Robin Benway’s latest novel, Emmy & Oliver begins when the title characters, on a day that neither of them will ever forget. That day, Oliver’s father picks him up after school and runs away with him. From that point onward, Emmy’s childhood is filled with news media obsessed with the missing child case, nervous parents and a missing best friend. Even 10 years later, she’s still highly affected by Oliver’s disappearance—she still wonders about Oliver and keeps secrets from her parents to gain back some of the freedom she lost when Oliver disappeared. She has secretly learned to surf, keeping her surfboard hidden in her car, and applied to a college with a good surfing team—all without letting her parents know.
When Oliver suddenly reappears at age 17, both their lives are upended once again. All Emmy wants is to pick up where they left off. However, she and their other childhood friends, Caro and Drew, are cautioned to give him space to let him readjust. Whereas Oliver, who has missed his mom and his friends for 10 years, now finds himself missing his dad and having difficulties adjusting to his old life. Forced by their parents, the two begin spending time together again after Oliver has been home for a few weeks. Their initially uneasy friendship begins to turn into something else, as they discover they can share things with each other that they can’t tell anyone else.
Emmy & Oliver is a sweet novel with a heartbreaking premise. Benway creates characters that readers quickly feel like they’ve known for years. Fans of Gayle Forman and Sarah Dessen will enjoy Benway’s new novel.
Perennial teen favorite Sarah Dessen’s latest novel, Saint Anything, is sure to capture the hearts of readers. Sydney has grown up in the shadow of her older brother Peyton, who has always been more popular and attractive — not to mention her parents’ favorite. Now she’s in his shadow for a completely different reason, as he’s just been sentenced to jail time for paralyzing a young boy during a drunk driving accident. As Peyton heads off to jail, Sydney’s family reels in the aftermath.
Sydney feels an immense amount of guilt because neither her parents nor Peyton seem to care about the boy he hurt. This is one of the things that pushes her to transfer from her elite private school to a large public school where no one will know her or her brother. What she doesn’t expect is to find a friend in Layla and her loud, boisterous, fun family. Layla’s family owns Seaside Pizza, where she and Sydney spend time after school, eating pizza and lollipops. Sydney also finds herself intrigued by Layla’s older brother Mac. Layla and her family make Sydney feel like she’s no longer in her brother’s shadow.
Saint Anything is a wonderful addition to Dessen’s novels. Longtime fans will count Sydney among their favorite heroines, while those new to Dessen will enjoy the well-drawn characters. Dessen is frequently called a romance writer, but her novels are much more than romance. While Saint Anything does have romance, it's also about family, forgiveness and finding oneself.
Tommy Wallach’s pre-apocalyptic debut novel We All Looked Up follows four initially loosely connected fellow Seattle-area high school seniors. Peter is a type-A, handsome jock in a bad relationship. While they were juniors, he kissed avant-garde photographer Eliza in the school’s darkroom. Anita, a well-to-do, prim and proper African American serves on the Student Council with Peter, and was recently observed breaking down in the guidance counselor’s office by slacker/skater Andy, whose best friend is also dating Peter’s freshman sister. All of this connected drama is nothing compared to what comes next – the approach of asteroid Ardor to the Earth’s orbit.
At first, NASA doesn’t expect Ardor to cause much of a problem to Earth, but when they revise the likelihood of a major catastrophe to two in three odds, each of the teens react in their own way to the impending doom. None of the adults in the teens’ lives are much help, as they too have no idea how to handle the end of the world. Forging their own paths in the final weeks of their lives, each teen decides what is most important and chooses unexpected but interconnected paths.
A foreboding darkness imbues much of the contemporary novel, but it is not without humor and bright dialogue. Wallach writes thoughtful and realistic scenes that are relatable to the second decade of our century. Teen readers will consider what their choices might be if a similar catastrophic event befell their own community, and the conclusion will resonate long after the last page is read.
At the end of her junior year, the unthinkable happened to Quinn Sullivan when her boyfriend Trent was killed in an accident. Quinn is destroyed by her loss and, in her grief, begins to focus on the people who received Trent’s donated organs. Many of these people respond to her when she reaches out to them, with the exception of the teen who received Trent’s heart. Quinn becomes obsessed with finding this teen, and when Jessi Kirby’s Things We Know by Heart begins, she has done just that.
