Archive for the ‘Teen Fiction Review’ Category

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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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 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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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 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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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 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
epicreads.com

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

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

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Review of The 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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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 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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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 Even If We Break, by Marieke Nijkamp

Sunday, January 24th, 2021

Even If We Break

by Marieke Nijkamp

Sourcebooks Fire, 2020. 306 pages.
Review written December 9, 2020, from a library book
Starred Review
2020 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#3 General Teen Fiction

Even If We Break is a Then There Were None-style thriller for teens. As the book begins, five teens are making their way to a high-tech mountain cabin owned by one of them. There was a storm the day before that blocked the path for the car and boulders on the path still make it difficult for the two who have mobility issues.

We get the perspective of different teens in each chapter. Finn and Ever are transgender, with Ever using they/them pronouns. Finn uses crutches and Maddy, who is autistic, has been in an accident recently that changed her from a star lacrosse athlete to someone whose knee hurts when she walks, especially over boulders. Liva is the one whose parents own the cabin, and Carter works for her father’s company.

They are all high school students, but Liva, Carter, and Finn have graduated and will be going off to college at the end of the summer. So their three years of playing a role-playing game together will come to an end. They’re going to have one last immersive game experience in the mountain cabin first. Even though Finn hadn’t been joining them as often lately, and even though Liva’s ex-boyfriend Zac had stopped altogether.

There are stories that the mountain is haunted, and Ever, the gamemaster, weaves that into their adventure. Every adventure started with a murder, as the group are Inquisitors from the land of Gonfalon, and the Council hires them to use magic and skills to solve crimes. For this adventure, a councilor herself (represented by a pile of blankets) is dead.

But as the adventure begins, things begin to become all too real. The power goes out. They hear a music box, just like the story of the haunted mountain. Then bloody handprints. And yes, there’s murder. And that high-tech cabin? It’s hard to get out when it locks.

Never mind solving the murder – the teens who are left want to escape with their lives.

The author pulls the story off well. I’m tempted to say more, but won’t for fear it will give you clues. I did love the central role of the transgender teens and enjoyed that all the characters had emotional depth.

And I was very glad I had a chance to finish it in one sitting! This is not a book you want to set aside.

mariekenijkamp.com
FIREreads.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 Clap When You Land, by Elizabeth Acevedo

Wednesday, January 20th, 2021

Clap When You Land

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Review of The Bridge, by Bill Konigsberg

Sunday, January 17th, 2021

The Bridge

by Bill Konigsberg

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

The Bridge is a book about suicide.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

billkonigsberg.com
ireadya.com
scholastic.com

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

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

What did you think of this book?