Posted in Realistic Fiction, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Goodnight, Boy is beautiful and raw

Goodnight, Boy, by Nikki Sheehan, (July 2017, One World), $12.99, ISBN: 978-1-78607-210-8

Recommended for readers 12+

The novel of a boy and his dog is brutal and beautiful, all at once. JC is a Haitian child who’s already experienced a brutal life on the streets and orphanages of Haiti when the earthquake strikes. He’s adopted by a rescue worker and her husband and brought to America, but when his new mother is back in Haiti, his stepfather locks JC and his dog, Boy, in a kennel. The story, told in the form of conversations JC has with Boy, unfolds and we learn about JC’s life, and the terrible moment where he and Boy were banished to the kennel.

Goodnight, Boy goes to dark places, but JC’s voice is strong, clear, and stands as a beacon for Boy and for readers. He always holds out hope that things will get better, taking comfort in the smallest moments of light, like hearing children play or seeing balloons from the kennel. As he tells Boy – and us – his story, we learn about grief and loss, but we learn about perseverance and hope, all the same. An intense read, Goodnight Boy is a strong addition to YA bookshelves and can easily cross over to adult reading. It’s a great book for discussion.

Posted in Realistic Fiction, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Book Tour: The Tower, by Nicole Campbell

The Tower, by Nicole Campbell, (June 2017, CreateSpace), $13.50, ISBN: 978-1545411278

Recommended for readers 13+

Three lifelong friends get ready to start their junior year of high school. They live in Elizabethtown, Illinois, and tend to stand out because they’re witches. Not the Harry Potter type, and not the White Witch of Narnia, either: they’re pagans, in touch with nature and the energy around them, and they have no idea how things are going to change for them this year. There’s Rowyn, whose sharp tongue is rivaled only by her skill in reading tarot cards and auras; Reed, forever in love with Rowyn, who channels energy and practices reiki, and Rose, who puts love and little touches of her magic into her baked goods. There’s also Jared, a jock from school who’s dating Rose and seems to be the one person from school that’s willing to take the time to understand his new group of friends. When tragedy strikes, their worlds are upended, and each has to find his or her own way back to some form of balance.

Each chapter is told in the first person from one of our four main characters. This is not a paranormal novel; it’s not an urban fantasy novel. It’s a beautiful story of love and loss, addiction and depression, and a look into a group of friends that grew up on the outside, looking in. Diversity takes many forms, and the pagan belief system, stuck in the middle of Christian conservatism, serves as a powerful setting. Nicole Campbell writes characters that are fragile and strong; they’re dealing with things so many teens find themselves faced with today: divorced parents, bullying, and navigating relationships among them. The Tower is a strong piece of YA realistic fiction that will resonate with teens and young adults.

Posted in Fantasy, Science Fiction, Teen

Gork the Teenage Dragon serves up scaly green goodness

Gork the Teenage Dragon, by Gabe Hudson, (July 2017, Knopf), $24.95, ISBN: 9780375413964

Recommended for readers 14+

Gork’s a dragon, but don’t even think about mentioning Smaug to him. He’s not happy at all with the way dragons are portrayed in Earth fiction, and he’s here to set the record straight. So begins the story of Gork: teenage dragon, student at WarWings Academy, orphaned on Earth during his parents’ mating mission and raised by his scientist grandfather, Dr. Terrible.

Starting off on Crown Day – the day dragon and dragonette cadets at the Academy agree to be mating partners – Gork has one goal in mind: to get the luscious Runcita Floop to wear his crown and agree to be his queen. The problem? His nickname is Weak Sauce, his Will to Power ranking is Snacklicious (if you’re a gamer, think of Will to Power as a CON/DEX/overall attractiveness level) and he’s got a bad habit of fainting when he’s scared. If Runcita says yes, she and Gork will go off in his spaceship and find a planet to conquer together. If Gork can’t sea the deal, he’s doomed to be a slave.

Gork has a heck of a day ahead of him: Dean Floop – his intended’s father – hates him; his sadistic grandfather is on the run from the Dean, he’s being hunted down by a group of WarWings cadets that have murder on their minds, and the Trenx, a fellow cadet who had similarly low ratings, has seemingly blossomed overnight. Before the day is out, Gork will have to survive and learn some hard truths about his family. He’d better keep his best friend – a robot dragon named Fribby – by his side.

