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.
In Jessica Warman’s new teen mystery, The Last Good Day of the Year, 7-year-old Samantha is startled to see a man dressed as Santa Claus enter the basement of her home while her parents host a New Year’s Eve party upstairs. When he abducts her little sister, Turtle, Sam is paralyzed with fear. She thinks she can identify the man as her older sister’s boyfriend, Steven, and she does to police.
Ten years later, Turtle’s body has never been found and Steven sits in jail, convicted of her murder. Sam’s family returns to the house where their nightmare took place. Her older sister, coping with a broken marriage, has been acting strangely. Now, a new little girl in a town not so far away has gone missing. Sam has started to question whether or not she was right in pointing the finger at Steven all those years ago.
As the story alternates between the night of Turtle’s abduction and 10 years later, Warman weaves an unsettling tale of one family’s tragedy and its far-reaching implications — not just for those closest to the victim, but for an entire neighborhood. As old neighbors try to rekindle their long-dormant friendships, secrets emerge from that night, leaving Sam, with the help of her childhood best friend Remy, to sift through the clues that may lead her to the truth about her sister’s disappearance.
Fans of April Henry’s The Girl Who Was Supposed to Die or Chris Crutcher’s Period 8 will enjoy this mystery with its sharp twists and turns.
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.
Bestselling author Kady Cross has a new young adult novel Sisters of Blood and Spirit. The dynamic combination of action, adventure and a dash of romance, make this paranormal pleasure hard to put down.
Lark is not your normal teenager. When her twin sister Wren was still born their relationship didn’t end there. Wren became an almost constant companion to her sister. As a child, people around town just thought she was talking to an imaginary friend. As a young adult, she simply appeared to be crazy. The stress of outside pressures and the desire to be with her sister so overwhelmed her that Lark attempted suicide. The failed attempt left Lark with special abilities beyond just the capacity to see ghosts.
When Lark’s classmates decided to take a preternatural excursion to a local haunted asylum, they got more than they bargained for. It’s because of Lark’s reputation that they sought her out to help rid themselves of a ghostly hitchhiker with a penchant for razor blades. Lark’s loner disposition leaves her reluctant to help, but Wren has different plans.
Cross’ novel melds the Scooby gang feel of Buffy the Vampire Slayer with the otherworldly feel of the Supernatural series. Its character-driven dual narrative makes for a fast-paced romp that will keep you turning the page. If you dig Kady Cross’ unique style, you can also find her under the pen names Kate Locke, Kate Cross or Kathryn Smith.
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.
When a novel depicts a brief period of time, the pacing becomes just as crucial as the plot and the characters of the story. Hannah Pittard’s new novel Reunion takes place in the mourning period between a death and subsequent viewing. During those emotional few days, readers witness genuine exchanges between siblings who revert to old tendencies as soon as they’re in the same room together.
En route to Chicago via plane, Kate Pulaski checks her phone and discovers her estranged father Stan has killed himself. Her older siblings Elliot and Nell are pausing their busy lives to fly to Georgia to be with Sasha, Stan’s fifth wife, and their daughter Mindy. Kate is baffled by how quickly her brother and sister have booked their flights, and is forced onto another flight by her husband Peter — right before he tells her he wants a divorce. Kate remembers an affair she had and isn’t surprised by her husband’s scorn, but the timing couldn’t be worse. Wondering how any of her siblings, half-siblings or mothers-in-law could possibly want to mourn Stan’s death, Kate tries in vain to bolster her head and her heart for a tumultuous next couple of days. Days spent drinking far too much wine and attempting to read into familial relationships that she barely knew existed — what else is there to do at a family reunion predicated on a suicide?
Hannah Pittard opens and nurses complex relations between her cast of lovingly crafted and completely human characters, illustrating that a sense of familiarity — with people, places or things — can cause people to take an introspective look at what they’ve become and where they’re headed. Coming-of-age fans will find lots to like in Reunion, as will teens and new adults who enjoy relationship-centric stories.
