Marissa Meyer’s new book is the first cliffhanger in what promises to be a quartet. Following the traditional lines of the folktale, an orphan girl is badly mistreated by her horrible stepmother. Cinder’s two stepsisters are obsessed with the Prince; the Prince somehow falls in love with Cinder. However, that is where the parallels stop. Set in New Beijing in the future, the world is inhabited by humans and cyborgs; Cinder is a cyborg. Cyborgs have second class status, but the Prince doesn’t know that she is a cyborg. The Lunar Queen hopes to marry Prince Kai and form an alliance between the earth and the moon colonies. As Cinder learns more about the Queen’s true motives, she also uncovers a startling truth about herself. This book is fast-paced and interesting subplots keep the story compelling. Though readers know the story of Cinderella, they will be surprised at this twist. 2012, Feiwel and Friends/Macmillan, Ages 12 up, $17.99. Reviewer: Emily Cassady (Library Media Connection, March/April 2012).
Glory Fleming is a teenage piano prodigy whose life has been measured by endless recitals and lonely nights in hotel rooms ever since her mother died and her father began forcing her to play sold-out shows in concert halls around the world. Frank Mendoza is Glory’s next door neighbor who has experienced nothing but discrimination and hatred from the teachers and students at his new school. But when Glory invites Frank to come for a visit, these two form a special bond that soon blossoms into love. As Glory’s new concert tour threatens her relationship with Frank, however, she begins developing a strange condition that leaves her unable to play anything but the song “Chopsticks.” Eventually institutionalized, Glory’s strange behavior leaves her father and fans baffled. But is Glory’s malady really what it seems? While presented as a young adult novel, Chopsticks is even more memorable as a piece of abstract artwork. Every page is filled not with lengthy sections of prose, but personal photographs, newspaper clippings, letters of reprimand, expletive-filled hate notes, sketches, poems, and even images of IM conversations between Glory and Frank. Like a detective assembling bits of evidence, readers must connect these pieces to discover the real story of the two teenagers–and the truth behind Glory’s breakdown. It is a mesmerizing, almost voyeuristically beautiful form of storytelling that requires its audience to exercise reading strategies seldom required in most prose novels. 2012, Razorbill/Penguin Group, Ages 12 up , $19.99. Reviewer: Michael Jung, PhD (Children’s Literature)
Code Name Verity
Tension builds from the first line that Julie Beaufort-Stuart (code name Verity) writes after she is taken prisoner by the Gestapo in France. A small gesture led to her capture and now she is writing to extend her life. Torture, and the mere threat of torture, play a part in this tale, and Julie recounts that in her writings. She has promised to tell all she knows about the British War effort. What’s more, she knows the gruesome death that awaits secret agents. Her wartime friendship with Maddie Brodatt and how their plane was shot and crashed are recounted in the notes she makes. The second half of the story is told from Maddie’s perspective, and the two friends find themselves back together in a stunning conclusion. This World War II novel is rich in discussion material: the setting; the characters; and the themes of heroes and cowards, friendship and hatred, irony, truth, and more. Nothing is quite as simple as it seems, however. Wein deftly weaves their gritty, compelling, complex story which lingers long after the last page is read. 2012, Hyperion/Disney, Ages 14 up, $16.99. Reviewer: Sharon Salluzzo (Children’s Literature).
The Fault in Our Stars
The support group for young people with cancer isn’t exactly Hazel’s favorite place, but attending it fulfills her parents’ desire to see her get out more. It’s there that the sixteen-year-old meets Augustus, who is cancer-free after “a little touch of osteosarcoma” and is mainly there to support a friend. Augustus is verbose, intellectual, challenging, and, Hazel admits, hot, and he’s also immediately smitten with Hazel, herself no slouch in the smarts department. Though deeply taken with Augustus in return, Hazel resists a serious relationship; she’s already keenly aware of the torment her parents have gone through and the grief they’ll suffer when her cancer eventually kills her, and she can’t imagine willfully subjecting somebody else to that kind of loss. Augustus wins her over, though, eliciting a response from her favorite author and even arranging a trip to Holland to meet the reclusive man, but once there the couple realizes that cancer will cut short their time together even sooner than they’d thought. Green perfectly realizes the mannered yet emotional styling’s of his young characters, allowing them to be poignantly human even as they’re authentically over intellectual in a way that many well-read, idea-loving teens will recognize as their wishful goal if not their actuality. Existential questions take on a particular urgency for people looking death in the eye, and the book feelingly explores the desire for meaning in a life that’s not going to last long enough for concrete achievement. Underneath it all, however, is a love story, a sometimes smart mouthed, sometimes tender tale of accumulating beauty and epic gesture, a story that comes down firmly on the side of “worth it all” no matter how soon it ends. Readers looking for a grand passion involving real people will rejoice even as they weep. 2012, Dutton/Penguin, Ages 12 up, $17.99. Reviewer: Deborah Stevenson (The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books, May 2011 (Vol. 65, No. 9)).
