Index of YA Reviews

Melissa SarnoYoung adult and childrens’ book review editor Melissa Sarno is a writer and media producer living in Brooklyn, NY. She studied Communications at Cornell University and received an MFA in Screenwriting from Boston University. After a few years working in television production, she made the switch to children’s media. When she’s not writing elegant prose for preschool toys and games, she writes novels and short stories. She blogs for the B&N Kids blog and at http://melissasarno.com. Contact her at editor@cleavermagazine.com.

A 52-HERTZ WHALE by Bill Sommer and Natalie Haney Tilghman Carolrhoda Lab, 197 pages reviewed by Kristie Gadson When a humpback whale becomes separated from its pod, it emits a unique song in an effort to find its way back to its loved ones. When certain people experience feelings of isolation, they seek companionship through indirect social interaction. Bill Sommer and Natalie Haney Tilghman's A 52-Hertz Whale explores the nature of loneliness through a series of email correspondences, all between people with little else in common other than the desire for understanding. From the conversations of these starkly different people springs a series of beautiful, if uncanny, friendships. A 52 Hertz-Whale reveals that some of the most meaningful relationships can be forged even when the only thing we have in common is the fear of being alone. Fourteen-year-old James Turner ("whaleboy4ever@gmail.com") sends his first email after discovering that his adopted humpback whale, Salt, was separated from its migratory pod. Recent film graduate Darren Olmstead ("the.darren.olmstead@gmail.com") receives the long email detailing James' efforts to uncover the lost whale’s whereabouts, and a plea for Darren's assistance. What a kid from a middle school social skills class wants with the guy who ...
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A BLIND GUIDE TO STINKVILLE by Beth Vrabel Sky Pony Press, an imprint of Skyhorse Publishing Inc., 288 pages reviewed by Mandy King A Blind Guide to Stinkville is a story told through the fuzzy vision of 11-year-old Alice, whose albinism and near blindness give her the perspective to uncover hidden stories of the people in her new town. The genius of Vrabel’s approach is that the reader meets the other characters through nuances of feelings and impressions rather than stark physical descriptions. The book is not a page-turner plot-wise and there are no major catastrophes; instead the novel peers beneath the superficial to reveal important lessons about what it means to be a member of small town community. Despite the fact that Alice has to use a magnifying glass to read a book a few inches from her face, she is the only person in the story who truly sees what is going on around her. Initially, Alice thinks her new hometown of Sinkville, aka “Stinkville,” is a horrible place dominated by the terrible smell emanating from the local paper-mill. It’s nothing like where she grew up in Seattle. However, as Alice reveals the stories of the townspeople, ...
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A FIERCE AND SUBTLE POISON by Samantha Mabry Algonquin Young Readers, 278 pages reviewed by Allison Renner Everywhere we go we are surrounded by stories. Stories about people and places, stories that are told and retold until they are so shrouded in mystery, no one remembers the origin, and no one is brave enough to discover the truth. Like Samantha Mabry’s legend of the poisonous girl. Lucas Knight and his father come to Puerto Rico every summer from Houston, Texas. Lucas’s father transforms abandoned, historical buildings into extravagant resorts, while Lucas is content to find trouble with his friends—at least until he’s old enough to take over his father’s business. The island is populated with legends of curses and witches, which Lucas believes despite his father telling him not to. Lucas’s mother was Puerto Rican and told him her fair share of myths before she disappeared. He and his friends build on the myths they hear, spinning their own versions until they don’t remember what’s supposedly true. This much is common knowledge: there is a house where a scientist lives. A white man. He was married to a Puerto Rican woman, but traveled often for work, leaving his wife alone ...
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A HOUSE MADE OF STARS by Tawnysha Greene Burlesque Press, 189 pages, 2015. reviewed by Kathryn Kulpa In the very first scene of A House Made of Stars, Tawnysha Greene’s debut novel, the ten-year-old narrator and her sister are awakened by their mother, who spirits them to a darkened bathroom where all three sit in the bathtub, towels piled over them, while the house shakes with thuds so loud even the narrator’s deaf sister can feel their vibrations. Their mother tells them it’s a game. She tells them they’re practicing for earthquakes. But even at ten, the narrator knows it’s not nature’s rage they need to fear. It’s their father’s. Greene’s voice in this novel is pitch perfect, an eerie and convincing combination of innocence and prescience. The hard-of-hearing narrator is homeschooled and isolated; her mother believes public schools will not teach “Godly things.” Yet her understanding of their family dynamic and her father’s mental illness are intuitive and profound. Without adult labels or filters, we see his depression, his paranoia, his moments of happy, expansive mania that can change in an instant to brutal  outbursts, and the scars he carries from his own violent childhood. We see her mother’s ...
