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To Leningrad, With Love

The Boy on the BridgeOh, the romanticism of falling in love abroad, even when the city is Soviet-era Leningrad in the 1980s. In Natalie Standiford’s new novel, The Boy on the Bridge, Laura is an eager college student who's had a love affair with Russia since childhood. Studying abroad in Leningrad, despite the hardships of the time, is just another way to immerse herself in the culture and language. During a chance encounter, Laura meets Alyosha, a mysterious young man who defies the profile of the typical Soviet youth. He questions his government, is scornful of the blind devotion Russians have towards their leaders and is fascinated by all things American, including Laura. Unfortunately, all of these qualities make him a target for the KGB, and Laura becomes increasingly afraid for Alyosha’s safety, especially as she falls in love with him. But in a time of strained American-Soviet relations, when many Russians dream of escaping to the West by any means possible, can she really trust Alyosha’s affections?

 

Beautifully written and peppered with details about Soviet food, culture, manners, housing and customs, The Boy on the Bridge transports readers to frozen Leningrad in all its authenticity. Standiford presents a unique and nuanced love story with realistic characters and an honest look at Soviet Russia with its many complexities and contradictions. Like her main character, she spent a college semester abroad in Leningrad, and photos and information on her website provide context and visuals for what is in the story. In a recent interview in Baltimore magazine, Standiford, a Baltimore native, also answers questions about how this story differs from her own study abroad experience and shares some information about her upcoming books.

Melanie

 
 

Falling in Love in a Day

Falling in Love in a Day

posted by:
November 7, 2013 - 7:00am

Just One YearJust One Year, the sequel to Gayle Forman’s teen novel Just One Day is the conclusion to Allyson and Willem’s whirlwind love story, told this time from Willem’s perspective. Picking up from when Allyson and Willem were separated in Paris, Just One Year follows Willem as he wakes up there, alone, confused and missing Allyson. After their day in Paris, Willem only knows Allyson as Lulu, a nickname he gave her based on her resemblance to actress Louise Brooks. Despite the small amount of time they spent together, their feelings for each other are strong.  Just as Allyson searched for Willem, tried to get over him and find herself in Just One Day, Willem does much the same in Just One Year.

 

As Willem travels the world, readers are taken along on his physical and emotional journey. Those who read both books will see the number of close misses Allyson and Willem had during the year following their single day together in Paris. But most of all, readers will enjoy learning who Willem really is. His secretive nature in Just One Day kept readers and Allyson second-guessing his motives. However in Just One Year, Willem’s character and his struggles are shown, and Forman makes him a relatable character.

 

For those who have read Just One Day and patiently (or not so patiently) waited for the conclusion, Just One Year will not disappoint. Forman writes a heartfelt end to Allyson and Willem’s love story, which romance fans will enjoy. As an added bonus, readers will feel like they have traveled the world with Allyson and Willem by the end of the two books. As she previously did with If I Stay and Where She Went, Forman does a fabulous job telling one story from two perspectives.

Laura

 
 

Debate team, flash mobs and broken hearts

Cover art for The Beginning of EverythingBefore The Beginning of Everything starts, Ezra Faulkner leads a pretty happy life. He’s the popular star of the tennis team with a beautiful girlfriend. That all changes the day he catches his girlfriend cheating on him at a party. After storming out of the party, he is hit by a car. In an instant, his tennis career ends and he goes from the most popular student at Eastwood High to the most pitied. Robyn Schneider’s new teen novel The Beginning of Everything picks up just after what Ezra calls his “personal tragedy,” as he gives up his tennis racket and joins the debate team, makes new friends, reconnects with old ones and falls in love again.

 

As Ezra settles in with his new less popular group of friends, he meets Cassidy Thorpe, a former debate champion who dropped out of her old private school, deserting her debate team and leaving a trail of secrets in her wake. Cassidy and Ezra are paired up as debate partners and eventually become friends as they prepare for debate tournaments and participate in flash mobs. It doesn’t take long for Ezra to fall for the mysterious Cassidy, despite his friend Toby’s warnings. Ezra tries to get to know Cassidy despite her reluctance to open up.

 

Schneider’s story is a funny, realistic teen novel that deals with Ezra’s ability to overcome his “personal tragedy,” and deal with life’s many issues that come after. The Beginning of Everything is perfect for fans of John Green’s novels who are looking for a new book that’s funny, while at times heartbreaking.
 

Laura

 
 

A Degree in Fandom

A Degree in Fandom

posted by:
September 27, 2013 - 7:55am

Cover art for FangirlIn Rainbow Rowell’s latest young adult novel, Fangirl, Cather is a huge fan of Simon Snow, a fictional Harry Potter-like book and movie series. Cath isn’t a casual fan, she’s the definition of a fangirl — she doesn’t just read the books and watch the movies, she goes to midnight release parties, writes well-known fanfiction and interacts with other Simon Snow fans online. The Simon Snow fandom has been Cath’s escape from the problems in her life for years. As Fangirl begins and Cath heads off to her first year of college at the University of Nebraska, she falls further into fandom.