Lucy and Ed went on a disastrous date two years ago, and they’ve avoided each other ever since. When Lucy’s friend Jazz takes a fancy to Ed’s friend Leo, though, Lucy and Ed are thrown together for a night. Believing that Ed knows Shadow, a graffiti artist whose paintings have inspired her romantic fantasies, Lucy follows Ed on a tour of Shadow’s work around the town. The reader is in on the secret from the start: Ed is Shadow. A self-doubting dropout who finds reading severely challenging, Ed is also an immensely talented and thoughtful artist who can see no viable outlet for his ability, and he’s at a crossroads: later this night, he and Leo are planning to rob the high school, Ed for rent, Leo to pay back a dangerous thug. This sophomore release from Crowley (A Little Wanting Song, BCCB 9/10) has all the earnest emotion and elaborate architecture of a Cohn/Levithan collaboration (Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, BCCB 6/06), and it is similarly structured, with the narrative alternating between Lucy’s and Ed’s voices (occasionally interspersed with poems by Leo). Lucy and Ed are a wonderfully matched and misunderstood pair, and their journey from mutual dislike and disappointment to interest and affection is well constructed and moving. The problems they struggle with-particularly Ed’s financial woes and uncertain future-give the narrative a grittiness that makes its sweetness all the more powerful. From the magic of late-night escapades, to the skilled use of the tried-and-true secret-identity love triangle that’s not actually a triangle, to the host of engaging secondary characters, this is a love story with something for everyone. 2012, Knopf/Random House, Ages 14 up, $16.99. Reviewer: Claire Gross (The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books, March 2012 (Vol. 65, No. 7)).
I Hunt Killers
In order to catch a killer, one must think like a killer, and nobody knows how to do that better than Jazz Dent. His father is one of the most notorious serial killers in the world and taught Jazz everything he knew about the art of killing. Now his dad is in jail, and all Jazz wants to do is suppress the urges his dad passed on to him and be a normal teenager, but when a new serial killer shows up in Lobo’s Nod, Jazz is obsessed with catching him. In order to face the killer, Jazz must first confront his own demons and decide which side he is really on. Lyga brilliantly combines the feel of a true crime story with mystery, adventure, and psychoanalysis in this intense story of a different kind of family bond. It is a classic “whodunit” with the added intrigue of describing murders in great detail, while not becoming overly gruesome, as well as the police work involved in solving a crime, so it feels like a true crime novel instead of fiction. The characters are especially believable, and the reader will be drawn in by their motivations and actions. Jazz’s inner struggle to understand his compulsions to both save and hurt people will captivate readers into wanting to know which path he will ultimately choose. This story will appeal to a wide variety of older teen readers, especially guys, and will make an excellent addition to any library serving mature teens. 2012, Little Brown, Ages 15 to 18, $17.99. Reviewer: Blake Norby (VOYA, April 2012 (Vol. 35, No. 1)).
