Archive for the ‘Teen Fiction Review’ Category

Review of Legendborn, by Tracy Deonn

Tuesday, April 13th, 2021

Legendborn

by Tracy Deonn

Margaret K. McElderry Books (Simon & Schuster), 2020. 498 pages.
Review written December 7, 2020, from a library book
Starred Review
2020 Cybils Finalist, Young Adult Speculative Fiction
2021 Coretta Scott King – John Steptoe New Talent Author Award

Legendborn takes the idea of inherited magic from the Knights of the Round Table and King Arthur – and throws an African American girl into the mix, making this an exceptionally timely fantasy with a classic feel.

16-year-old Brianna (Bree to her friends) is starting at the Early College program for high school students at University of North Carolina Chapel Hill while still grieving her mother’s death. Right away, at a party she probably shouldn’t have attended, she witnesses a magical monster subdued by someone with apparently magical powers. She then watches him erase the memories of the other witnesses – but she still remembers.

Then she’s assigned a student mentor who’s very attractive – and involved with that same group of magic-users. And she’s beginning to remember someone similarly trying to erase her memories at her mother’s death. So she decides to become a Page in the Order of the Round Table, with a chapter at the university, to try to find out more and if there was a connection with her mother.

It turns out that her student mentor is a direct descendant of King Arthur himself. And more and more Shadowborn creatures are coming through gates and a war is looming.

But at the same time, Bree learns that her mother practiced a different kind of magic. Could this be why the mesmers of the Merlins don’t work on Bree? So she’s learning about Root magic and aether magic from the Order of the Round Table all at the same time. And since the Order involves families that have been passing on their legacy for hundreds of years – she does encounter plenty of racism in their midst.

The world-building is a little bit murky, but since Bree is learning as she goes, some of that is natural to the plot. And I’m not saying too much, because Bree learning about the magic and how it is wielded is part of the story.

But we’ve got a modern-day African American teen learning to wield legendary magic and how to fight evil demonic creatures while figuring out college residential life and racism and being attracted to someone who may become the Awakening of King Arthur. There are twists and turns all along the way, with some big surprises at the end. I’m not going to be able to resist finding out what happens next whenever a sequel comes out, because temporary matters resolve, but the story is definitely not finished.

tracydeonn.com
simonandschuster.com/teen

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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 Furia, by Yamile Saied Méndez

Wednesday, April 7th, 2021

Furia

by Yamile Saied Méndez

Algonquin Young Readers, 2020. 357 pages.
Review written October 17, 2020, from a library book
Starred Review
2020 Cybils Award Winner
2021 Pura Belpré Young Adult Author Medal Winner

Furia is set in Argentina, telling the story of 17-year-old Camila, who dreams of being a soccer star. Her father played soccer until an injury stopped his career, and her older brother has recently gone professional. But her family doesn’t think that girls should play soccer, so she has to keep her play secret. However, when they win their league championship, she’s going to need her parents’ permission to play in the South American tournament.

Meanwhile, her childhood friend Diego has come back to town. Her family doesn’t know that things got romantic between them before he joined an Italian professional soccer team. That spark is still there. Diego, and apparently everyone else, thinks that she should give up her own dreams and go back with him to Italy. But even though Camila cares about him, she’s got a fire inside and wants to follow her own path.

Along with that story, there are undercurrents about women’s rights in Argentina, domestic violence, and expectations for women. Camila has to navigate all of this while trying to get attention for her skills. She dreams of going to America, where women can play professional soccer.

But meanwhile, how does she navigate all the secrets she’s keeping?

I love the way the book starts, setting up the framework of the setting and Camila’s people:

Lies have short legs. I learned this proverb before I could speak. I never knew exactly where it came from. Maybe the saying followed my family across the Atlantic, all the way to Rosario, the second-largest city in Argentina, at the end of the world.

