More than two years ago, I reviewed a little book by then debut author Thalia Chaltas titled Because I am Furniture. It's one of those books I still think about and one which I still recommend easily to those looking for a read alike to Ellen Hopkins. So when I discovered Chaltas would be releasing her sophomore effort, Displacement, this summer, I was excited to snag a copy at ALA Midwinter and dive in.
Something terrible happened in Vera's life. There's been a tragedy, and her family has been completely non-supportive of her life choices. She's at the end of high school and ready to change, ready to get away. No, make that, she knows she needs to get away from it all and figure out who she is and figure out where to go. The only way to get out from rock bottom is to look up.
So she leaves. She hitch hikes and ends up in the middle of a small desert town where she knows no one and no one knows her. She takes to talking to people in town, takes up residence in an abandoned home, and begins to unravel the secrets lurking beneath this desolate place. But the real question is will Vera ever find herself here? Can she be happy here? Or does her happiness reside where she doesn't believe it ever could?
Displacement, like Chaltas's first novel, is told in sparse verse form, though I don't believe this novel is quite as edgy as Because I am Furniture. It's a steady paced novel, and the verse form helps speed up the pacing a bit in some of the spots where there is little or no action at all. For me, the verse works fine, but that's because I found this book, on the whole, to be a little hard to connect with.
Vera, for me, has no voice of her own in this story. We know as readers going on that something has happened, and she drops hints at a loss she's recently experienced. But it never feels quite convincing. There's not enough of a back story and not enough investment on behalf of the reader to buy into Vera's running away from the onset to give her a real voice. Instead, she undulates much like the girl on the cover, and it's difficult to know whether we feel sorry for her or we don't (the girl is living in a house that doesn't belong to her in the sake of "finding herself," for one thing).
I didn't find myself engaged with Vera's struggle, and in fact, there were times I felt she wanted to push me the reader away. As a plot device to show how Vera feels, this works, but to the reader, it's off putting; if Vera doesn't give some hint of interest in letting us in, then the story can't go anywhere. Since this book is so driven by character, not finding a reason to care about Vera made it hard to be invested in her outcome. It also had me questioning whether verse really was as effective here as prose would have been. For me, voice is key for buying into a story -- especially one that begins by a girl deciding to drop into a desert town to begin a new life -- and the flatness of voice here made it weak.
The desert landscape and desolation, though, are palpable. Chaltas does a great job building place in this story, even if I didn't necessarily buy Vera's connection to it. The locals are believable, and I thought that they really added to the greater picture of this small desert town. There's a bit of dialect, but it works fine, and heightens the place building.
Overall, this book didn't impress me as much as Chaltas's first title, nor does it necessarily stand out among much of the stronger contemporary YA fiction out there. That said, those who read her first title will want to check this one out, and I think Ellen Hopkins fans may still find quite a bit to like here, especially when it comes to style and structure (and to a lesser extent, content, since there is edgy stuff included, of course). I wanted more of the plot, and I feel had this book given a little more at the beginning of the story, the ending would have been more powerful and Vera's voice could have been easier to parse from the story.
Displacement will be available June 7. Book picked up at ALA.
Tuesday, May 31, 2011
More than two years ago, I reviewed a little book by then debut author Thalia Chaltas titled Because I am Furniture. It's one of those books I still think about and one which I still recommend easily to those looking for a read alike to Ellen Hopkins. So when I discovered Chaltas would be releasing her sophomore effort, Displacement, this summer, I was excited to snag a copy at ALA Midwinter and dive in.
Monday, May 30, 2011
Big news: we've got our own domain now. If you regularly reach us through a site reader, you'll notice nothing new, and if you visit us through our .blogspot.com address, you'll be automatically redirected.
But check it out -- we're now stackedbooks.org.
The transition was supremely easy, and our fingers are crossed there are no glitches. But if you come across something, drop a line for us.
Review copy obtained at TLA.
Saturday, May 28, 2011
Last year after Book Expo America (BEA), Kimberly and I offered up a number of posts about the how-tos and we offered tip sheets to make the experience as good as it could be. This year, I think I'm just going to give a look at the highs and lows of this year's show in hopes of making it clear why this convention is more about the people than the books. I went out for a week this time and did a lot more than last year.
Saturday, May 21
- Since I didn't get to my hotel until almost 7 pm, the only thing I had the time/energy for was to grab dinner with people who were both known to me and totally new to me. I met up with Michelle (GalleySmith) and Lenore (Presenting Lenore), both who I hadn't met before, as well as Liz (A Chair, A Fireplace, and A Tea Cozy), my co-blogger Kimberly and her boyfriend/our periodic contributor Matt (A Walrus Darkly). We went out to dinner at HK, and it was totally clear how exhausted we all were from traveling that day. A quiet night, but it was fantastic to put faces to names.
Sunday, May 22
- All of my roommates were around now, and it was nice to meet Sarah (YA Librarian Tales), Alea (Pop Culture Junkie), and Gail (A Ticket to Anywhere).
- Liz, Michelle, Lenore, and I went to Books of Wonder for a signing with Casey Sciesza and Steven Weinburg (To Timbuktu), Julie Chibarro (Deadly, which I ended up buying), Elizabeth Scott (Between Here and Forever), Amy Ignatow (The Popularity Papers), Megan McCafferty (Bumped), and Melissa Kantor (The Darlings Are Forever). They all talked a bit about their books and why/how they got into writing, though I have to say that it was Megan McCafferty who really captured my attention. She discussed the satire of her story, and I quite enjoyed hearing her talk about reader reaction to her book. Before the signing, the four of us grabbed lunch at Good Times Diner, where we got to talk about blogging, authors, books, and other bloggers. Great conversation with three very intelligent ladies.
