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Is Anything More Important than Being Popular?

posted by: November 6, 2012 - 8:01am

SpeechlessChelsea Knot is superficial and selfish, a major gossip and a snob. There is actually very little to like about the main character in Hannah Harrington’s novel, Speechless. After lying to her parents to attend a party, and blackmailing a classmate for a fake ID, she drunkenly stumbles into a room where two guys are making out. In typical Chelsea fashion, she runs to tell her best friend, but this time spreading a rumor leads to horrific ramifications and one of the boys ends up in a coma, the result of a severe beating.


Against the wishes of her friend, Chelsea reports the jocks responsible for this act of violence, sacrificing her status in the popular crowd by turning in their peers. After reflecting how her words have been responsible for almost getting a classmate killed, Chelsea takes a vow of silence in order to refrain from hurting anyone else. At school she finds herself ostracized and bullied by those she once considered her friends. She endures the constant ridicule and abuse with the assistance of an unlikely support system.


The author crafts an amazingly heartfelt story about the true meaning of friendship and how kindness and generosity can help heal. With an authentic voice, Harrington depicts the metamorphosis of a self-centered teen as she discovers how it feels to care about others. Without saying a word, Chelsea is able to forge honest relationships while learning to forgive herself. What will it take for her to start talking again? Will it result in the old Chelsea returning? Will her new friends still like her? This story is one of soul searching, personal growth, and courage. Speechless compellingly represents the advantages of being your own person.


Fifty Shades of Crime

posted by: October 23, 2012 - 8:01am

CrusherHigh school dropout Finn Maguire spends his days selling pseudo-food at the Max Snax and his nights watching tv with his stepdad, an unemployed actor trying to write his own perfect role. When Finn arrives home from work one night, he finds his stepfather bludgeoned to death with his 1992 Best Newcomer award. The pursuit of the killer drives the story in Crusher, the debut novel by Niall Leonard. 


In working-class London, corruption is rampant and Joseph McGovern (a.k.a. The Guvnor) rules the streets with an iron fist. Finn’s stepfather was using The Guvnor as a springboard for his script, spinning a loosely-fictional yarn about the crime lord and his subordinates, one of whom plots a violent takeover. The police seem doggedly-focused on Finn as the main suspect in the murder, so he decides to launch his own investigation. He fears that the script may have hit too close to home, so he begins at the Guvnor’s mansion. Playing dumb, he bumbles his way into a job so that he can keep searching for clues. He soon begins uncovering secrets and revealing connections that turn his world upside-down.


Leonard, husband of best-selling author E. L. James, has written for many British television series including Wire in the Blood and Ballykissangel. He packs Crusher with heart-pounding action, leaving the reader as breathless as a boxer in the final round of a bout. The raw language and violence make the novel an appropriate read for older teens and young adults. Recommended for fans of true crime or gritty realism such as Sons of Anarchy.


Vampires at the Barn Raising

posted by: October 23, 2012 - 7:44am

The Hallowed OnesJust when you think you’ve read every possible permutation of the teen vampire trope, along comes an author to prove you wrong. Laura Bickle’s entrancing coming of age novel The Hallowed Ones follows Amish teen Katie as she contemplates marriage to Elijah. As one of the Plain folk, Katie knows she must follow the tenets of the Ordnung with unquestioning devotion. But Katie wants more from life than chores and family. She looks forward to her Rumspringa, a time when Amish youth are allowed a taste of the outside world before being baptized and fully committing to the church.


Bickle has created a believable, likable heroine. Abundant details of cloistered Amish life are smoothly woven into the narrative, making for a fascinating read. The author slowly builds suspense, as limited knowledge of something terribly wrong in the outside world filters into the sect. Soon, no one is allowed in or out of the fenced community. Some type of biological weapon has infected men, turning them into insatiable, flesh-tearing vampires. Only sanctified ground is safe.