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A TYRANNY of PETTICOATS: 15 Stories of Belles, Bank Robbers & Other Badass Girls edited by Jessica Spotswood Candlewick Press, 347 pages reviewed by Leticia Urieta In her introduction to the anthology, A Tyranny of Petticoats: 15 Stories of Belles, Bank Robbers and other Badass Girls, editor and author, Jessica Spotswood, describes her longtime interest in the study of history as something “tactile and ever present,” beyond dates and facts. Spotswood acknowledges the problematic nature of historical writings in the past: “Despite their many contributions, women— especially queer women, women of color, and women with disabilities—have too often been erased from history.” Her acknowledgement captures the spirit of the book; the need to give women authors a chance to fill this absence, and tell the complex stories of young women that mainstream history has forgotten. Spotswood has collected fifteen authors, including herself, to contribute short stories that reflect the perspectives of girls across different time periods of American history, starting from 1710 and ending in 1968. The collection spans different regions, cultures, classes and linguistic traditions. As a writer, I can imagine the challenges these authors faced to create this wonderful array of stories, to compress the unique ...
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ARE YOU SEEING ME? by Darren Groth Orca Book Publishers, 278 pages reviewed by Allison Renner Books are often seen as a respite from everyday life and road trip books can be an even greater escape. They let you travel without having to go through airport security or get stuck in a strange city's traffic. Darren Groth’s Are You Seeing Me? takes readers from an Australian airport to several stops in Canada and the United States, journeying alongside nineteen-year-old Justine and her twin brother, Perry. The trip is a big undertaking, but it’s meant to be a send-off, a farewell to the lives the twins have always known. Justine and Perry’s father died a year ago and, since then, Justine has been Perry’s caregiver. Before his death, their father secured Perry, who has autism, a spot at an independent living facility. Justine is conflicted: Perry says he wants to move away; her boyfriend wants to move in; and she can finally live a life without caring for a brother with disabilities. But she doesn’t really mind taking care of Perry, and worries that he’ll forget about her as he establishes his own independent life. She knows how to prevent his ...
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BREAKFAST WITH NERUDA by Laura Moe Merit Press, 252 pages reviewed by Kristie Gadson At some point in our lives, many of us bury parts of ourselves that we aren't ready to face. These layers can form over time; from people we've encountered, from situations we've endured, or from issues we've found lodged deep within our psyche. They can protect us, like a shield, from life's many fluctuations, and they can contribute to a great part of who we are. However, this protection can come at a cost–we can become distant, untouchable, and unreachable to those we love or resist the change we need to grow. In Laura Moe's debut novel, Breakfast with Neruda, we journey with Michael Flynn as he learns to peel back the layers that have shielded him for so long. We first meet Michael spending the summer cleaning his school, which serves as the first part of his two-part sentence after detonating his locker in an ill-conceived attempt to destroy his ex-best-friend's car. Through Moe's simple, yet, descriptive, writing, we soon realize that being condemned to custodial work and having to repeat his senior year are the least of Michael's worries. I go out to my car ...
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BREATH TO BREATH by Craig Lew Little Pickle Press, 432 pages reviewed by Heather Leah Huddleston Seventeen-year-old William has been dealt a bad hand in life. Raised for as long as he can remember by his grandparents, Gramps dies and G’ma can’t take care of him, so William is shipped from Kansas to California to live with his estranged father. He has no real memories of his mother, except the fictionalized ones he makes up for his friends. And there’s this: he has a history of violence; he nearly killed someone in Kansas. The novel unfolds like both a mystery and a coming-of-age story as he tries to come to an understanding of who he really is. Though violence seems to follow him, we learn that the violence has a reason; he saves a girl from being raped; he saves a boy from being beaten by bullies; he saves himself after being finger raped by the captain of the football team. Within the gray area surrounding all the violence lies the question: is there ever a time when violence is okay? Or at least understandable? William’s sleep is haunted by nightmares of whales being hacked to death by faceless people ...