- After our adventure, I went back to my hotel, then met up with Kim and Matt again to have dinner together. We had Thai food at Thai Select and discussed super secret blog things.
- Kim, Matt, and I ventured to New York City's infamous STRAND bookstore. We spent quite a while wandering the stacks -- most of the 18 miles of them -- but all we walked away with was a tea mug (for me). I was quite impressed with their YA selection, as well as their graphic novel section.
Monday, May 23
- In the early afternoon, the roommates, along with Kim, Matt, Michelle, Lenore, and Liz, all journeyed to the offices of Simon and Schuster for a Book Blogger Preview of their upcoming fall titles. It was a bit crowded, as S&S invited 60 bloggers to the event. We got to hear from Elizabeth Miles talk about her new book Fury (which I mentioned earlier is the first book out of Lauren Oliver's Paper Lantern Lit), then we had boxed sandwich lunch (something that was a little too common and challenging for someone who doesn't eat mayonnaise to tackle this week), and then we heard from Ellen Hopkins, who read from her forthcoming Perfect. Between Miles and lunch, we got a preview from the publicist of their fall books, and the vast majority were sequels or companions to other books.
- One of the things that the reps talked about was the repackaging and retitling of Robin Wasserman's Skinned trilogy. I popped the image here for you to look at. For me, this is extremely disturbing. There were lots of oohs and aahs from the audience, but Kim and I looked at each other in shock: look how unnaturally thin that model is. Look at how it also seems to objectify the female body. For me, this is really quite disturbing. I can't say it's a repackage I'm at all excited about.
- One of the other portions of this event was a publicists-asking-the-bloggers question period, and it was then that Kim and I really felt like strange people. Lots of the bloggers offered answers to questions that we are of completely opposites minds about, but it sort of proved to us that we are confident about what we're doing and are comfortable with how we approach things. An interesting discussion of book trailers/countdown widgets (which we don't use), along with what felt like a lot of, well, entitlement to free things. There were no single culprits, but as a whole, it was a little uncomfortable to hear how much bloggers believe they deserve free things. All and all, I was a little let down by the preview -- I'm entirely grateful to have been invited, for sure, but the books discussed didn't get me as excited as they got other readers and the discussion didn't get me fired up. Perhaps it's simply a matter of being tired of the series books or being pretty familiar with the audience we reach here at STACKED.
- After the S&S preview, Michelle and I made our way to the Mulberry Street Library for the Teen Author Carnival. The program was crammed in much too small quarters, and the basement of the library was sweltering. Michelle and I snaked our way into the back of the room for the first panel, Otherworldly Adventures. After we snagged standing spaces in the back, it got entirely too hot for Michelle, and she snuck back out. I wanted to leave, but after what was a cab ride from hell to get there, I was going to tough it out. Before the panel started, I ran into Melissa Walker, and I finally got to meet Michael Northrop, who I had a delightful conversation about level two noodling with. Standing for the hour long panel in such a hot room was less than wonderful, but the group of authors who spoke on this topic were interesting to hear from. After that panel, I decided I couldn't handle the idea of getting out of that room and I waited to grab a chair from a departer, and I ended up sitting in on the panel of debut authors. It was interesting to hear from them, and after their discussion, I went and introduced myself to Kirsten Hubbard (who, along with her cobloggers at YA Highway are co-sponsoring the ALA YA Blogger Meetup) and to Nova Ren Suma, who you'll be hearing from a little later this week on the blog. The signing room got way too crowded, hot, and disorganized for me to handle, so as soon as the second panel finished, I got out of there and headed back to the hotel to relax the rest of the evening.
- Book Expo America officially opened. I met up with Kim and Matt again to hit the exhibition floor all day. To be perfectly honest, day 1 was a letdown. The publishers seemed to be really only pushing a small number of titles this year, as opposed to last year, and there seemed to be hours between new books appeared on the floor and new discussion emerged about exciting titles. This was also the day of the LJ Librarian's Lunch, which Kim and I RSVP'd to. When we got there, they had nothing to drink (we're talking not even water pitchers on the table), and their lunch option was a sandwich in a box (with, again, no indication of whether sandwiches were slathered in mayo or not). We were really disappointed and ended up not sticking around because it would have been two more hours of being unable to eat.
- We didn't make a plan for the floor that day, except for one: I wanted to meet Tyra Banks at Random House. And, after waiting in a "not line" and then an official line for an hour, I got my brush of fame. Check out her posing for my camera! After that event, we were ready to call it a night.
Wednesday, May 25
- This was, by far, my favorite day of BEA. Janssen finally arrived, and I was excited to see her since I haven't seen her since I graduated from Texas in 2008. She, Kim, Matt, and I waited in line to get into the convention center early, and then we also met up with Tiffany (@TiffanyE). The floor was insane that day, but we made a schedule this time and got to meet a number of authors/books we wanted. It seemed like there was more to look at and hear about on Wednesday, though still, there were only so many times I could ask the reps their favorite titles for fall and hear the same two books over and over. Neither of which really clicked for me.
- Perhaps one of the highlights of the entire event for me was grabbing a snack with Melissa Walker. We'd run into one another at the Teen Author Carnival, but we wanted to talk a little longer and made a date to connect here. When we got the chance to, we also heard from Michael Northrop, so he joined in. It was a fantastic discussion about books and reading, as well as sports, teens, and book blurbs. This really got my mind going on some career-related stuff, and it was a wonderful chance to talk books with people who really know them, too.
