John Clark, back to sharing some YA book reviews, partially inspired by a photo I saw online. I could live to 750 and still never read every book I think is intriguing. There could be worse fates I’m sure. Since I review every book I read (It’s a good way to become a better writer), that adds up to a lot of thinking about other authors’ work. Below are some of my recent ones as well as a book I’m eagerly awaiting. I’ve recently discovered some that were published a few years back which is another perk of being an avid reader.
Burying Eva Flores by Jennifer Alsever
Deftly crafted YA story that tiptoes along the line between thriller and supernatural in a way that makes it impossible to put down. Sophia is as content as a teen with an absent dad and the family finances being tight could be. She has two close friends and little interest in the popular crowd. Then Eva, a Tik-Tok sensation moves to her small Colorado town and tries to befriend her. When Sophia shuns her, Eva begins a revenge campaign that’s over the top, not only threatening Sophia’s fragile tranquility, but her mom’s job, their home, and even the cafe where Sophia works. When things rush toward a confrontation, the results are at first painful for both girls, then extremely surprising. It’s a great read for thriller and suspense junkies. Torn to Pieces, September 9, 2008 by Margot McDonnell
This one of those YA books that blends plot twist after plot twist in a most skilled way. As each one reaches a solution, It increases 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 write their biography. Anne, her mom, and her grandparents who live down the street, have also moved numerous times, even once or twice with almost no notice. This town, small as it might be, is more like home than any 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. Then everything starts to change. Mom is overdue from a trip, the hot guy starts acting funny, strange things begin happening while Anne’s alone. Before long, Anne starts finding clues in a long letter her mom left for her to read. I really like 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 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 very satisfied.
Blur (Blur Trilogy #1) by Steven James Published May 27th 2014 by Skyscape This is what a YA mystery should be-Cryptic, slightly creepy, and with plenty of twists. Daniel, a star football player whose dad is the sheriff, starts having headaches and seeing things after the death of a girl he barely knew. Both intensify at her funeral, starting him on a path to determine whether her drowning was accidental or murder. Stacy, a mysterious girl who just started attending his high school, pushes him to look for clues to make a case that it was murder. Add in her never answering her phone or responding to texts, Daniel’s dilemma about whether he likes her or Nicole, another classmate, coupled with numerous red herrings, makes this a compulsively readable story.
Fury / Steven James Skyscape, 2015 Daniel continues to have ‘blurs’, those moments when he sees people who are not there. This time, it’s a young girl who burns up after giving him a cryptic message. In the course of pursuing clues that might explain what this apparition wants from him, he and his girlfriend, Nicole, discover wolves being shot and a mysterious lighthouse on an island that may have a connection to an uncle who killed himself. Add in revelations about his grandmother, why his mother left him and his dad, as well as him landing in a mental hospital after being found with blood on his hands, and you have a dandy second book. Curse / Steven James Skyscape 2016 Like the second book, this one builds very nicely on what has happened in the first one as well as what took place in book two. This time, the action moves to Georgia and Tennessee, following the events in the first two taking place in Wisconsin. It begins with Daniel nearly getting killed when he has another ‘blur’, this time seeing a young boy about to be hit by a loaded logging truck. Instead of saving the child, he’s hit by the truck and sustains a sprained ankle and a dislocated shoulder. Neither is sufficient to stop him from going to a basketball camp in Georgia. His parents are concerned, but agree to let him go as long as he takes Nicole, his best friend Kyle, and Kyle’s girlfriend, Mia. Meanwhile, the evil doctor who was experimenting on prisoners in the second book, is busy trying to kidnap Daniel and three other teens who have similar powers. Add in a secret government plot, another creepy hospital, multiple close calls, a surprise at the end, and you have the perfect conclusion to a great trilogy.