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BURN BABY BURN by Meg Medina Candlewick Press, 305 pages reviewed by Rachael Tague New York City is one of my favorite places to visit. I adore Broadway, Times Square, and ice skating at Rockefeller Plaza. But thirty-some years ago, the Big Apple was not the magical tourist attraction it is today, especially if you had “the wrong skin color or a last name like López.” Disco, dancing, free love, and women’s rights typically define 1970’s America, but, for Nora López, New York City in 1977 means arson, looting, serial murders, a struggling mother, and an increasingly dangerous brother. In Burn Baby Burn, acclaimed children’s and young adult author Meg Medina presents a strong female protagonist in one of New York City’s most tumultuous years. Nora should be able to look forward to college, boys, and an all-night dance party with her best friend Kathleen to celebrate their eighteenth birthdays. She should be care-free, dancing to Parliament, Heatwave, the Ramones, Donna Summer, Pink Floyd, and Led Zeppelin. Instead, she’s worried about police brutality, scorching summer temperatures, and navigating the dangerous suburbs of NYC as an attractive young Latina in a sea of sickos and psychos like Sergio, the drug dealer ...
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DR. RADWAY’S SARSAPARILLA RESOLVENT by Beth Kephart illustrated by William Sulit New City Community Press, 190 pages Reviewed by Michelle Fost When I lived in Philadelphia, I sensed its history underfoot. One pleasure of Beth Kephart’s lively new historical Philadelphia novel is the strong fit of the writer’s project and the story she tells. In Dr. Radway’s Sarsaparilla Resolvent, Kephart looks at material from the past that we might consider lost to us and demonstrates how traces of that past stay with us through research and writing. In her story of William Quinn in 1870’s Philadelphia, too, much has been lost. As fourteen-year-old William goes in search of what has been taken from his family and as he thinks about what he is missing (including a murdered brother and a father in prison), we see that a great deal of what is loved can be recovered. William internalizes his brother Francis’s voice and can imagine what Francis would say to him at an important moment. Dr. Radway’s Sarsaparilla Resolvent shines as a novel about grief itself, suggesting that in thinking about what we miss, we keep what’s missing alive. Dr. Radway’s Sarsaparilla Resolvent opens with a haunting ...
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IF YOU WERE HERE by Jennie Yabroff Merit Press, 272 pages reviewed by Caitlyn Averett Being normal and making it through high school unscathed can be a big deal, and, for sixteen-year-old Tess, it’s all she’s ever wanted. In Jennie Yabroff’s debut young adult novel, If You Were Here, Yabroff shows the normal struggles of growing up combined with the confusion of dealing with a parent suffering from mental illness. If You Were Here follows Tess Block, a girl who relishes summer vacations where she can hide away in her grandmother’s country cabin and not have to deal with high school or family. It means no contact with her best friend, Tabitha, because there’s no cell service, but Tess enjoys the freedom of escaping NYC for a few months, and the freedom from what’s going on at home with her mother. Tess manages high school and a difficult home life thanks to these summer breaks and weekends spent with Tabitha watching and quoting Sixteen Candles. But Tess’s semblance of ‘normal’ disappears when Tabitha decides she wants to be part of the popular group, leaving Tess behind. This abandonment marks the beginning of Tess’ life spiraling out of control. When her ...
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INK AND ASHES by Valynne E. Maetani Tu Books, 380 pages reviewed by Leticia Urieta Valynne E. Maetani’s debut novel, Ink and Ashes, begins with the narrator Claire’s eerie statement: “I stared at my pink walls, wishing away the smell of death. I imagined the wispy smoke snaking its way through the narrow spaces around my closed door, the tendrils prying at tucked away memories.” This observation cements her voice as protagonist, a mixture of sensitivity, uncertainty, and fierceness. As the smell of incense wafts up to her room – part of a ritual to honor her father since his passing ten years ago – she struggles to reconcile memories of her father with what she later discovers about him. And it’s this powerful voice that leads us through a heart-pounding narrative journey, exploring the nebulous nature of memory and trauma. At seventeen, Claire deals with the typical issues of a teenage girl: homework, relationships with boys, and overprotective parents. Still, her life is colored by the loss of her father. Looking back through his old journal, Claire discovers a mysterious letter from her father addressed to her stepdad George, whom she believed her father had never met before. Suddenly, the ...
