"There are only two reasons a non-seer would see a spirit on St. Mark's Eve," Neeve said. "Either you're his true love . . . or you killed him."
Thus begins The Raven Boys, the newest book by New York Times bestselling author Maggie Stiefvater. The Raven Boys are the students of Aglionby Academy, a prestigious private school in Henrietta, Virginia. They are easily identified by the raven-emblemed sweaters they wear, as well as the haughty air that drips off them like the millions they are being groomed to inherit. A quartet of boys, led by Gansey, has broken off from the pack in a quest to find an ancient king. Using unorthodox methods, they search for the “lay line” that will connect them to the dormant spirit of the sleeping Welsh King Glendower. Frustrated by a lack of success, they decide to try visiting a local psychic.
Blue Sargent also lives in Henrietta, the only non-seer in a family of mediums. All of her life she has wished for just a fraction of psychic ability, a chance to truly fit in to her strange but loving family. As she attends her aunt Neeve in the graveyard on St. Mark’s Eve, she is shocked when she sees the spirit of a boy moving toward the church. When she asks his name, he replies only “Gansey.” As Blue tries to understand the warning from her aunt predicting love or death, her and Gansey’s worlds collide when the boys arrive at her door.
While the correlating stories of Blue’s lack of ability and Gansey’s quest drive the action, the true delights in The Raven Boys lie in the familial relationships of the novel. The house full of women provides a creative yet chaotic environment for Blue, with a nurturing that borders on overprotectiveness. For Gansey, family is one of his creation, and the misfit group is a unique brotherhood of support without condition. Stiefvater has created a tale that is half coming-of-age story and half ghost story, equally spine-tingling and satisfying. Fans of her Wolves of Mercy Falls trilogy will find much to enjoy here with more to come, as this is the first of a planned trilogy.
Unless you have been living under a rock, you know that teens are driving the literary and cinematic marketplace these days. Popular series such as Twilight and The Hunger Games have exploded into pop culture, and many adults are coming along for the ride. In the crowded market of dystopian teen fiction, Ally Condie has carved out a niche with her Matched series. The long-awaited finale is Reached, and fans of the series will be thrilled to discover what becomes of Cassia, Ky and Xander.
The three main characters have been separated as they serve The Rising, and the action begins early as the “rebels” take over the territories and distribute the plague cure. Until it is certain that everyone is recovered, healthy and safe, a quarantine is imposed. Ky is flying aircraft that carries the cure as well as supplies for those in need. Xander is a medical officer, directly treating the infected and distributing the cure. Cassia is working as a sorter, and her sabotage of the matching ceremony data is the impetus for the Rising. As the days drag on, frustration and loneliness lead all three to question the effectiveness of the cure and even the rebellion itself.
The main messages in Condie’s Matched trilogy are the impact of creativity and individuality on a society. The importance of creativity on the human spirit comes full circle in this final book, and the singing of the first non-Society song is a tear-inducing moment. The theme of individuality that runs through the series is mirrored in the three protagonists, and Reached is told from their alternating points of view in quick chapters. Ky, Xander, and especially Cassia all show growth and maturity in Reached, as each becomes more self-aware and less egocentric. Love is still their underlying motivation, but it is no longer the intense, gut–wrenching angst of the young but a more thoughtful and inclusive love. New readers should begin with Matched by looking for the highly appealing and eye-catching cover art that easily identifies this well-written dystopian series.
The real threat of today does not come from a foreign enemy, a natural disaster, or even a medical mystery. It lies in the bits and bytes of cyberspace, where crimes can be committed and identities erased faster than you can blink an eye. Those who navigate this modern-day battlefield are the true soldiers, and they are the catalyst for thriller author Michelle Gagnon’s first novel for teens, Don’t Turn Around. Knowing how to manipulate the system has kept sixteen-year-old Noa alive. She has been in foster care for over five years, using it when she needs to and then escaping into online anonymity. When she wakes up on a cold, metal operating table in a warehouse surrounded by doctors, guards and thugs, her survival instincts kick in and she escapes. Without money, clothing, or access to her online identity, Noa needs help fast.
Peter is a rich kid, the only surviving son of a lawyer and an investment banker. After his brother’s death, he retreated to the world of online gaming, eventually becoming accepted into the brotherhood of elite online hackers and creating the group ALLIANCE. While breaking in to in his father’s desk one night to help himself to the bourbon hidden there, Peter finds a set of files that seems to allude to large sums of money and terrifying medical experiments. Before he can discover more, the door is smashed in and a small army of black-suited men throw him down, grab his laptop, and tell him to give a message to his parents. Peter calls on ALLIANCE for help, and Noa answers his call, for a price. The two soon discover that they are running from the same enemy, and Noa is one of the test subjects in a twisted plot to cure PEMA, the disease that killed Peter’s brother.
Echoes of Lisbeth Salander ring through in Noa, a computer genius with few social skills who is distrustful of anyone in authority and who prefers to be alone. Gagnon twists threads of corporate espionage, bioterrorism, and government corruption into an edge-of-your-seat thriller. A good choice for teens who are asking to read Stieg Larsson or for readers who like a good corporate thriller that is not too graphic.
