Monday, May 25, 2015
It's time for another round-up of debut YA novels of the month.
Like always, this round-up includes debut novels, where "debut" is in its purest definition. These are first-time books by first-time authors. I'm not including books by authors who are using or have used a pseudonym in the past or those who have written in other categories (adult, middle grade, etc.) in the past.
All descriptions are from WorldCat, unless otherwise noted. If I'm missing any debuts out in February from traditional publishers, let me know in the comments. As always, not all noted titles included here are necessarily endorsements for those titles.
Tracked by Jenny Martin: Phee Van Zant, an orphaned street-racer on the corrupt planet Castra, gets swept up in the corporate rally circuit and an even bigger revolution.
Immaculate by Katelyn Detweiler: Mina, seventeen, has everything going for her until she discovers she is pregnant and no one, especially her boyfriend and her father, will believe that she is a virgin except for the few who have faith that miracles are possible and that her unborn child could be the greatest miracle of all.
The Wrath & The Dawn by Renee Ahdieh: In this reimagining of The Arabian Nights, Shahrzad plans to avenge the death of her dearest friend by volunteering to marry the murderous boy-king of Khorasan but discovers not all is as it seems within the palace.
Tiny Pretty Things by Sona Charaipotra and Dhonielle Clayton: Gigi, Bette, and June, three top students at an exclusive Manhattan ballet school, have seen their fair share of drama. Free-spirited new girl Gigi just wants to dance, but the very act might kill her. Privileged New Yorker Bette's desire to escape the shadow of her ballet star sister brings out a dangerous edge in her. And perfectionist June needs to land a lead role this year or her controlling mother will put an end to her dancing dreams forever. When every dancer is both friend and foe, the girls will sacrifice, manipulate, and backstab to be the best of the best.
The Novice by Taran Matharu: When blacksmith apprentice Fletcher discovers that he has the ability to summon demons from another world, he travels to Adept Military Academy where must decide where his loyalties lie. The fate of an empire is in his hands.
Becoming Jinn by Lori Goldstein: Behind closed doors, sixteen-year-old Azra is learning how to harness her powers and fulfill the obligations of her destiny. Mentored by her mother and her Zar "sisters," Azra discovers she may not be quite like the rest of her circle of female Jinn ... and that her powers could endanger them all.
5 to 1 by Holly Bodger: In a dystopian future where gender selection has led to boys outnumbering girls 5 to 1 marriage is arranged based on a series of tests. It's Sudasa's turn to pick a husband through this 'fair' method, but she's not sure she wants to be a part of it.
Love, Fortunes, and Other Disasters by Kimberly Karalius: Devastated by a "love fortune" indicating that she will be a spinster, fifteen-year-old Fallon decides to take control of her own fate, even if it means working with Sebastian, a notorious heartbreaker.
The Cost of All Things by Maggie Lehrman: When her boyfriend dies, a grieving Ari uses a spell to erase her memories of him, but this spell triggers a series of events that reveal hidden, and sometimes dangerous, connections between her friends and the boyfriend she no longer remembers.
Conviction by Kelly Loy Gilbert: A small-town boy questions everything he holds to be true when his father is accused of murder.
Made You Up by Francesca Zappia: Armed with her camera and a Magic 8-Ball and her only ally (her little sister), Alex wages a war against her schizophrenia, determined to stay sane long enough to get into college
Emancipated by M. G. Reyes: The good girl, the bad boy, the diva, the hustler, the rock star, and the nerd. Six teens legally liberated from parental control for six different reasons, all with one thing in common: something to hide.
Now they’re sharing a house in Venice Beach, acting like a family, and living their lies. No parents. No limits. No alibis. One witnessed a crime, another might be a murderer—and one’s been spying on them all.
As they cling to a fantasy of freedom and slowly let down their guards, the past creeps up on them. And when one of them gets arrested, everyone’s carefully constructed facade comes crumbling down.
In this steamy, drama-filled series, relationships are tested and secrets revealed as lies threaten to destroy their perfect setup. (via Edelweiss)
Scarlett Undercover by Jennifer Latham: Scarlett, a sixteen-year-old private detective in the fictional city of Las Almas, finds herself at the center of a mysterious case--involving ancient curses, priceless artifacts, and jinn--as she discovers that her own family secrets may have more to do with the situation than she thinks.
Anything Could Happen by Will Walton: A phenomenal debut about a gay Southern boy in love with his straight best friend.
Material Girls by Elaine Dimopoulos: Teens Ivy Wilde and Marla Klein, both minor celebrities, face major lifestyle changes as pop-star Ivy questions the rampant consumerism required to maintain her image, and fashionista Marla sees first-hand the appalling working conditions that allowed her to be a trend-setter.