- After BEA, Kim, Matt, Janssen, and I hit up Cafe Andalucia Tapas Bar, where we each had one appetizer and probably each consumed a pitcher of water. Again, great conversation about books and blogging. We were invited that evening to a Blogger Appreciation Event by Harper Collins, but we decided in lieu of another too small venue with too many people event, we'd hit up Pinkberry. It was a great choice.
- I went home and began my first BEA book: The Future of Us by Jay Asher and Carolyn Mackler.
Thursday, May 26
- BEA floor, day three. This time I got to the front of the line, since I didn't sleep that evening and decided just to go when I was ready and read in line. We had a few signings we wanted to make, including one with Steve Brezenoff. He signed finished copies of Brooklyn, Burning which I really loved (review closer to pub date -- you're in for a real treat here). We then hit up a signing of Dinosaur vs. The Potty and a few others. At the very end of the show, the folks at Scholastic really treated me well and let me have first crack at all of the advanced titles they'd had on display vs. ones on the floor (which really means, their summer releases they brought only one copy of, rather than fall releases they had piles of).
- Janssen and I met up with the lovely Sarah Darer Littman at the conclusion of the show and chatted for a couple of hours. Again, it's these sorts of discussions where so much value lies in BEA: what Melissa and Michael got churning in my head, Sarah continued. I've got something I want to pursue, I think. So while picking up books was a lot of fun, getting a spark for the future is invaluable.
- After BEA concluded, Janssen and I went up to the Scholastic store for their This Is Teen launch party, which included Libba Bray, Maggie Steifvater, and Meg Cabot. Before going in, we grabbed lunch (at 5 pm, we were able to still order lunch), and then we met up with Matt and Kim at Scholastic. When we got there, though, my name wasn't on the guest list, despite knowing I RSVP'd because I sent my confirmation then sent the invite to Janssen (who WAS on the list). It was an incredibly frustrating experience to stand there and be told that the contact person I had heard from didn't work there and couldn't be reached and that security didn't know what to do. So, I decided I was leaving -- and that's when someone chased me down and told me I could come. When we got up to the party, though, we didn't get name tags and felt like we definitely didn't belong. Again, lots of bloggers were there, and I had no idea what we were supposed to do, given we had no name tags...and we ended up leaving shortly after arriving.
- My roommates and I ended the evening back at Pinkberry. I cannot get over their green tea yogurt.
Friday, May 27
- Book Blogger Convention: keynotes from the blogger at Smart Bitches, Trashy Books. She talked about reading and books, and I couldn't help but think about how little people who attend things like this understand about librarian conferences. There's a misconception that librarian conventions herald the book and written word, when in my experience, it's quite the opposite. An interesting conundrum I contemplated during the convention. We then heard from a panel of publicists and enjoyed a delicious lunch with a fantastic salad/sandwich bar (and no mayo!). It was during lunch I met one of the 2012 debut authors, Hilary Weisman Graham. She's written Reunited, a contemporary ya novel. We had a wonderful bonding over contemporary titles, and I'm eager to read her book next year, for sure.
- After lunch, we hit a session on blogging ethics (which, unfortunately, many of the attendees needing to hear this had skipped for the other session), and we went to one on technology. I found all of the sessions a little lengthy and little new territory was really hit, which is why I haven't expanded on much. For new bloggers, the learning opportunities here were huge, and it's my only hope they walked away with something.
- I said goodbye to many friends today, and I spent the evening packing my stuff and, err, eating way more dessert than was necessary. I was ready to go home.
Impressions and Thoughts:
- I found this year's BEA floor to be a real disappointment, with a lack of any attention for contemporary titles and a huge push on just a couple of buzz titles. Some of the buzz titles were in such high demand that many people acted like animals when they saw it available. Reading this PW article made me sick -- the entitlement some bloggers felt they had to take, take, take really made me hurt a bit about what we're doing here and being associated with people who act that way.
- Being on the floor this year and talking with publishers this year made me realize that what we do here on STACKED is what I love to do. A lot of people want answers to blogging -- how to do it, how to write their reviews (seriously, someone asked the publishers how to write their reviews), how often to post, how they can ask for free stuff -- and it made me realize that we have a good handle on what we're doing here. We're passionate about talking about all the elements of a book and reviewing it. And by that, we mean offering insights into what worked and didn't work in a title, who it will appeal to, and whether it's one worth sinking hours into or skimming. You know how we feel about a title, but that's not the only thing you hear about. We'll never simply post a like it/hated it from us. It's incredibly time consuming, but it's worthwhile. One of the questions someone asked at the Book Blogger Con really stuck with me, and that was how people find the time to keep blogging. The hard and simple truth is this: you find time for the things you are passionate about. Time is always on your own side when you love what you do, but there are sacrifices you sometimes have to make. There's no magical answer except to make it your passion.
- I've come to realize that YA Contemporary books are much like YA librarians: misunderstood and easily overlooked, despite the fact they make a huge impact on individuals. Sure, they're not flashy, sure they're not earning big bucks or garnering 6-figure marketing deals, but they impact the lives of people greatly. I wish it were easier to make this point and I wish it weren't the case. But it is what it is.
- The back channel is important: I had some of the best book related conversations off the BEA floor via email and Twitter chatter with other authors and readers who weren't able to attend the convention. Having these dialogs is so important for not only understanding what we do, but also for what I mentioned earlier about finding time for your passion. The more you talk about it, the more passionate you get and the more ideas you generate.