For the children of the eighties, big hair and make-up ruled the music world. MTV made music visual, and successful artists embraced the music video as both a promotional tool and a method of self-expression. Perhaps no band embodied the visual storytelling of this decade as completely as Duran Duran, Britain’s “other” Fab Five. John Taylor, founding member and bass player, chronicles the band’s career highs and lows with In the Pleasure Groove: Love, Death and Duran Duran.
While Taylor does venture into the confessional arena, revealing the typical rock-star excesses of sex and drugs, the true pleasure of this biography lies in his first-person account of British music in the seventies and eighties. As a teen in Birmingham, he and friend Nick Bates (later Rhodes) pooled their pence in order to see their idols perform live. Sitting at the proverbial feet of Queen, Bowie, and Roxy Music, they soaked up music like sponges and learned that the look was as vital to the success of the music as the beat. The band that would become Duran Duran was born from these young lessons learned. As they grew into their ruffled shirts, their conceptual lyrics combined with new wave, highly-synthesized music to give birth to the sound known as New Romanticism. Duran Duran was perfectly poised for stardom at the start of the MTV era, and the band created ground-breaking videos that still set the standard today such as “Girls on Film”, “Hungry Like the Wolf”, and “Rio.”
In the Pleasure Groove is not a tell-all, nor is it simply an insider’s guide to the biggest names in eighties music. It is a smooth glide through more than twenty years of music history. Fans of eighties music, as well as those of us who were teenagers then, will enjoy reliving the decade’s watershed moments such as Madonna writhing in a wedding gown, and Bob Geldof’s charity extravaganza Live Aid. Perhaps the quietest Duran member, Taylor reveals enough about the band to keep Duranies happy; they will certainly want to read this book more than once.
There is for each of us a place where we breathe easier, feel safer, and are most alive. It may be a quiet cabin in the mountains, a high-rise apartment in the city, or a cottage in the woods. Sonia’s place is The River House, a once beautiful three-story home along the Thames River in London. It is in this house that Sonia keeps her heart, her dreams, and her dark secrets in Penny Hancock’s Kept in the Dark. Other than sessions with her voice clients, Sonia spends much of her time at home alone. Her daughter has gone to university and her husband travels for work. It takes her by surprise when fifteen-year-old Jez, the nephew of her friend and neighbor Helen, arrives asking to borrow an old record album of her husband’s. Jez’s youth and beauty awaken memories that Sonia has worked hard to bury deep down, painful memories from her own youth. Long days spent on the river with her first love, Seb, come rushing back, and Sonia reacts by impulsively drugging Jez’s drink and holding him captive. Soon all of London is looking for the missing boy, never suspecting lovely, normal-looking Sonia. Long ago, Seb was taken from her, first by distance and then by a tragic river accident. This time, she will do whatever it takes to keep her young man safely with her forever.
Setting plays an essential part in Hancock’s writing, and both the house and the river are characters in this disturbing tale of obsession. Told alternately from the points of view of Helen and Sonia, we get a sense of the emotional instability of the human psyche as well as the various reactions people have under extreme stress. Like a horrific accident you cannot tear your eyes away from, Hancock dares you to look away as the many secrets unravel. Fans of Sophie Hannah or readers looking for the next great dark thriller after Gone Girl will devour Kept in the Dark.
High school dropout Finn Maguire spends his days selling pseudo-food at the Max Snax and his nights watching tv with his stepdad, an unemployed actor trying to write his own perfect role. When Finn arrives home from work one night, he finds his stepfather bludgeoned to death with his 1992 Best Newcomer award. The pursuit of the killer drives the story in Crusher, the debut novel by Niall Leonard.
In working-class London, corruption is rampant and Joseph McGovern (a.k.a. The Guvnor) rules the streets with an iron fist. Finn’s stepfather was using The Guvnor as a springboard for his script, spinning a loosely-fictional yarn about the crime lord and his subordinates, one of whom plots a violent takeover. The police seem doggedly-focused on Finn as the main suspect in the murder, so he decides to launch his own investigation. He fears that the script may have hit too close to home, so he begins at the Guvnor’s mansion. Playing dumb, he bumbles his way into a job so that he can keep searching for clues. He soon begins uncovering secrets and revealing connections that turn his world upside-down.
Leonard, husband of best-selling author E. L. James, has written for many British television series including Wire in the Blood and Ballykissangel. He packs Crusher with heart-pounding action, leaving the reader as breathless as a boxer in the final round of a bout. The raw language and violence make the novel an appropriate read for older teens and young adults. Recommended for fans of true crime or gritty realism such as Sons of Anarchy.
What makes us who we are? Our parents tell us it is what’s on the inside that counts, and not how we look. David Levithan turns this old adage on its ear with his newest book Every Day. The reader follows A, the main character, through the changing days of life—literally. Every morning, A wakes up in a different body. Always approximately the same age, always in the same geographical area, but never the same body twice. A can access the body’s knowledge and memories, but A remains a separate person existing inside of someone else.
