Archive for the ‘Teen Fiction Review’ Category

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.

levinequerido.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 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.

blackholly.com
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.

listeninglibrary.com

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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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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 Burn, by Patrick Ness

Friday, February 12th, 2021

Burn

by Patrick Ness

HarperTeen, 2020. 371 pages.
Review written December 28, 2020, from a library book
Starred Review
2020 Cybils Finalist, Young Adult Speculative Fiction
2020 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#10 Teen Speculative Fiction

Burn is set in 1957, just before the Soviets launched a satellite, in an alternate reality where dragons exist. As the book begins, Sarah’s father is hiring a dragon to do some work on their farm in Washington State, because that’s cheaper than hiring human labor.

Sarah is mixed-race, and her mother died two years ago. She has a hard time with the deputy sheriff, and so does her Japanese-American boyfriend. Unexpectedly, the dragon they’ve hired helps them out.

Chapters alternate to follow a mysterious teenage boy traveling across Canada toward Washington. Gradually, we learn that he’s a trained assassin, and he is a Believer who prays to the Mitera Thea, the Goddess of the dragons. The Mitera Thea is guiding him to fulfill a prophecy and kill a girl in Washington.

Meanwhile, the dragon on Sarah’s farm tells her about a prophecy that she will stop the destruction of the world. And that an assassin is coming to kill her.

In the middle of the book, these things collide in unexpected ways – and many characters wind up in a “nearby” parallel universe, one without dragons, one that very well might be our own. Things play out in interesting ways.

Now, I don’t actually believe in parallel universes. And I think that if they were possible, a universe where dragons exist would be entirely and completely different from – and be inhabited by completely different people than – a universe where dragons did exist. Technologies would be different, and pretty much all of human history would have played out differently. In addition, I have a problem with parallel universes in books, because if every possibility exists in a universe somewhere, why are you telling a story about this one? It seems like choices don’t matter as much.

However, with all that said, if you accept the premise that “nearby” parallel universes are possible, the author plays with interaction between them in a fun way. I enjoyed the explicitly ambiguous prophecy that no one knows how it will be fulfilled until it is – and the dragon acknowledging that’s the nature of prophecies.

This is a fun book about dragons and prophecy and trying to keep the world from being destroyed – and find love at the same time.

patrickness.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 This Is My Brain In Love, by I. W. Gregorio

Wednesday, February 10th, 2021

This Is My Brain in Love

by I. W. Gregorio
read by Diane Doen and Zeno Robinson

Hachette Audio, 2020. 9 hours, 30 minutes.
Review written November 16, 2020, from a library eaudiobook
Starred Review
2021 Schneider Family Award Winner
2020 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#9 General Teen Fiction

This book begins at the start of summer before Jocelyn Wu’s Junior year of high school. Her father tells her that their family restaurant is failing and they will have to move back to the big city where he worked for her uncle. Jos has finally made friends in Utica, and she is not ready to uproot everything and move back. She asks her father to give her a chance. If they can establish an internet presence and advertise at events, maybe they can turn things around.

Jos doesn’t think she has the expertise to turn things around by herself, so she convinces her dad to advertise for a summer intern. When Will Dominici applies, she doesn’t expect an attractive boy her age whose mother is Nigerian and father Italian. As they work together, they are more and more attracted to one another – which doesn’t go over well with Jos’s dad.

This is a delightful teen romance. The two narrators alternating Will’s and Jocelyn’s perspectives add to the fun. Something distinctive about this book is that both teens are dealing with mental illness. Will has been seeing a therapist for anxiety disorder since he was eight years old. He notices that Jos is awfully hard on herself and starts showing warning signs of depression, though she’s resistant to that idea. But the love story ends up being a natural frame for talking about mental illness and how it’s hard – but necessary – to ask for help.

I listened to this on eaudiobook, so I couldn’t renew as easily as a physical copy. But I didn’t even resent cramming in the last three hours to get it finished before it expired. Maybe it was a little unrealistic that two teens could turn the business around, and throwing in sinister developers who wanted to replace the family restaurant felt a little less realistic, but it’s actually kind of easy to believe that teens know more about internet advertising than immigrant adults. And it all adds up to a feel-good listening experience.

