Archive for the ‘Teen Fiction Review’ Category

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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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 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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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 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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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 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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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 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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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 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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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.

jordanifueko.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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