The Last Leaves Falling by Sarah Benwell: In Japan, teenaged Abe Sora, who is afflicted with "Lou Gehrig's Disease," finds friends online and elicits their help to end his suffering.
Friday, May 22, 2015
Over at Book Riot this week:
- I talked about the Belmont Public Library for Birds, my current favorite Twitter feed in the world.
- This week's 3 On A YA Theme showcases three YA diverse speculative short story collections.
Over at Disability in Kid Lit, I shared my story about depression and why we need more depictions of how depression functions in YA lit. I've been completely overwhelmed by the response to this piece, both over there and privately. Thank you for everyone who read, shared, and reached out to me. I've tried to respond to every person, but if I missed anyone, it was totally accidental.
Please spend time reading through the entire Mental Illness series over there this week. It's fantastic.
Thursday, May 21, 2015
Earlier this week, I reviewed and raved about Tamara Ireland Stone's Every Last Word. Today, I've got a fun giveaway. One lucky person will win two copies of the book, one for you and one for a friend, along with a $25 Visa Gift Card. This is a US-only giveaway, with prizes provided by Disney-Hyperion.
Here's the official description of the book:
Samantha McAllister looks just like the rest of the popular girls in her junior class. But hidden beneath the straightened hair and expertly applied makeup is a secret that her friends would never understand: Sam has Purely-Obsessional OCD and is consumed by a stream of dark thoughts and worries that she can't turn off.
Second-guessing every move, thought, and word makes daily life a struggle, and it doesn't help that her lifelong friends will turn toxic at the first sign of a wrong outfit, wrong lunch, or wrong crush. Yet Sam knows she'd be truly crazy to leave the protection of the most popular girls in school. So when Sam meets Caroline, she has to keep her new friend with a refreshing sense of humor and no style a secret, right up there with Sam's weekly visits to her psychiatrist.
Caroline introduces Sam to Poet's Corner, a hidden room and a tight-knit group of misfits who have been ignored by the school at large. Sam is drawn to them immediately, especially a guitar-playing guy with a talent for verse, and starts to discover a whole new side of herself. Slowly, she begins to feel more "normal" than she ever has as part of the popular crowd . . . until she finds a new reason to question her sanity and all she holds dear.
I really thought this was a stand out contemporary novel about mental illness, with a really nice romance included.
If you're curious, I can't encourage you enough to enter the giveaway. Winner will be pulled in early June so you can get your prizes around when the book publishes June 16.
Learn more on HyperionTeens.com
Wednesday, May 20, 2015
Strange Skies by Kristi Helvig
Helvig's first book, Burn Out, was super fun despite its glaring plot hole. Strange Skies opens with Tora coming to in a hospital run by the Consulate, a shady organization that controls Caelia, the new planet humans have relocated to since the old one is now uninhabitable (what with the sun going red giant and all). Right off the bat, we learn secrets about Tora's companions from the first book. I love a book chock full of shocking secrets. This is a fast-paced ride just like Burn Out was, and that's just what I'm looking for right now. This is such a fun SF read and I'm so glad that it's being published despite Egmont USA's demise.
Rivals in the City by Y. S. Lee
This is the final installment in Lee's truly excellent series of Victorian-era YA mysteries featuring private detective Mary Quinn. I love this series for so many reasons, not the least of which is the way it handles Mary's Chinese ancestry. This last volume speaks to my heart in a really strong way since it involves Mary struggling with what it means to get married to someone in a fundamentally patriarchal society. Mary's engaged to someone she loves, but they both know that getting married would remove a lot of Mary's hard-won independence. Each book is also a terrifically good mystery, and this one brings back an old foe for some shenanigans. It feels like a final book in a series, and I expect a satisfying ending.
Deceptive by Emily Lloyd-Jones
I really loved Illusive, the first book in Lloyd-Jones' series about a group of teens with superpowers who carry out heists. It checked so many of my boxes: teens sticking it to The Man, magic, stealing from bad guys, double-crosses, a little espionage, a shady government organization. The sequel promises more of the same, but with a bit more sleuthing thrown in as the characters investigate a series of disappearances. I wish there were more books like these (that mixed mystery/heist elements with SFF elements) when I was a teen because I would have devoured them all.
Tuesday, May 19, 2015
Comfort reads are, I think, different from favorite reads. Sometimes they overlap with each other, but often my favorite reads aren't comforting at all - they're painful and tear my heart into tiny little pieces. There's a certain amount of emotional preparation I have to do before diving into some of my favorite reads.