Keeping the Castle
Beauty is seventeen-year-old Althea’s greatest asset, and she knows that she must use it to secure not only her future but also that of her impoverished genteel family, their crumbling, beloved castle, and the household staff. Given the scarcity of promising marital candidates in their rustic northern county, it’s no surprise that Althea and her two unpleasant stepsisters are delighted when the new young Lord Boring brings a small party with him when he takes his seat at nearby Gudgeon Park. Althea immediately captures the fancy of His Lordship, and their growing bond is only spoiled by the constant presence of his opinionated cousin, Mr. Fredericks, with whom Althea repeatedly spars. Kindl puts her literary heart on her sleeve for all to see here: this is no parody, but an Austen revival written from love and knowledge by an author whose precise formality of diction has tied her to earlier eras all along. The author is clearly sensitive to differences between then and now that sometimes puzzle modern readers of period material, and narrator Althea helpfully but unobtrusively foregrounds aspects of her situation that would have been tacitly understood in Austen’s day. Fans of costume dramas and novels of manners will recognize touches of other influences (Downton Abbey, for instance, and even Miss Manners) as well as clear Austen homages (the book employs an inverted version of the Emma device about confusing admiration for a painting’s subject with admiration for the painter). Those deft and playful technical achievements are all in service of a very satisfying story that allows Althea to get what she really wants and not just what she thinks she wants, while along the way showing her deeper strengths and an appealing wit. This is a perfect stepping stone to Austen for readers afraid of classics, and it will also delight lovers of Cooper’s A Brief History of Montmaray (BCCB 11/09) as well as Austen fans themselves. 2012, Viking/Penguin, Ages 12 up, $16.99. Reviewer: Deborah Stevenson (The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books, June 2012 (Vol. 65, No. 10)).
Princess Academy: Palace of Stone
Miri and the other young princesses have left the comfort and familiarity of their home on Mount Eskel to journey to the bustling capital of Danland in order to help Britta prepare for her upcoming marriage to Steffan. Miri, alone of all the princesses, has been invited to attend the Queen’s Castle, a university that will open many doors for her future. From the beginning Miri is dazzled by all the city has to offer and is greatly impressed by the academics at the school. Miri finds herself torn between her desire to continue her studies and returning home to the quiet life on the mountain. Her friendship with young Timon, a second year student, introduces Miri to radicals who unbeknown to her are preparing to prevent the royal wedding by murdering young Britta and overthrowing the king and his court. Miri finds herself in a difficult position. She is clearly sympathetic to the plight of the poor or the shoeless as they are referred to but fiercely loyal to Britta and Steffen. Miri must put all her skills and newly found political power into play to avert a powerful coup. Keeping her steady throughout the ordeal is the support of the other princess and the true love of Peder. This sequel to The Princess Academy (Bloomsbury, 2007) finds a more mature Miri facing more difficult and not always black and white decisions. It is clear that the path to social justice is not smooth and that true change evolves over time. The sights, sounds, and smells of the city, the royal court, and faraway Mount Eskel are vividly created. This is a worthy sequel that will be eagerly greeted by loyal fans. 2012, Bloomsbury, Ages 12 to 14, $16.99. Reviewer: Beverley Fahey (Children’s Literature)
Left at an orphanage as an infant, Carver Young has no knowledge of his family history. As the orphanage plans to move, all children over the age of eight must find homes. Carver, obsessed with mysteries and detective stories, is fortunate enough to become the apprentice of Mr. Hawking, a master detective who works for a secret agency. At the same time, new murder cases are popping up around New York City, eerily similar to those of Jack the Ripper. Carver and his friends must uncover the truth about his family which may have more to do with Jack the Ripper than he could ever imagine. Set in London in the late 1800s, this is a rollicking story full of cannot-put-it down twists and turns. While evidence from the very beginning points to Jack the Ripper being Carver’s father, the shocking ending will leave every amateur sleuth stunned. While history is heavily fictionalized in the novel, it is extremely entertaining and thought-provoking. Stefan Petrucha even offers notes on key historical elements and how they diverge from real events in the back of the book. Carver Young is an inspiring character, full of determination and gumption. His bravery and actions have the reader cheering him on every step of the way. The whole novel is an innovative approach to historical events and finally gives a name and a face to one of the most notorious murderers of all time. Teens and adults alike will find this a fascinating and exciting story. 2012, Philomel/Penguin, Ages 12 up, $17.99. Reviewer: Kaitlyn Connors (VOYA, February 2012 (Vol. 34, No. 6)).