Gork is an out-there novel. It’s a page-turner, and Gork is an endearing first-person narrator, if a bit single-minded in focus. He’s obsessed with mating, but he is a teenager, after all. He refers a lot to his “scaly green ass” a lot, which gets tedious. Gork’s story uses fantasy to tackle some very real points: bullying, friendship, self-esteem, and falling in love. It’s a much deeper novel than the title “teenage dragon”encompasses; it’s a fantasy, a YA romance, and a coming of age story.

Posted in Realistic Fiction, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Four Weeks, Five People: Troubled teens learn about themselves

Four Weeks, Five People, by Jennifer Yu, (May 2017, Harlequin Teen), $18.99, ISBN: 9780373212309

Recommended for readers 14+

Five teens meet at a wilderness camp to work on the challenges in their lives. Clarissa suffers from OCD and anxiety; Ben disassociates from reality, preferring to live through movies or television shows; Andrew is the singer of a band, suffering from the anorexia he believes will make him look like the type of rock star fans want to see; Stella suffers from depression, and Mason’s narcissistic personality disorder shows through as an overconfidence and arrogance that puts other people far below his estimation.

Told in separate, first-person narratives, each teen tells a bit of their story – what brought them to wilderness camp – and their point of view experience of the four week program. We read about their daily struggles, clashes with other campers, and staff. The five come together, but don’t really accomplish much over the course of the novel. Most of the time, the characters bicker with the counselors or among themselves, but there is time for a brief romance and the beginnings of some friendships. As in real life, four weeks is not a realistic amount of time to expect the characters to be cured; this is a snapshot of a moment in their therapies.

Four Weeks, Five People is a read that draws you in and progresses quickly. It’s an interesting way to start a dialogue about mental illness, but if you’re looking for a deeper read, I suggest Christina Kilbourne’s Detached, Jo Knowles’ Still a Work in Progress, or J.J. Johnson’s Believarexic.

Posted in Middle Grade, Teen, Tween Reads

Take a peek inside Elise Gravel’s Journal…

If Found Please Return to Elise Gravel, by Elise Gravel, (June 2017, Drawn & Quarterly), $17.95, ISBN: 9781770462786

Recommended for ages 7+

Ever wonder what an artist’s journal looks like? What thoughts, doodles, and ideas wait within the pages? Wonder no longer: If Found Please Return to Elise Gravel lets you peek inside the Canadian artist and author’s (The Great Antonio) journal. There’s wonderful advice for budding authors and artists, combined with drawings and doodles, themed pages and spreads, and notes about little characters she creates.

Most authors advise aspiring writers to write – no matter what, just write¬† to get into the habit of writing. Similarly, Ms. Gravel notes that she draws every night; she draws for fun as often as she draws for work, letting readers know that joy is a really important part of being a working artist and author; and she never critiques the drawings in her black notebook. If they’re ugly, they’re ugly! She gives herself permission to mess things up; in fact, she shares her artwork with daughters, from whom she also draws inspiration.

Gravel’s drawings are bright – even the blacks are vibrant and fun. I loved the pages and pages of silly, fun, adorable monsters; grumps, and creatures. I love her sense of humor, and I love her sense of fun. How can you not enjoy the work of someone who loves what they do? She embraces the silly: something we all need to do a bit more in our own lives.

 

 

I love that I can put this book in my children’s room at the library as easily as I can hand it to my tweens and teens. It’s a fun commentary on the creative process, with helpful advice for older kids who may be interested in pursuing art as a career or more serious hobby. Ms. Gravel turns the tables on the reader at the end, providing readers with starting prompts for their own notebooks, and telling them that it’s their turn. But look at how much fun it is!

 

You know me – I love my programs in a book, and If Found, Please Return to Elise Gravel is another great program in a book. I’ve got a writer’s workshop this summer, where I’ll be working with my Queensboro Kids every week to tell their stories using a different style, from journaling to poetry to comics. I’m also working with my teens on a ‘zine workshop, and a book like If Found is a great addition to my collection, to show kids yet another fun way to express themselves. A must-add!

