Archive for the ‘Teen Fiction Review’ Category

Review of We Are Not Free, by Traci Chee

Wednesday, July 21st, 2021

We Are Not Free

by Traci Chee

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2020. 384 pages.
Review written November 5, 2020, from a library book
Starred Review
2020 National Book Award Finalist

We Are Not Free is a novel about Japanese Americans forcibly removed from their homes and incarcerated during World War II. An interesting and effective choice made for this novel is to present the story from multiple perspectives. Every chapter has a different perspective.

We start with a 14-year-old kid in a community of Japanese Americans living in “Japantown” in San Francisco. We hear about the older teens he looks up to who will end up being viewpoint characters as the book goes on.

The book starts three months after Pearl Harbor when people of Japanese descent are getting targeted by racists. It continues as they have to sell off their possessions, because they’re only allowed a little bit of luggage in the slightly-refurbished racetrack where they’re taken next. It goes on through the war as the people in the camps have to decide if they will declare their loyalty to a government that removed their rights and volunteer to fight in the war.

By using so many perspectives, we get a broad view of what happened to different groups of people, including those who went on to fight in the war and those who refused. We learn about various levels of inhumane treatment, from the horrific conditions for those who were deemed a threat to the smaller indignities such as happened to those set loose with $25 and having to find a new place to live.

The teens have widely different attitudes. Many are angry. Some just want to make the best of things and move on with their lives. All of them encounter grave injustices, and seeing the situation from so many different eyes helps the reader understand the whole thing better.

And, yes, there are a lot of painful things that happen. This isn’t a feel-good book, but it is a book that shows you many sides of a terrible historical injustice perpetrated by our own government. I wish this book weren’t as timely as it is.

tracichee.com
hmhbooks.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 A Heart So Fierce and Broken, by Brigid Kemmerer

Thursday, July 1st, 2021

A Heart So Fierce and Broken

by Brigid Kemmerer

Bloomsbury, 2020. 445 pages.
Review written October 31, 2020, from a library book
Starred Review

A Heart So Fierce and Broken is the second book in the series begun with A Curse So Dark and Lonely. And no, the series is not finished yet. The first book finished with a dramatic breaking of expectations with big implications for what would happen next – and so does this book. Both books seem to resolve most conflict brought up in the book – and then our tidy sense of completion is totally disrupted.

The first book is a retelling of “Beauty and the Beast.” Harper is brought from DC in an attempt to break the curse. Meanwhile, the kingdom isn’t getting much governing, but she helps the prince get through that crisis and an attack from a neighboring kingdom. At the end of the book, though, without giving details, we learn there’s a secret older brother who should be the rightful heir to the throne. And he is the child of a magesmith and has magic in his blood.

This book is about that heir, who doesn’t want to claim the throne but also doesn’t want to be killed. We also follow the fate of a princess of the neighboring kingdom who was not chosen to be her kingdom’s heir but wants to see if she can bring peace.

I like the way the author puts realistic political problems (needing a harbor for trade) into the fantasy kingdom. There’s some horrific cruelty in both books which I didn’t like, though it does make the people working for peace shine more brightly.

I enjoyed this second volume greatly. It now doesn’t have much to do with the “Beauty and the Beast” story, but is an excellent tale of a group of travelers trying to navigate dangers on every side and figure out what course of action is best.

Yes, I’m going to want to read the next book. Amazon says it’s called A Vow So Bold and Deadly and will come out on January 26, 2021. And yes, Amazon says it’s the conclusion to the series. It’s been set up well.

brigidkemmerer.com
bloomsbury.com

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Review of Jane Anonymous, by Laurie Faria Stolarz

Sunday, June 13th, 2021

Jane Anonymous

by Laurie Faria Stolarz

Wednesday Books (St. Martins), 2019. 306 pages.
Review written December 21, 2020, from a library book
Starred Review

Jane Anonymous is a thriller for teens about a girl who was taken captive for seven months.

The story flashes between “Now” as she’s trying to recover and “Then” when the kidnapping unfolded. The book would be too intense done any other way, because it would be unbearable to think she never escaped. As it is, you can’t stop reading to find out what happened to mess with her head so badly and how she did get out of it.

Here’s how the book begins, in a Prologue with the heading “Now.”

Dear Reader(s),

Before ten months ago, I didn’t know that the coil spring from a mattress could be used as a makeshift weapon, or that the rod inside a toilet tank worked just as well as the claw of a hammer.

Before ten months ago, I never imagined that the sense of smell could be so keen – that the scent of my breath, like rotten fruit, could wake me out of a sound sleep, or that cooked rice carries a distinct aroma, like popcorn kernels heating.

Before.

Ten months.

Ago.

I’d never considered the power of light – that when one is deprived of it, illogical thoughts can gnaw like rats at the brain, keeping one up, driving one mad.