Will Scarlet claims to be not of Rob’s band, yet has stayed with “the boys” for two years since arriving from London, fresh from the pain of familial loss and escaping despicable Sir Guy of Gisbourne. While the band works to keep the people afloat–with food and money for taxes–often by waylaying moneyed travelers passing through Sherwood, individuals hide secrets and personal vulnerabilities, the Sherriff of Nottingham sends for reinforcements, and thief-catcher Gisbourne arrives. While “Will” looks enough like a boy that most do not question and she keeps her hair tucked up to complete the charade, on Sunday mornings she bathes, dons a gown, uncoils her hair, and attends church. At eighteen, Scarlet is confused as John Little alternately treats her as a bandmate and a woman, and proximity to Robin of Locklear makes her “chest feel like porridge” for brief moments before he moves and her perspective shifts. As skilled with daggers as Rob is with his crossbow, as sure-footed as squirrels crossing the forest on high by running through overlapping tree branches, and fearless to a fault, Scar is a valued band member and an appealing narrator who exudes enough testosterone to attract male and female readers. Billed as “not your English teacher’s version of Robin Hood,” Gaughen’s novel “reimagines” the classic tale, filling it with adventure, adrenaline-charged fight scenes, danger, and chivalry. Set in medieval England, this novel is sure to garner a following once discovered by secondary students. 2012, Walker, Ages 11 to 18, $17.99. Reviewer: Cynthia Winfield (VOYA, December 2011 (Vol. 34, No. 5)).
Shadow and Bone
In the country of Ravka, under siege from a monster-infested rift of impenetrable darkness known as the Fold, Alina is just an inconsequential orphan whose greatest worry is growing apart from her best friend Mal, the closest thing she has to family. When Mal is attacked during a bloody crossing of the Fold, Alina saves him without thinking, discovering that she has the power to summon sunlight-which is deadly to the monster. Whisked away from her life as a mapmaker to train with the Grisha, witches who defend Ravka from the Fold and other enemies, Alina is inducted into court life and groomed by the Darkling, the ageless and charismatic leader of the Grisha, who believes that she has the power to drive back the Fold once and for all. The complicated politics of the royal court, the perennially appealing arc of a heroine finding her strength, and generous helpings of intrigue and treachery build to a satisfying reveal that blasts the plot open for future series installments. Set against a chilly, well-realized landscape drawn from Russian folklore, this distinctive fantasy balances epic stakes and human foibles as it explores a country wracked by centuries of gridlocked war. Readers will be rooting for this lonely, tough heroine as she navigates perils physical, magical, and emotional. 2012, Holt/Macmillan, Ages 12 up, $17.99. Reviewer: Claire Gross (The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books, July 2012 (Vol. 65, No. 11)).
The Sweetest Spell
Emmeline Thistle was supposed to die. When she was born with a deformed foot, the midwife whisked her away from her mother and urged her father to abandon her in the forest to be devoured by wolves. A daughter that could not walk correctly would never be of much use to a farmer who was barely able to scratch a living from the dirt. But Emmeline was saved, by.a cow, and thus began a special relationship between the girl and bovines. When royal soldiers take Emmeline’s father, Emmeline does not know if she can survive on her own. Things get worse as her entire town is wiped away by a flood and Emmeline is washed away from the Flatlands. Under the care of the gentle Oak family, Emmeline discovers an ability that makes life even more treacherous for her, and finds that love is not what she thought it would be. Suzanne Selfors has created a classic fairy tale with a fresh feel. The realistic storytelling makes readers feel like they are part of the action, while still creating a fantasy atmosphere. The characters are three-dimensional, and typical fairy tale elements are incorporated, such as magic, castles, and a wicked queen. The narrative is told in alternating points of view of the two lead characters, giving it broad appeal and helping hold readers’ interest. Selfors does a fantastic job of creating a world in which readers will believe, yet whisks them away to delicious daydreams. 2012, Walker Books, Ages 12 up, $16.99. Reviewer: Dawn Talbott (VOYA, April 2012 (Vol. 35, No. 1)).
