Archive for the ‘Teen Fiction Review’ Category

Review of Clap When You Land, by Elizabeth Acevedo

Wednesday, January 20th, 2021

Clap When You Land

by Elizabeth Acevedo
performed by the author and Melania-Luisa Marte

Quill Tree Books, 2020, 6 hours.
Review written July 4, 2020, from a library eaudiobook
Starred Review
2020 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#3 General Teen Fiction

As Clap When You Land begins, Camino goes to the airport in the Dominican Republic to greet her Papi, who comes to stay with her and her aunt every summer. But people at the airport are crying. Then we meet Yahaira in New York City. She is called to the office, where she sees her mother crying and learns that her Papi has been in a plane crash.

Both girls end up dealing with their Papi’s death in the plane crash, and then they have to deal with discovering that he was keeping secrets. So they’re dealing with grief, but also with discovering they have a sister their own age.

Since Yahaira’s mother was married to Papi first, she’s the one who gets insurance money from the airline. But Camino is the one who had relied on money from Papi for school and to keep from being harassed. Both girls look like Papi, and both inherited things from Papi. Camino loves swimming, and Yahaira used to play chess. Now they are figuring out who they are without him and how to go on with their lives.

It’s always a delight to listen to Elizabeth Acevedo read her own work. Her voice has a musical quality. This book is written in verse, though since I was listening rather than reading, I only noticed in spots.

It’s a powerful story of grief and hope and family secrets.

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on an audiobook from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but the views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of The Bridge, by Bill Konigsberg

Sunday, January 17th, 2021

The Bridge

by Bill Konigsberg

Scholastic Press, 2020. 388 pages.
Review written October 27, 2020, from a library book
Starred Review
2020 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#1 General Teen Fiction

The Bridge is a book about suicide.

Two teens, Aaron and Tillie, come to George Washington Bridge to end their lives on April 17. This book tells the four possible stories that could happen from there.

First, chapters 1A through 10A, we find out what happens if she jumps but he doesn’t. (Seeing her jump shook him and stopped him.) Multiple perspectives are used, but mostly we find out how Aaron moves on from there. He does get help, gets diagnosed with depression, and is shaken by how close he came to ending it all. We also see how the lives of Tillie’s family and friends are devastated by her loss.

Then, chapters 1B through 4B (They’re longer chapters), we get the story of what happens if Aaron jumps but Tillie doesn’t. Tillie’s got several different pressures to deal with – getting bullied, a tough break-up, and family pressures. In this thread, she works on dealing with that. We also see the devastation among Aaron’s family and friends.

Chapters 1C through 12C show us the long-range effects if both of the teens jump from the bridge that day. And when I say long-range, each chapter presents something years later, all the way up to thirty-five years later at Aaron’s father’s funeral, where no relative attends. We see the many holes in lives where those two were missing.

The longest section is Chapters 1D through 13D, where the two stop each other from jumping. Things play out differently from the first two scenarios, with some similarities, but the author does a good job of not being repetitive. In this iteration, they have a peer who understands what they’re going through.

Even though you know what will happen in the big picture sense (the idea is presented on the flap), this story is gripping. It’s dealing with suicide, and the author does communicate the despair, so I’m glad I was able to read it in one marathon session rather than stop in the middle. But ultimately, it’s a story of hope, and an effective way to show that individual lives matter.

Yes, there are resources at the back and the author’s own story of being suicidal as a young adult. He spells out in the Author’s Note what the story communicated:

Last but most crucially: You matter. You really, really matter. We want you here. The world wants you here, even when it feels like the opposite is true. It took me so many years to understand that I matter, and I’m extremely grateful that I stayed around long enough to learn that lesson.

