The Impossible Knife of Memory, Laurie Halse Anderson’s latest teen novel, tells the story of Hayley Kincain and her father. Hayley’s mother died when she was a baby, and ever since it’s just been Hayley and her dad. When Hayley’s father returns from war with severe post-traumatic stress disorder, her life gets turned upside down. In order to deal with the memories that haunt him, he becomes a truck driver, driving all over the country trying to outrun his memories. After years of homeschooling Hayley on the road, he decides they should move back to his hometown. Since they set out on the road years before, Hayley has had to be the responsible one, taking care of herself and her father. She hopes that moving home will mean that their life will settle down. Her father isn’t getting better at home either. He continues to self-medicate his PTSD with drugs and alcohol, forcing Hayley to run the house and keep her teachers and friends from noticing.
At school, Hayley struggles to deal with her zombie-like classmates and teachers who don’t accept her unorthodox education. Her only friend is Gracie, a friend from elementary school who barely remembers her. Finn, another classmate, has made it his mission to get Hayley to write for the school newspaper in order to become closer to her. As she begins to fall for Finn, her father takes a turn for the worse and her life falls to pieces.
Much like Anderson’s earlier novel Speak, The Impossible Knife of Memory deals with many heavy themes. Hayley’s distinct voice and vibrant personality make her a character readers will identify with and remember long after they finish the book.
When you are harboring a sinister secret, who better to hear the confession than a convicted murderer on death row? In Annabel Pitcher’s new teen novel, Ketchup Clouds, that’s what British teenager Zoe is doing as a cathartic way of telling what happened when she became romantically involved with two brothers and ultimately was responsible for the death of one of them.
To sort out her thoughts and feelings, Zoe begins writing to Mr. Stuart Harris, who killed his wife in a jealous rage and is awaiting execution in Texas. Through a series of letters, Zoe (which is not her real name) chronicles her seemingly typical teen drama of the previous year. There was rising tension at her home, due in part to her father’s unemployment and her mother’s control issues. At a party, she met an amazingly unique guy, Aaron. What she didn’t realize until later was that Aaron was Max’s older brother – Max being the guy she is semi-enthusiastically dating. As the story progresses, her true feelings about Aaron and Max and the series of events leading to Max’s death come to light, as do some missing pieces of her family’s history. Suspense builds as Stuart’s looming execution date coincides with the anniversary of Max’s death.
Pitcher’s first novel, My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece, was highly acclaimed for its down-to-earth approach to a unique premise, and in Ketchup Clouds she likewise employs engaging, candid writing to solve a compelling mystery: Why does Zoe feel she’s to blame for Max’s death? A refreshingly honest character with a unique outlook on the world, Zoe will resonate with teen and adult readers as someone struggling toward resolution after long internalizing her fear and guilt.
Harrowing and piercingly realistic, Carrie Mesrobian’s Sex & Violence is a tour de force of contemporary teen fiction. Nominated for a 2014 William C. Morris Award for best debut of a book for young adults, this is the story of Evan, a disaffected 17-year-old who has been raised solely by his workaholic father since his mother’s death years earlier. Though clever and handsome, Evan and his father have moved so often that his connection to peers is limited. Evan uses his perpetual new-guy status to bed “left-of-normal” girls, including Collette, a teen who used to date one of Evan’s classmates at the boarding school they attend. When their relationship is discovered, Evan and Collette are brutally assaulted, and his father (at last realizing the seriousness of the situation) moves them to a cottage on a lake in Minnesota, near where Evan’s parents grew up.
After a long physical recuperation, Evan works to pick up the pieces of his shattered psyche. Through a therapist’s help, he slowly confronts the PTSD that he has been experiencing. He meets a group of teens, many of whom are spending their last summer at the lake before heading off to college, and they quickly add him to their group. The summer brings romance, friendship and unexpected turns for Evan, growing into a person his pre-assault version never knew had been inside him. Mesrobian deftly handles a number of themes, among them, the uneasy manner in which Evan approaches sex, the eventual fallout between Evan and his father, the highs and lows of casual drug use and how delicately trust can be won and lost. She weaves these into a concise package that is dark, with no easy answers, but is also not hopeless.