Nor had I any reason to predict how intimately I’d come to know myself: the oily stench of my own hair, the salty taste of my own blood, and the touch of my unbathed body (the scaly layer of scabbing that would form all over my skin, and the fire-ant sensation that would crawl up and down my limbs.)

By telling the reader what’s going to happen, the author grabs our attention right away. By weaving together the two timelines, we come to understand that a trauma like that doesn’t get all better simply by escaping the situation.

This powerfully written thriller will have you on the edge of your seat.

wednesdaybooks.com

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Review of The Kingdom of Back, by Marie Lu

Thursday, May 27th, 2021

The Kingdom of Back

by Marie Lu

Putnam, 2020. 313 pages.
Review written December 26, 2020, from a library book

The Kingdom of Back is a story of Nannerl Mozart, the big sister of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, based on things we know about her life.

We know that she was a child prodigy before her little brother came along, and she performed with him before the royalty of Europe. We also know that she composed music – but we don’t know about any of that music existing. We don’t know if some of her music got published in the name of her brother.

We’re also told that she and her brother invented a country, the Kingdom of Back, and had their family’s servant draw a map for them of this country. In this novel, it’s an actual magical kingdom they got to visit, and it’s tied to young Nannerl getting her heart’s desire – to be remembered in her own right.

Nannerl meets a princeling of the magical kingdom who tells her he can grant her desire, but first she needs to complete three tasks for him. Those tasks get more and more sinister, and Nannerl isn’t sure she’s doing the right thing. But she loves her music and wants to be able to compose.

Here’s a magical look at the young Mozarts that will leave you thinking about what it was like to be a creative young woman in a time when making art was the province of men. This isn’t a typical fantasy novel, but it is a beautifully woven tale.

marielubooks.com
PenguinTeen.com

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Review of Winterkeep, by Kristin Cashore

Saturday, May 15th, 2021

Winterkeep

by Kristin Cashore

Dial Books, 2021. 518 pages.
Review written May 11, 2021, from a library book
Starred Review

Winterkeep is a fourth book in the series that began with Graceling. Like the rest, it deals with enough new characters and situations that you could enjoy it perfectly well without having read the earlier books. Though I always have to add that you should read them, they’re wonderful! In fact, I checked my reviews, and it’s been nine years since I read Bitterblue, so I’m thinking it’s time to reread them all, and no wonder the details were vague as I read this book. The author caught me up with anything I needed to know.

Bitterblue has now been queen of Monsea for five years, but they have recently learned about Winterkeep, a country across the sea. Bitterblue’s emissaries who last visited Winterkeep never returned, and she’s afraid they’re dead and wants to find out what happened to them. She has also learned that several merchants were cheating her by buying cheap zilfium from her mines – it turns out to be a valuable source of fuel in that other country.

Bitterblue wants to find out more, so she plans a voyage to Winterkeep, along with Giddon, her friend and a member of the council, and Hava, her half-sister, who is graced with the ability to make people see her how she wants them to see her. But the voyage does not go as planned.

I wondered that we had characters who are adult in a young adult novel, but then the reader learns about Lovisa Cavenda, a student in Winterkeep. Her parents are powerful in Winterkeep politics, even though they are part of opposing parties. They plan to host the visiting delegation, but it begins to become clear to Lovisa that they are up to something.

Winterkeep doesn’t have gracelings or monsters like the lands we’ve heard about before, but it does have telepathic foxes, who bond to one human – or so people think. There are also silbercows – seal-like creatures living out in the sea that communicate with selected humans with mental images. And the silbercows know about a giant creature with tentacles – they call her the Keeper – who lives in the depths of the sea.

There are plenty of mysteries and plots winding you through this intriguing and magical world. We learn about nefarious things happening, but not until the end do we find out why. And then our characters must work to thwart those responsible.

Something I love about Kristen Cashore’s books is that she does put her characters through trauma – but she’s realistic about what that costs them and about their struggles to heal from trauma. Even defeating a villain can be costly to a person’s mental health, especially if the villain is your own father, and her books show this more than once.

All of her books pull me in and absorb me and make me want to stay immersed in them until I finish – which is a big problem since they are so long. Be forewarned! This is a magical world that will feel real and will make you care about the fate of its characters.

kristincashore.blogspot.com
penguinteen.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 Dear Justyce, by Nic Stone

Sunday, May 9th, 2021

Dear Justyce

by Nic Stone

Crown, 2020. 266 pages.
Review written November 5, 2020, from a library book
Starred Review

Here’s a powerful novel about an ordinary black teen caught in the school-to-prison pipeline. This is billed as a “companion novel” to the author’s earlier award-winning book Dear Martin. I haven’t read the first book (though I’m planning to fix that), and I quickly got completely absorbed in this one, so I think they’re correct in not calling it a “sequel.”