My Russian great-grandmother, Isabel, embroidered it on a pillow after her first love broke her heart and married her sister. My Palestinian grandfather, Ahmed, whispered it to me every time my mom found his hidden stash of wine bottles. My Andalusian grandmother, Elena, repeated it like a mantra until her memories and regrets called her to the next life. Maybe it came from Matilde, the woman who chased freedom to Las Pampas all the way from Brazil, but of her, this Black woman whose blood roared in my veins, we hardly ever spoke. Her last name got lost, but my grandma’s grandma still showed up so many generations later in the way my brown hair curled, the shape of my nose, and my stubbornness – ay, Dios mío, my stubbornness. Like her, if family folklore was to be trusted, I had never learned to shut up or do as I was told.

yamilesmendez.com
AlgonquinYoungReaders.com

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Review of Punching the Air, by Ibi Zoboi and Yusef Salaam

Friday, March 26th, 2021

Punching the Air

by Ibi Zoboi and Yusef Salaam
read by Ethan Herrise

HarperAudio, 2020. 4.5 hours on 4 discs.
Review written December 28, 2020, from a library audiobook
2020 Cybils Finalist: Young Adult Fiction
Starred Review

Punching the Air, is a novel in verse about a teen who is wrongfully convicted of a crime. The coauthor, Yusef Salaam, is one of the “Exonerated Five,” who spent years behind bars after being wrongfully convicted of assaulting the Central Park jogger.

Amal Shahid is the character in the book in this position. He’s long been a poet and an artist, though he didn’t fit the boxes of the art school he attended. He’s having a much harder time with the box of juvenile detention.

The name Amal means hope, and the authors work to make this ultimately a hopeful book. Though it also shines light on injustice, on expectations, and on the system trying to fit people into boxes. It also looks at the way people are called to account for their actions depending on the color of their skin.

This novel is in verse and includes artwork on some of the pages. The narrator did a fine job, but I think I might have appreciated it more if I had read the whole thing and enjoyed it visually.

Either way, this book brings you into that cell and helps you feel the confinement, the injustice, the weight of judgment.

ibizoboi.net
yusefspeaks.com
epicreads.com

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Review of Poisoned, by Jennifer Donnelly

Thursday, March 11th, 2021

Poisoned

by Jennifer Donnelly

Scholastic Press, 2020. 307 pages.
Review written March 6, 2021, from a library book
Starred Review

Like her earlier novel, Stepsister, in Poisoned, Jennifer Donnelly takes the basic skeleton from a fairy tale and goes far afield with it, ending up with a story that includes the main plot elements, but with very different applications.

Both stories begin with gore. In Stepsister, the stepsister cuts off her toes to try to fit her foot into the glass slipper. In Poisoned, a huntsman skillfully succeeds in cutting out Sophie’s heart and putting it into a box.

Fortunately, seven brothers living in the woods find her, and one of them is a skilled clockmaker. He makes her a clockwork heart. It happened on the morning of Sophie’s birthday, when she would have become queen. Everyone had told her that she was too soft-hearted to be a good ruler, but she had found a handsome prince to marry, who would be able to make the tough decisions.

It does turn out that Sophie’s stepmother, who ordered the killing, wasn’t entirely to blame. She was ordered to have Sophie’s heart put in the box by a sinister dark king, Corvus, the King of Crows, who comes to her in her magic mirror.

But clockwork doesn’t last forever. So after Sophie learns what the brothers did, she decides she will go find the prince she’d agreed to marry, the man who said he loved her, and ask him to use his army to attack the castle of the King of Crows. Never mind that he seems to have accepted the story of her death and doesn’t seem to be looking for her.

Both of Jennifer Donnelly’s fairy tale retellings also put a feminist spin on things. Yes, dear reader, it will turn out that Sophie can’t rely on a handsome prince to save her and must do so herself. In fact, it may turn out that her soft heart is exactly what she needs to defeat the dark king.

Another marvelously spun tale, making you look at a familiar story in a completely different way.

jenniferdonnelly.com
scholastic.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 Raybearer, by Jordan Ifueko

Thursday, March 4th, 2021

Raybearer

by Jordan Ifueko
read by Joniece Abbott-Pratt

Blackstone Publishing, 2020. 14 hours.
Review written February 8, 2021, from a library eaudiobook
Starred Review

Raybearer is a complex fantasy story set in a richly-imagined world amazing in its detail.

Our main character, Tarisai, was brought up by servants and tutors in an isolated house in the desert, always longing for her mother, known simply as “The Lady,” who spent most of her days traveling. Tarisai learns that she is also the child of a desert spirit that the Lady bound to grant three wishes – and Tarisai has the burden of fulfilling the third wish. Tarisai is shown a face and told that after she loves him and is anointed by him, she must kill him. That is the wish she is bound to fulfill.