This book is a wonderful example of showing rather than telling a story involving deep emotions. It’s a message book, yes, but it’s also a compelling story that’s hard to put down.

billkonigsberg.com
ireadya.com
scholastic.com

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but the views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Elatsoe, by Darcie Little Badger

Wednesday, January 6th, 2021

Elatsoe

by Darcie Little Badger
illustrated by Rovina Cai

Levine Querido, 2020. 360 pages.
Review written November 9, 2020, from a library book
Starred Review
2020 Cybils Finalist: Young Adult Speculative Fiction
2020 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#5 Teen Speculative Fiction

This lovely paranormal fantasy is written by a member of the Lipan Apache tribe and features a Lipan Apache teen girl. At first, I thought it was just Native Americans in the world of the story who were aware of paranormal magic, as the title character has her own ghost dog. But it quickly became apparent that this is a world where magic is taken for granted. Ellie’s best friend is a descendant of Oberon who can conjure will-o’-the-wisps, and his sister is in love with a vampire, or as they call it, one of the Cursed. The magic that causes vampirism is European magic, but Ellie’s family is aware of magic rooted in their ancestral lands. They tell stories of Ellie’s Six-Great Grandmother who healed the land from monsters.

As the book begins, Ellie’s cousin dies in what appears to be a car accident. But that night, he appears to her in a dream and tells her he was murdered. As it happens, the murderer he names is white, rich, and powerful. It won’t be easy to make the charge stick.

One thing I love about this book is that this is not one about children-do-dangerous-things-without-telling-their-parents. Ellie tells her whole family about her dream and they believe her and agree to work together to bring the murderer to justice and make sure that her cousin’s ghost rests. Ellie’s family has a lot to do with this struggle against evil and it’s super refreshing.

This was a wonderful book, engagingly written, and I loved the way it wove in Native American culture. But Ellie’s simply a lovable character, so this isn’t at all a niche book.

Here’s how the book begins:

Ellie bought the life-sized plastic skull at a garage sale (the goth neighbors were moving to Salem, and they could not fit an entire Halloween warehouse into their black van). After bringing the purchase home, she dug through her box of craft supplies and glued a pair of googly eyes in its shallow eye sockets.

“I got you a new friend, Kirby!” Ellie said. “Here, boy! C’mon!” Kirby already fetched tennis balls and puppy toys. Sure, anything looked astonishing when it zipped across the room in the mouth of an invisible dog, but a floating googly skull would be extra special.

Unfortunately, the skull terrified Kirby. He wouldn’t get near it, much less touch it. Maybe it was possessed by a demonic vacuum cleaner. More likely, the skull just smelled weird. Judging by the soy candles and incense sticks at the garage sale, the neighbors enjoyed burning fragrant stuff….

Kirby had progressed a lot since his death. Ellie still wasn’t allowed to bring him on school property, but since the sixth-grade howl incident, Kirby hadn’t caused any trouble, and his cache of tricks had doubled. There were mundane ones: sit, stay, heel, play dead (literally! wink, wink!), and track scents. Moreover, the door had been opened to a bunch of marvelous supernatural powers. He just had to learn them without causing too much incidental chaos.

The illustrations at the front of each chapter add to the beauty of this book.

I’m super impressed that this is a debut novel and looking forward to more by this author.

levinequerido.com

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but the views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of The Beast Player, by Nahoko Uehashi

Wednesday, December 9th, 2020

The Beast Player

by Nahoko Uehashi
translated by Cathy Hirano

Godwin Books (Henry Holt and Company), 2019. 344 pages. First published in Japanese in 2009.
Review written July 8, 2020, from a library book
2020 Printz Honor Book

The Beast Player is set in a detailed fantasy world. Elin’s mother is a steward of the Toda, fearsome beasts that are used for war. But when the Toda under her care get fatally ill, Elin’s mother is executed. Before they can carry it out, she sends Elin on the back of a Toda to a faraway land.

In that land, Elin encounters a friendly old beekeeper who was once a teacher. He finds an eager pupil in Elin. When she grows to be a teenager, he gets her a place learning to care for the Royal Beasts of that country, which are even more fearsome than the Toda.

Elin doesn’t think it’s right to force the beasts to do the will of humans with the Silent Whistle that paralyzes them. She takes on the care of an injured cub and by listening and care, learns to communicate with that beast.

But meanwhile, there are political intrigues at work in the two parts of the country. Elin being able to communicate with a Royal Beast is going to become political if anyone with power finds out. And when the leader of the country is threatened in sight of Elin and her beast, they do find out.