 

Cath expected to room with her twin sister Wren, as they have all their lives, until Wren tells Cath that she doesn’t want to be roommates anymore. Cath is surprised and understandably upset. When Wren begins partying heavily at school, Cath becomes increasingly worried and feels isolated. Meanwhile, Cath has to deal with her standoffish roommate Reagan and Reagan’s potential boyfriend, Levi, who is in their room constantly and has definitely captured Cath’s attention. Cath also has to deal with the typical college adjustments — the dining hall, classes, meeting new people and romance, all the while maintaining her fangirl status.

 

Fangirl is a coming-of-age story about a girl enraptured in fandom who has to figure out how to deal with her changing life and how her life as a fangirl fits into it. The novel has excerpts from Cath’s fanfiction, which is an added bonus for anyone who has ever been a super fan. Others will be able to identify with Cath’s adjustment to campus life and her attempts to find her place in the world. Fans of Rowell’s earlier young adult novel Eleanor & Park will find Fangirl lives up to their expectations.
 

Laura

 
 

A Sharp Minor

A Sharp Minor

posted by:
September 17, 2013 - 7:00am

Cover art for The Lucy VariationsNational Book Award-finalist Sara Zarr is known for her spot-on portrayals of contemporary American teens. In The Lucy Variations, Zarr once again writes teen characters with pitch-perfect voices and concerns. While in her previous work she dealt mostly with middle-class families, this novel is a bit of a departure, looking at the rarefied world of a family of classical music prodigies. As a child and young teen, Lucy was a top concert pianist who was known among this elite group of musicians. But suddenly everything changed, and Lucy stopped playing altogether. Now, will her younger brother Augustus (“Gus”), a pianist prodigy himself, take up the family mantle?
 

Zarr is a master of plotting and examining family dynamics. Lucy’s grandfather, the patriarch of this musical family, shows utter disappointment and disbelief that his granddaughter with so much promise throws it all away when faced with adversity. Meanwhile, Lucy’s father has to recalibrate his life after having been her de facto manager for so many years. And Lucy and Gus have a supportive, intelligent sibling relationship, a nice change from the often-adversarial portrayal of siblings in books for teens.
 

Glamorous whirlwind tours of European concert halls, backstage intrigue and grand parties contrast with Lucy's desire to simply be a normal teen. Her friendship with down-to-earth Reyna provides grounding. The possibility of reclaiming her former glory comes in the appearance of Gus’ new piano teacher, who encourages Lucy to sit behind the keys again. Readers will be drawn in to the often unfamiliar world of a teen whose love of classical music is lost and regained.

Todd

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Choice and Consequences

Choice and Consequences

posted by:
September 6, 2013 - 7:00am

If You Could Be MineAt its heart, Sara Farizan's contemporary coming of age novel If You Could Be Mine is a love story about the romantic relationship between two teenage girls from Iran and the complex decisions they face. In the Islamic Republic of Iran, there are no public displays of affection between the sexes, no Facebook, no women in football stadiums. But for best friends Sahar and Nasrin, it never mattered. They had their stolen kisses and untested promises. They had each other. Since they were small, Sahar never doubted she wanted to marry her best friend, Nasrin.

 

 Unfortunately, relationships like Sahar and Nasrin’s must be kept secret in a country where any one gay is an enemy of the state. So, when 18-year-old Nasrin decides to do what society expects and marry a young male doctor because "he makes sense," Sahar can hardly breathe. She searches for a way they can be together openly. She believes she has found it with sexual reassignment surgery, a legal option in Iran. The problem is that Sahar is not even sure she wants to be a man. "She needs to know this isn't a game. It isn't something you just try on," a transgender acquaintance she meets through her cousin explains.

 

Farizan, an Iranian American who was born in the U.S., exposes in her simple writing style the absence of choices for young women while weaving in historical perspective. She does not condemn Iranian culture. "I respect a woman's decision to cover up as long as it is the woman's decision," Sahar says. It shows the naïveté, impulsiveness and self-deprecating humor that define youths who are still defining themselves. Mature teens and adults alike will find a tender yet compelling read in this fresh debut.

Cynthia

 
 

A Summer of Change

A Summer of Change

posted by:
August 23, 2013 - 7:55am

Cover art for When You Were HereDaisy Whitney’s When You Were Here is a realistic teen novel that takes place during one particular summer of Danny’s life. All Danny’s mother wanted was to see him graduate from high school, but she succumbed to cancer two months before the momentous day. As he faces graduation, and college after, Danny is all alone in the world; the only exception is his loyal dog, Sandy Koufax. His only human comfort since his mother's passing has been his ex-girlfriend, Holland, whom he still loves. This only causes him more trouble and heartbreak. A few days after graduation, a letter from the caretaker of the family’s apartment in Japan convinces Danny that he needs to travel to Tokyo to learn more about his mother’s life and cancer treatments.