Fifteen-year-old Tiger Lily, a tribal girl of the remote island of Neverland, defies her female role in her village yet respects, loves, and honors her father, the village shaman. Yet, when an Englishman washes onto Neverland’s shores, Tiger Lily saves him against her father’s wishes and garners the attention of the leader of the “dangerous” Lost Boys, Peter Pan. Tiger Lily is drawn to Peter like no one she has met before, and she repeatedly sneaks out to visit him despite her promised marriage to one of her tribesmen. When another boat of Englishmen arrives at Neverland with the beautiful Wendy, Tiger Lily must decide who she desires, who she wants to be, and what life to choose. This unique retelling of Peter Pan by J. M. Barrie has a literary feel, lush descriptions, and a mysterious but sympathetic main character. Anderson uses Tiger Lily’s devotee Tinker Bell, a bug-like fairy who cannot speak but can read thoughts, to tell the story; this allows the reader to see snippets of the pirates’ and Lost Boys’ lives when Tiger Lily is not present while still maintaining her filter. Tiger Lily is recommended to teens looking for a sophisticated fantasy, a new spin on a classic tale, or a fresh literary perspective. 2012, HarperTeen, Ages 12 up, $17.99. Reviewer: Deena Lipomi (VOYA, February 2012 (Vol. 34, No. 6)).
This eerie tale, told almost entirely through letters, follows Jack, a sixteen-year-old boy who has taken on a summer job to save money so he can go to the same college as his girlfriend, Sophie. This job requires that Jack travel to a secluded island to babysit two orphaned children. During an eventful boat ride to the island, where even the seagulls seemingly warn him to stay away, Jack hears about a murder tied to Crackstone Landings, exactly where he is headed. Once Jack arrives at the “dark house,” a massive monstrosity with winding corridors and hidden rooms, he meets the children, Miles and Flora. Dressed in old-fashioned clothes, like “miniature grownups,” he writes Sophie, they are polite as can be, which puzzles him. When Linda, the cook, reveals that the last governess who worked there was murdered along with the gardener, things take a turn for the worse. Jack begins to see things, namely, the ghosts of the victims, who Jack believes have a sinister story to tell involving the children. Prose’s novel, written in first-person, allows the reader to feel the protagonist’s desperation intensely. It is a finely tuned ghost story that incorporates a plot line similar to Henry James’s The Turn Of The Screw. Prose’s use of symbolism, the written word, and awareness–or lack thereof–of the spiritual world, is neatly reinvented in The Turning. The ending is abrupt and thought provoking, leaving room for a lively discussion. 2012, HarperTeen, Ages 11 to 15, $17.99. Reviewer: Tanya Paglia (VOYA, August 2012 (Vol. 35, No. 3)).
Why We Broke Up
Min is a smart girl who likes to host quirky parties and watch old movies. Ed is the handsome co-captain of the basketball team who likes to hook up with girls. Despite their differences, they end up very seriously involved, struggling to defend their relationship against family and friends who try to tell them they are simply too different to stay together. Sure enough, they do break up, and the story is told through Min’s reminiscences as she goes through a box of mementos that chart the trajectory of their time together. Each object, lent gravity by a full-color illustration in Kalman’s familiar style of tactile painterly strokes and vivid colors, opens up a memory that has both a particular and a universal quality as Min and Ed share their very different worlds with one another. Even as Min’s descriptions are tainted by her knowledge of what comes later, they detail a relationship that seems mutually affecting, of two people discovering the wonder of seeing themselves loved by someone other than family for the first time. Handler (yes, Lemony Snicket’s alter ego-who knew?) is at his best when he’s creating verbal collages of ordinary, recognizable high-school moments; in what read like prose poems, he makes the familiar new, detailing through Min’s sensitive impressions the engulfing sensory minutiae of events such as a high-school basketball game, a post-game bonfire, a first date, a post-breakup breakdown. Indeed, the avalanche of self-doubt that crashes down on Min in the immediate aftermath of the breakup is delivered in a headlong rush of brutal self-recrimination that exposes her vulnerability; it’s a spot-on, devastatingly rendered series of emotional lacerations that everyone who has ever been dumped will immediately recognize as the cry of his or her own personal heartbreak. Like the perfect breakup song, this turns the searing experience of losing your heart into a cathartic work of art. 2011, Little Brown, Ages 12 up, $19.99. Reviewer: Karen Coats (The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books, January 2011 (Vol. 65, No. 5)).