Popular and beautiful Violet Markey finds herself in a very awkward position after she is literally talked down from a ledge by an oddball, Theodore Finch. The perfect gentleman, he pretends that she saved his life. And maybe she did. He’s been depressed and out of school for months, and was considering jumping, too. A friendship slowly and awkwardly grows, and eventually blossoms into a tender romance. Finch helps Violet become strong again, but by the time she is healthy enough to see things clearly, it’s already too late for him.
Why I picked it up: I loved the jacket design with its raised Post-It Notes and scribbled author and title, plus a sketched bird and a violet that looks like it’s taped down, all against a rough, light blue background that looks like a painted wall. And when I found out I was going to meet the author at ALA Midwinter, I decided to read it on the plane. (Little did I know this would lead to copious weeping in front of strangers.)
Why I finished it: I loved this book so hard. It really ripped my heart out. I know many people with depression, and have wrestled with it myself. To go back and forth between the viewpoints of these two high school seniors as they blindly struggled was really heart-rending. Violet is grieving the death of her sister in a car wreck -- she worries that it was her fault, and it seems more terrible because she survived. In her heart she doesn't believe that she deserves to have lived, or that she should ever be happy again. Finch wants to be happy, but has grown hopeless since his bipolar disorder leaves him in worse condition each time he crashes. The brief joy they find together affects them in opposite ways. Violet is able to reconnect with her support network and family, but at the same time Finch finds himself sliding down with no net except Violet, terrified he will drag her with him.
Readalikes: It’s Kind of a Funny Story, a book about a depressed teen who makes it through a suicidal spell after a stay in a mental hospital surrounded by adults in much worse shape than him. Both books will read believable to teens and give them hope, because they don't pretend that a happy ending is inevitable, though both show a happy ending is possible with support.
For fans of Ally Carter and Kate Brian and those who enjoy boarding school novels comes a companion to Stone Cove Island. A girl struggles to piece together her fractured family. A few weeks into her sophomore year at Ventura High School in California, everything is about to change for Wren Verlaine. It’s always been just Wren and her mother, Hannah, but when Hannah receives a reporting assignment that sends her to Greenland for six months, Wren is shipped off to Hardwick Hall, an old, prestigious boarding school back East. For every ice queen like her suitemate Honor, who looks right through Wren like she doesn’t exist, there’s also a rower with adorably crinkly eyes (that would be Nick) or a friendly and funny fellow musician (like Chazzy). But just as Wren finally starts to settle in at Hardwick, clues begin appearing about the one secret her mother has ever kept from her—the identity of her father—and what Wren ultimately discovers threatens to turn her and her new world upside down.
Teenager Adam Armstrong has Duchenne muscular dystrophy, which will kill him within six months. This makes him eligible for a top-secret program that his father runs, which transfers terminal teenagers’ memories into robotic bodies so they can help fight a rogue AI (Sigma) that has escaped from military control.
Why I picked it up: All the heroes are kids with terminal diseases.
Why I finished it: It's a rip-roaring techno-thriller with an aggressive AI bounding around the world, wreaking havoc and searching to kill Adam and the others in the program. (They are now an unknown quantity Sigma cannot analyze.) The plot is accessible to teens, yet it has a breathless, Tom Clancy feel to it that might make it seem like it belongs in their fathers’ beach bags. Neuromorphic technology allows the kids to take control of any machine connected to a digital port, so they fly planes, take over tanks, and put their augmented, athletic, 800-pound bodies through their paces.
Readalikes: Conor Kostick's Epic series where kids spend a large chunk of their lives within a game world, working together to fight against the corrupt government that uses virtual gaming to control its people. Adam and the others are not in a virtual world, but their worldview has much in common with the kids’ in Kostick’s books because they exists as a collection of digital thoughts and impulses.
“Ryan Britt is . . . the Virgil you want to guide you through the inferno of geekery.” —Lev Grossman, author of the bestselling Magician’s trilogy
Pop Culture and sci-fi guru Ryan Britt has never met a monster, alien, wizard, or superhero that didn’t need further analysis.
Essayist Ryan Britt got a sex education from dirty pictures of dinosaurs, made out with Jar-Jar Binks at midnight, and figured out how to kick depression with a Doctor Who Netflix-binge. Alternating between personal anecdote, hilarious insight, and smart analysis, Luke Skywalker Can’t Read contends that Barbarella is good for you, that monster movies are just romantic comedies with commitment issues, that Dracula and Sherlock Holmes are total hipsters, and, most shockingly, shows how virtually everyone in the Star Wars universe is functionally illiterate.