Comfort reads, on the other hand, are those books I return to again and again simply because they make me happy. Rather than breaking my heart into tiny little pieces, they heal it. Protagonists in danger can be relied upon to make it safely out, along with all of their beloved companions. People who fall in love stay in love. The characters are fundamentally good. They make missteps, but they make it right in the end, too.
I've been on a big comfort read kick lately, perhaps because a lot of what's going on in my own life is pretty chaotic and uncertain right now. Below are a few that I've been dipping into again and again the past few months.
Crocodile on the Sandbank by Elizabeth Peters (and its sequels)
This is the first in an historical mystery series featuring amateur sleuth and Egyptologist Amelia Peabody. Crocodile was first published in 1975 and it spawned several sequels, the final of which is being published in 2016. It was in editing stages when Peters died in 2013 (I'm still sad about this. Go read about Elizabeth Peters/Barbara Mertz and be in awSorceree). I love that this series is about archaeology and excavating ancient Egyptian tombs, and I love that it's also about Victorian era customs and mores, as both of these time periods have always fascinated me. I love Amelia even more: she's outspoken, a loyal friend, an ardent feminist, whip-smart, funny, believes completely in herself and her family, and loves passionately. She has some foibles (some of which she acknowledges, some of which she doesn't), which add to the humor of the series. Her voice is among the strongest I've ever read in adult fiction. And of course, these are mysteries at heart, though the combination of excavation and sleuthing is still rather unique I think. Amelia and her husband Emerson age throughout the series (they're in their 60s in the last book), but they still go on adventures, and the next generation gets to have a few of their own too. These books are just lovely, and I highly recommend you get a hold of the audiobooks narrated by Barbara Rosenblat, who voices Amelia and Emerson to perfection.
When He Was Wicked by Julia Quinn
Romances are my go-to comfort reads. They guarantee a happily ever after and the ones I pick usually have a good dose of humor. Julia Quinn's books were my entry into romance and her books remain the ones that can best soothe my heart when it's troubled. When He Was Wicked is actually one of her more angst-ridden books, but I think it's the best (and you won't find that many who agree with me, sadly). The hero and heroine grow to love each other over time, and it feels like a true, lasting love because of something that happens early in the novel that they both then have to come to terms with. The conflict is entirely internal, which often seems less exciting at the outset but is usually more fulfilling in the end. There's a particular scene near the end of the book that I go back and read over and over again because it's so emotionally satisfying.
Harry Potter books 1-3 by J. K. Rowling
The first line of the first Harry Potter book is as perfect a first line as you can get: "Mr. and Mrs. Dursley of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much." Sorcerer's Stone is a practically perfect children's book that never ceases to make me feel happy. Chamber of Secrets and Prisoner of Azkaban are equally wonderful in their own ways, with Azkaban probably my favorite among the first three (time travel!). But it's only the first three books that really count as comfort reads for me, as things get quite dark starting with book 4. Goblet is where you begin to realize that maybe things aren't going to work out for the best after all. My favorite Harry Potter isn't one of the first three, actually, but these are the ones I've probably listened to most anyway. Jim Dale is wonderful and these first three books are safe and funny and heartwarming.
Monday, May 18, 2015
But this year, after a refreshing, invigorating summer, Samantha is feeling anxious about beginning another year of high school with her best girls. In many ways, they're not really friends. They're together because it's part of their reputation and because it's been part of the routine since kindergarten. Samantha, though, isn't all in.
It's not just that she's feeling distanced from them. It's that her mental illness -- Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, of the Pure-O variety -- has gotten bad. Really, really bad. She's unable to remove the distressing thoughts from her mind in a healthy way, even though she's taking medication for it and seeking regularly weekly therapy with a therapist who she trusts and who cares about her deeply.
Fortunately, on that first day of school, things seem different. Samantha meets Caroline, a girl she'd never noticed before at school. It's Caroline who introduces Samantha to an underground poetry club at school called Poet's Corner, which meets in a hidden space at the school. It's Caroline who helps Samantha to more embrace her "Sam" -- the girl she is when she's swimming in the summer and the girl who is most like who she is. It's Caroline who helps Sam discover a passion for writing, for performing, and who ultimately introduces her to AJ, a boy who Sam had tormented years earlier with her fellow Crazy 8s. When Sam apologizes and begins to see AJ for more than the guy he used to be, they begin a really powerful, well-developed, and satisfyingly dynamic relationship with one another.
I went into Tamara Ireland Stone's Every Last Word with some hesitance. I've read more than one OCD book in the last few years, and while they've all explored the illness in some unique way, I always worry that it'll be manifested in a way that feels more like a television representation than authentic to the illness. But it was pleasing to see Stone didn't do this in the least. Sam's OCD in this book is rendered incredibly, authentically, and might be one of the best mental illness books I've ever read.