Quinn travels to the nearby town of Shelter Cove to investigate Colton Thomas, the heart patient who received Trent’s heart. The two bump into each other at the local coffee shop. Colton is immediately taken by Quinn, and much to her surprise, Quinn feels the same about him. Despite her fear of forgetting Trent, Quinn can’t help but want to spend time with Colton. Colton’s fun-loving attitude begins to pull Quinn out of her grief, but she keeps being pulled back by their connection through Trent.
Kirby has done a wonderful job writing a unique teen romance. Each chapter begins with a quote about the heart, some medical, some from literature, others from philosophy. Quinn and Colton’s story will capture the reader’s attention from the very first chapter. Fans of Sarah Dessen’s novels will enjoy Things We Know by Heart.
Romy Grey, the protagonist of Courtney Summers’ All the Rage has always been an outcast in her small town — hated by everyone at school because her father is the town drunk and she’s not from a “good” family. She uses bright red nail polish and lipstick as armor, trying to deflect attention from her past. She spends her time after school working at a diner in a neighboring town where no one knows who she is. When the book begins, Romy has gone from outcast to social pariah after she accuses Kellan Turner, the beloved sheriff’s son, of raping her at a high school party. All the Rage tackles a difficult subject and focuses on Romy and how this assault has affected her.
Her work at Swan’s Diner is the only bright spot in her days — Leon, who works the grill (and obviously has a crush on Romy), tries to befriend her and begins to break through some of the walls she has built. Romy tries to lay low at school, but her classmates torment her on a daily basis. Their cruel behavior worsens when another girl at school disappears after the annual senior party, “Wake Lake.” Romy is found on the side of the road after the same party, and her classmates blame her for for the other girl’s disappearance. As the town searches for the missing girl, Romy wants to know if what happened to her and the girl’s disappearance are linked.
Much like Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak, Summers has done her part to raise awareness about sexual assault with All the Rage. Romy is a realistic, angry, confused character who struggles to process what has happened to her and her community’s response to her accusations.
Age and ability share a unique relation in fiction. Sometimes authors choose to write prodigious characters who display impressive physical prowess and struggle with complicated emotions earlier in life. In his debut novel If I Fall, If I Die, author Michael Christie pits 11-year-old protagonist Will against the sprawled, dilapidated Canadian port town of Thunder Bay.
Will’s childhood has been squandered within the confines of his home, due to his mother’s plethora of phobias. A former artist, Will’s mother is so afraid of what exists beyond her front door that she cloisters herself and her son within their dwelling. Will stews in his room painting abstract art while nursing a burgeoning curiosity of the Outside, about which everything he knows is cobbled from brief interactions with delivery men on the porch. One such meeting with a boy named Marcus opens Will’s eyes to the omnipotent wonders of the woods beyond his yard, and leaves him yearning for adventure into town. Exceptionally wily thanks to his mother’s unique homeschooling methods, Will finds every opportunity to venture further into the world with his only friend Jonah, resorting to his recently acquired and rapidly evolving sense of perspective as a heading.
Readers will delight in Christie’s frequent and masterful use of similes throughout If I Fall, If I Die as they color Will’s Wizard of Oz-esque quest for humanity. A debut that reads as beautifully as it echoes, If I Fall, If I Die is for readers who enjoy coming-of-age stories or tales of adventure. Readers who enjoyed Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian will see shades of Junior in Will, and will definitely like his story too.
Unlike Gayle Forman’s previous two-book series (If I Stay/Where She Went and Just One Day/Just One Year,) I Was Here, is a standalone novel. Nevertheless, it feels very much like her previous novels. I Was Here is heartbreaking and beautifully written, with characters that are relatable. The novel begins after the funeral for Cody’s best friend Meg, who partway through her freshman year of college commits suicide. Cody and Meg had been almost inseparable since they became friends in kindergarten, and now Cody, left behind, must figure out how to deal with the loss of her best friend and her guilt at not being able to stop Meg before it was too late.
After graduating from high school, Cody and Meg began to drift apart as Meg left their small Northwestern town to attend college in Tacoma, Washington on a scholarship, and Cody stayed behind to go to community college. Cody felt like their friendship was changing, which only adds to her guilt when she receives Meg’s goodbye email. When Meg’s parents ask Cody to go to her dorm room and bring her things home, Cody sees it as a request she can’t deny. There Cody meets Meg’s former roommates and begins to discover more about her recent life which sets her on a journey to find out why Meg made the decision to end her life.