On the Subject of Unmentionable Things / Julia Walton. 9780593310571. Random House Books for Young Readers (August 23, 2022) This has today’s relevance running through it in an abundance of ways. Start with a small town where tension, both political and religious, simmer beneath the appearance of tranquility. Top that with a girl named Phoebe whose curiosity about sex was lit on fire when a gynecologist retired in her neighborhood and she bought all the woman’s textbooks and models at a lawn sale. She’s read much of her hoard, and her increased knowledge led her to start an online blog called Circle Within the Square. It was a place to sort out her thoughts and save information, but then it went viral. Now she’s faced with a dilemma…keep it low profile, or run with it because there’s certainly plenty of interest and teens who comment are definitely eager to know the right answers to sex questions. Then a woman who those in Maine would most likely compare to someone named LePage, (or fill in any hard-wired religious fanatic), goes on a witch hunt, trying to root out the blogger. That fanaticism escalates to the woman running for mayor, using threats, quite possibly supporting violence against enterprises she dislikes in town, using possibly illegal tracking software, and even going as far as bribing a boy that Phoebe liked and respected, who is editor of the school newspaper she writes for to out Phoebe. Sadly, that boy shows his weakness right when Phoebe needs support. Fortunately, she has her best friend, the best friend’s geeky boyfriend, and a football player who shows surprising integrity, to step up when Phoebe needs it most. This might seem a bit long for a review, but there are so many aspects/hot buttons in here that teens, especially girls, are dealing with right now that I wanted to do it justice. It’s a no-brainer choice for school and public libraries.
That’s Debatable / Jen Doll. Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR) (August 30, 2022) 9780374306045 We know how much push back there is when girls want to compete in a traditionally male sport, but what are the dynamics in a non-sport high school activity that is, in theory, coed? Meet Millicent Chalmers, high school senior in Alabama. Despite the toxic masculinity so prevalent at debate competitions, she has managed to maintain her composure sufficiently to win the state competition three times in a row. If she wins this year, it will garner her a four year scholarship. Given that she has one parent, her mother who is an RN and often works double shifts to keep them afloat, that scholarship is her brass ring. She’s learned to be cool and focused, able to tear apart opponent’s arguments on a regular basis. Then there’s Taggart Strong, a complete opposite. His family lacks for nothing, but he has trouble with the concept of debating in support of an issue he finds morally wrong. That mindset drives his best friend and captain of the debate team crazy. It also frustrates his parents who see him as being on track to go to college and become a lawyer like his father. Tag, however loves to cook, and the inherent satisfaction in creating new dishes is a much stronger lure than college, but how to get that across to Mom and Dad? When there’s what at first seems to be a school shooter situation during a debate tournament, Millicent freezes, but Tag responds by pulling her into a storage closet where they remain for nearly an hour. It’s the beginning of big changes for both of them. I’ll leave it to you to discover them by reading the book, but will say they involve some pretty nasty behaviors toward Millicent, a gradual relaxing on both their parts toward the iron straight paths they see themselves on, and plenty of great information about the whole debate process. In sum, it’s a smart, intriguing look at contemporary challenges teens face and will make many of them do some self-reflection.
One book I’m very much looking forward to reading (I have pre-ordered it) is Sugaring Off by Gillian French, Algonquin Young Readers (November 1, 2022) 9781643752709. Gillian writes about Maine and teens the way I perceive them. Here’s a teaser about the book: Left partially deaf by an early childhood tragedy that ended in her father’s incarceration, seventeen-year-old Owl is now a tracker, an explorer, a wildlife enthusiast, and always her freest self while hiking the steep forested acres surrounding her aunt and uncle’s maple sugar farm, now her home. Owl and her aunt and uncle never speak of the brutal attack that brought her to them. On the day she confronts a stranger trespassing among the maples, Owl’s sheltered existence is blown wide open by Cody—the magnetic, dangerous young man hired to help with the sugaring off. Cody seems to see her, the real her, in a way no one else does. Together, they challenge each other, learn to question their preconceptions, and risk a romance their families are desperate to stop. But when Owl learns that some part of Cody is compelled toward self-destruction, she must make a difficult decision about their relationship at the same time she’s grappling with her father’s recent release from prison. And when a seemingly motiveless local murder draws attention to Cody, Owl realizes that Cody is in far more serious trouble than anyone knows—and it’s followed him to her mountain.