YA loves mental illness, and this isn't a bad thing. The problem I've found, though, is so many of these books read like check lists in some capacity. You can see the research the author put into the book because the character and his/her behaviors feel like the research itself. She/he does this, then this, then this, and then there's the diagnosis of the illness.
But Ireland Stone subverts this trap through the research.
Samantha has a type of OCD that is less about the compulsions and more about the obsessive and distressing thoughts. That doesn't mean, though, she completely lacks any compulsions. She has to do things in threes. She can't, for example, park her car if the mileage isn't ending on a multiple of three. But this isn't about those things; the real misery for Sam is how she cannot stop thinking horrific things. Not only do we see those horrific things, but we experience them along with her. She's fearful of what will happen in every single act she undertakes, and she tells readers how miserable it is to have these thoughts. She's anxious all of the time, and while many readers may not understand that anxiety as it creeps in -- so many of the things that shouldn't cause it are -- I couldn't help but completely, utterly relate to Sam in many of these manners. I have anxiety issues, and though it is not to this extreme, I felt those feelings and fears with Sam because I completely empathized and sympathized with her. It's difficult reading, but it's a window into a mental illness that's well-done.
That's not where it stops though. From here on, you have spoilers, so jump down to the last two paragraphs if you don't want them (that starts with "The romance").
One of the things Ireland Stone does is offer a piece of Sam's illness that isn't "on the books." Caroline, the girl she meets and who introduces her to Poet's Corner and AJ, isn't real. She's a figment of Sam's overactive, illed brain. Sam talks about Caroline at numerous therapy sessions, and through those sessions, we learn what Caroline is to her: she's a force that pushes Sam outside of her comfort zone. Caroline is the way Sam allows herself to push boundaries, as well as the way Sam is able to overcome her anxiety about doing new and different things, including reading and writing poetry, apologizing to AJ and pursuing a relationship with him, and pushing outside the security and comfort of the Crazy 8s, even though they've been her long-time friends.
Caroline's not being real doesn't particularly trip up Sam's therapist. Rather, her therapist talks about how everyone's brains are really special and unique, and those who struggle with mental illnesses don't all struggle in the same way. Rather, brains are so interesting that even diagnosable illnesses can take on different forms, different coping mechanisms, and create these rich stories that don't make sense to anyone. Caroline is part of Sam's coping, her brain's means of pushing her forward and through her day-to-day. Ireland Stone's subversion here -- the assurance she offers Sam through the narrative, through Sue and more, the assurance she offers any readers struggling with mental illness -- is noteworthy and commendable. We are "off the book" here in terms of what we understand about diseases like OCD and yet, it's not treated as if it's a boogeyman or a malfunction. It's part of a brain that's firing strangely on a chemical level and...that's all.
That is a radical, powerful moment.
Therapy and medication in this book are not big deals. Rather, they're tools in combatting mental illness and becoming a functional, healthy human being. The medication discussion here is about how it can sometimes take work and how sometimes, there is an adjustment period and adjustments necessary to make them work the best way that they can. Ireland renders Sue, Sam's therapist, as a full and functional human beyond the "role" she plays as a therapist. In fact, the book does a great job depicting all of the major adults in this book; they're all there, and even if they can't all be helpful, it's nice to see them as fully-realized characters, rather than secondary and less important.
The romance in this story is really rewarding, and for many readers, this will be the highlight of the story, not the treatment of mental illness. AJ and Sam do not have an easy romance at all. AJ is really not all-in with Sam, and he doesn't welcome her immediately. Even after she apologizes for how she used to treat him, AJ is tentative. He doesn't want to give her all of his trust immediately, and there's pushing and pulling that's authentic, challenging, and true to how romantic relationships in teenagers work but that we don't get to see in fiction quite enough. There are no fireworks here, no quick resolutions. This relationship takes work. It's earned, not expected.
Every Last Word comes out June 16, so the review is a little early, but it's a book worth putting on your radar now. Ireland Stone's writing is fluid and absorbing, and her treatment of such an terrible, painful, and frequently mischaracterized illness is outstanding. Sam's story is engaging. Readers who like the writing and story telling of Sara Zarr or Siobhan Vivian will find much to enjoy here, and readers who like the romantic arcs of Jenny Han a la her "Summer" series will find that here with AJ and Sam. Highly recommended, with great appeal to those who are curious about mental health, as well as those who may not know they are.
Review copy received from the publisher. We'll be doing a giveaway later this week of this book, too, courtesy of the publisher.