Posted in Fiction, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Rollin’ with the Royces: YA’s answer to the K… well, you know…

Royce Rolls, by Margaret Stohl, (Apr. 2016, Freeform), $18.99, ISBN: 9781484732335

Recommended for readers 12+

Sixteen year-old Bentley Royce is the “bad girl” member of the Royces, reality TV’s family du jour. Her family: Mercedes, her narcissistic, media-obsessed mother; Porsche, her self-absorbed sister, and her brother, Maybach, who may or may not be nurturing a gambling addiction, live the high life in the spotlight – or is that the camera glare? The thing is, it’s all an act. Bentley is the classic middle child, overlooked and unheard; the one who takes one for the team when the family needs her, whether it’s pretending to be drunk and staggering out of a nightclub or sticking her tongue out for the cameras in true “Bad Bentley” character mode. But things aren’t looking so good for the Royces as of late: the show’s sixth season is up in the air, and Mercedes is desperate to keep her family’s business on the air, no matter how outrageous the shenanigans have to be to stay there. Looks like it’s up to Bentley to pull the family out of the fire one more time.

Royce Rolls is a biting send-up of all things reality TV, taking gleeful aim at shows like that show where everyone’s name starts with a K because the matriarK Klearly needs all the attention the world Kan give. Loaded with “footnotes” from various show insiders and taking a seemingly vapid character and giving readers an inside view of the “reality” machine, we get satire, a whodunit, and a brilliant reference to Stohl’s Black Widow novels (my favorite part of the book).

The novel is narrated through press releases, news clips, and a third-party narrator. There are plenty of pop culture and reality TV references for readers to spot and laugh at; the emphasis here is on the fact that reality TV is NOT real – they have writers and character treatments, just like any fictional show. It’s about the breakdown and redemption of a family, with a mother who would sell her daughter’s first period on television to get viewers and a Hollywood machine that treats people as disposable. And it’s about how one person can decide to finally say, “Enough”.

I didn’t love Royce Rolls, in part because I found most of the characters exasperating and in part because I’m sick of 99% of reality TV. (I have my vices, I am human.) But I did enjoy it; teens will get a kick out of the references, the unexpected romance, and the satisfying ending.

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

Dance like your life depends on it: Spin the Sky

Spin the Sky, by Jill MacKenzie, (Nov. 2016, Sky Pony Press), $17.99, ISBN: 978-1510706866

Recommended for readers 14+

Eighteen year-old Magnolia Woodson and her older sister, Rose, have to live with the sins of their drug addict mother, who abandoned them after a tragedy a year before. Living in a small clamming town in Oregon, everyone knows who they are and what happened; the only folks who seem to think differently are Magnolia’s childhood best friend, George, and his mother, who’s taken care of the girls whenever their mother fell short. To change the way the town sees Magnolia and her sister, she decides she need to win the reality dance show, Live to Dance. She and George head to Portland to audition, but they make it! Now the real work begins: will the competition be too much for Mags? Will her friendship with George survive the stress of the show, and will she be able to live in the fishbowl that is reality television, especially with a secret she doesn’t want made public?

Spin the Sky has a strong premise that isn’t afraid to tackle some hot-button topics like drug addiction, sexuality, abortion, and miscarriage. Some of your more conservative readers may shy away from this one; steer them toward books like Sophie Flack’s Bunheads, Lorri Hewett’s Dancer, or Sarah Rubin’s Someday Dancer. Magnolia is a tough character to crack: she’s consumed with what other people think of her, and obsesses over winning the competition, seemingly just so that the town will accept her and her sister. She has a complicated love-hate relationship with her mother (understandably), and she has an unrequited crush on George, who she thinks is gay – and is really upset when it seems that isn’t the case. The other contestants all have their own issues that the author briefly touches on throughout the novel.

If you have readers who love reading about dance and are interested in reality television, Spin the Sky is a good backup for your shelves.

Posted in Science Fiction, Teen, Uncategorized, Young Adult/New Adult

Caragh M. O’Brien’s The Vault of Dreamers is an unsettling YA thriller

cover46937-mediumThe Vault of Dreamers, by Caragh M. O’Brien, (Roaring Brook Press, Sept. 2014). $17.99, ISBN: 9781596439382

Recommended for ages 14+

In a not-too distant future, environmental upheaval and economic collapse have left many Americans in poverty. For creative teens who want a way out, the Forge School is the answer. A school for the most creative minds, and a reality show all at once, The Forge School/The Forge Show accepts students and keeps 50 out of 100 based on their “blip rate” – how many viewers watch their feed. After making it past the first cut, students’ popularity allows them banner ad income that they can receive, upon graduation, along with opportunities for success. Rosie Sinclair, aspiring filmmaker, is a student at the Forge School, and has discovered that the school has some big secrets. What is going on while the students sleep?

Vault of Dreamers is one of those books that takes a few chapters to build as O’Brien builds a solid story. We learn about Rosie’s background and the backgrounds of other students; we see family dynamics come into play, and we understand the motivation for many of these students to take part in a reality show that not only films you everywhere but the bathroom and shower, but a school that distributes sleeping pills to the student body on a nightly basis to assure that they will have a full 12 hours of sleep for maximum creativity. By the time the story kicks into high gear, we see what Rosie risks in order to learn Forge’s secrets: she’s putting her future and the future of her family on the line.

By the time we understand all of this, the story goes white-knuckle, non-stop. Is Rosie an unreliable narrator? Who can we trust? The reader is just as thrown off as Rosie is, and the need to know what was going on consumed me. The reality show setting will click with teens who have grown up with reality TV and popularity based on “likes” and approval ratings.

The ending nicely sets up a sequel, and even as a standalone work, offers a conclusion that will fuel some great discussions. You may howl in frustration, but you’ll be waiting for the next installment of this series.

The Vault of Dreamers will be published on September 16, but you can pre-order it from Amazon now.