The narrators were excellent, and I appreciated that the narrator for Jocelyn’s viewpoint could quote her parents and Amah speaking Mandarin without missing a beat.

This book made me want to try some Potstickers.

theNOVL.com
LBYR.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 Phoenix First Must Burn, edited by Patrice Caldwell

Saturday, February 6th, 2021

A Phoenix First Must Burn

Sixteen Stories of Black Girl Magic, Resistance, and Hope

edited by Patrice Caldwell

Viking, 2020. 354 pages.
Review written December 7, 2020, from a library book
Starred Review
2020 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#9 Teen Speculative Fiction

I don’t usually have the patience for short stories, but I took up this collection as part of my reading for the first round of the Cybils Awards, and read a story between each full-length book I read, sort of as a way to cleanse my palate. And I ended up being delighted.

I shouldn’t have been surprised – there are some powerhouse writers included in this book. The ones I’ve read before are Elizabeth Acevedo, Justina Ireland, Dhonielle Clayton, and Ibi Zoboi, and they and the rest of the authors told stories that contained magic along with a big punch.

Here’s an extended section from editor Patrice Caldwell’s Introduction:

But whenever I went to the children’s section of the library to discover more tales, the novels featuring characters who looked like me were, more often than not, rooted in pain set amid slavery, sharecropping, or segregation. Those narratives are important, yes. But because they were the only ones offered, I started to wonder. Where is my fantasy, my future? Why don’t Black people exist in speculative worlds?

Too often media focuses on our suffering. Too often we are portrayed as victims. But in reality, we advocate for and save ourselves long before anyone else does, from heroes my parents taught me of to recent ones like Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi, the Black women who founded Black Lives Matter.

Malcolm X said, “The most neglected person in America is the Black Woman.” I believe this is even more true for my fellow queer siblings, and especially for those identifying as trans and as gender nonconforming. We are constantly under attack.

And yet still we rise from our own ashes.

We never accept no.

With each rebirth comes a new strength.

Black women are phoenixes.

We are given lemons and make lemonade.

So are the characters featured in this collection of stories.

These sixteen stories highlight Black culture, folktales, strength, beauty, bravery, resistance, magic, and hope. They will take you from a ship carrying teens who are Earth’s final hope for salvation to the rugged wilderness of New Mexico’s frontier. They will introduce you to a revenge-seeking hair-stylist, a sorcerer’s apprentice, and a girl whose heart is turning to ash. And they will transport you to a future where all outcomes can be predicted by the newest tech, even matters of the heart.

Though some of these stories contain sorrow, they ultimately are full of hope. Sometimes you have to shed who you were to become who you are.

This collection does not disappoint. And take it from this white lady, you don’t have to be a Black girl to thoroughly enjoy these stories in their variety, their surprise, and their magic.

patricecaldwell.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 Dangerous Alliance, by Jennieke Cohen

Wednesday, February 3rd, 2021

Dangerous Alliance

An Austentacious Romance

by Jennieke Cohen

HarperTeen, 2019. 429 pages.
Review written September 25, 2020, from a library book
Starred Review
2020 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#8 General Teen Fiction

Here’s another fun variant on Jane Austen! This one is a romance for teens set in England during the time that Jane Austen had published the first four of her books, Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, Mansfield Park, and Emma.

Our heroine, Lady Vicky Aston, has read and loved Jane Austen’s novels and relates her own life to the events in those books. But there’s a dark side in Vicky’s life that we don’t really see in Jane Austen. Vicky’s sister Althea has fled from her husband, Lord Dain, because he is horribly abusive. The same day that she comes back to the family home, Vicky is attacked in the countryside and fortunately rescued by Lord Halworth, a young man she grew up with but who lived for years on the continent and didn’t answer her letters.

Vicky’s father is determined to get Vicky a divorce, but it’s going to be difficult. At the same time, they need to get Parliament to make Vicky his heir instead of Althea, because if Althea is the heir, the estate would be under Lord Dain’s control. However, Vicky can’t be the heir unless she gets married. So her parents give Vicky a mission: to find a husband during her season in London.