- People Matter: Did you notice so little of my talk about what stood out to me each day was about the pile of books I got? It's because it wasn't the key goal I had this year. I wanted to talk with people, generate interesting discussion, and feel pumped to do something. After a number of really powerful discussions, I feel like there is a huge opportunity for me (one I can't talk too much about at this juncture) but one that excites me and energizes me. The more I talked, the more it became apparent.
- Some bloggers leave a stale taste in my mouth. The immaturity, the quest to take, take, take, and the lack of knowing some of the key forces in the YA world really blew my mind (though that goes back to the first point, I think). Kim and I have joked more than a little about being called elitist, but I think it's because we come from a different perspective than many a blogger. We blog for our colleagues, who are other professionals (librarians, educators, etc.). We have different goals and aims than a lot of the bloggers who came out, and it was challenging to open up good dialog in that context. That's not to say there aren't legitimate bloggers who aren't professionals, because there certainly are, but rather, there are some bloggers who are clearly only in it for free stuff. And that was obvious left and right, and it was obvious when one of the publishers said, point blank, they were hoarding some of their books because bloggers were taking multiple copies, leaving none for librarians or book sellers. Yikes!
- It's obvious that dystopia is still THE big genre right now. That, along with books about girls in car crashes waking up, books featuring older teens (18 and 19), and books with "fantastical elements" really stood out to me.
- Middle grade books look to be quite strong this year. This was the first time they held a middle grade buzz panel, and I noticed a lot of love for middle grade books.
- There were a lot of debut titles dropped this year, which is exciting. There were also a million and two series books dropped this year, which is less exciting for me. Where are the good stand alones? I think we need a renaissance in this arena.
- James Dashner must never sleep with the number of books he blurbed this fall.
- I'm not sure I'll go to BEA next year. I had fun and met some wonderful people, but the atmosphere and the crowds, as well as the lack of total passion for the things I'm passionate about in the lit world, made me consider my reason for attending. I feel like I get a lot more out of the ALA conferences, both from the panel perspective and from the talking-to-publicists perspective. Do I think I'll be envious of those attending if I choose not to go? I'm not sure. It seems that those participating in Armchair BEA had some great conversations and opportunities, too, and I think that might be enough for me in the future.
- Moving BEA to the first week of June next year only reemphasizes to me a point I heard for the last couple of years: BEA is not librarian friendly. June is the worst month to host a convention you expect librarians to attend, both from the fact it's when summer reading programs begin and the fact that's when ALA hosts their huge annual convention. Taking two weeks off in one month is impossible. I also think moving it to the first week of June will open it up to more people who may not be in it for the right reasons.
- Three books were read in my time in NYC: Karsten Knight's Wildefire (a funny paranormal book that I enjoyed, despite being totally not my usual fair); Tracey Porter's Lark (a short, slightly creepy story about a girl who disappears and her relationship to two other girls); and the Asher/Mackler book, The Future of Us.
- Finally, for those curious about my bold claim last year that I only spent about $1000, I'll say I think I spent about $1000 this year, too. Which, for a week in New York City, I think is pretty impressive.
Friday, May 27, 2011
After the ALA Midwinter convention, I posted about the books I picked up, linking the titles to the GoodReads descriptions, along with publisher and publication date information.
I thought I'd do that again with my BEA picks -- starting with the titles I packed in my luggage. Perhaps next week I can give a peak of what was in the two boxes I sent home. Look for a wrap up of the highs (and lows) of this year's convention this week from both Kim and myself.
I hope you find this a useful and fun references for titles coming up to keep on your radar. Not all of the books have covers yet, but I've tried to include covers where possible.
The Future of Us by Jay Asher and Carolyn Mackler, September
I read this one already and completely adored it. It's lighter on plot, but it's an interesting look at what power we have to shape our own futures.
Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins, September
The companion novel to Perkins's debut Anna and the French Kiss. Not the same plot or characters, which is really refreshing.
Crossed by Ally Condie, November
Sequel to Matched, which I finally just got around to reading. I'm interested in how this story progresses.
Simon and Schuster
Fury by Elizabeth Miles, August
I'll talk about this one in more detail soon, but this is the first book out of Lauren Oliver's Paper Lantern Lit. Mythology-based story. Miles is a debut author.
Unbecoming of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin, September
This was probably THE biggest buzz book at BEA for young adults. Another debut author.
Perfect by Ellen Hopkins, September
Companion novel to Hopkins's Impulse.
Virtuosity by Jessica Martinez, October
This one looks like it's up my alley -- a story about music competition with some romance added.
Sirenz by Charlotte Bennardo and Natalie Zaman, available now
This is supposed to be a cleaner read and it's the first in a trilogy.
Witch Eyes by Scott Tracey, September
Debut author with a paranormal that features a gay main character.
Skyship Academy: The Pearl Wars by Nick James, September
A debut science fiction title that looks like it will have loads of good guy appeal.
Want to go Private? by Sarah Darer Littman, July
I'm super excited about this timely story about the trouble that can pop up when the internet becomes quite real and scary.
Pretty Bad Things by CJ Skuse, July
This looks insane (in a good way): a road trip with twins to Las Vegas where lots of crazy things go down.
Forever by Maggie Steifvater, July
The final installment in the series -- I actually liked this paranormal series and know my teens are going to flip when they can win this this summer.
