her seventeenth birthday, Grey feels more torn than most teens would feel after a best friend goes missing. Part of that is because she and Ellora parted after harsh words were exchanged the year before, but it’s more because like everyone in the small town, Grey has psychic abilities and they’re starting to emerge. She keeps seeing flashes of what she believes was Ellora’s last night alive.
What happens after her return is sinister, involves lots of secrets and false trails that are smoothly woven into the plot, coupled with a massive hurricane and one heck of a climax. It’s a great story and should be considered by libraries where teens like thoughtful, creepy and immersive fiction.

The Silver Blonde by Elizabeth Ross Published July 27th 2021 by Delacorte Press
Satisfying and very well crafted historical mystery. Clara/Klara fled Nazi Germany with her parents in 1938. Now that the war is over, she’s about to be promoted at the movie studio where she works when her parents announce they’re about to return to Germany so her dad can take a professorship. Clara is devastated and angry at their obliviousness to her newly established life, complete with a budding friendship, and maybe more with Gil, a recently returned war veteran who is employed as a screen writer at the studio.
When Clara stays late one evening and sees blonde hair caught in a film vault door, it’s the beginning of an intricate murder mystery that involves plenty of historical detail, many red herrings and a dandy climax at the end. It’s a great choice for libraries where teens, and adults enjoy history and mystery blended together.


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2 Responses to Last Minute Reading Gifts, Anyone?

  1. jselbo says:

    Wow, am amazing list. I still consider myself a ‘young adult’ and some of these are going under my holiday tree with my name on them.

  2. Julianne Spreng says:

    I always appreciate your recommendations. Thank you for taking the time!

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