I Was Here is a heartbreaking story of young adults dealing with friendship, love, loss and guilt. Forman again deals with difficult issues like depression and suicide. Best for older readers, I Was Here is a strong follow-up to Forman’s other novels.
One day during their senior year, Theodore Finch and Violet Markey find each other on the bell tower at their Indiana high school, each contemplating ending their lives. Violet saves Finch or Finch saves Violet (that part is unclear to both them and the reader), but what is important is that they both leave the bell tower alive and now their lives are inextricably linked. Jennifer Niven’s All the Bright Places tells the story of Finch and Violet’s lives after that fateful day.
Violet’s life has been forever changed since her sister died in a car accident that she survived. Since the accident, she hasn’t been herself — refusing to drive in cars, not writing, disengaging from her friends and ending up at the bell tower with Finch. Finch goes through periods of days or weeks when he shuts down and sleeps, but when he’s awake, life isn’t much better. He’s abused by his father who has left his family for a “better” one, and everyone at school thinks he’s a freak, so he spends his time thinking about death and ways he could commit suicide. But after the bell tower, Finch and Violet begin spending more time together — initially because they’re working on a school project together that has them wandering around Indiana, but eventually because they find they help each other grow.
All the Bright Places is “the story of a boy called Finch and a girl named Violet,” but it’s also a beautifully told story of grief, depression and finding yourself again. Niven has written a powerful, heartbreaking, romantic novel that is difficult to put down. All the Bright Places is set to become a film starring Elle Fanning.
My True Love Gave to Me is a collection of 12 holiday stories from young adult authors like Rainbow Rowell, Stephanie Perkins, Laini Taylor and David Levithan, among others. Each story is unique — some are realistic, romantic stories set at Christmas or New Year’s Eve celebrations, others are fantasy stories filled with elves or set in far-off lands. They’re all sure to put readers in the holiday mood!
Though each story is delightful, Stephanie Perkins’ “It’s a Yuletide Miracle, Charlie Brown” was my personal favorite. Perkins, who is also the editor of My True Love Gave to Me, brings holiday romance into readers’ lives with Marigold and North’s story. When Marigold buys a tree at North’s family Christmas tree lot, he agrees to help her carry the tree across the street to her apartment, not knowing the night of adventures this decision will bring. Other stories deal with lesser known holiday traditions, like Holly Black’s “Krampuslauf” about a group of teenagers who live in a town who have an annual celebration for “Saint Nick’s creepy buddy, the Krampus.” Gayle Forman’s “What the hell have you done, Sophie Roth?” follows Sophie, a freshman at a college in the middle of nowhere, who is sad to be away from her mother on the last night of Hanukkah. Other stories are totally fantastical, like Laini Taylor’s “The Girl Who Woke the Dreamer,” set on the Isle of Feathers, where a girl named Neve must face the Advent traditions of her home.
Perkins did a wonderful job editing a diverse group of stories dealing with holiday traditions both real and imaginary. My True Love Gave to Me is a great holiday read, especially for those looking to find new teen authors to enjoy in the future. As an added bonus, make sure to pay close attention to the cover, as you can see the couples from each of the stories!
A.J. Betts' first U.S. published book Zac and Mia follows the sick lit trend popularized recently by the success of John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars. However, Zac and Mia are very different from Green’s characters in both personalities and stories. Zac is in isolation in a cancer ward after receiving a bone marrow transplant, when his life is made vastly more interesting as Mia moves into the room next door. On her first day in the ward, Mia comes in yelling at her mother and blasting pop music, causing Zac, a cancer veteran, to reach out with her through their shared wall, the only way he can while in isolation.
After knocking on the wall for a while and having nurses pass notes to the other, the two teens become Facebook friends. Then, they begin chatting each night at 3 a.m. when neither can sleep. Zac tries to reach out to Mia and help her come to terms with her diagnosis, but she keeps everyone at a distance, not even admitting to her friends that she has cancer. Their friendship ends abruptly when Mia goes into surgery, and Zac is released after his isolation finishes. They spend months apart until one day when Mia shows up on Zac’s doorstep, traveling across Australia to see him. Together again, Zac must try to break down the barriers Mia has been putting up her entire life and find out why she’s at his door.
Zac and Mia is an incredibly realistic book, featuring characters who face their cancer in vastly different, but equally realistic, ways. Betts has created characters that seem like they could be real teenagers, often unlikeable, but ultimately characters that you root for. Fans of The Fault in Our Stars will enjoy this new addition to the sick lit genre.