I love the character of Elin in this book, determined to let beasts and people make their own choices, but caught up in large events she’d rather avoid. The world is rich and detailed. I understand there are going to be more books coming out, and I’m looking forward to finding out what happens next.

fiercereads.com

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but the views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of They Went Left, by Monica Hesse

Tuesday, November 17th, 2020

They Went Left

by Monica Hesse
read by Caitlin Davies

Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2020. 9 hours.
Review written July 13, 2020, from a library eaudiobook

They Went Left is a novel of the Holocaust – but takes place after World War II has ended. Zofia Lederman spent months in a hospital, and something’s still wrong with her mind. She still gets pulled into dark memories – and she’s not even sure the memories are real.

Zofia wants nothing more than to find her little brother, Abek. She’s obsessed with the promise she made to him to find him after the war. All the rest of her family is dead – they went left to the gas chambers when sorted at the camp.

First Zofia has a helpful Russian soldier take her to their home in Poland. But it’s empty and has been looted, and Abek isn’t there. It becomes clear she isn’t being welcomed back by her former neighbors, either.

Then Zofiya hears of a place for displaced persons in Germany. Others from the camp where she last saw Abek have gone there. She makes the journey there to find her brother. Once there, she’s surrounded by other people trying to figure out how to go on with their lives. It turns out not every displaced person was even in the camps. And all the while, she’s starting to wonder which of her memories she even dares to believe.

This powerful story will linger in your memory. It captures the exquisite pain of figuring out how to start your life over after seeing your whole family die and experiencing horrors.

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on an eaudiobook from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but the views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of My Calamity Jane, by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows

Thursday, October 29th, 2020

My Calamity Jane

by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows

HarperTeen, 2020. 520 pages.
Review written October 10, 2020, from a library book

This is the third book by “The Lady Janies” about a historical (or fictional) Jane retold with a paranormal twist. The first two – My Lady Jane about Lady Jane Grey and My Plain Jane about Jane Eyre – I was very familiar with the stories they were based on, and especially enjoyed the way they’d been shifted. I was not very familiar at all with the life of Calamity Jane of the Old West, so that made the book not quite as much fun.

At first, I felt like it was all melodramatic and silly. Then I remembered that it’s intentionally melodramatic and silly, and I settled in and enjoyed it.

The twist they put into this story was that Wild Bill Hickok and his Wild West show featuring Calamity Jane were werewolf hunters as well. So this is the Old West with werewolves. And we’ve got an evil werewolf, the Alpha, who’s forming a Pack of werewolves who follow the Alpha in wickedness. And Wild Bill and Calamity Jane and Annie Oakley and Frank Butler the Pistol Prince all get involved in a wild adventure with the Alpha as the adversary. But we do have a twist that not all werewolves are bad. If you get bitten, you don’t have to prey on others when the moon is full.

And it includes trick shooting and bull whip manipulations and plenty of romance.

So it’s more silly fun. This time in the Wild West.

ladyjanies.com
epicreads.com

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Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but the views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Return of the Thief, by Megan Whalen Turner

Monday, October 12th, 2020

Return of the Thief

by Megan Whalen Turner

Greenwillow Books (HarperCollins), 2020. 464 pages.
Reviewed October 12, 2020, from my own copy, preordered via amazon.com
Starred Review

She did it. Megan Whalen Turner brought her Queen’s Thief series to an amazing conclusion. And I’m sad it’s come to an end, but happy about what an amazing series this is.

The publisher persists in talking about these as stand-alone books. There’s a sense in which they are – since this new book introduces a new character as narrator and shows his perspective on some of the events that happened in earlier books. But if you’re tempted to jump into the series in the middle, don’t do it! Start at the beginning and you’ll understand the multiple threads coming together in this amazing conclusion. (I suspect the publisher does this because it took the author twenty years to write the six books. Look at it this way: If you’re only starting the series now, you can read them ALL and don’t have to wait years for the next installment.)

I never want to say a lot about the plot of these books, so as to not give away things that went before. I will say that the long-anticipated invasion of the Medes happens in this book. So the countries of the peninsula need to unite – and they still have some trouble with that.

I love the narrator in this book. He’s a new character, Pheris, the mute and deformed grandson and heir of the powerful and treacherous Baron Erondites of Attolia. Pheris has been forced to come to the court of Attolia, and he sees and understands more than most people realize.

There’s cryptic intervention from the gods, as usual. And plots and intrigue and questions of trust. The plot isn’t quite as twisty as the other books in the series – but in war with the Median empire, there’s so much at stake that every decision requires wisdom and has weighty consequences.