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IT LOOKS LIKE THIS by Rafi Mittlefehldt Candlewick Press, 327 pages reviewed by Allison Renner The teenage years are a time for young people to discover their identities and explore and push the boundaries of structured life. The lucky ones are given room to experiment as they explore. It Looks Like This is a book about what happens when someone is not given that freedom. When Mike and his family move, just before his freshman year, Mike starts high school in a new state and begins to forge some tentative friendships. But Victor, also low on the totem pole in terms of the high school hierarchy, seems to have a personal beef with him. Mike tries to lay low and mind his own business but Victor’s attention is unsettling. Mike finds himself drawn to another new student, Sean, an attractive mixed-race guy who joins Mike’s French class. Assigned to a major project, they start spending a lot of time together and Mike starts to feel the electricity between them, though he’s not sure if those feelings are reciprocated. While their relationship grows, keeping things quiet at school, Victor is always around, it seems, watching. This potential budding relationship ...
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LABYRINTH LOST    by Zoraida Córdova Sourcebooks Fire, 321 pages reviewed by Leticia Urieta Alejandra Mortiz is a bruja. She lives her life in the presence of death. She comes from a long line of brujas, each with their own unique manifestation of power. But Alex, as her family and friends know her, does not revere the magical legacy of her family; she fears it. After seeing her Aunt Rosaria rise from the dead as a child, Alex is burdened by the sense that magic is not a gift, as her sisters Rose and Lula believe, but a curse. Her fear grows more acute as her Death Day approaches. This is a bruja’s coming of age celebration when the manifestation of her power is blessed by her ancestors. To add to Alex’s worries, strange things are happening. She crosses paths with a young brujo, named Nova, who is a charming and suspicious element in her already tense life. She hears mysterious voices in her head, and her magic power begins to appear in frightening ways, alienating her from her family and her best friend Rishi. When the family is attacked, Alex has to take things into her own hands to ...
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LOCAL GIRL SWEPT AWAY by Ellen Wittlinger Merit Press, 269 pages reviewed by Kristie Gadson Ellen Wittlinger's Local Girl Swept Away is a gripping story of loss, denial, and deception wrapped up in a page-turning mystery that’s hard to put down. When Lorna is pulled underwater during a storm, her death shakes the community of Providencetown, but no one is more shaken than her best friend Jackie Silva. Lorna was everything Jackie feels she isn’t: untamed, beautiful, brave, and outgoing—not to mention lucky enough to have had Jackie’s crush, their best friend Finn, as her boyfriend. Jackie is the undisputed number two and it's something she has accepted about herself. But, with Lorna gone, life becomes confusing and uncertain. Who is she now? In Lorna’s absence, Jackie slowly builds the strength to rediscover parts of herself she had forgotten. Her love of photography takes on a new fervor and, through the camera lens, she experiences the parts of her life that still hold meaning. Her increased volunteer work at the Jasper Street Arts Center opens doors that she didn’t know could be opened: a chance at getting into her dream school, the Rhode Island Institute of design, and ...
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LOVE, ISH by Karen Rivers Algonquin Young Readers, 288 pages reviewed by Christine M. Hopkins “As a planet, the Earth is mostly OK, I guess. It’s just not for me,” the titular narrator, Ish, begins. “You don’t have to try to change my mind. It won’t work! I know that there is plenty here that’s terrific. But none of it is enough.” Twelve-year-old Mischa Love—or Ish—wants to be among the first colonists on Mars more than anything, and has applied to a program in Iceland offering this chance (and been rejected) nearly 50 times. She knows pretty much everything there is to know about Mars. When it comes to science, her convictions are strong. “Global warming is a real thing,” she tells us with unwavering certainty. “You can pretend it’s not, but that’s just dumb. It’s science.” Love, Ish begins innocently enough; Karen Rivers immediately establishes Ish’s voice, a typical girl with occasional friend problems and an introspection and commitment to traveling to Mars that’s wise beyond her years. But on her first day of seventh grade, Ish collapses. When she wakes up, she gets news that will derail her entire future: she has a cancerous brain tumor. Ish’s mantra, ...