13 gifts by Wendy Mass, September
Have I mentioned how much I love Wendy Mass before? I'm stoked for this companion to 11 Birthdays and Finally. I flipped through and see we'll be visiting some of those characters again, and I'm eager to see what goes on in their world now. Perfect middle grade novels.
Pie by Sarah Weeks, October
The publicist gave me this one after hearing how much I adore Wendy Mass and was excited about 13 Gifts. This looks like a sweet middle grade novel.
The Scorpio Races by Maggie Steifvater, October
It's Steifvater's first stand alone novel. This was getting huge buzz at the Scholastic booth.
First Day on Earth by Cecil Castellucci, November
I've been a fan of Castellucci's previous books, and this one looks really good to me, too.
Underground Time by Delphine de Vigan, December
I'm fairly sure this is an adult title, and it's about office bullying. Timely, for sure.
Fracture by Megan Miranda, January 2012
It seems to me the end of 2011 and beginning of 2012 will involve a lot of "there was an accident and someone woke up" kind of stories. This is one -- main character wakes after an accident and doesn't know whether she's a miracle or freak.
All These Things I've Done by Gabrielle Zevin, September
Zevin's name on a book is enough to sell me on it, but in this one, coffee and chocolate are outlawed. As a non-coffee drinker and non-chocolate lover, this speaks to me on a level that is probably opposite everyone else who'd be interested in this book.
If I Tell by Janet Gurtler, October
A girl catches her mother making out with her own best friend. Drama! Tension! This looks fantastic.
Supernaturally by Kiersten White, July
This is the sequel to Paranormalcy, which happens to be the last book my teen book club at work read and discussed before I left. They were begging me for the sequel, so to say I'm excited I managed to get this for them is an understatement.
Cold Kiss by Amy Garvey, September
This is one of the titles Laura Arnold talked about earlier this year. Another debut author.
Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi, November
Another debut author and another huge buzz title at BEA. I'm not sure I'm totally sold on the concept, but I'll give it a fair shot.
Shut Out by Kody Keplinger, September
I quite liked Keplinger's first book, The DUFF, and I'm curious what her sophomore effort will look like.
How to Rock Braces and Glasses by Meg Haston, September
I think this sounds like it will resonate with a lot of middle school readers. A younger YA title.
Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor, September
This was one of Little Brown's buzz titles, and for good reason: it looks like it will have huge appeal for readers. Taylor's last novel, Lips Touch: Three Times, was one I really liked.
Bunheads by Sophie Flack, October
It's an interesting trend to see more than one title coming out in this batch featuring a 19-year-old main character. It makes me wonder if YA is trending up in age a little bit. Also, I got this book signed and it was, by far, the slowest signing I've ever waited for. The book looks really good though, with huge appeal.
Queen of Kentucky by Alecia Whitaker, January 2012
This sounds like a great Dairy Queen read alike.
How to Save a Life by Sara Zarr, January 2012
Janssen has read this one and says it's really good. I've only ever read one Sara Zarr (after thinking I've read none, I realize I have read Story of a Girl -- perhaps one of the first YA books I read during grad school) but I look forward to this one.
Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler, January 2012
I think this book might have been a bigger buzz title than the Taylor one. It's part text, part image: another trend I noticed this year. I think it's a good trend, too, if it's done well.
The Rivals by Daisy Whitney, February 2012
This is the companion to Whitney's The Mockingbirds. I began this one on the plane home and am already convinced it's far better than her first. The writing is beautiful (I've even marked some fantastic lines already) and Alex, who starred in the last story, is a much stronger character now. I'm eager to see where this continues.
As you can see, there are a few that I'm extremely excited about, and you can see some of the trends emerging for fall 2011 and spring 2012. Other books will resonate with my teens like crazy, even if they aren't my cup of tea.
Although it appears there's quite a bit of contemporary, my luggage picks were the bulk of contemporary titles I picked up this year. It looks to be a thin year in that genre yet again, but what is publishing looks strong and timely. I'm holding out for a renaissance for this genre because it's been really lacking the last couple of years -- or at least, the attention for it has certainly been shadowed by big name fantasy/dystopian/paranormal titles and series.
It always makes me nervous when a book is pitched to me as "the next Hunger Games" for a few reasons: first, I don't think any book can ever truly be "the next _____," no matter what the title; second, my expectations are then set either sky high (if I liked the book in comparison) or quite low (if I didn't); and finally, it doesn't let the book stand out for its own qualities. We don't get a real pitch for the book and what makes it stand out from everything else.
Fortunately, when I was hand-pitched Blood Red Road at Midwinter, I got more than a standard pitch of "the next Hunger Games." It was sold to me as having the adventure of Collins's book, but the main character, Saba, was supposed to be a hundred times more kick ass, and the story totally absorbing, different, and addictive. Then there was the added bonus of being told some of the "behind the writing" stuff, too -- that Young turned the manuscript in at the end of 2010 and the book would be published in June 2011 (a pace not found in publishing) because the writing was so tight and that this book didn't follow traditional conventions of punctuation. Okay, so the last part made me a little skeptical, but there was enough to build up this book for me. And then I put it off. And put it off. And put it off.
But then, it met and exceeded my expectations when I did read it.
