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.
For almost as long as monarchs have held court, dwarfs have found a foothold – however humble – amongst their courtiers. More often for the amusement or the curiosity of their host royals, the role of a court dwarf was like to be as ignominious a position as it was privileged. It is into the world of this overlooked margin of court society that author Katherine Marsh first thrusts her appealing protagonist, Jepp, Who Defied the Stars.
Born to a loving mother and cosseted by the tiny close-knit community of Astraveld, Jepp has enjoyed a sheltered childhood. As the son of the village’s only innkeeper, Jepp has become accustomed to meeting strangers and hearing curious tales of faraway lands. Over time too, he has become accustomed to being considered a bit of a curiosity himself, at least to the inn’s less frequent visitors. One night in his fourteenth year, Jepp’s quiet and comfortable life comes to an abrupt crossroads with the arrival of a well-dressed stranger. The courtier, known to the reader as Don, offers Jepp what appears to be the opportunity of a lifetime – a position as a court dwarf at Coudenberg Palace, the lush seat of the Spanish Infanta. Jepp’s decision to follow his stars to court will forever alter his destiny, for good and ill.
Out of the sparse strands of the historical Jepp and those like him, Marsh weaves a startlingly graceful and poignant tale. Readers will come to care for this vulnerable yet strong, sensitive yet brave boy as he leaves his sheltered childhood behind to follow and mold his destiny. At turns heart-wrenching and gentle, suspenseful and reflective, Jepp’s story is one that will resonate with teens and adults alike.
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.
Jack the Ripper has long captured the imaginations of readers and writers. Stefan Petrucha’s new teen novel Ripper brings a new twist on the well-known Ripper mythology.
Carver Young loves mystery novels and breaking the rules, which recently led him to find a letter from his father. This is the only information that he has about his parents. When the orphanage where he lives is forced to require all children over eight years old to find homes, 14-year-old Carver is adopted by a retired Pinkerton detective. Soon, Carver is being trained as a detective by his eccentric mentor, and his first assignment is to follow the clues to learn about his father. As his investigation progresses, Carver begins to see more and more parallels between his father and a killer who is stalking women in New York City. With Carver, the New Pinkertons, and the New York City Police led by Police Commissioner Theodore Roosevelt on the trail of the killer, two questions emerge: Is Carver really Jack the Ripper’s son? Can he stop the Ripper?
Gadgets abound, giving this fast-paced novel a hint of steampunk feel. The New Pinkertons’ headquarters is a haven for contraptions that will make the detectives’ work easier. From an analytical engine (a steam-powered computer) to a stun baton and an auto-lock pick, these devices add a quirky element to the story. Petrucha takes liberties with historical details, but he does include notes to help readers distinguish between fact and fiction. Although they are on the trail of Jack the Ripper, the story is low on gore and high on action and suspense. Petrucha has created a non-stop thrill-ride with a killer twist that will leave readers waiting for the sequel, which he is already writing!
Born into slavery in Tennessee in 1854, Nat Love left home to seek work when he was just a teenager, hoping to send money home to his large family. Patricia and Frederick McKissack's The Best Shot in the West: the Adventures of Nat Love describes how his skill with horses, willingness to work hard, and a fair amount of bluffing led to a career as an expert roper and marksman. He also became an acquaintance of Wild West legends such as Bat Masterson and Billy the Kid. This fictionalized biography is based on his memoir, published in 1907 after he had retired from the cowboy life and was working as a Pullman porter. Exciting episodes include bucking broncos, runaway horses, and Apache raids, not to mention his capture by hostile Native Americans, the drunken theft of a cannon from a U.S. Army fort, and the cowboy competition that gives the authors the right to call Love “The Best Shot in the West.”
Randy DuBurke’s muscular, colorful art features flying bullets, billowing dust, and driving rain. Panels tend to be large, the better to depict the wide open spaces of the Great Plains and the cattle, horses, and buffalo that Love lived and worked among. Exciting and picturesque, Nat Love’s life makes for a great graphic novel.
Philippa Gregory has launched a new series with her most recent novel Changeling. She is the New York Times bestselling author of The Other Boleyn Girl, among many other titles. This historical fiction, however, is written with the teen audience in mind. In a departure from her previous books, which were based on actual people from the era of Tudor England, Gregory decided to have some fun and develop a story around completely fictional characters. The novel explores the myths and superstitions that predominate the Medieval period, when the Church believed the end of days was imminent.
It is 1453, and these are dark times in Christendom. Constantinople, the religious capital of the east has just fallen to the Ottoman Empire. Evil seems to be infiltrating Europe from all sides, and for the most part, the church appears powerless to stop its advancement. Pope Nicholas V has established a secret group called the Order of Darkness, whose task is to travel the countryside and investigate strange happenings, discover the mysteries that plague the people, and report back to Rome. This is Luca Vero’s assignment. He is an Inquirer for the Church and in the first story alone encounters witchcraft, madness, and werewolves.