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OUT OF DARKNESS by Ashley Hope Pérez Carolrhoda LAB, 402 pages reviewed by Leticia Urieta Out of Darkness is broken into parts: before the disaster and after. This compelling novel is rooted in history, and the book begins with the aftermath of the 1937 New London school explosion in East Texas and a town reeling from disaster. Volunteers move debris, collect the severed limbs of school children, and build caskets for the dead. The narrative voice embodies the horror, the grief, and the growing need for someone to blame. This is how the story begins, with a sense of impending doom, and this feeling of dread pervades the rest of the novel, the “before”, leading up to the “after.” The story encompasses a school year, oscillating between the third person points of view of a family hoping to make a new start. Naomi Vargas moves to New London from San Antonio with her twin brother and Sister, Beto and Cari, to live with their father, her stepfather, Henry Smith. From the beginning, the rules are clear; no Spanish at school or around town; watch where you go; attend church revivals and socialize with the locals. New London is an oil ...
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RANI PATEL IN FULL EFFECT by Sonia Patel Cinco Puntos Press, 314 Pages reviewed by Kristie Gadson In her debut young adult novel Rani Patel in Full Effect, Sonia Patel takes us back to the era of faded box cuts, high-top Adidas, and gold chains as thick as your wrist; to the era where hip-hop reigned supreme and rhymes flowed out of boom boxes like water down Moaula Falls. The year is 1991, and here we meet Rani Patel, a straight-A student council president by day and an emerging rapper under the stage name MC Sutra by night. In a one-of-a-kind mixture of nineties slang, pidgin Hawaiian, and traditional Gujarati, Rani's story is told from a perspective that's undeniably fresh and unapologetically raw. From the very beginning the book ensnares you with a powerful scene of Rani shaving her head after seeing her father with another woman. As her tears fall so, too, does all of her hair, giving herself the Indian mark of a widow. Her father once meant everything to her, and she meant everything to him—or so she thought. He lovingly called her his princess, and for a time they were nearly inseparable. With her father now ...
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SEEING OFF THE JOHNS by Rene S. Perez II Cinco Puntos Press, 220 pages reviewed by Leticia Urieta In the Texas town of Greenton, the talented few become mythical figures in the eyes of the locals, leaving those outside the spotlight to contemplate where they stand in the scheme of small town life. This could be a familiar story about growing up in someone else’s shadow, but, in this case, Seeing Off the Johns explores what happens in the aftermath of disaster; the loss of young life on the cusp of greatness. Jon Robison and John Mejia, or “the Johns,” as the Greentonites call them, are two high school sports stars who receive scholarships to play baseball for the University of Texas at Austin. The day they prepare to leave town is met with celebration and sadness as they two young men sever ties and move on from the place that nurtured and worshipped them. On the way to Austin to move into their dorm rooms, the Johns’ tire blows out on the highway, killing them both in the crash. Their end is the novel’s beginning. It seeks to tell the legend of the Johns versus the reality of them, ...
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SIGNS OF YOU by Emily France Soho Teen, 240 pages reviewed by Rebecca Lee  Books labeled as science fiction and young adult can conjure many stereotypical images; a first kiss awkwardly felt on a playground swing set or a gothic vampire trying to survive an unknown universe. Emily France’s Signs of You defies these stereotypes as it takes on the story of a loss, friendship, and healing. The novel stars a likeable teenage girl, Riley, who has recently lost her mother in a fatal car accident. She and her three best friends, Jay, Noah, and Kate, all deal with the loss of a loved one and support one another through it. When they stumble upon an ancient cross, however, their relationship with death changes forever. As they take turns wearing the cross necklace, they begin to see the people they lost. Although much of the novel may seem other-wordly, themes of friendship and coping with loss remain grounded and easy to relate to. Riley and her friends are loyal and help one another move forward in their lives. After Mom’s funeral, it didn’t take long to get sick of the pity on people’s faces when they saw me, followed by ...
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SURVIVING SANTIAGO by Lyn Miller-Lachmann Running Press Teens, 312 pages reviewed by Leticia Urieta Many authors employ a tried-and-true formula for young adult novels with a female protagonist: girl is displaced for a period of time to live with a relative or parental figure from whom they feel disconnected, girl meets love interest, and adventure ensues. Lyn Miller-Lachmann’s Surviving Santiago, the sequel to her first novel Gringolandia, meets these expectations with the inclusion of some of these tropes: the displacement to another country, the disconnected parent, the dangerous love interest and the naïve teenage girl, but the novel partially subverts this formula. It explores complicated relationships and the self-empowerment that occurs when one accepts people for who they are. Christina “Tina” Aguilar is sent off to her homeland of Santiago, Chile for the summer at the insistence of her estranged father, Marcelo. It’s been eight years since she has returned to Chile after Marcelo was imprisoned by Pinochet’s dictatorship for his work with the Socialist underground. Tina leaves her friends and newly remarried mother in Madison, Wisconsin to stay with Marcelo and her Tia Ileana, her aunt and her father’s caretaker. Tina hopes that this will be a chance to ...