When Katie offers asylum in her family’s dog barn to a badly injured young man, she knows it is the ultimate act of rebellion. Their relationship grows as she nurtures him back to health. Alex admires her for her intelligence and resourcefulness, rather than gentleness of word and deed. A rift grows between Katie and Elijah, as she resists committing to both him and the church. As the novel draws to a close, it becomes apparent that there are vampires within the gates. Katie’s resolve is put to the test. She has an ally in elderly Mr. Stoltz, the community’s Hexenmeister. He alone understands the true nature of the invasive evil. Vampires blanch at the sight of his protective hex signs and missives to heaven. How can they eradicate the evil within? Readers will be riveted by this uniquely told novel that skillfully blends bucolic realism with unspeakable horror.


Don't Read at Night

posted by: October 19, 2012 - 8:11am

The TurningJust in time for Halloween, The Turning by Francine Prose will wind up your anxiety level and tighten you in the grasp of fear. This teen novel is a retelling of the classic Henry James novella The Turn of the Screw. The setting has been updated to take place in the present day, and is told through a series of letters exchanged between a teenage boy named Jack and his girlfriend Sophie. Sophie’s father has procured a summer job for Jack, babysitting two children for a considerable wage on a remote island. The couple realizes her father’s motivation is an attempt to end their romance, but in order for Jack to attend college with Sophie in the fall he has no choice but to take the position. When he is informed that there will be no phone service, television, or internet connection available he almost changes his mind. Through their correspondence, the reader experiences Jack’s loneliness and initial misgivings as they progress to outright distress.


During the boat voyage to the island, some elderly passengers recount the story of a tragic drowning death of a couple attempting to elope from the island years before. They also allude to some mysterious happenings in the more recent past, painting Jack’s destination in shadowy details. On his arrival to the children’s home, feelings of dread and foreboding emanate from the creepy gothic mansion painted funeral black. It is full of confusing darkened hallways and unused or locked rooms. The children themselves are unusual, formally polite, dressed in old-fashioned attire, and frequently exchange furtive glances alluding to secret confidences.


Ghostly apparitions begin haunting Jack: a tall menacing man watches him through the library window; a beautiful woman stares from across a field. No one else in the household seems aware of these spirits. Sophie grows increasingly alarmed as Jack’s letters reflect how the stress of the situation is taking a toll. This is a frightening tale, which pays homage to the original, and exposes a new generation of readers to some real creepy fun.


After the Flash

posted by: October 18, 2012 - 8:11am

Poison PrincessKresley Cole opens her new Arcana Chronicles series for older teens with Poison Princess. Evie Greene is a sixteen-year-old cheerleader from a privileged upbringing whose life changed last year when she began having apocalyptic hallucinations. She begins her junior year of high school desperate to fit in and get her life back, but the terrible hallucinations begin again. This time, other strange things start happening to her. Evie knows that telling anyone about what she sees would definitely cause her mother to send her back to the Children’s Learning Center, a mental institution for disturbed children where she spent the summer “recovering” from her visions.


Then, the Flash happens, and everything that Evie saw comes true. The blinding light and heat kills most people, leaving behind only ash. All plant-life dies, and the Bagmen, zombie-like creatures desperate for water, now roam the world that was left behind killing the survivors to drink their blood. Evie meets up with another survivor, Jackson Deveaux, the gorgeous Cajun bad boy who tormented her during her last week of school. Evie is now suffering auditory hallucinations and debilitating visions where she sees the evil Poison Princess and hears voices telling her that the Major Arcana, other people with talents based on the most powerful cards in the tarot deck, are hunting her down. When Evie was a child, her grandmother called her Empress and told her that one day the Arcana would come for her. Jackson and Evie set out for North Carolina to try to find Evie’s grandmother who Evie believes can explain what is happening.


Readers who know Cole’s Immortals After Dark series for adults are familiar with her remarkable talent for world-building. The world that she creates for this new series, along with the complex tarot card-based mythology, builds slowly throughout the book. It does take some time for the reader to understand where the series is going, but the payoff is huge. Readers will be clamoring for the next story in the series to find out what happens to Evie when she finally understands and accepts her fate.