The author does a phenomenal job getting the voices right, most remarkably that of Evan. The teens, all of whom are well-drawn, are written with pitch-perfect dialogue, and there are few wasted words. Mesrobian’s well-crafted debut novel is a brutally honest work for older teens from an author with loads of potential.
A.G. Howard creates a new twist on an old tale in her Splinte red trilogy. Unh inged is the newly released second installment of this gothic and modern rendition of Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Howard plays on the fact that Carroll based his novel off of a girl he knew, Alice Liddell. In Howard’s debut young adult novel Splintered, the reader is introduced to Alyssa Gardner who is a descendant of Alice Liddell.
When Alyssa was young she began to hear insects and plants talking to her, causing her to fear that she would go crazy like her mother and the other women in her family. The only way she can break the curse and free her mother from the binds of insanity is to jump down the rabbit hole and right the wrongs of Alice Liddell. Her adventures in Wonderland leave a lasting impression, and Alyssa becomes forever tied to the ethereal realm.
Unhinged picks up one year after Alyssa’s return to the mortal world, where she is doing her best to live a normal life. Because she is so consumed with preparations for prom, graduation, college and planning her future with her boyfriend Jeb, she tries to ignore the whisperings of trouble in Wonderland. When her wonderland mentor Morpheus comes to explain the dire situation, Alyssa is forced to acknowledge that there is a problem. Despite initially feeling like it’s not her problem, she quickly changes her tune when Wonderland begins to spill over into the mortal world.
Howard manages to weave together a rich combination of dark and gothic with colorful and creepy to create a unique world Tim Burton fans are sure to appreciate. This trilogy is one of those series that has the ability to cross over from young adult fiction to adult, so don’t hesitate to pick it up for a paranormal adventure.
Sarah Zettel’s Palace of Spies tells the story of Peggy Fitzroy who was orphaned as a child and has lived with her Uncle and Aunt Pierpont and her beloved cousin Olivia ever since. At 16, her Uncle Pierpont announces that she is to marry Sebastian, the second son of Lord Sandford, and a much desired husband by her peers. Peggy is dismayed at the news but reluctantly agrees, despite never having met Sebastian. When they do meet at the social event of the season, he tries to assault her, and she is saved by a man named Mr. Tinderflint. Tinderflint tells her that he once knew her mother and implores her to take a post at the court that he has arranged for her. She refuses and runs back to the party. When Sebastian demands an apology the next day, she refuses and calls off the engagement, leading her uncle to kick her out of his house.
Left with no other options, Peggy remembers Mr. Tinderflint’s offer and decides to pay him a visit. When she reaches his address, she finds out that his offer is more complicated than it initially seemed. Her job is to assume the identity of the deceased Lady Francesca Wallingham, to whom she bears a striking resemblance. Francesca, one of Princess Caroline’s maids of honor, and a spy for Tinderflint and his associates Mr. Peele and Mrs. Abbott, passed away while visiting her home, leaving them without their spy at court. After enough training to portray Francesca, Peggy sets off for Hampton Court where she begins to question whether the real Lady Francesca Wallingham died of natural causes, as she was told, or if the lady was murdered. As she investigates Francesca’s demise and the loyalties of the court, readers are treated to a captivating mystery filled with intrigue, suspense and romance.
Roomies by Sara Zarr and Tara Altebrando is a new teen novel set during the summer between high school and college. Elizabeth and Lauren live on opposite ends of the country, so when they’re paired as roommates for their first year of college at the University of California at Berkeley, they begin emailing to get to know one another and make plans for the fall.