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THE BOOK OF LANEY by Myfanwy Collins Lacewing Books, 200 pages reviewed by Kathryn Kulpa When terrible acts of violence occur—as they do all too often in America—our thoughts naturally turn to the victims and their families. But what about the families of those who commit violent crimes? What if someone you grew up with was a school shooter, a terrorist, a mass murderer? That’s the reality fifteen-year-old Laney is living. Her brother West and his friend Mark, two high school outcasts, boarded a school bus armed with machetes, knives, guns, and homemade bombs. Six people died; twelve were wounded. Mark blew himself up, but West made his way home to kill his mother, and he would have killed Laney, too, if police hadn’t stopped him. Left with the wreckage her brother left behind, Laney feels completely alone, unwanted, even hated. Her father died when she was young, and her mother’s boyfriend is only interested in leaving the state as soon as possible. Strangers phone the house with death threats. This is her only identity now: the killer’s sister. The Book of Laney is a young adult novel about facing the worst things the world can hand out and learning ...
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THE DEVIL AND WINNIE FLYNN by Micol Ostow illustrated by David Ostow Soho Teen, 326 pages reviewed by Rachael Tague I don’t like to be scared. I can’t stand that chill-in-the-air, breath-on-my-neck, sweat-in-my-palm terror that comes with horror stories. The last time I tried to read a scary book, I was twelve, and I flipped to the epilogue before I was halfway through to relieve the tension. That’s the only time I’ve ever read the end of a book without reading everything in between. But if I had the option to stop in the middle of The Devil and Winnie Flynn, I would have given up during the séance in the criminal ward of an abandoned insane asylum. As it was, I had to shut the book, take a breath, and reorient myself to reality before I could continue with this creepy tale. Brother-Sister duo Micol and David Ostow (So Punk Rock (and Other Ways to Disappoint Your Mother)) team up for the second time to write and illustrate The Devil and Winnie Flynn, packing the pages with ghostly spirits, exorcisms, demons, psychics, and all manner of haunted locations, its characters seeking communion with the dead and the damned. Cleverly ...
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THE GIRL IN THE WELL IS ME Karen Rivers Algonquin Young Readers, 218 pages Reviewed by Rebecca Lee We’ve all experienced the feeling of being stuck. Whether it’s situational or emotional, sometimes it feels like there is no getting out of the dark tunnel that lies ahead. In The Girl In The Well Is Me by Karen Rivers, the main character, Kammie, is literally stuck in a cold, dark, tunnel with no way out. At eleven years old, Kammie is focused on the insular universe that inhabits a middle-schooler. She is concerned with popularity, fitting in with the Mandy and Kandy’s in her class, and making the right impression in her new school. When the reader first meets Kammie, she has just moved from New Jersey to Texas and wants a completely new start. It is only toward the end that the reader finds out why she needs such a drastic new beginning. Karen Rivers does a superb job with metaphor in her current middle grade novel. Every other page is decorated with a metaphor so colorful and real that the reader is instantly transported out of the well. “The well is an animal that’s holding me in its throat, ...
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THE GIRL WHO DRANK THE MOON by Kelly Barnhill Algonquin Young Readers, 400 pages reviewed by Mandy King There’s something compelling about orphan stories and Kelly Barnhill’s The Girl Who Drank the Moon draws on this fascination. When I look back at my favorite childhood books, they all have one thing in common—main characters who are orphaned or abandoned. Barnhill’s story opens and immediately draws the reader in with the tragic, forced abandonment of a baby girl in the forest, an annual sacrifice meant to appease the Witch so that the villagers of the Protectorate may live safely for the next year. This middle grade fantasy is a story with a magical twist. Baby Luna is not completely abandoned because a good witch saves her. In fact, the kind-hearted witch Xan has been saving the babies of the Protectorate every year and taking them to towns across the forest where they are beloved by their new families. These are the Star Children, so called because, on the journey, Xan feeds them magic from the stars. During the journey with baby Luna, two unusual things occur—one, Xan falls in love with Luna and decides to adopt her as her grandchild, ...