Body Snatcher

posted by: October 17, 2012 - 8:11am

Every DayWhat makes us who we are? Our parents tell us it is what’s on the inside that counts, and not how we look. David Levithan turns this old adage on its ear with his newest book Every Day. The reader follows A, the main character, through the changing days of life—literally. Every morning, A wakes up in a different body. Always approximately the same age, always in the same geographical area, but never the same body twice. A can access the body’s knowledge and memories, but A remains a separate person existing inside of someone else.


This nomadic life is all A has ever known, and it is usually fine, until one morning A meets Rhiannon, the girlfriend of the body A is inhabiting for that day. An instant spark ignites, and suddenly A does not want to leave her. A begins “kidnapping” people in order to be near Rhiannon. Should A share the secret with her, and would she believe it? Is there any way for them to have a future together?


Author/Collaborator/Editor Levithan has created a fascinating character in A, who is neither male nor female, thin nor fat, tall nor short, white nor non-white. As the reader plunges in, seemingly endless questions arise. Does A live the perfect life, forever experiencing a new day, or is it a perfect trap? How much do we really touch other people’s lives every day? Do we really exist if no one else knows or loves us? Every Day makes the reader think about the intangibility of life and love, as well as what makes us each unique.


Some Say the World Will End in Fire

posted by: October 16, 2012 - 7:55am

AfterEven after the smoke clears, technology fails, science runs amuck, society as we know it collapses and the power-drunk take over, there is still a glimmer of hope for mankind. After: Nineteen Stories of Apocalypse and Dystopia presents tales that take place after of the end of the world as we knew it. Editors Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling commissioned work from some of the most popular and critically acclaimed authors for young adults. The resulting stories are both disturbing and thought-provoking, leaving readers pondering the what-ifs.


Carrie Ryan explores the zombie territory that made her name as a writer in “After the Cure,” where the teen protagonist has been “rehabilitated” from her former life as a member of a pack of the bloodthirsty undead. The zombie plague began as a diet drug gone wrong; the girl’s secret--her taste for flesh has merely been sublimated. Science again spins out of control in “Fake Plastic Trees” by fantasy author Caitín R. Kiernan, where a replicating “goo” intended to provide food for an ever-expanding population goes rogue. The nano-assemblers creating the substance begin rapidly transforming “just about anything” into plastic. Narrator Cody tells her story after The Event, but the threat of mutating strains of nanos persists.


Echoes of Nazi and Khmer Rouge soldiers brutalizing families under a dictator’s orders make Susan Beth Pfeffer’s “Reunion” one of the most chilling stories of the lot. Set entirely in an office where the walls and even the lone window have been painted a dull brown, the leader of a totalitarian government in a nameless location has fallen. Isabella’s mother seeks her oldest daughter, who had been taken away years ago by soldiers and given to a childless colonel and his wife. How will they know for certain which of the brainwashed young women is really Maria?


An afterword by the editors chronicles a brief history of teen interest in the dystopian genre, which has its roots in often-assigned adult classics written by authors such as H.G. Wells, Aldous Huxley, Ray Bradbury and William Golding. The stories of After make worthy thematic companions.


Flappers & Murder-ski

posted by: October 15, 2012 - 10:22am

The DivinersPrintz Award-winning author Libba Bray has taken readers to Victorian England, crashed us on a deserted island and driven us on mad road trips. In her newest title, The Diviners, Bray drops us in New York City during the Roaring Twenties. The issues of the day are Prohibition, Civil rights, corruption, speakeasies, and murder. Hot Socks!


Sixteen-year-old Evie O’Neill is much too wild and free-spirited for small-town Ohio. After a scandalous party, she is sent to New York City to live with her uncle, the curator of a museum. This sounds like a dream come true for Evie, who plunges headlong into the thrilling nightlife of the city. Fun is the name of the game until a serial killer begins a rampage and young flappers begin to fear the night.