Romp through time and space, from the circus sideshows of 100 years ago to the Comic Cons of today, from darkest corners of the Galaxy to the comfort of your couch. For anyone who pretended their flashlight was a lightsaber, stood in line for a movie at midnight, or dreamed they were abducted by aliens, Luke Skywalker Can’t Read is full of answers to questions you haven’t thought to ask, and perfect for readers of Chuck Klosterman, Rob Sheffield, and Ernest Cline.
Alix leads a charmed life. She’s the daughter of a wealthy businessman, lives in a nice home, and attends a tony private school. Life is good until she notices that someone is stalking her. Alix is disconcerted, but she’s also intrigued, and anxiously waits for the young man to appear again. But when he does, he (Moses) kidnaps Alix and tells her stories about her father that will change her life forever. Could her father’s company really be lying for purely monetary gain? Or is Moses just part of a fanatical, domestic terrorist organization?
Why I picked it up: I really enjoyed Ship Breaker.
Why I finished it: This is an action-packed thriller with a social conscience and a bit of romance. Bacigalupi kept me on the edge of my seat with twists and turns that made me question who the real good guys were. Some may find the message about corporate spin that favors the rich and powerful over the little guy a bit heavy-handed, but I found it intriguing, exciting, unexpected and empowering.
And I found Alix compelling. She has it all, and her life is pretty well planned out with a smooth road to college and on to whatever career she chooses, yet she is restless and searching for more. Even when presented with the “facts” she has a healthy skepticism about Moses and his mission to speak up for those he feels have been wronged. I love books like this that are unpredictable but lead to a logical and believable climax.
Readalikes: The Firm by John Grisham (an oldie, but a goodie). Although Alix is a teenager, she is faced with many of the same dilemmas as Grisham’s protagonist, Mitch. Do you take the money and enjoy the good life, or do you look beyond to the source of that money and take a stand? Who to trust is a major question in both novels.
It’s 1956. After his mother’s funeral, Jack's aunt whisks him to her apartment at the historic Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco. Too late to enroll in school, he becomes his aunt’s servant and lives under constant threat of being sent to an orphanage. One of the few pleasures his aunt allows is watching Alfred Hitchcock Presents.
One evening during the show, she sends Jack to Blum’s candy shop in the lobby to get her more chocolates. As he enters the elevator he passes the famous director and master of suspense, who appears to be going to a room on their floor. When Jack returns, he finds a message on his aunt’s bedspread -- we have her, no police -- spelled out with half-eaten chocolates. Scared and confused, Jack goes to Hitchcock’s room and begs him to help. The two set out to figure out what happened and why, in an adventure reminiscent of Hitchcock’s most suspenseful scripts.
Why I picked it up: I’m fascinated by both Hitchcock and the Fairmont Hotel.
Why I finished it: Jack is a resourceful young man, and Hitchcock becomes increasingly intrigued in the mystery of his missing aunt. Jack is convinced the director’s experience with crime, though fictional, is his only hope of finding his aunt. It was fun to see how the two worked in tandem, with Hitchcock using his philosophy for cinematic success to help Jack through the investigation. At one point Hitchcock tells Jack they need to make the audience (the kidnappers) see what they expect, not necessarily what is real.
It's perfect for: My buddy’s oldest son, Nick, who is a noir film buff. He will enjoy Hitchcock’s methodology for storytelling as well as the story boards that open the chapters, each of which is titled after one of Hitchcock’s films.
When English teacher Mr. Nowak had a heart attack in the cafeteria lunch line at St Brigid's School, he told Lucy to be brave, to appreciate every sandwich, and to call 9-1-1. Everyone loved Mr. Nowak, who was also called Fat Bob, but after he dies only Lucy remembers that he wanted the class to read To Kill a Mockingbird over the summer. She wants to honor his memory by getting everyone to choose it from the summer reading list. But how do you get teens to read a classic? By making it almost impossible to get. Lucy, Elena, and Michael start a literary conspiracy to make copies all around the state disappear.
Why I picked it up: Another librarian told me that every day in class, Mr. Nowak would write “WWFBD?” (What Would Fat Bob Do?) on the board.
Why I finished it: Mr. Nowak's brief time with his students changes how they think about their world. (When you work with teens, sometimes you need a book like that.) Lucy, Elena, and Michael have parents who influence them by passing on their values and living in positive ways. It was a nice change from books where kids are orphaned or seem to be totally without adult supervision. I could see how the teens ended up wanting to change the world and inspire others.