Saba and Lugh are twins, and they live in an extremely remote place with no one else around except Pa and their younger sister Emmi; there is a guy who lives nearby, but Saba's always had weird feelings about him, and Pa says it's best to stay away. Saba feels resentment toward younger sister Emmi and isn't afraid to voice this; Emmi's the reason her mother died. Oh, and there's a crow that Saba's raised for many years, despite her father's disapproval. In this remote place, experience a lot of storms -- dust storms caused by a lack of rain -- and when the book begins, we're tossed right into a huge storm on the horizon. It's a storm that they survive, but that doesn't mean what comes about the corner after is any better: it's four men on horses here to take Lugh away from the family. Saba can't stand by and let this happen, and in the midst of a battle, there is death, destruction, pain, and the loss of Saba's twin brother to these bandits.
She's not going to let this be the end of him, though, and she promises Lugh she will rescue him; little does she know how much work this will be, especially when younger sister Emmi has to tag along with her. Saba knows where Lugh's been taken, though she knows nothing about Hopetown. That is, until she herself becomes a victim of kidnapping and quickly learns that Hopetown is nothing like the name may promise. Saba's been sold into a fighting ring (think Hunger Games here) as a way for her captors to make money, which buys them more drugs. Hopetown, it turns out, is a mega drug town, and people will do anything for another fix, including pillage and steal and sell innocent people into battle. It is here Lugh's been taken, too, as the chosen boy to be sacrificed by the King. And Saba's not going to let this happen. No way.
This is what happens in the first 150 pages of the 500 page book.
Blood Red Road is an incredibly fast paced book, and it begs to be read in one sitting. Saba is a killer character, and she's not necessarily that way because she's the smartest. In fact, I think Saba's a bit of a dumb character, and she needs to be that way -- if she were more intelligent, she wouldn't have followed her brother, wouldn't have fought with the raw power inside her, and she wouldn't have been so open about her resentment toward Emmi. That last part is important, since it plays a huge role in the structure of the story and the pacing, as well. I believed Saba from the beginning, and I knew she had something inside her that would drive her to achieve a lot despite her upbringing. But as the story progressed, it was wonderful to see Saba begin to believe in herself and begin to understand the raw power within her to do good things and to make things happen herself. She's not reliant upon a male to be powerful; she relies upon herself, which is something there isn't enough of in YA lit.
In fact, one of the things I appreciated about Young's book is that there is virtually no romance. Jack, a guy Saba saves following an incident in the arena, is absolutely in love with Saba from the beginning of their time together. But Saba's both a little ignorant of the fact and a little bit frustrated by it. She knows he's interested, but she doesn't know how interested, but even that slight interest is infuriating. Yes, there will be a kiss, but Saba will not linger on it. She's got bigger dragons to slay, and even when those beasts have been slayed, well, Jack's a secondary thought.
There's a lot of symbolism piled up in the story, and it's easy to latch onto. The world Young's created is believable, and it's easy to picture, as well. It's desolate and deserted and red. It feels a bit like a story that could be set in the Great Depression, but it's futuristic, rather than historical. With some of the clues dropped in the story, it felt like it may take place in Europe, though the location really isn't that important. What is important is how important the setting is to the story, and how scary believable it is because there are places similar to Hopetown existing in our world.
To the writing -- this is a book written in a dialect. It's not standard English, and some of the words dropped aren't necessarily in English either. That was part of what made me believe this book may be set in Europe. Unlike many books written in a dialect, the use of it in Young's book is well-placed. It really gives a strong character to both the setting and to Saba, and it enhances our knowledge of who she is and what makes her such a powerful character. As a reader, I had no problem diving into it, and even found myself believing it made the story read faster. I think if it had been done without the dialect, much of the story would be lost. Likewise, I had no problems with the lack of punctuation in dialog, as it made the story read more naturally. Teens and adults will certainly have no problem with this, either.
Perhaps my favorite part of the book is that fact that it can stand alone. Don't get me wrong: this isn't a stand alone book, but rather the first in a series. But the story line and characters are completely developed and come to full resolutions at the conclusion of the book, meaning readers can walk away entirely satisfied having read just this volume. I would absolutely read the second volume of this book because I think that this one was engaging and exciting enough I want to know what else Young can come up with, but it makes me thrilled to know I can hand this to a reader and let them know it can be read all on its own and they don't have to wait a year to find out what happens. It all happens right here.
Hand Blood Red Road to your fans of fast paced, action packed dystopians, including The Hunger Games and Veronica Roth's Divergent. Readers of post-apocalyptic stories will eat this one up, as well. Thriller fans, too, will fall into this world without problem. This has wide appeal to males and females, and I think it certainly deserves attention. Will I call it "the next Hunger Games?" No. But I will say it appeals to that fan base, and that it's a book for readers looking for adventure, high stakes, and a powerful main character who refuses to take crap from anyone who gets in her way.
Bound manuscript handed to me at ALA midwinter. Blood Red Road will be published by Simon & Schuster June 7 -- just in time for summer reading!
Thursday, May 26, 2011
|I dislike this cover rather intensely.|
Wednesday, May 25, 2011
I haven't posted about this and realize I should mention it, since some of our readers might be interested.
I've been posting at YALSA's new blog, The Hub, for the last three months. I'm writing up a monthly feature on the debut novels that month -- so you can read my posts from March, April, and the one I posted today on May debut novels.
It's a nice way to spread the word about debut authors to the wider librarian audience and to those who are ya book lovers looking for a new author to try.
Another cover double that snuck up on me. Now this one may or may not be the same photo, depending on what you believe could be done with a little image editing. Chances are it could have been the same photo shoot (again, depending on what you believe about image editing). But it's a striking image, and I think both covers work it quite well.
Harmonic Feedback by Tara Kelly (Holt, May 2010): I love this cover. It's dark, but it's also got a feeling of hope to it. The girl is reaching out, and there's something in her stance and body language that feels promising to me. Like she knows she can achieve something. It fits so well with the book, too.