Uncle Will’s museum contains unusual items of American folklore and superstition and is known around town as the Museum of the Creepy Crawlies. When the police come to Will for help in finding the killer, Evie must decide if she will share the secret that has been at the root of her wildness. Evie is a Diviner--she receives images and feelings from touching objects. Should she use her ability to aid in the investigation? If it will get her uncle off of her back and get her back to having fun in the big city, you bet-ski!


Bray has another winner in The Diviners, a well-researched and humorous treat. Evie’s voice is perfectly teenaged-Twenties, full of the colloquialisms and slang of the times. She treats the gruesome murders and her growing affection for the roguish thief Sam with the same level of concern, thus balancing the dark, heavy plot with light, hearty chuckles here and there. Supporting characters include numbers runners and Ziegfeld girls, and side stories are just developed enough to arouse curiosity, which will leave readers anxious for book 2 in this planned trilogy.


National Book Award nominees

posted by: October 11, 2012 - 11:20am

EndangeredOut of reachNever Fall DownFinalists for the 2012 National Book Awards were announced yesterday. In the category of Young People’s Literature, three teen novels earned nominations. All three center around conflict and struggle, sometimes due to outside forces and sometimes from within.


Endangered by Eliot Schrefer examines the complexities of parent-child relationships with a unique twist. Sophie does not understand her mother’s dedication to the bonobos of the Congo, and she resents her life of forced compliance. When the sanctuary is attacked by armed revolutionaries, they must flee into the jungle with the apes. Sophie finds herself a surrogate mother to an infant bonobo named Otto, and she understands for the first time the worries of being a parent as they struggle to survive. View the author’s introduction to Endangered as well as footage from his trip to the Congo.


Family strife also figures prominently in Out of Reach, the lyrical debut by Carrie Arcos. Rachel’s idol has always been her big brother Micah; however, there is a darkness in him that threatens to engulf them both. Micah is a drug addict, albeit a “high-functioning” one, and he has always been able to control himself long enough to win the battle with his addiction. When he fails to come home one night, Rachel blames herself. As she searches for Micah, her own inner darkness rises to the surface and the lies that have woven through the fabric of their family begin to unravel. View the emotional book trailer.


Patricia McCormick earns her second National Book Award nomination with Never Fall Down, a novel based on the true story of a young survivor of the Cambodian Killing Fields. Read the previous Between the Covers review.



While You Were Sleeping

posted by: October 9, 2012 - 8:01am

Anything But OrdinaryAnything But Ordinary, by Lara Avery, is a candid, touching story of a girl who needs to create a new identity for herself while struggling to cope with how everyone close to her has moved on with their lives, while she was sleeping. Seventeen-year-old Bryce’s promising future as a high diver is tragically derailed due to an accident that occurs during her Olympic diving trial. Her family, friends, and a greater portion of her hometown turn out to support her during the diving meet. They witness as the dive goes horribly wrong and she cracks her head on the concrete platform. When Bryce awakens in the hospital she learns that she has been in a coma for five years, and everything in her life has forever changed. There is no Olympic gold medal in her future, her best friend and boyfriend have finished college and are backpacking across Europe. Her parents now have a strained and distant relationship and her younger sister acts angry at the world.


Tired of being kept in the hospital under observation, Bryce neglects to tell her doctors about the stabbing headaches or the shooting pains down her back. Nor does she mention the flashes of visions she periodically gets of things that occurred while she was in the coma and sometimes even of future events. Although alarmed by this, she refuses to let it impact her recovery. Readers will admire and possibly envy Bryce’s inner strength as she fights to regain her mobility, combat loneliness, and cope emotionally with the changes that have taken place in those she loves. While reclaiming her life, she assists her family in the rebuilding of their relationships. Bryce discovers her world may not be the vacuum she initially believed when she first wakes up. This is an inspirational and poignant story that will leave you wanting to cherish each and every day.



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