And she’s such a good writer! The whole world and the political relationships feel authentic and nuanced. The characters are realistically imperfect – especially Eugenides, who never really wanted to be a king at all, let alone a high king.

I don’t have to write a review at all really. For those who have read any of the other books, all I have to do is say: The conclusion to The Queen’s Thief series is out!

I’m currently a panelist for the Cybils Awards Round One, so I’m going to have to wait until January to sit down and reread the entire series. I’m looking forward to it!

meganwhalenturner.org

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Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but the views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of The Left-Handed Booksellers of London, by Garth Nix

Thursday, October 1st, 2020

The Left-Handed Booksellers of London

by Garth Nix

Katherine Tegen Books (HarperCollins), 2020. 393 pages.
Review written September 29, 2020, from my own copy, ordered via amazon.com
Starred Review

I think the title of this book is utterly delightful. The caption on the cover: “Authorized to kill… and sell books” only makes it better. When I heard this was coming out and saw it was by one of my favorite authors, Garth Nix, I preordered a copy. Then I forgot it was coming, and was happily in between books when it arrived at my doorstep. I got to indulge myself and finish it on the weekend, discovering a very fun story filled with imaginative details, lots of danger, and satisfying challenges.

The story is set in an alternate London in 1983. Susan Arkshaw turned 18 on May Day, and she has come to London to settle in before starting art school. She hopes to find out who her father was while she is in London – her mother has always been vague about that, but has given Susan a few clues.

She begins her adventure thinking she’ll stay with “Uncle Frank,” who sends her mom Christmas cards, but not long after she gets to Uncle Frank’s place and decides she doesn’t want to stay, Frank gets disintegrated with a silver pin by a handsome young man wearing a glove on his left hand. As Susan shouts about calling the police, a giant louse bursts into the room, and the young man kills that as well. They make hasty introductions, and his name is Merlin, but then she asks him what’s going on:

“Can’t explain here,” said Merlin, who had gone to the window and was lifting the sash.

“Why not?” asked Susan.

“Because we’ll both be dead if we stay. Come on.”

He went out through the window.

Susan looked at the phone, and thought about calling the police. But after a single second more of careful but lightning-fast thought, she followed him.

That night, a black and thick fog comes after them, inhabited by a Shuck, which gives off an intense and foul smell. They must walk an ancient path back and forth until sunrise to stay safe. And even then get arrows fired at them by an otherworldly creature.

Susan gets housed in a special safe house, but attacks keep happening. It seems to have something to do with whomever her father is. And the left-handed booksellers of London know how to deal with the ancient forces. Or at least she hopes they do.

Merlin takes a special interest in Susan’s case, along with his sister Vivien, who is a right-handed bookseller and has different skills. Of course, following up with Susan leads to more and more danger for all of them.

It all adds up to an otherworldly adventure, trying to find out what they need to do to survive ancient forces unleashed against them. With the banter between characters, the book manages to be a fun and light-hearted read rather than dark and scary.

As Susan finds out about the Other World, she recognizes some things, leading to this favorite bit of mine:

“Children’s writers,” said Merlin. “Dangerous bunch. They cause us a lot of trouble.”

“How?” asked Susan.

“They don’t do it on purpose,” said Merlin. He opened the door. “But quite often they discover the key to raise some ancient myth, or release something that should have stayed imprisoned, and they share that knowledge via their writing. Stories aren’t always merely stories, you know. Come on.”

garthnix.com

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Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but the views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Darius the Great Deserves Better, by Adib Khorram

Tuesday, September 8th, 2020

Darius the Great Deserves Better

by Adib Khorram

Dial Books, 2020. 342 pages.
Review written August 31, 2020, from a library book
Starred Review

I was delighted when I heard this book was coming out. Its predecessor, Darius the Great Is Not Okay came out during my Newbery year, when I was reading everything, so I compared it with lots of other books, and still named it my #3 Sonderbooks Stand-out in General Teen Fiction for that year. In the first book, Darius is dealing with depression in the context of bullying and trouble getting along with his father. Then the family makes an extended trip to Iran to see the grandparents he’s never met, because his Babou is dying of cancer. In Iran, he feels like he fits in even less, but makes his first true friend, ever.