Meanwhile, there are some more attacks. There are misunderstandings. There are accidents that don’t seem like accidents. There are odious suitors and a couple of very nice suitors. But who can Vicky trust? And who is behind those attacks?

It’s all in good fun – while at the same time showing us glimpses of the dark side of the Georgian era and how little agency women actually had.

Another delightful excursion for Jane Austen fans.

jenniekecohen.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 Edge of Anything, by Nora Shalaway Carpenter

Sunday, January 31st, 2021

The Edge of Anything

by Nora Shalaway Carpenter

Running Press Teens (Hachette), 2020. 362 pages.
Review written December 21, 2020, from a book sent by the publisher
Starred Review
2020 Cybils Finalist
2020 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#7 General Teen Fiction

The Edge of Anything is a friendship story, and a powerful one. Len has never really had friends, except her sister, and now she’s avoiding calls from her sister after something terrible happened. She’s finding herself extra sensitive to dirt and germs, and kids at school think she’s a freak.

But when Sage’s life turns upside-down, Len is the person who sees what she’s going through. Sage faints after a volleyball game, and thinks it was low blood sugar. But it turns out to be something that can keep her from playing sports ever again. Volleyball was her passion and her whole life.

It turns out that Len is dealing with something that’s also huge, but the reader and Sage don’t find out what that is until well into the book. But we do come to understand why Len is better at understanding what Sage is going through than her other friends.

That’s the skeleton of what happens in this book, but the beauty is in the carrying it out as Len and Sage become friends and figure out how to be good friends to each other, when neither one wants to face what’s going on.

This book gives a good look at mental illness as an illness, not something you can shake by being strong.

noracarpenterwrites.com
runningpress.com/rpkids

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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 Cemetery Boys, by Aiden Thomas

Wednesday, January 27th, 2021

Cemetery Boys

by Aiden Thomas

Swoon Reads (Feiwel and Friends, Macmillan), 2020. 344 pages.
Review written December 18, 2020, from a library book
Starred Review
2020 National Book Award Finalist
2020 Cybils Finalist
2020 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#8 Teen Speculative Fiction

I’ll confess right up front that I was predisposed to like this book because it features a transgender main character in a paranormal fantasy. But as I read, it’s also a well-written paranormal fantasy even if that weren’t true.

Yadriel has grown up in a Latinx culture in East Los Angeles where his family trains to become brujos and brujas. But when he got to be fifteen years old and refused to become a bruja, his family wasn’t ready to take him through the ceremony to make him become a brujo.

So the book begins with Yadriel and his friend Maritza going through the ceremony on their own. Lady Death indeed blesses him and bonds him to his portaje, the ritual dagger of a brujo.

As soon as the ceremony finishes, though, all the brujx sense the sudden death of one of their own, Yadriel’s cousin Miguel. But no one can find his body. So, to prove himself, Yadriel summons Miguel’s spirit – and ends up summoning someone else entirely – a kid from his school named Julian. Still trying to prove himself, Yadriel unsuccessfully tries to help Julian pass on to the other side, but Yadriel’s portaje won’t cut Julian’s tether to an object he cares about.

Still Julian agrees to go nicely if Yadriel will first help him check on his friends. It looks like there might be a connection between Miguel and Yadriel, because both their bodies are missing. But there’s a deadline – Dia de Muerte is coming, and Yadriel wants to prove himself by then and join with the other brujos.

Most of the book is the complications of hanging out with an irrepressible spirit and trying to solve the mystery of what happened. And of course trying to keep the spirit hidden from the other brujos who won’t like that Yadriel summoned him on his own. It’s all told in a compelling way, and the reader cares more and more about Yadriel and Maritza and Julian – and more sorry that Julian’s dead.

This is an own voices book, coming from a queer trans Latinx author who shows us both the beauty and frustrations of being part of this culture. They don’t tell us how much of the magical part is based on truth.

aiden-thomas.com
swoonreads.com

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