Tarisai only learns later that the face belongs to the prince, the Raybearer heir. The emperor of their land bears a ray that binds to him eleven council members. The bond between them, through the ray, is intensely close. They can speak to each other silently through the ray and they get Council Sickness if they are ever apart from all council members. Tarisai becomes a candidate for the prince’s council, but she resists becoming a council member, because she doesn’t want to kill him.

Tarisai has a gift, a hallow, where she can touch a person or thing and take memories from them. Maybe if she takes her own memories, she can thwart the curse.

That’s only the beginning, though. My only caveat with this book and the amazing world-building is that the plot is a bit too convoluted. We’ve got some major injustices to be righted, trying to thwart the curse, secrets about the ruling family, unjust new decrees, and much more. And it doesn’t come to a tidy solution – there will have to be further books because of what we know is coming.

The plot is maybe a little convoluted, but the characters are amazingly drawn. There are a lot of parents who are not great parents, but it is rarely so simple as plain good or bad. The Lady especially is a very complex character who loved Tarisai – but was afraid to show that love. She made some decisions in the past that seem bad, but Tarisai learns why she made those decisions.

I love that this world is so unlike any other I’ve ever read about in a fantasy novel. And the author smoothly gives us the information without information dumps. We learn how things are done and the beautiful and intricate setting, including magical travel and griots who tell stories and many more wonderful details.

This book is an amazing achievement, especially given that this is Jordan Ifueko’s debut novel. Yes, I will be looking for the next installment.

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Review of You Should See Me in a Crown, by Leah Johnson

Sunday, February 28th, 2021

You Should See Me in a Crown

by Leah Johnson
read by Alaska Jackson

Scholastic Press, 2020. 7 hours, 18 minutes.
Review written January 9, 2021, from a library eaudiobook
2020 Cybils Finalist: Young Adult Fiction
Starred Review
2021 Stonewall Honor Books

Okay, I’ll confess: My Cybils panel chose this book as a finalist in Young Adult Fiction, and I hadn’t read it yet. I knew that a lot of people liked it, but I took a gamble that other books would rise above it – and this time, I lost out. So I felt obligated to see what my group was recommending, and I wasn’t sorry.

I do have a hard time with the premise of the book: That there’s a town in Indiana where Prom is everything. There’s a six week campaign period for prom queen and king. Candidates are expected to do volunteer activities, have good grades, and appear in promotional events, with many of these weighted into who gets to be on the court. In fact, the winning prom queen and king get a $10,000 scholarship.

Really? To me, it seemed completely unbelievable and just invented as the set up for a book about an unlikely prom queen. And how trite is that?

But I reflected that I know nothing about how serious prom might be in a rural county of Indiana. In fact, I don’t know much about prom, having gone to a small Christian high school decades ago. Now they did further destroy believability by mentioning the year – No, you didn’t go to prom in 2020 – but that was a mistake a few other young adult novels made this year. Who knew when the book was being published that it couldn’t actually happen in 2020?

However, after my colleagues chose the book as our finalist, I was willing to set aside my skepticism. Before long, I found myself making excuses to listen to more of the audiobook, which was good for getting puzzles done!

The story begins as Liz Lighty learns she did not get the scholarship she’d auditioned for to go to the college her mother attended – the one she’s wanted to go to all her life, but especially ever since her mother died of sickle cell disease. Her brother and some friends decide she should run for prom queen – and the $10,000 scholarship. Liz doesn’t even want to tell her grandparents she didn’t get the scholarship, because she’s afraid they’ll sell their house to support her.

Trouble is, Liz’s friend has a way to track her school’s social media app, and Liz is currently next-to-last out of 25 candidates for prom court. On top of that, she’s got social anxiety, she’s black, and she’s queer. She’s not a “legacy” candidate with parents who were on the prom court when they were in high school.

But the story gets much more interesting in the people Liz interacts with along the way. There’s a new girl who doesn’t seem to care about other people’s expectations. She’s also beautiful. Then there’s the guy who was her best friend in middle school but rejected her on the first day of ninth grade. He’s running for prom king and Liz starts remembering what it was like having him for a friend.