In that book, the reader is pretty sure Darius is gay, but it’s never explicitly stated, and Darius hasn’t put it into so many words. This book begins as Darius is with his boyfriend getting a haircut to match the other guys on his soccer team.

So Darius came out as gay in between books, though he hasn’t told his grandparents in Iran. Relationship issues are a big part of this book, and Darius’s boyfriend wants to have sex, but Darius isn’t ready. This involves discussion of body parts that I don’t even have, so I didn’t relate to it quite as much as the first book, but I still love Darius and his over-willingness to examine his feelings. Because a book narrator who examines his feelings makes the reader realize their own feelings are not so unusual.

Darius is getting along better with his father, but his family is under stress because of the money they spent to go to Iran, and they’re working extra hours. So they decide to have his father’s parents come stay with them – Oma and Grandma. Darius hoped they would have some insight into being queer, but they aren’t very forthcoming. I was interested when I found out that Oma is a transgender woman, and she didn’t come out as transgender until after her grandson Darius was born.

It’s hard to explain why these books are so heart-warming. Darius is someone I can’t help caring about. He’s so authentic, and cries much more often than he’d like to. In this book he’s dealing with romantic problems, which are perhaps more typical problems for an American teen. He handles them with thoughtfulness and sensitivity, but also enough mistakes that you root for this kid.

The cover does give away that there will be some romantic decisions to make, but they didn’t show up in the way I expected. And it does point out that romantic quandaries are universal, whether you’re gay or straight. I hope this isn’t the last book about Darius the Great.

adibkhorram.com
PenguinTeen.com

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Review of Igniting Darkness, by Robin LaFevers

Thursday, August 27th, 2020

Igniting Darkness

by Robin LaFevers

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2020. 540 pages.
Review written August 27, 2020, from a library book
Starred Review

Ahhhhh! Such a magnificent series!

Series? you ask. Isn’t this supposed to be the second book in a duology? Well, yes it is, but you can think of the duology as a continuation of the trilogy that began with Grave Mercy, because it begins where the trilogy ended, and you will better understand the characters and relationships of the duology if you’ve already read the trilogy.

The main way the trilogy is different from the duology is that in the trilogy, each book was a stand-alone story in its own right, though they all went together well. Each book featured a different trained assassin from the convent that served Saint Mortain of Brittany, the god of Death. Each book told a love story, and each love story was different from the one before.

I got annoyed with the first book of the duology, Courting Darkness, because it did not follow this pattern. Though it did tell of a new daughter of Death from the convent, it did not complete her story at all and most issues were unresolved. All that intricate pulling together of a tapestry of threads was missing.

Because of my annoyance, I did not preorder my own copy of this book, but just read a library copy. I have already rectified that mistake. I ordered a copy so I can have my own when I reread all five books, which I have no doubt I’m going to want to do from time to time.

Was I missing intricate tying together of disparate threads? They’re all pulled together here. Courtly intrigue and daring adventure? It’s here. Satisfying love stories? Yes. Apparent doom and an appearance that victory is impossible? Yes. Utterly clever plans to overcome the insurmountable odds? Yes, again we’ve got them.

And it all comes together in an ending that’s worthy of the five magnificent books.

I won’t say a whole lot about details, since I want those who haven’t started this series to start at the beginning with Grave Mercy. I will say this is rich historical fiction of the kind I like best – for all we know, it could have really happened. It features the Duchy of Brittany, which at the start of the series and in actual history was ruled by a young duchess who had been promised in marriage to competing nobles from various places.

It also features assassin nuns! In the small touch of fantasy in these books, the heroines are daughters of Mortain, the god Death, one of nine gods of Brittany who were cleaned up and made saints by the Church. They serve the Duchess of Brittany during a time when women aren’t usually given that kind of power. Indeed, the Duchess’s new husband isn’t too happy about her wielding power of her own, and his sister who had been regent before he came of age, has her own plans for holding onto power.

This is a book of historical political intrigue, of desperate plots within plots, and women apparently without power figuring out what they can do to stand up against evil men who are accustomed to doing anything they want. It does help that those women have gifts from their father, the god of Death, and training from those who serve Death.

And you are lucky, Dear Reader – you don’t have to wait for the next book to come out! I’m definitely planning to sit down and read all five books some time in the near future.

RobinLaFevers.com
hmhbooks.com

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but the views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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