Then there's this one:
Stick by Andrew Smith (Feiwel and Friends, October 2011): I haven't read this one, but the cover again gives such a good vibe. The book deals with a physical deformity and sexuality and the cover again gives a bit of that hopeful vibe within the dark.
In both covers, the composition is similar -- the person is in the lower right-hand part of the book, reaching in the same spot for the sky. I think the title and author font and placement works a little bit better on Smith's book, simply because I think the font stands out a little more against the image.
Does one do it better than the other? Know of any other similar covers floating around? Share your thoughts!
Tuesday, May 24, 2011
Lincoln didn't know what he was getting into when he responded to an ad for the local newspaper The Courier, which needed an Internet Security Officer. Yes, it was the night shift, but at least the job was full-time, with a good salary and benefits. And maybe it would finally give him some purpose while he figured out exactly what to do with his life: after all, he is in his twenties and has been a professional student since his horrible, traumatic breakup with his high school and college girlfriend, and he still lives at home with his mother (a fact that he himself doesn't mind, as she leaves him alone and cooks practically gourmet meals for him. But his sister Eve keeps nagging him to leave the nest, and maybe he does need a good kick in the butt).
But the job is definitely nothing like Lincoln expected...for one thing, there is literally nothing to do, no responsibilities except monitoring and reading emails flagged for 'objectionable content.' While Lincoln can't help but feel vaguely guilty at this intrusion into others' lives, he is simultaneously drawn into the lives of Jennifer and Beth, two bubbly best friends whose emails often find their way into his inbox. As they talk about their relationships (Jennifer is married, and she and her husband are trying to figure out when to have a baby, while Beth is in a long-term relationship with Chris, a rocker who can't truly commit), Beth and Jennifer become more than just email addresses on a computer screen to Lincoln. They become real, true, vulnerable human beings. And he can't help himself from falling for Beth.
Attachments was an absolutely adorable read, the perfect book to break me from a recent slump of 'meh' books. The format enabled this book to be a quick read, as Jennifer and Beth's side of the story is told solely through emails, and Lincoln's in short chapters of prose. Yet despite the brevity, Rowell truly excels at creating deep, well-rounded characters. Even through short snippets of email, the reader is able to feel Jennifer's excitement and grief over the developments of her marriage, and can empathize with Beth's immense frustration over Chris' flightiness. Lincoln is just plain adorable, a hulk of a man whose sensitivity, fear, and gradual transformation are shown to us vividly over the course of Attachments.
It is this transformation that is at the heart of Attachments, more so than the engaging antics of Jennifer and Beth. Rowell truly shows rather than tells the reader how Lincoln gradually finds himself throughout this novel, as he develops a crush on Beth the 'idea,' then discovers who she is, then is plagued with guilt about reading her personal thoughts and doesn't know how he can ever approach her 'in real life.'
While there isn't much suspense in this novel, as its sweet tone naturally assures the reader of a happy ending, the joy is in following these three characters on their journeys, both individually and collectively.
Monday, May 23, 2011
Hamilton is THE it girl at Fidelity High School; sure, Olivia, Zelda, Nordica, and Shelly all think they have a chance to knock her from her thrown, but the fact of the matter is, they don't have a shot. And they never will.
Hamilton's known for her parties, and people are dying to get invited. She posts her guest lists in the school so people can see whether they've gotten her stamp of approval or if they've once again been snuffed. Of course, Olivia, Zelda, Nordica, and Shelly are always invited, but they've noticed that different people have been invited and showing up lately -- people who aren't popular and who aren't members of their elite clique. And it seems that Hamilton's been more and more removed from the parties herself: she's becoming more and more broken up over the fact she'll be graduating soon and need to grow up, make new friends, and create a new name for herself outside of Fidelity. Even her boyfriend Alex can't seem to shake her from her sadness.
That is, until all of the secrets unwind, and we as readers see exactly how all of the characters come to create this clique and maintain their power.
Popular is a fast-paced, engaging read told through multiple narrators. The way it pulled me in reminded me a lot of when I first read Courtney Summers's Cracked Up to Be, and for many reasons, these might make great readalikes. Immediately, you know something is fishy, and you know that things are going to fall apart and do so fast. Grosso's use of the multiple narrators is essential here, and it's a technique that I'm usually skeptical of as a reader. I think she does a good job of delineating each voice, but they're not entirely unique. As a reader, I didn't believe in each of them; however, this is okay. It can't be any other way.
Hamilton is a broken girl: sure she's popular, but clearly there is something much more problematic going on. Most people their senior year of high school revel in the freedoms they will have upon graduation, but Hamilton dreads it. She's so disengaged in her life and so removed from her place at the top of the social hierarchy that as readers, you want to know more. But like any good story about cliques and popularity, you can only get so much, since there are other characters vying for this attention. Much of what we learn about Hamilton comes from her friends, as well as from Alex. In the first half of the story, she's defined through Olivia, Zelda, Nordica, and Shelly; in the second half of the story, Alex defines her.
Beware, though, as this is also not a story about popularity. It's much deeper and much more twisted. This will have appeal to fans who enjoy a little bit of a mystery and a little bit of suspense. Grosso successfully weaves a story told both in the present and in the past, and piece by piece she builds a compelling character study complemented by a plot that's got enough pulse behind it to move the story forward. There's honestly not much that happens in the book, but that's okay. It's a bit of a refreshing read after a number of books that seem to be trying to offer too much in plot and too little in character.