The book is told from the perspective of a boy named Quan who’s in prison waiting for a trial date. We don’t find out why he’s locked up until about halfway through the book. He’s writing letters to a friend named Justyce. Justyce is the one who wrote the letters in the earlier book, Dear Martin.

In between the letters, we get the story of Quan’s life and how it almost felt inevitable that he ended up getting locked up. We learn about his difficult family situation but how he found family with a gang.

I’ll tell you right up front that this book ends with a hopeful outcome. It would be heart crushing if it didn’t. The really awful part is that almost feels unrealistic. The author herself confronts this in a note at the back:

It is also unlikely (unfortunately) that Quan would have such a solid team of people – friend, caseworker, therapist, teacher, and attorney – rallying around him.

Which was the hardest thing of all about telling this story: knowing the most fictional part is the support Quan receives.

But I think we can change that, dear reader. No matter how young or old you are, we all have the power to positively impact the people around us before they get to the point Quan did. Sometimes all it takes to bring about a shift in direction is knowing there’s someone out there who believes you’re valuable. That you have something positive to offer the world.

It was poignant for me reading this book on Election Day 2020 and writing this review before the results have been determined. But this book itself is a small way to make progress in treating more young people like valuable human beings, no matter the color of their skin. I want to encourage everyone to read this book. Oh, and did I mention? It’s a great story, too.

nicstone.info
GetUnderlined.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 The Fountains of Silence, by Ruta Sepetys, read by Maite Járegui

Tuesday, May 4th, 2021

The Fountains of Silence

by Ruta Sepetys
read by Maite Járegui

Listening Library, 2019. 12.5 hours on 10 CDs.
Review written April 23, 2020, from a library audiobook
Starred Review

This is a richly detailed historical novel set in Franco’s Spain after World War II. The Spanish people have learned to be silent about injustices.

The book features a cross-cultural attraction. Daniel’s family is visiting Madrid. His father is a rich oil executive from Texas who wants Daniel to take over the family business, but Daniel wants to be a photojournalist. He’s hoping to get photographs in Spain to win a contest and get a scholarship to journalism school.

Anna is a maid at the hotel, assigned to facilitate things for their family. Her family was on the wrong side of Franco, but her sister has always looked after her. Anna is tempted to tell Daniel what things are really like in Spain, and he wants to get photos that look deeper.

Anna’s brother is helping a friend who plans to be a matador, though he has to train in secret. And several family members are on the edge of something going on with dead babies and the orphanage and adoptions.

There’s a slow pace to this book that gives you portraits of many people. I like the slow build of the feelings between Anna and Daniel. I have some quibbles with some big coincidences that happened, but I still enjoyed the story and learned much about life in Spain under Franco.

This was the audiobook I’d been listening to in the car before the library closed for Covid-19. So I brought it into the house, and now I think I’m hooked on listening to an audiobook while making dinner. New times, new habits. This was a good way to begin that new habit.

listeninglibrary.com

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Source: This review is based on a library 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 Kent State, by Deborah Wiles

Friday, April 30th, 2021

Kent State

by Deborah Wiles

Scholastic Press, 2020. 132 pages.
Review written October 22, 2020, from a library book
Starred Review

This short novel in verse could almost be listed as nonfiction, because the author strives to accurately present a picture of what happened fifty years ago, on May 4, 1970, when the National Guard opened fire on college students, and four were killed and nine wounded.

The story isn’t told in one neat, tidy package. Instead, we get multiple voices. It’s not defined who’s speaking, but the voices are delineated by font and size and position on the page. We can eventually figure out who’s speaking. Some, in fact, have to work to be heard.

The effect is a well-rounded picture. I liked the way it reminded me of the conversation today around the protests in Portland. Some say they’re peaceful protestors. Others that they’re terrorists. Some say they were exercising their first amendment rights, and others that they were thugs destroying property. Some say there were outside agitators. That’s the kind of thing we find here, as Deborah Wiles lets many voices speak – fellow students, townspeople, National Guard members, faculty, members of Black United Students, students who did not agree with the protests, and more.

But the big point of the book is about the four children who died. We do get to hear a lot about them. One wasn’t even involved in the protests, but was simply walking to class. The National Guard troops who fired were barely older than the ones who were killed.

Some of the voices say that the white students didn’t really believe the National Guard would use real bullets. The black students did, so most of them heeded a warning to stay away. We get all the circumstances leading up to the deaths and then the tragic order to fire.

The opening chapter addresses the reader as a new friend who needs to hear the story. The different voices are going to tell this new friend what happened. Here’s how that chapter ends:

Let me make room for our new friend.
We don’t want to scare you away, friend.
Take the most comfortable chair.
Sit. Listen.
Make up your own mind.
Open your heart.
Here is what is most important:

They did not have to die.