 

When Danny arrives in Tokyo, he meets Kana, the caretaker’s daughter, who was friends with his mother. Kana shows Danny what his mother did during her last months in Japan, taking him to his mother’s favorite places, and eventually to her doctor. Meanwhile, the two become friends, with Kana becoming someone Danny can confide in about his love for Holland and his grief from losing his beloved mother. As the story progresses, Danny learns that his mother wasn’t entirely truthful with him, and that there are secrets he needs to fully uncover.

 

When You Were Here is a coming-of-age novel dealing with the changes that most teenagers go through after high school. In this case there is the added drama of Danny’s loss, which adds another layer to the story. Older teens that are fans of realistic fiction will enjoy Whitney’s latest novel.

Laura

 
 

Grief Reawakened

Grief Reawakened

posted by:
July 29, 2013 - 7:55am

Cover art for Wild AwakeHilary T. Smith’s debut teen novel Wild Awake is a powerful story exploring loss, mental illness and family. Kiri Byrd, the 17-year-old narrator of the novel, is spending a few weeks home alone while her parents are on a cruise, when she receives a phone call from a stranger named Doug. Doug claims to have the rest of her beloved dead sister Sukey’s belongings, and tells Kiri she can come pick them up from Sukey’s old apartment. Sukey died when Kiri was 12, in what her parents told her was a car accident. Kiri is suspicious of Doug’s motives, but meets him because she misses her sister.

 

When she arrives at the address, she’s dismayed to find that her sister had been living in a rundown apartment in a dangerous area of town, not with the other up-and-coming artists that Sukey had described. As she discovers that Sukey’s life wasn’t at all what she had imagined, she finds that her sister didn’t die the way her parents told her. This revelation turns Kiri’s life upside down. As she struggles to accept this news, she spirals out of control—she drinks, takes drugs, stays up all night practicing for a piano recital, and makes rash, dangerous decisions—making her friends and family scared for her. Her only bright spot during the ordeal is Skunk, a boy she meets near Sukey’s apartment who becomes increasingly important in her life.

 

Wild Awake takes readers along on Kiri’s search for the truth amidst the grief she still feels from losing her sister and discovering the secrets her family has kept from her. Smith has written a moving novel that older teens and even adults will enjoy.
 

Laura

 
 

A Real Firecracker

A Real Firecracker

posted by:
July 9, 2013 - 7:55am

FirecrackerAstrid Krieger is not your average teenager. For starters, she lives in a rocket ship prototype in the backyard of her parents' mansion. Then there's the fact that her family is rich, and she's been kicked out of multiple fancy, private schools for various pranks and other school code infractions. When David Iserson’s teen novel Firecracker begins, Astrid has just been kicked out of her latest school, Bristol Academy, after she’s caught in a cheating scandal. As punishment, her parents inform her that she’s being sent to public school, not another ritzy boarding school. Astrid, who has been raised thinking she’ll always get what she wants, is shocked when they follow through on their plan and she ends up going to the local high school.

 

Once she’s at the public school, she ends up begrudgingly making friends, and demands their help in her grand quest for revenge. Astrid knows that someone turned her in for cheating at Bristol Academy, so she becomes determined to find out who did it and seek vengeance. Her scheming nature, which she learned from her grandfather (the head of the family company and the only person Astrid really likes), keeps her going even when things don’t go according to her plan. David Iserson, who writes for the television show New Girl, delivers a snarky new comedy with Firecracker, which older teens will enjoy. Astrid may seem like a shallow character at first, but she ends up learning a lot about herself throughout the novel, and keeps readers laughing until the very last page.

Laura

 
 

Living in the 100 Acre Woods

Living in the 100 Acre Woods

posted by:
June 25, 2013 - 7:55am

If You Find MeFourteen-year-old Carey Blackburn can shoot a rabbit and cook it for dinner, raise her baby sister by herself, and survive freezing winters in an old camper without electricity, but can she handle attending high school? From the first page of If You Find Me by Emily Murdoch, it is obvious that this is not your typical teen coming of age story. Carey has spent the last ten years living in a secluded part of a national forest with her methamphetamine addicted mother. Raised on the story they had fled her abusive father and needed to hide to stay safe, her life in the woods have made her independent and strong. Her little sister Jenessa is the most important thing in her world and Carey’s every thought is about how to care for and educate her. Their mother leaves them alone for weeks at a time, until she ultimately abandons them altogether. The girls have endured countless difficulties, but can they manage in the civilized world once their camp is discovered by their father and a social worker.

 

This touching and powerful story is told from Carey’s perspective, with a backwoods dialect she tries desperately to lose. Her life experience means that she behaves much older than a typical 14-year-old; however these skills are of little value when it comes to fitting in at high school. She doesn’t know what a locker is, can’t understand teen fashion or cell phones, and has never spoken to a boy. Carey needs every bit of the willpower that ensured her survival to adapt to the new situations she encounters in the outside world.  The reader cares deeply for the characters and gets invested in trying to learn what the secret of the “white star night” that has led to Jenessa’s inability to speak. If You Find Me explores the healing power of family and ultimately the definition of home.

Jeanne