This ends up being a timely novel about friendship and expectations and even romance. You get to caring about Liz and her family and root her on in her quest to make it to Pennington College by way of prom queen.

ireadya.com
scholastic.com

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Review of Everything Sad Is Untrue, by Daniel Nayeri

Wednesday, February 24th, 2021

Everything Sad Is Untrue

(a true story)

by Daniel Nayeri

Levine Querido (Chronicle Books), 2020. 356 pages.
Review written February 16, 2021, from a library book
Starred Review
2021 Michael L. Printz Award Winner

I felt like I scored when this won the Printz Award. A friend had recently recommended it highly, so I had it checked out already, and didn’t have to wait to get it on hold. Even with that strong recommendation and winning the top award for Young Adult books, I was not disappointed when I read this book, and I agree with the acclaim.

The subtitle says this is a true story, but it’s presented as fiction. We learn at the back that the author told the story of his life as a refugee from his own perspective when he was twelve. Since he wasn’t able to verify facts, he went with his memories and changed some details – and called it fiction.

The style makes this book memorable and delightful. He writes it, telling the reader the story, as his younger self told stories to his class when he was twelve. To give you the idea, I’ll show you the beginning:

All Persians are liars and lying is a sin.

That’s what the kids in Mrs. Miller’s class think, but I’m the only Persian they’ve ever met, so I don’t know where they got that idea.

My mom says it’s true, but only because everyone has sinned and needs God to save them. My dad says it isn’t. Persians aren’t liars. They’re poets, which is worse.

Poets don’t even know when they’re lying. They’re just trying to remember their dreams. They’re trying to remember six thousand years of history and all the versions of all the stories ever told.

In one version, maybe I’m not the refugee kid in the back of Mrs. Miller’s class. I’m a prince in disguise.

If you catch me, I will say what they say in the 1,001 Nights. “Let me go, and I will tell you a tale passing strange.”

That’s how they all begin.

With a promise. If you listen, I’ll tell you a story. We can know and be known to each other, and then we’re not enemies anymore.

I’m not making this up. This is a rule that even genies follow.

In the 1,001 Nights, Scheherazade – the rememberer of all the world’s dreams – told stories every night to the king, so he would spare her life.

But in here, it’s just me, counting my own memories.

And you, reader, whoever you are. You’re the king.

I’m not sucking up, by the way. The king was evil and made a bloody massacre of a thousand lives before he got to Scheherazade.

It’s a responsibility to be the king.

You’ve got my whole life in your hands.

And I’m just warning you that if I’m going to be honest, I have to begin the story with my Baba Haji, even if the blood might shock you.

But don’t worry, dear reader and Mrs. Miller.

Of all the tales of marvel that I could tell you, none surpass in wonder and coolness the one I am about to tell.

That gives you an idea of the style, which continues the entire book. In a somewhat rambling but completely charming way, Khosrou, who was renamed Daniel so Americans could pronounce it, tells the story of his Persian forebears and life in Iran, how his mother became a Christian and they had to flee, and how things are completely different now in Oklahoma.

But that summary doesn’t convey the power and poignancy of this story.

His mother is portrayed as the hero of the book – utterly unstoppable. The stories inside the book range from tragic and frightening, including their time as refugees before they got permission to come to America, to more garden-variety encounters with unkind kids in Oklahoma, to mythic tales of Daniel’s ancestors. He was a small child when he had to leave his home country and extended family behind, and he conveys that child’s perspective.

He also weaves themes through the narrative so that I want to read it again to see what I didn’t catch the first time. I think next time, I’ll listen to an audiobook, because that will suit the style perfectly.

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Review of How the King of Elfhame Learned to Hate Stories, by Holly Black, illustrated by Rovina Cai

Monday, February 22nd, 2021

How the King of Elfhame Learned to Hate Stories

by Holly Black
illustrated by Rovina Cai

Little, Brown and Company, 2020. 173 pages.
Review written January 19, 2021, from a library book
Starred Review

Oh, this is marvelous! It’s an illustrated novella for teens. And why shouldn’t teens get illustrations in beautifully printed books?

This is for people who have read the author’s Folk of the Air trilogy. The book begins after that trilogy ends, with Cardan and Jude making a visit to the mortal world to fight a monster – but gives us much of the back story of Cardan, King of Elfhame, when he was growing up as a young and out-of-favor prince of faerie.

