Rainbow Rowell’s teen debut, Eleanor & Park is a story about first love, not fitting in during high school, punk rock, and comic books. Eleanor is a self-described chubby, curly-haired, redhead, who is teased mercilessly by her schoolmates. She has an even worse home life. Park, a half-Korean teenage punk rock fan, feels like he doesn’t fit into their town. They meet on the first day of school in 1986 when Park takes pity on Eleanor and lets her sit next to him on the bus.
For weeks, the two don’t speak a single word to each other as they ride to and from school, until Park realizes that Eleanor is reading his comic books over his shoulder. He begins paying attention to which ones she seems to like, and brings more for her to borrow. They read in silence on the bus, and she devours the borrowed comic books at home. Weeks later, Park breaks the silence, asking about the song lyrics she has written all over her notebooks. Eleanor confesses that she’s never heard any of these bands, and the lyrics are from songs she’d like to hear. So he makes her mix tapes and lends her his Walkman since she can’t afford one, let alone the batteries to keep it running. Once the silence is broken, they never stop talking; talking progresses to hand-holding, and that turns into love that readers see grow throughout the novel.
Park becomes Eleanor’s escape from her home life, and she becomes his from small-town America. Rainbow Rowell’s story about two misfits falling in love amidst the music and comic books of the late 1980s is a romantic, yet realistic novel. Older teens, new adults, and those whose adolescence took place in that era are all sure to enjoy it.
Many adults say that reading Judy Blume’s novels was a rite of passage during their adolescence. Her books are known for being authentic to the experiences of children and teens. She has never shied away from writing about real issues, and she has won numerous prestigious awards throughout her career. Blume is a cultural icon whose books have sold more than 80 million copies and have been translated into 31 languages, but they had never been adapted into a feature film. That will change this June when a film version of Tiger Eyes, which was originally published in 1981, is released in theaters. After 15-year-old Davey’s father is killed in a convenience store robbery, her mother decides to move the family to New Mexico. There, Davey meets a mysterious boy named Wolf, who seems to be the only person who understands Davey’s anger and pain. Slowly, Davey begins to deal with her grief and learns to live this new life. At its heart, Tiger Eyes is a story about the Davey facing the sudden loss of someone she loves. Blume, who related to the story because of the sudden loss of her own father, brings authenticity to Davey’s experience.
The film version of Tiger Eyes was directed by Blume’s son Lawrence, who also co-wrote the screenplay with his mother. Both Judy and Lawrence were recently interviewed by Chelsea Clinton on NBC’s Rock Center with Brian Williams. Fans will be excited to learn that in that interview Blume revealed that she is currently working on a new novel for adults.
Trust is the often the hardest thing to give to someone, and choosing the wrong person to trust can lead to a loss of power and even danger. Sharon Draper looks at teens and trust in Panic, the latest novel from the award-winning and best-selling author. Diamond is a dancer who wants to become a star. When a friendly man looking for his teen daughter approaches her in the mall, she is quickly drawn in by his openness and admiration of her grace and beauty. He tells her he is a movie producer and invites her to audition for him. She hesitates at first, but the bitterness of losing a recent lead role to another dancer prompts her to go with him. This one bad decision may cost her everything. Diamond's family, friends, and fellow dancers are all shocked at her disappearance, and each deals with it in different ways. Many take a look at their own choices, realizing that they are not always as smart or as safe as they think they are.
Draper has created a compelling story, equal parts mystery and introspection. Relationships between characters—parent and child, boyfriend and girlfriend, and between sisters—are varied and ever-changing. The message is clear: Giving your trust is equal to giving your power away to someone else. When it is given to the wrong person, what can be done to get it back? Fans of realistic teen fiction will enjoy this thought-provoking novel.
Sixteen-year-old Lady Ada Averly is returning to England in the spring of 1910, following a ten year stay in India, as Cinders & Sapphires by Lelia Rasheed opens. During this ocean voyage, Ada encounters Ravi, an Indian Oxford student, and the two share an unforgettable but forbidden kiss. Ada returns to the family estate, Somerton Court, with her younger sister Georgiana, and their father, Lord Westlake. This is not a pleasant voyage, however, as they are facing financial ruin and rumors of a scandal that removed Lord Westlake from his post in India.
Once back at Somerton, the servants are woven into the story, including sixteen-year-old Rose, who bears an uncanny resemblance to Westlake and is the daughter of the housekeeper. Other servants include a footman with a secret past, and a conniving lady’s maid to Westlake’s soon-to-be stepdaughter. Somerton is abuzz with planning for the nuptials which will unite Westlake and the wealthy Fiona, who has three children of her own. However, Ada is interested in more than parties and shopping. This time before World War I is an awakening of new technologies and political ideas. Women’s rights and the fight for Indian independence are gaining momentum, and Ada is excited by all of it. She yearns for a university education. But her father’s tenuous social and financial standing prompt Westlake to discourage educational pursuits and instead focus on her debut season which will hopefully result in a proper engagement.
This is a quick-paced story told from multiple points of view that will appeal to both romance and historical fiction readers. This first in the At Somerton series does an excellent job of mixing affairs of the heart, scandal, and glittery social occasions while still highlighting the developing social consciousness of the era, and those fighting to combat accepted class, race, and gender discrimination.