Laura Ruby’s Bone Gap is a beautifully told story that teen and adult readers alike will enjoy. Finn O’Sullivan and his older brother Sean have lived in the town of Bone Gap by themselves since their mother abandoned them a few years before the novel begins — that is until Roza appears as if by magic. After a nasty storm, Finn finds Roza, a Polish immigrant, hiding in a bale of hay in their barn. Roza is clearly hurt, but refuses to explain how or give any other information about herself. The brothers let her stay with them, and eventually she becomes like another member of the family, helping around their farm and becoming a well-liked member of their small town.
A year later, Roza is kidnapped, and Finn, the only witness, can’t give a good enough description to help police find her kidnapper. To add to his problems, no one believes that the distractible, “moon-faced” boy is actually a credible witness. Despite their apprehension about Finn’s claims, it turns out that he is correct — Roza has, in fact, been kidnapped by a terrible man who refuses to let her go. Roza tries her best to escape from captivity, but she can barely understand the place she’s being held, let alone escape from it. Meanwhile, as Finn investigates Roza’s disappearance, he becomes engrossed in a relationship with the prickly Priscilla, who only wants to be known as Petey. Petey, an odd-looking, self-conscious girl who is ridiculed by her classmates, believes that Finn’s obsession with finding Roza stems from romantic feelings for the missing girl.
Bone Gap alternates between the perspectives of Finn, Roza and Petey seamlessly. Ruby has woven a story that is wholly unique and utterly engrossing. Finn, Roza and Petey are each characters that the reader won’t want to leave behind when they close the book.
An Ember in the Ashes is a deftly written debut novel by Sabaa Tahir, a promising new author not to be ignored. With alternating chapters, this teen novel skillfully intertwines the lives of two young people living in a martial society.
The book opens with Laia, a member of the colonized Scholar society. Though they’re called Scholars, these people have been beaten down and denied their heritage to the point that people are no longer even taught to read. When Laia’s home is invaded by law enforcement, her life is forever changed. She’s put on a path to go against her demure disposition and rally to save the only family she has left.
On the other end of this society, we follow Elias as he completes his training to become a “Mask.” Masks are the highest form of defense in the Serra community. They are both feared and revered. As a Mask, Elias is trained to be a graceful killing machine, a skill which disgusts him to the point that he contemplates desertion.
The setting and power struggles of this book are reminiscent of Game of Thrones while the trials that Elias faces are evocative of the Hunger Games or Divergent. Despite this book being suggestive of these other series, Tahir creates a unique and captivating read that is hard to put down.
Prepare to embark on a journey through desolation in Laura van den Berg’s debut novel Find Me. Reminiscent of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, Find Me is a deglamorized record of post-pandemic survival, one where recovery cannot begin until what’s held dear is forsaken.
Joy Jones is in the hospital, but not because she is sick; rather, she’s flotsam in the wake of a new virus that has left America 400,000 people fewer. Joy is one of around 90 survivors living in quarantine at the hospital, hoping to avoid the sickness which manifests as silver skin lesions and deteriorates the memory until the body forgets how to function. Under Dr. Bek and his armada of imposing nurses clad in hazmat suits, the 90 undergo daily stress tests to increase their chances of survival. Despite the uncomfortably close monitoring, some of the interned contract the illness and are sent to the upper floors to die. Joy knows that things at this medical sanctuary aren’t as they seem, and the sudden imposition of a localized media blackout exacerbates her fears. Armed with a photo of her estranged mother bequeathed to her by a deceased aunt, Joy plans her escape with the hopes of finding all she has squandered and relinquished.
Find Me is about loss both immediate and lifelong; it’s a mural of a populace haunted by all things unrecoverable. In a world where there is no hope or love left to fill voids, chasms consume those desperate souls who can’t bring themselves to let go. Laura van den Berg writes in a superb literary voice without betraying her young heroine, and brings ancillary characters to life through their unique memory mnemonics and coping mechanisms. Readers who enjoyed or who are anxiously awaiting their copies of Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven should go to great lengths to track this one down.