The book reads like a fairy tale, with an inner story – the one Cardan learned to hate – repeated three times, with significant variations.

It also has a confrontation at the end that requires cleverness in order to come out alive.

This is a lovely reading experience for all Holly Black’s fans.

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lbyr.com
thenovl.com

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Review of The Camelot Betrayal, by Kiersten White, read by Elizabeth Knowelden

Thursday, February 18th, 2021

The Camelot Betrayal

Camelot Rising, Book Two

by Kiersten White
read by Elizabeth Knowelden

Listening Library, 2020. 15 hours, 28 minutes.
Review written February 18, 2021, from a library eaudiobook
Starred Review

When I finished reading for the 2020 Cybils Awards, the first thing I did was put on hold the sequel to The Guinevere Deception, which was published while we were deliberating. Best of all, I could get it in audiobook form and hear more of the mesmerizing voice of Elizabeth Knowelden, whose reading is so perfect for a tale of fantasy and mystery.

In the first book, Guinevere, who is not really Guinevere, was finding her place in Camelot and fighting the Dark Queen. In this book there are more adventures, and Guinevere must save herself from them, relying on her own magic. And while she’s battling other dangers and rescuing innocents and fighting evil, within Camelot there’s another threat – the sister of the real Guinevere has come to visit.

I love the way even though this is based on the well-known Arthurian legend, I have no idea what to expect. Sir Launcelot, for example, is a woman, and the legend of Tristan and Isolde isn’t at all what we expect it to be. And of course Guinevere herself is not really the princess she is thought to be… or is she? And does she really belong in Camelot by Arthur’s side?

Like so many good trilogies, this second book ends on a cliff-hanger, including, yes, a betrayal. Though we’re not completely sure who’s doing the betraying and who is betrayed. The plot is getting twisted, and it will be hard to wait for what I hope is the final volume, with some untwisting of knots.

I loved listening to this even more than the first book. I do get annoyed with Guinevere at times, getting obsessed with trouble coming where there isn’t necessarily trouble to be found – but then when trouble comes from a different direction, her worry seems worth it and I realize that as a reader I was expertly misdirected. I should probably say no more about that, so I’ll simply state that this book is full of adventure and danger and magic and makes for a magnificent listening experience.

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Source: This review is based on a library 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 The Light in Hidden Places, by Sharon Cameron

Monday, February 15th, 2021

The Light in Hidden Places

by Sharon Cameron

Scholastic Press, 2020. 391 pages.
Review written October 24, 2020, from a library book
Starred Review
2020 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#10 General Teen Fiction

The Light in Hidden Places is a Holocaust novel, so don’t pick it up if you want something cheery. The book tells a true story, though, which gives you hope that the main character is going to come through. In fact, if I hadn’t known it was based on a true story, there was no way I would have believed the characters survived many of the things that happened in this book. If the author had invented them, I would have said it was way over the top with the danger.

The story is of Fusia, a Catholic teenage Polish girl who gets a job in the shop of a Jewish family in 1939 while living in town with her sisters. When the Russians come and her home is bombed, she ends up living with the Jewish family. But the Germans are next, and after awhile, they send the Jewish family to the ghetto. It seems like a safe place for them, and Fusia finds ways to get them food. No one really believes the rumors when some of them get sent on trains to work camps.

As the war goes on, Fusia tries to visit her family on the farm, and finds them gone (sent to a different labor camp in Salzburg), but her young sister Helena alone there and starving. She takes Helena back to the town. And then she gets asked to hide one of the brothers from her Jewish family, for just one night. One night stretches out. She ends up hiding more people. I won’t even say how many Jews she ends up hiding because it seems impossible.

As the war goes on, the chance that Fusia and Helena will be able to keep these people hidden – while also healthy and not starving – gets worse and worse. For some of the time, there are even Nazis living under the same roof. The tension is high, and once I got more than halfway through, I couldn’t stop reading. I kept thinking they couldn’t possibly get through the next crisis.

And the story is all true. Photographs and the Author’s Note at the back give us details. But the author makes it all feel immediate and gripping. This isn’t dry and dusty history at all.

sharoncameronbooks.com
IreadYA.com
scholastic.com

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