Posted in Fiction, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

What’s hiding under The Suffering Tree?

The Suffering Tree, by Elle Cosimano, (June 2017, Disney-Hyperion), $17.99, ISBN: 9781484726594

Recommended for ages 14+

After her father’s death and her family’s eviction, Tori Burns, her mother, and younger brother, Kyle, move from Washington DC to Chaptico, Maryland; a small town with a lot of history. She’s received an inheritance of a house and land from a man named the patriarch of the Slaughter family, one of the oldest families in the area – she’s never met him, never heard of him – and his family are none too happy with it. Tori is miserable in the new house and with the Slaughter family, who seize every opportunity to be spiteful to Tori and her mother. Tori learns more about the Slaughter family’s dark history – and the history of the mythical Chaptico witch – when Nathaniel Bishop claws his way out of a grave under the oak tree in her backyard. It’s no zombie movie: Bishop was an abused, indentured servant for the Slaughter family in the 18th century, and he’s been brought back for a purpose that hasn’t yet revealed itself. Tori shelters him in the shed on her property as she struggles to make sense of the weird dreams she’s having. As she and Nathaniel unravel their histories, Tori uncovers the Slaughters’ secrets, finding herself a part of the mystery.

The Suffering Tree is a paranormal mystery that hinges on self-harm. There’s blood magic throughout the book, and the entire plot is set into motion once Tori – who self-harms – spills her own blood on the property. With references to rape, abuse, racism, and slavery, this is a novel that tackles some very big issues. Tori emerges as a strong character who struggles with cutting as a way to deal with the pain of her father’s loss and more recent stresses as the novel unfolds. Her mother isn’t a strong character at all, preferring to handle her daughter’s psychological issues by asking her if she’s okay and suggesting therapy throughout the book.

Teens are going to love this one. There’s suspense and the pace is intense. Booktalk with historical YA mysteries, like the Jackaby series from William Ritter; Stefan Petrucha’s Ripper, and Stephanie Morrill’s The Lost Girl of Astor Street.

Posted in Fantasy, Graphic Novels, Science Fiction, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Alien invasion and rebellion: Shattered Warrior

Shattered Warrior, by Sharon Shinn/Illustrated by Molly Knox Ostertag, (May 2017, :01FirstSecond), $17.99, ISBN: 9781626720893

Recommended for ages 14+

It’s been eight years since Colleen Cavanaugh’s world was invaded, her people enslaved. The Derichets, a warlike alien race, have human slaving in mines and factories, mining and refining minerals to power their weapons and their technology. Colleen, who lost most of her family in the invasion, discovers that her young niece, Lucy, is alive, and bribes the Derichets to get her back. Along with Jann, a member of a gang called the Chromatti, Colleen, Lucy, and Jann try to stay off everyone’s radar and live quietly, a small family of their own. But Colleen is also helping a rebel group that’s causing big problems for the Derichets. When a chance for a big strike against the aliens presents itself, Jann and Colleen have to take it – even if there are dire consequences.

Sharon Shinn is a bestselling sci-fi author; Shattered Warrior is her first graphic novel, illustrated by Molly Knox Ostertag, best known for her Strong Female Protagonist webcomic. Shattered Warrior is the first volume in this story of love amidst rebellion; Shinn and Ostertag certainly have come together to give us a strong female protagonist in Colleen. She’s strong, having endured the invasion of her world and enslavement of her race; the deaths of her family; and now, the discovery of her niece. She keeps her household going in the face of an utterly bleak future, but refuses to open herself to love because she can’t deal with the pain of losing. As the novel progresses, she ultimately realizes that love provides the power to keep going, and falls in love with Jann. The novel ends on a cliffhanger, ensuring that we’ll all be waiting for the next installment.

We don’t know much about the Derichets. We know they’re a warrior race that relies on Colleen’s world’s natural resources and that they appear to be brutal in their methods. We know that some of them have an eye for human women. The Chromatti are barely a step up from a street gang, attacking humans and Derichets alike. The Shattered Warrior characters live in a savage world where survival is the primary directive; everything else comes second, but the main characters still find a way to find small joys where they present themselves. It’s an interesting character study and a story that readers will enjoy. Booktalk this one with War of the Worlds for a new book/classic read pairing.