posted by: November 5, 2015 - 6:00am

Cover art for Stand-OffStand-Off by Andrew Smith, the sequel to the acclaimed Winger, starts off with our hero, Ryan Dean West, about to return to his prestigious (if strict) boarding school Pine Mountain Academy as the school’s first 15-year-old graduating senior. Along with the normal doubts and insecurity his relative youth to his senior classmates would bring, he feels overwhelmed by the enthusiasm of his bright-eyed 12-year-old roommate Sam Abernathy. Sam’s relentless chipperness is more oppressive than endearing, and to make matters worse, he suffers from extreme claustrophobia that could send him into a panic if conditions aren’t just perfect. Normally warm and friendly, Ryan Dean begins to push friends new and old away, refusing advice from his girlfriend, honor from his Rugby coach and friendship from Sam, who reminds him a little too much of himself three short years ago. The real crux of Ryan Dean’s pain, however, is dealing with the trauma of the previous year, the chillingly real terrors that plague him night and day that force him to accept grief, resolution and humility.


Andrew Smith’s first person storytelling is warm, direct and effortless. Ryan Dean comes to life in voice as well as in visuals. Sam Bosma accompanies Smith’s prose with illustrations and comics crafted to fit Ryan Dean’s voice, which takes the storytelling to a new level. A read of Winger first is a must for this excellent, fast-paced sequel. Lovers of imaginative but ultimately down-to-earth and realistic fiction of all levels will find themselves exhilarated, heart-broken and lost in these two books.


None of the Above

posted by: October 6, 2015 - 7:00am

Cover art for None of the AboveMale, female or None of the Above? Surgeon and new author I. W. Gregorio explores intersexuality and gender identity in her debut novel.


High school senior Kristin Lattimer has it all: her two best friends, a full scholarship to college because of her track prowess, the title of homecoming queen and a boyfriend she loves. She enjoys a life that any teenager would want until she decides to take her relationship with her boyfriend Sam to the next level. But her first time is a painful disaster.


Kristin learns the startling truth after a visit to the doctor. She has Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome (AIS), a type of intersex condition. After confiding in one of her friends, rumors about her situation spread throughout school. Suddenly, she has to endure crude comments and cyber-bullying from ignorant classmates and people who don't know her. Her diagnosis forces her to question her identity, her relationships and even her athleticism.


None of the Above is a great introduction to the topic of intersex for unfamiliar readers as they learn about this biological condition with Kristin. It is also a journey of awareness and rediscovery that is relatable to anyone who has experienced a tough time in high school.


Finding Audrey

posted by: August 10, 2015 - 7:00am

Finding Audrey by Sophie KinsellaSophie Kinsella, of Shopaholic series fame, returns with the new teen novel Finding Audrey. Protagonist Audrey is a 14-year-old British teen who has undergone severe bullying at the hand of her classmates. This has caused her a great deal of anxiety and depression, which leads to her leaving school, wearing dark glasses all the time and rarely leaving her house.


Audrey’s family is incredibly supportive of her, even if they don’t always understand her anxiety disorder. Her family, consisting of mom, dad, older brother Frank and younger brother Felix, provide levity throughout the story. Their antics, which Audrey records in a video diary that her supportive therapist suggests she make, are hilarious. When her brother’s friend, Linus, begins coming over to their house to practice for a gaming tournament, Audrey is pushed out of her comfort zone. She finds herself relearning how to interact with people other than her family. As Audrey becomes more comfortable with Linus, she finds herself wanting to push herself more, at times frustrated with what she thinks is her slow progress.


Kinsella has written an honest portrayal of a teen with anxiety — Audrey isn’t magically fixed, but has to work hard to make progress with a combination of therapy and medication. Finding Audrey is at times funny, sad and romantic — switching between video diary script and traditional prose. Kinsella has written a novel that will appeal to teen readers as much as it does to adults.


Emmy & Oliver

posted by: July 31, 2015 - 7:00am

Cover art for Emmy & OliverRobin 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.



Saint Anything

posted by: June 19, 2015 - 7:00am

Cover art for Saint AnythingPerennial 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.



We All Looked Up

posted by: June 8, 2015 - 7:00am

Cover of "We All Looked Up" by Tommy WallachTommy 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. 


Things We Know by Heart

posted by: May 27, 2015 - 7:00am

Cover art for Things We Know By HeartAt 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.


All the Rage

posted by: May 21, 2015 - 7:00am

Cover art for All the Rage

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.


Thrasher Thresher

posted by: February 20, 2015 - 7:00am

Cover art for If I Fall, If I DieAge 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.    





Heartbreaking Loss

posted by: January 20, 2015 - 7:00am

I Was Here by Gayle FormanUnlike 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.



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