This nomadic life is all A has ever known, and it is usually fine, until one morning A meets Rhiannon, the girlfriend of the body A is inhabiting for that day. An instant spark ignites, and suddenly A does not want to leave her. A begins “kidnapping” people in order to be near Rhiannon. Should A share the secret with her, and would she believe it? Is there any way for them to have a future together?
Author/Collaborator/Editor Levithan has created a fascinating character in A, who is neither male nor female, thin nor fat, tall nor short, white nor non-white. As the reader plunges in, seemingly endless questions arise. Does A live the perfect life, forever experiencing a new day, or is it a perfect trap? How much do we really touch other people’s lives every day? Do we really exist if no one else knows or loves us? Every Day makes the reader think about the intangibility of life and love, as well as what makes us each unique.
Printz Award-winning author Libba Bray has taken readers to Victorian England, crashed us on a deserted island and driven us on mad road trips. In her newest title, The Diviners, Bray drops us in New York City during the Roaring Twenties. The issues of the day are Prohibition, Civil rights, corruption, speakeasies, and murder. Hot Socks!
Sixteen-year-old Evie O’Neill is much too wild and free-spirited for small-town Ohio. After a scandalous party, she is sent to New York City to live with her uncle, the curator of a museum. This sounds like a dream come true for Evie, who plunges headlong into the thrilling nightlife of the city. Fun is the name of the game until a serial killer begins a rampage and young flappers begin to fear the night.
Uncle Will’s museum contains unusual items of American folklore and superstition and is known around town as the Museum of the Creepy Crawlies. When the police come to Will for help in finding the killer, Evie must decide if she will share the secret that has been at the root of her wildness. Evie is a Diviner--she receives images and feelings from touching objects. Should she use her ability to aid in the investigation? If it will get her uncle off of her back and get her back to having fun in the big city, you bet-ski!
Bray has another winner in The Diviners, a well-researched and humorous treat. Evie’s voice is perfectly teenaged-Twenties, full of the colloquialisms and slang of the times. She treats the gruesome murders and her growing affection for the roguish thief Sam with the same level of concern, thus balancing the dark, heavy plot with light, hearty chuckles here and there. Supporting characters include numbers runners and Ziegfeld girls, and side stories are just developed enough to arouse curiosity, which will leave readers anxious for book 2 in this planned trilogy.
Finalists for the 2012 National Book Awards were announced yesterday. In the category of Young People’s Literature, three teen novels earned nominations. All three center around conflict and struggle, sometimes due to outside forces and sometimes from within.
Endangered by Eliot Schrefer examines the complexities of parent-child relationships with a unique twist. Sophie does not understand her mother’s dedication to the bonobos of the Congo, and she resents her life of forced compliance. When the sanctuary is attacked by armed revolutionaries, they must flee into the jungle with the apes. Sophie finds herself a surrogate mother to an infant bonobo named Otto, and she understands for the first time the worries of being a parent as they struggle to survive. View the author’s introduction to Endangered as well as footage from his trip to the Congo.
Family strife also figures prominently in Out of Reach, the lyrical debut by Carrie Arcos. Rachel’s idol has always been her big brother Micah; however, there is a darkness in him that threatens to engulf them both. Micah is a drug addict, albeit a “high-functioning” one, and he has always been able to control himself long enough to win the battle with his addiction. When he fails to come home one night, Rachel blames herself. As she searches for Micah, her own inner darkness rises to the surface and the lies that have woven through the fabric of their family begin to unravel. View the emotional book trailer.
Patricia McCormick earns her second National Book Award nomination with Never Fall Down, a novel based on the true story of a young survivor of the Cambodian Killing Fields. Read the previous Between the Covers review.
Journalist Erin Jade Lange turns to fiction to shine the spotlight on the epidemic of childhood obesity in Butter. Alternately chided by his mother for being too heavy and then for not eating enough, teenaged Butter cannot win the battles in his life. Worse than the bullying is the way his classmates, teachers, and even his father seem to look past him rather than at him. One day, a news story about an airline charging obese fliers for 2 seats prompts a reaction in Butter. Tired of being invisible, he decides to do what he does best…he will eat and eat and eat until he dies, and he invites his classmates to watch online.
The reaction to Butter’s announcement is swift and unexpected. Rather than prompting more taunting, the "event" gains him a morbid popularity. Everyone is talking not just about him but to him. He no longer sits alone at lunch, and everyone wants to wish him luck and make suggestions to his last meal menu. For the first time, Butter has friends, and it is intoxicating. If only things could be this way all of the time. But as his self-imposed deadline approaches, can he go through with it?
Lange’s writing is very matter-of-fact and her tough honesty blends well with her dry humor. She has created a fascinating character in Butter, who is by turns hilariously witty and tenderly heartbreaking. He gives voice to all of the geeks, nerds, and fat kids of the world who just want to be seen and heard.