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THE LIGHT FANTASTIC by Sarah Combs Candlewick Press, 311 pages reviewed by Allison Renner To make a book about school shootings stand out among an influx of young adult books about the topic takes skill and in her new novel The Light Fantastic Combs delivers with detailed characters and a unique premise. Told from several different points of view, the novel covers the span of a few hours across multiple time zones as a new day starts and a nationwide school shooting epidemic begins. While some of the narrators identify their names and details of their past and present, others are referred to by their state, and are more resistant about sharing their personal stories. But there is some overlap, where details shared by a named narrator are later mentioned in a more anonymous chapter. This creates a delightfully suspenseful uncertainty where the reader isn’t sure who is “good”—an innocent high school student—or who is “bad”—a high school student holding a grudge against classmates. April, who dwells on tragedies that occurred in her birth month, has hyperthymesia, a condition that allows her to remember every detail about her daily life. She scopes out emergency exits when she’s in public and toes the ...
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THE TRAVELS OF DANIEL ASCHER by Déborah Lévy-Bertherat translated by Adriana Hunter Other Press, 189 pages reviewed by Melissa M. Firman How well do we really know the people we love? What happens when the family stories and personal histories we’ve grown up believing turn out to be fiction—or, at best, a version of the truth? These are the questions explored in The Travels of Daniel Ascher, the debut novel of Déborah Lévy-Bertherat. Translated from the French by Adriana Hunter, this is a quick, fast-paced read where much happens in this story-within-a-story novel. Hélène, a 20 year old archaeologist living in Paris, is a typical university student; she’s exploring her new city, falling in love with Guillaume, and occasionally babysitting a young neighbor boy. Among the few people she knows in Paris is her great-uncle, Daniel Roche, a famous author. His books, written under the pseudonym H.R. Sanders, are bestselling literary travel adventures with dashes of fantasy and mystery. (Think Harry Potter.) Great-uncle Daniel has always been somewhat of an enigma. Living in such close proximity to him (Hélène rents a room in the same building) draws her more closely into his mysterious world. Doing so offers her an opportunity ...
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THIS IS THE STORY OF YOU by Beth Kephart Chronicle Books, 256 pages reviewed by Rachael Tague When I sat down to read Beth Kephart’s newest novel, This Is the Story of You, its title and cover art caught my attention—personal, serene, then chaotic. I read the first line of chapter one—Blue, for example—and fell in love with the writing. A quarter of the way through the book, I adored each character, and connected with Mira, the narrator and protagonist. Kephart’s mesmerizing writing, wonderful characters, and themes of strength and endurance thrilled me from beginning to end. Mira Banul is “medium everything—blond, built, smart.” She lives on Haven, where “We were six miles long by one-half mile…We were The Isolates. We were one bridge and a few good rules away from normal. We were causal bohemians, expert scavengers, cool.” Haven, a tiny island on the East coast, is a vacation destination in the summer. At the end of the season, the year-rounders return to their school in a refurbished bank and rule the island after-hours. Mira’s best friends, Eva and Deni, have done everything together for as long as they can remember. They work together, study together, compete together, and ...
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WHERE YOU END by Anna Pellicioli Flux, 299 pages reviewed by Allison Renner The trends of paranormal characters and dystopian worlds have played out in young adult fiction, and just in time for Anna Pellicioli to step in. Her debut, Where You End, is a riveting work of contemporary fiction that will captivate an audience of both teens and adults. According to the blurb on the back cover, Pellicioli’s book is about a girl getting over a passionate first love. The Library of Congress summary on the copyright page would have us believe it’s about a girl who is blackmailed when she ruins a museum sculpture. Yes, Where You End is about heartbreak and blackmail, but it’s not the best way to summarize the story. The book doesn’t have a simple, common problem to solve with a few dramatic encounters or wrap up neatly with a life lesson. There’s more depth than that. A seventeen-year-old photographer, Miriam, is caught in emotional turmoil after seeing her ex-boyfriend with a new girl through the lens of her camera. Desperate to do something, anything, Miriam pushes a Picasso statue in the Hirshhorn Museum off its base. It falls and Miriam runs, glancing back to ...
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