Roomies begins in June, as Elizabeth sends her first email to Lauren immediately after receiving her housing information from Berkeley. Her enthusiasm surprises Lauren, who, after sharing a room at home with multiple younger siblings for most of her life, had been hoping for a single room. The girls continue to email throughout the summer, making plans and sharing personal details. At the same time, Elizabeth feels herself becoming disinterested with her friends at home and caught up in a new relationship with a seemingly perfect yet complicated guy. Meanwhile, Lauren is dealing with the idea of leaving her family behind as she heads off to college, as well as her feelings for her coworker, Keyon. As Elizabeth and Lauren help each other work through their respective problems, the two end up in a fight that puts their relationship as future roommates in jeopardy.
Roomies is a fun, realistic story that deals with many of the issues that arise for teens during the summer between high school and college. The mix of emails and prose makes for an interesting story that teens are sure to enjoy.
Acclaimed writer Ned Vizzini died Thursday at age 32 in Brooklyn. Vizzini was a successful young adult author, television screenwriter and essayist. His first novel, It’s Kind of a Funny Story, was published in 2006 and is the semi-autobiographical account of a high school student dealing with depression. Vizzini’s account of this high achiever who spends time in a mental hospital following a suicide attempt has become a contemporary classic in teen literature. In 2010, it was adapted for the big screen as a feature film starring Zach Galifianakis.
Vizzini’s other novels include Be More Chill and The Other Normals which also focus on outsiders and their struggles. His most recent project was a middle-grade series he co-authored with film director Chris Columbus. House of Secrets, an electrifying adventure, is the first in this series which reads like a movie. Vizzini also wrote for television, including the shows The Last Resort, Teen Wolf and Believe, the new show from J.J. Abrams premiering in March. His essays have appeared in a wide variety of outlets such as The New Yorker, Los Angeles Review of Books and The Daily Beast.
How do you vanquish a demon? One day, Kennedy Waters is mourning the death of her mother and packing up her life before heading to boarding school, the next she finds herself on the run from vengeful spirits. Unbeknownst to her, Kennedy’s mom was a descendant of The Legion, a secret group of five individuals who unwittingly released the demon Andras into our world two centuries ago. Since that time, one blood relative from each family has been tasked with trying to protect the world from the demon’s army of poltergeists and ghosts. Unbreakable, a new novel by bestselling author Kami Garcia, takes the reader on the fast-paced and exciting quest of five teens determined to complete this job. Ancient journals reveal a device they believe can be used to destroy the demon, however it needs to be assembled and the parts are hidden in different locations around Maryland. Together they must decipher the clues to some of the creepiest settings collected within the pages of one story and exorcize the evil spirits determined to protect their treasure.
Kami Garcia, a coauthor of Beautiful Creatures, has created another thrilling and captivating story. Unbreakable, which was only released in October, has already been optioned to be a feature film. The novel is complex and frightening, yet has moments of tenderness and romance. Throughout the story the reader will empathize with Kennedy’s desire to belong to this makeshift family, and fear that she may not really be one of them. The sequel is due to be released in 2014, and I haven’t been this excited for a follow-up book since I finished reading The Hunger Games.
New York Times bestselling author Richard Kadrey delights adults and teens alike with Dead Set. After the unexpected death of her father, Zoe and her mother must move to the Tenderloin area of San Francisco while they wait for dividends from her father’s life insurance policy. To deal with her troubles in the real world, Zoe escapes into her dreams where she finds comfort and friendship from her dream brother, Valentine. A mysterious something — or someone — has also joined them in her dream world.
Back in the real world, Zoe happens upon a dark and dingy old record store. Most people walk right past the back room with the beaded curtain, but Zoe is curious and goes inside. There she discovers a collection of albums that contain something other than music. The grooves on these records contain lives — souls of people who have passed on but lingered in this world. Emmett, the proprietor of the record store, promises to help Zoe reconnect with her father. All it would cost her is a piece of herself. It starts with a lock of her hair. The next time, the price is a tooth. How much would you pay to spend another moment with someone you loved and lost? And at what point does the price become too much?
Kadrey is best known for his Sandman Slim series. This dark, twisted, stand-alone fantasy novel will appeal to those already familiar with his work as well as those who enjoy a quiet horror story with a strong, albeit sometimes lost, female character.
Oh, 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.