Readalikes: It’s perfect to pair with Janet Tashjian's The Gospel According to Larry, another book about a teen inspired to action by a classic, in this case Thoreau's Walden, whose ideas take on a life of their own. Larry starts an anonymous blog about his efforts to have as few possessions as possible and his thoughts about consumerism, but as the blog gains national attention it gets harder for him to hide his identity. I think both books are good ways to start conversations with young people about what changes they want to see around them.
Evan is Captain Commander's biggest fan and has always wanted to be a superhero. At a theme park entrance he is hit by mysterious rays (think “steroidal sun-lamp”). As a result he gets annoyingly irregular superpowers, but they are enough to qualify him to be measured for a costume and enrolled in classes at Hero Academy. For his training period he is partnered with Foxman, a former drunk and diminished hero who used to work with Captain Commander. Evan learns that not all is at it seems in the super world. Foxman, Evan, and his new school friends are soon fighting against an evil plot that could wipe out all heroes.
Why I finished it: To gawk at the cool superpowers. Foxman is a technomancer who can instantly understand and use any technology, Burnish can become metal or flow through circuits as an electrical impulse, Howl has a sonic voice that can be used as a weapon, and SpeedSlick is super fast. And the premise -- I can't ruin it here -- is one that I have not seen before in a superhero book.
It's perfect for: Spencer, one of my TA's in the library, who would enjoy the quirky humor. Evan takes classes like Costume Maintenance and Basic Bantering so he will know what to say to distract evildoers. The academy also teaches that capes are a death wish -- they look cool but get caught in airplane engines and the like.
Emily Bird, the good daughter of two prominent biochemists, wakes up in the hospital after taking (or being slipped) a drug at a party where she, her boyfriend Paul, the enigmatic Coffee, and a number of other young people were networking with adults who might help them with their careers. When CIA agent Roosevelt, who was at the party, comes to the hospital for a very private and tense conversation about her parents' work and a dangerous new influenza strain, she suspects he was behind her drugging and that he does not wish her well.
Why I picked it up: I'd read and reviewed her first book, The Summer Prince, and loved it, so I had to see if this new novel would be as satisfying and as original.
Why I finished it: Nearly all the characters in this book are African American, and they all defy stereotypes. Emily Bird is a smart girl, but she lives in the shadow of her mother's expectations. It was great to see her grow as she navigates the elite high school social scene as she’s torn between achievement-driven Paul, who wants to work for the CIA, and Coffee, who is smart and independent-minded, but also their high school's drug dealer. As she begins thinking and acting independently, she lets her hair go natural and develops a real friendship with the only out lesbian at her school.
Readalikes: Cory Doctorow's thriller Little Brother. Both feature smart teens developing a strong distrust of arbitrary authority.
Twelve-year-old Adrian Velba is getting ready to enter the tournament for the first time. The prize: a cup full of gold coins he wants to use to help his mother.
Muscular, handsome Richard Aldana is late for tournament registration, and he has no idea he needs a partner. He and Adrian decide to team up, after he convinces Adrian’s mom that his intentions are good.
As the fights commence (they’re a combination of magic and hand-to-hand combat), Adrian spends time explaining the rules and the fighters to Aldana. When Aldana finally steps into the ring, the physicality and brutality of his style is a bit shocking to the spectators, though it’s usually quite effective.
Book 1 and Book 2 are about the tournament, with a bit of romance as both Adrian’s teacher and Aldana pursue Adrian’s mother. It’s obvious that Aldana has come from far away to compete in this medieval town, though it’s not clear from how far until Book 3 when things change and a chase starts that leads to a different world.
Why I picked it up: I’ve never read a French graphic novel that was so stylistically influenced by manga.
Why I finished it: Adrian's enthusiasm for the tournament is contagious. There’s a moment at the beginning of Book 1 where he’s supposed to be sleeping, but he can’t. He’s too excited. When he gets up to practice his moves, his mom yells at him. It’s cute. The enthusiasm makes him the perfect person to explain their competition to Aldana (and us) as the pair watch the early rounds, and then start to win their fights. And Adrian is quite brave -- he wants to fight first despite being the (much) smaller member of the team. I was hoping that at some point he’d silence the doubting spectators who believed he wasn’t any good.
Readalikes: The cartoonish, magical fights and especially the bizarre justice system of the world visited in Book 3 reminded me of the more berserk moments in One Piece, a strange and often hilariously violent story about a young man with a rubber body trying to become king of the pirates.