During his quest he is accompanied by his witty and entertaining manservant Freize, and Brother Peter, a clerk of the church. Through the course of their adventures they are joined by Isolde, a displaced noblewoman, and her best friend Ishraq, a Moor with whom she has grown up. This very diverse band travels together while Luca attempts to ascertain what people fear, and investigate unusual happenings in a constant search for the truth. Gregory has written an entertaining story with likeable characters that teens will enjoy. If you find your copy of Changeling is missing, check your parents' room!
The smell is what gets him. He can survive the endless marching, total exhaustion and constant hunger. But the smell from the dirt piles, the piles of dead bodies, penetrates his wall of stone-faced nothingness. Sickly-sweet yet slightly bitter, the smell makes him wince, cringe, and lose what little he has been able to put into his stomach. He could survive another day if not for the smell.
Arn Chorn-Pond was 11 years old when the Khmer Rouge came into his Cambodian village and forced everyone to march to the work camps. Never Fall Down is a fictional account of Chorn-Pond’s capture, torture, and exploitation by these “freedom fighters.” Divided from his family, he struggles to survive each day by not drawing attention to himself. Arn is a smart boy, and eventually he uses his quick mind to learn to play the khim, a traditional musical instrument. The Khmer Rouge use music as propaganda to turn the minds of the captives and make them loyal to the cause, and as a musician Arn gains some small status among the soldiers. Does he dare risk standing up for himself and the other children against his captors? Now that he has some small measure of freedom, should he just run away?
Patricia McCormick is the author of numerous young adult novels, including Cut and Sold, for which she was nominated for the National Book Award. McCormick is an author who is not afraid to examine difficult topics such as self-injury and sex trafficking. She decided to write Never Fall Down in the first person so that Arn’s own voice (including his broken English) could be heard. This book is a good choice for reluctant teen readers needing to read historical fiction, or for anyone who enjoyed Ishmael Beah’s A Long Way Gone or Emmanuel Jal’s War Child.
The Name of The Star by Maureen Johnson is an amazingly fun and frightening story you won’t want to miss. The story revolves around Rory Deveaux, an 18-year-old girl from Louisiana who has the opportunity to attend a boarding school in London for her senior year. The transition proves challenging as we witness her try to make friends, struggle with difficult classes, and much to Rory’s dismay, learn to play field hockey. However, even more distressing are the brutal murders which are taking place in close proximity to her school. Young women are being killed in the same manner and on the same dates as the Jack the Ripper murders a hundred years before. Rippermania has taken over the city as everyone anxiously awaits the next victim to be discovered.
It turns out that Rory is the only witness to any of the crimes and this fact puts her in the sights of the killer. The story takes a decidedly paranormal twist as the Shades, a secretive police force, become involved in the case. Their specialty is finding and dealing with ghosts. They are determined to protect Rory and stop the new Ripper before he strikes again. This novel is a fantastic read that teens and adults alike will enjoy. You won’t want the story to end and the great news is it doesn’t have to! This is the first novel in a series called The Shades of London.
Interested in polishing up on your Ripperology? Check out Jack the Ripper and the Case for Scotland Yard’s Prime Suspect by Robert House or Portrait of a Killer: Jack the Ripper: Case Closed by Patricia Cornwell, both available at your library. Amaze friends with sordid facts regarding this legendary unsolved mystery.
Once there was a young Jewish boy named Felix living in Nazi occupied Poland. He was naïve as to why his parents left him at a Catholic orphanage. Felix got tired of waiting for them to come back for him so he chose to leave the safety of the nuns and go back home. This poignant story by Morris Gleitzman shows the Holocaust through the innocent eyes of a child. The 10-year-old cannot understand the things he witnesses. Why are people found shot outside a farmhouse? Why are there strangers living in his house? The reader follows his conjectures and rationalizations until he very slowly comes to the realization that the Jews are being eliminated and his parents are gone.
Then he befriends a 6-year-old girl named Zelda. They escape a train bound for a concentration camp and spend every moment trying to hide from the Nazis. Felix makes up stories to distract Zelda from hunger and fear. The author Richmal Crompton is his hero, and he prays to her when he is scared. The children are taken in by a kind woman. She bleaches their hair and gets them fake documentation so they can hide in plain sight, but they all live in constant fear of discovery. Felix witnesses unspeakable cruelty and hatred and although he feels anger, makes a conscious choice not to become like the Nazis.
These novels are historical fiction at its best. Thoroughly researched and simply presented with the authentic voice of a child. It is one thing to learn the facts of the Holocaust and an entirely different matter to witness them from a child’s perspective.