It’s not every anthology that can be described as a spirited game of Clue in literary form. Yet Who Done It?: an Investigation of Murder Most Foul, offers precisely that gift to readers. The scene is set in the Old Abandoned Pickle Factory, where the despicable Herman Mildew, the most callous, evil editor known to author, has just met his all too timely end. How did he perish? Who is responsible for this reprehensible, yet strangely justified crime? Author and editor Jon Scieszka presents the reader with an abundance of suspects: over eighty of the crème de la crème of teen and children’s authors.
Each had motive. Most had the means. Every last one has an alibi. Your task: Scour their alibis, discern truth from deceit, and glean clues about the real killer of the loathsome Herman Mildew. The formats, ranging from inner monologues and illustration to Twitter feeds and poetry, are as varied as the authors and artists they defend.
Hilarious, smart, and as accessible to adults as to kids, Who Done It? is the perfect diversion for an idle hour, or even a few minutes of reading. The alibis are succinct, highly entertaining, and utterly addictive. A remarkably cohesive collaboration, it is important to bear in mind that the book features contributions from over eighty authors. For this reason, the anthology is best digested over multiple reading sessions. Readers are well advised to keep an eye out for subtle clues that pepper the suspects’ respective alibis. Together, these breadcrumbs may lead to some startling conclusions, as YOU, The Reader, and editor Jon Scieszka unravel the mystery of murder most foul.
Changing schools can be a stressful experience, especially when you are in high school. There are so many things to navigate—teachers, classes, building, and students—not to mention the social cliques. New sophomore Sadie Wildhack welcomes the chance to reinvent herself, and maybe this time be a part of the popular crowd in Ayun Halliday’s graphic novel Peanut, illustrated by Paul Hoppe.
Somehow Sadie has decided that having a peanut allergy will give her special attention, and increased social status. She orders a medic alert bracelet online, and writes her required introductory essay on the perils of having a life-threatening condition. Sure enough, Sadie’s “peanut allergy” is enough of an icebreaker to earn her some new friends, a spot at a lunchroom table, and even a boyfriend. Christopher Suzuki, “Zoo”, christens her “Peanut”, writing her adorable, origami-folded notes since he avoids communicating through modern technology.
But faking a peanut allergy requires much more vigilance than Sadie bargained for, especially since her mom is not in on the ruse. Author Halliday has created a likable, angsty protagonist whom teens can readily identify with, even as they shake their heads at the problems her deception creates. And Zoo is the understanding, thoughtful, cute and attentive boyfriend girls wish they had. Halliday perfectly captures teen banter, as well as the dialogue of the adults that populate this graphic novel. Paul Hoppe’s line illustrations evoke not only the nuances of the characters, but also the classrooms, cafeteria, and locker-lined hallways of a high school that could be any high school. Hoppe’s art is rendered in grayscale, with the notable exception of Sadie’s shirt (and a single rose provided by Zoo), always a bright red hue. Peanut is highly recommended for teen readers and adults who remember the struggle to both fit in and stand out.
Sophronia Temminnick, the heroine of Gail Carriger’s new teen steampunk novel, Etiquette & Espionage, loves to climb trees, take machines apart, spy on her family, and worst of all has never learned a proper curtsy. Her mother believes that a stint in finishing school will transform Sophronia into a lady, so she sends her to Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality. However as Sophronia soon finds out, Mademoiselle Geraldine’s is not an average finishing school—students are taught how to dress, dance, and curtsy, but much more effort is given to the study of espionage.
Sophronia discovers that she was recruited secretly to the school because of her less than lady-like behavior. She quickly proves her merit during the journey to the academy, when she fights off a group of bandits trying to steal a mysterious prototype from the carriage. Upon arriving at Mademoiselle Geraldine’s, Sophronia begins lessons in everything from intelligence gathering and fundamental espionage to dance and dress. While she enjoys the espionage classes most, she does come to recognize the importance of the more typical finishing school classes as well. She puts her new knowledge to the test almost immediately, as she and her new group of friends investigate what happened to the mysterious prototype that bandits tried to steal during her journey to school.
Gail Carriger’s witty novel is one that teens and adults alike are sure to enjoy. Etiquette & Espionage is a fun addition to Carriger’s other steampunk novels. Readers can look forward to more of Sophronia’s finishing school adventures in the sequel, Curtsies & Conspiracies, which is set to be released in the fall of this year.
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.
Fitzgerald McGrath is a 15-year-old boy who lives with his mom in St. Paul, plays guitar in a band with his best friend, and has a crush on a pretty red head at school. On the surface, he appears to be an average teenage kid. However, readers soon find out that he has a turbulent, pain-riddled side to his personality, which has progressed to the breaking point. Fitz, by Mick Cochrane is a skillfully crafted novel which explores the impact and consequences of a boy who never had a father.
From childhood fantasies of a loving Dad who watches him from afar, to seething anger toward a man that has never been in touch, the reader easily identifies with Fitz’s anguish. Not knowing anything about his father, other than his once-a-month monetary contribution to the household, has gotten to be too much for Fitz to handle. Taking matters into his own hands, Fitz purchases a Smith & Wesson .38 Special and kidnaps his father. What follows is a day that will forever change both of their lives.
This bittersweet novel establishes characters the reader will completely empathize with, being in turn both hopeful and fearful regarding the story’s outcome. The steady and measured rhythm provides a perfect balance for the intensity of emotion experienced by both father and son. The climax of the story will have people holding their breath. In Fitz’s own words, “It feels like the longest day of his life. It also feels like the shortest” and there isn’t a reader who will want it to end.