Pull up a chair, take an hour, and read this book. It will open your eyes. With the author, I hope that this knowledge will help avoid future tragedies.

***

After the audiobook version won the 2021 Odyssey Award for the audio production, I decided to listen as well and add a review of that.

I can easily see why it won. The production features a full cast, and they included sound effects, especially the sound of bullets, plus original music in the transitions, music that sounded appropriate for the time of the story.

The book was narrated by a full cast, which is sometimes hard to follow, but in this case it was easier to instantly tell who was speaking and remember things they’d said before. For example, a voice representing students repeats the same line several times, and when I was hearing her voice speaking the line, I easily remembered that I’d heard that person say the same thing before. The producers did a good job of using voices that sounded different from each other — voices for students, for townspeople, for the National Guard, for the black students — and it was easier to have an idea of who was speaking from the voice than it had been from simply a change in font.

The audio production is short — only two hours — and even though I’d already read the book, I was riveted by the audio version, making the words come to life. Since the book was written in the form of unrhymed poetry spoken by different people affected, and since they did a great job with the sound effects, the audio version is the perfect way to experience this book.

deborahwiles.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 Mermaid Moon, by Susann Cokal

Friday, April 23rd, 2021

Mermaid Moon

by Susann Cokal

Candlewick Press, 2020. 480 pages.
Review written December 1, 2020, from a library book
Starred Review

Mermaid Moon is the story of Sanna, a mermaid who comes to land not for the love of a man, but in order to find her mother. She’s been brought up by her father, after the witch of their flok put a powerful spell of forgetting on all of them. But Sanna has been apprenticed to the witch and is learning magic. And she learns her mother’s name and that her mother is landish. Then Sanna learns the magic to give herself legs and go to the island where she may have been born.

The book is set in medieval times, and when the folk of the island see Sanna’s accidental magic, they are sure she’s a saint doing miracles. But the baroness of the island is a witch herself, and she develops her own plans for Sanna.

The language used in all of this is lyrical and beautiful, as if we’re hearing a folk tale, or perhaps an epic heroic tale. Sanna tells her own story, but we also get chapters from the perspectives of people in the islands as well as songs the mermaids sing and a look at what the mermaids do while waiting to see how Sanna’s quest turns out.

Here’s how Sanna’s first sight of the islanders is described:

I limp under a series of archways, and then I see them: the landish folk. There are many more here than belong to my own clan and flok, and they are sitting on broken trees arranged within a big five-sided hollow of stone, with so many shining objects around them that my eyes are dazzled. I smell them fully, and hear them – all at once, overwhelming with sensation, as if smell and sound are always tangible things (to us, they are) and batter my body like waves.

“How are you going to bear them?” my age-mates asked when they heard of my plan. Especially Addra, who is flame-haired and dark-eyed and the most beautiful of all, forever admiring the reflection of her face and breasts in a rock pool – though she has the tongue of a dead clam, as Sjaeldent likes to say, and must rely on her beauty, not her singing, to win her way in the world.

The magic in this book stands out as working very differently from any other fantasy book I’ve read, especially the magic of the landish witch, sinisterly using bones from family members.

Let me close with one of the songs of the Mermaids:

You who sail upon the seaskin –
You look to the skies to guide you.
Why up at air and not down to sea?
Trust, we will show you the way.

candlewick.com

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Review of The Princess Will Save You, by Sarah Henning

Saturday, April 17th, 2021

The Princess Will Save You

by Sarah Henning

TOR Teen (Tom Doherty Associates), 2020. 351 pages.
Review written October 13, 2020, from a library book
Starred Review

The Princess Will Save You takes the essentials of the story from The Princess Bride but makes her stable boy true love the one who is kidnapped and needs to be rescued. He knows that the princess will save him.

The princess, Amarande, is the daughter of the Warrior King and has been trained to fight. In fact, she trains with the stable boy. But after her father suddenly dies, she is not allowed to rule unless she marries. And the neighboring countries all have candidates for her hand. One of those isn’t allowed to take the throne from the Dowager Queen Mother before he’s eighteen unless he marries. So the match should be just right. If not for the problem of Amarande’s true love. Oh, and the fact that the prince is odious and power hungry.

In a couple of things, the plot is a little more plausible than The Princess Bride, though it adds some new coincidences. And though the initial problems are cleared up in this book, we make some new discoveries at the very end that will greatly affect power on the continent.

This is unashamedly a kissing book. It’s also got swordplay and pirates. Not quite as much witty banter as The Princess Bride, but it’s still a lot of fun. It will be interesting to see how things play out in the sequel when they’re not loosely following the movie plot.

sarahhenningwrites.com
torteen.com

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