For Standish Treadwell, being one of the few remaining imperfect people in a society mandating perfection is beyond stressful. Survival means staying under the radar and following all of the Motherland’s rules—which is difficult when you can’t read. Echoes of Nazi Germany clash with the Space Race of the 1960’s in Maggot Moon by Sally Gardner.
Part dystopian fiction and part science fiction, the action takes place in an unnamed society. Standish is nearly fifteen, and he is getting tired of the violence that surrounds him every day. People keep disappearing, including his own parents, and no one will talk about it. The enemy, known only as the Greenflies, has pressured the President to send men from the Motherland to the moon as a show of superiority to the rest of the world. Anyone not necessary to achieve this goal is expendable. When his best and only friend goes missing, Standish decides it is time to stop hiding and plans to find him. He knows where he has to look—beyond the wall that towers over the last remaining houses in the city. As he makes his plan, he discovers a truth that could lead to freedom from the oppression. Can one person’s small rebellion be the spark that ignites a revolution?
The action in Maggot Moon plays out in extremely short chapters. These are snapshots of Standish’s thoughts, full of the muddled spellings that mirror his dyslexic brain. Author Gardner is dyslexic and is a strong advocate for educational assistance for children with dyslexia. Slightly disturbing pencil sketches on the page edges tell a simpler version of the same story as the text, and they beg to be flipped like an early moving picture book. While the extreme bravery from this 15-year-old boy veers slightly near the edge of believability, Standish is a likeable and honorable character who you want to root for.
For most people, identity is tied closely to place, often a birthplace or childhood home. How much does where we come from affect who we are? Ruta Sepetys asks this question in her newest novel Out of the Easy, introducing us to that dichotomy of charming beauty and sinister vulgarity that is 1950’s New Orleans.
Harkening to another famous literary Jo, namely Louisa May Alcott’s Jo March, Josie Moraine is an intelligent young woman trapped by time and place. The daughter of a prostitute, she is smart enough to get herself away from her neglectful and often abusive mother. Josie lives and works in a bookstore, saving money in the hopes of attending college far away from New Orleans. Self-sufficient since the age of seven, Josie creates a family out of necessity, including the Madam who becomes a surrogate mother (albeit a harsh and criminal one) and the bookseller and his son. But when her mother’s bad judgment pulls Josie back in to the criminal underbelly of the city, will she be able to rise above it yet again for a chance at her dreams?
Sepetys is no stranger to difficult subjects, and Out of the Easy explores the mature themes of violence, prostitution, and crime. As in her first novel for teens, Between Shades of Gray, the sense of place is paramount to the story. Indeed, many characters are named for places (Cincinnati, Charlotte, Forrest) and the city of New Orleans is a character in itself. This expertly-drawn portrait of a girl struggling to rise above her circumstances is highly recommended for mature teen and adult readers alike.
The bonds of family are strong, built out of intense love, and sometimes equally intense resentment and hatred. The Dinner by Herman Koch is less a meal than a psychological dissection of a family. The entire novel takes place during the course of an evening meal between two well-to-do brothers and their wives. Each member of the dinner party is trying to control the others and the unnamed “situation” with their children. Various scenarios play out in the minds of the diners, each more shocking and brutal than the last, as they attempt to sway the group toward the best solution. Best for whom remains to be seen.
Dutch author Koch takes a look inside a seemingly harmless gathering and answers the question “What are you really thinking?” Relationships—Parent and child, husband and wife, brother and brother—all are put under the microscope with satirical wit and brutal honesty. Already an international best-seller, The Dinner has received advance praise from like-minded psychological thriller writers such as Gillian Flynn (Gone Girl) and S. J. Watson (Before I Go to Sleep). Come to The Dinner and ask yourself, which way does your moral compass point?
The William C. Morris Award honors a debut book published by a first-time author writing for teens. The 2013 winner is the New York Times bestselling Seraphina by Rachel Hartman. In the kingdom of Goredd, humans and dragons coexist peacefully under a decades-old treaty. With this treaty about to expire, can a talented young musician accept her true nature and thwart the secrecy and ambition that threatens the peace? Margaret A. Edwards award winner Tamora Pierce had high praise: “Seraphina is strong, complex, talented — she makes mistakes and struggles to trust, with good reason, and she fights to survive in a world that would tear her apart. I love this book!”
There were four other finalists for the 2013 Morris Award. Wonder Show by Hannah Barnaby is the story of a young girl who runs away from an orphanage and joins the circus in 1939. Love and Other Perishable Items by Laura Buzo examines young love and why the word “crush” is more accurate as a verb than a noun. The world in the aftermath of a new ice age is the subject of After the Snow by S. D. Crockett. Finally, The Miseducation of Cameron Post by emily m. danforth follows the dual journeys of guilt and self-discovery of a girl whose parents are killed in a car accident.
Earlier this week, the American Library Association announced the winners of the 2013 Youth Media Awards. The Coretta Scott King Book Awards celebrate African American authors and illustrators of outstanding books for children and young adults. This year, the award for authors went to Andrea Davis Pinkney for her historical retrospective Hand in Hand: Ten Black Men Who Changed America. Written in an honest and forthright style, Pinkney takes a new look at these influential and historically significant men. The award for illustrators was won by Bryan Collier for his interpretation of the Langston Hughes poem I, Too, Am America. Collier uses varying images of the American flag to tie together mixed media collages, creating an inspirational and patriotic look at the Pullman porters and the struggle for civil rights in the United States.
King Honor Books were also awarded on Monday. Author Book Honors went to Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson and No Crystal Stair: A Documentary Novel of the Life and Work of Lewis Michaux, Harlem Bookseller by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson. Illustrator Book Honors went to H.O.R.S.E written and illustrated by Christopher Myers, Ellen’s Broom illustrated by Daniel Minter and written by Kelly Starling, and I Have a Dream: Martin Luther King, Jr. illustrated by Kadir Nelson from the speech by Martin Luther King, Jr.
Established in 1988, The Margaret A. Edwards Award honors an author, as well as a specific body of his or her work, for significant and lasting contribution to young adult literature. It recognizes an author's work in helping adolescents become aware of themselves and addressing questions about their role and importance in relationships, society, and in the world. The honor was awarded this year by the American Library Association to Tamora Pierce. On her website, Pierce explains her writing style, even as a young girl:
"I got hooked on fantasy, and then on science fiction, and both made their way into my stories. I tried to write the kind of thing I was reading, with one difference: the books I loved were missing teenaged girl warriors."
Pierce has been called a pioneer in feminist fantasy literature. Her books have been translated into German, Danish, Swedish, Hungarian and Japanese, beginning with Alanna: The First Adventure (in the Song of the Lioness series) in 1983. Fans and new readers alike can learn more about Pierce by visiting her blog Dare to be Stupid or by checking out her books. One final quote from the award-winning Pierce:
"Books are still the main yardstick by which I measure true wealth."
The Michael L. Printz Award honors the best book written for teens each year. This year’s awards were announced by the American Library Association this morning and the winner is In Darkness by Nick Lake, a fictional account of the 2010 earthquake that devastated Haiti. Shorty is a teenage gangster who is in the wrong place at the wrong time. All alone and buried alive under the ruins of a hospital, Shorty’s connection with reality waxes and wanes as he tries to survive until rescue comes. Lake is a children’s book editor and the author of the Blood Ninja series.
Four Printz honor books were also named for this year. Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz is the coming-of-age story of the unlikely friendship between two Mexican-American teens. Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein is the plot-twisting tale of a British female pilot in World War II. Terry Pratchett takes readers on a fantastical wild romp through Victorian London with Dodger. Finally, The White Bicycle by Beverley Brenna follows the journey through the south of France of a young woman with Asperger’s Syndrome.
High school friends Avishag, Lea and Yael do what typical teen girls do—they gossip about friends, giggle over boys, and daydream about their adult lives to come. But in Israel, soldiers can come from anywhere, even the “caravan classrooms” of small villages, and the girls quickly find themselves serving in the Israeli Defense Force. Shani Boianjiu tells a unique coming-of-age story in her debut novel, The People of Forever are Not Afraid.
The girls are trained in different areas of military expertise-Lea in the military police at a checkpoint, Yael as a marksmen trainer and Avishag as a member of the only female combat unit. While it sounds dangerous and exciting, in reality the girls are bored most of the time as they watch foreigners and refugees sneak across the borders and steal everything not nailed down. They still talk, gossip, and occasionally flirt with other soldiers, but they also grow increasingly numb to the violence that surrounds them. At the novel’s center is the trio’s loss of innocence, but more profound and disturbing is the question-do they even remember that they once had it?
Shani Boianjiu, the youngest winner of the National Book Foundation’s “5 Under 35,” earned rave reviews for People. Drawing on her own experiences in the IDF, she has created a novel that is literary yet accessible, and readers will quickly be drawn in by the early, fast action. Boianjiu’s writing is just like her characters-nuanced yet fragmented, disturbing but smart, violent and gritty. While this story is about teens, the strong language and violence make it more appropriate for mature teens and adults.
Children are getting sick in Alexandra Bracken’s new title The Darkest Minds. They are leaving school and never coming back, victims of a mysterious illness. Adults are afraid of the ones who are not sick, the ones who have developed special "abilities". These survivors are rounded up and sent to rehabilitation camps where they are tested, sorted, and imprisoned. Sorted into groups by color (corresponding to ability), the children are forced to work, fed little, and often tortured. Ruby learns right away that orange is a bad color to be, so she pretends to be green. Human touch awakens her ability—at best she can erase people’s memories, at worst she can force thoughts into their heads. At long last she is given the chance to escape, but is life on the run any better than life inside the camp?
Bracken does an especially good job of giving her characters unique and believable voices. Under different circumstances, these kids would be superheroes. Instead, Bracken shows us a society that is afraid of differences as various power-hungry groups vie for control of the children and the power they possess. Fans of James Patterson’s Maximum Ride series or Kathy Reichs’ Virals books will be thrilled to find this new science-based adventure, the first in a series.