Because I don't want to spoil the mega twist that happens in the story -- the point at which everything in the book comes together and at which all of the small clues dropped in the first part click into place -- I'll say this much and include the spoiler-ridden link: this book does what this book did much, much stronger. Personally, I wasn't surprised in the least of where it went, but it didn't bother me. Where the aforementioned book fails to give me a compelling character, Grosso's Hamilton is so much more engaging (or maybe the word is disengaging) and has much more depth to her story. More than that, it feels more authentic and less like a ploy. Even though I suspected what would happen, it didn't feel like a cheap narrative device but instead was well executed.
My big quibble with the story lies in Alex's narration. I didn't believe him as a male character, as he's a little too emotionally invested in Hamilton. Fortunately, I don't think it's necessary to believe him and I don't think it's necessary to even care about him at all, since his narration comes simply as a way to give us more insight into Hamilton.
Even though some of the writing was a little weak for me as a reader, particularly when it came to dialog that didn't necessarily move the story and didn't always ring true to the teen voice, the appeal on this book is quite high. This is Grosso's debut novel, and she has much opportunity to hone those technical skills, given her story telling ability is already quite tight. Fans of Pretty Little Liars would likely enjoy this one quite a bit, and as I mentioned before, both fans of Summers's first book and fans of the book linked in the previous paragraph will dig this one. I think the appeal for reluctant readers is here, as well, since the pacing is fast and the writing isn't that challenging. There is little in terms of language, drugs, or drinking -- even amid the party threads running in the story -- and I'd be completely comfortable giving this one to a middle schooler. It'll appeal for younger and older teens easily, and it will have wider appeal for girls than it will for guys.
Friday, May 20, 2011
When 17-year-old Donna's father dies after a long bout with cancer, she begins to question who she is and what her purpose is in the world. As she works her way through the grief and loss, she comes to the realization that perhaps where she belongs is in the death business. Despite the vehement opposition of her mother and the outcast she feels from her classmates, she applies to a local mortuary school on the advice of the funeral home director who did her father's services.
When Donna's accepted to school and when she takes a position as an intern at the funeral home, she finds herself on the outside of everything she once was and on the outside of every relationship she once held, and she must come to terms with owning her own future.
Putting Makeup on Dead People is a book with a premise unlike any I'd read before -- how often do we get a glimpse into the life of a person interested in making death their profession? In teen literature, not often. But I have to be honest: this book did not work for me as a reader on a number of levels.
Donna, who is 17 in the story, never once rang true to me as a 17-year-old. She felt 12; although it is clear her father's death has really impacted her growth as a person, her voice is far too young and immature for 17. The manner in which she presented herself and the ways in which she protested against her mother came across as extremely childish. While reading it, I let myself be okay with this flaw, though, seeing as sometimes having an older teen character written in this style can great for tween readers. It's a voice they can relate to while still giving them the impression they're reading something that may be meant for older readers.
Unfortunately, though, this isn't a book I'd be comfortable book talking or recommending to tween readers because of another challenge I had: the sex. Donna, despite talking about how she's not really interested in boys and how she isn't interested in pursuing a relationship, develops one with a guy about 1/4 of the way through the book. It's not a relationship that based on romance or shared interests; it's based entirely upon Tim's desire to sleep with Donna. He goes as far as to do some pretty graphic things to her in a car when other characters are present, and there is an awkward going-to-have-sex-for-the-first-time scene where Donna finally remembers that she doesn't really want a boyfriend. But perhaps what's most worrisome about it is how little agency Donna has in any of this, as well as how little she even seems to be enjoying it. The writing here, too, falters quite a bit and feels clunky and awkward. Comparing a sexual act to painting, to be blunt, made me cringe a little bit and feel uncomfortable as a reader (and adult). I fear teens will feel similarly. I think that the story would have been stronger had no romantic relationships had been incorporated, especially one that felt so one-sided and stilted as this one.
Which brings me to the biggest issue I had with the book, and it's that Violi tries to take on far too many topics at once, and few are as well fleshed as they could be. Aside from the sex issue, there's quite a bit going on in terms of religion and belief. Although it is certainly a topic that would come up when discussing death and the ways in which people handle death, Donna is a little all over the board with her beliefs. It seems at the beginning she's a strong believer in something, but she's also interested in Wiccan traditions and other spiritual practices she knows her aunt has been outcast from the family for. It's not a solid enough progression of change or understanding, and for me, this goes back to Donna being an unbelievable 17-year-old.
One of the major themes in the story is family, and for Donna, much of the challenge of her being able to discover her own passions is the roadblock of her mother. Of all the characters, I believe Donna's mother was the most fully developed -- she's a total wet blanket about anything, and yet, it's clear that Donna doesn't understand that her mother has a life of her own to live, too. Mom both lives for her children, hoping to protect and nurture them, but she's also eager to move on with her own life, too. Mom wants to put the kabash on her daughter going to mortuary school, and the way that Donna and her mother work through this feel authentic and reminiscent of what many teens go through with their parents when it comes to their post-high school plans. The betrayal Donna feels when her mother begins dating a new guy is relatable, despite the fact her reactions feel younger than 17. That's not to say, though, that the mother was entirely realistic to me, either. At times, the things she said made me cringe, including one time she said that young people shouldn't have fun because they need their rest. Awkward, strange and not all that believable to read. It feels like in this book as a whole, the challenge the author comes against is developing powerful opportunities for scenes, but it's in the execution, the dialog, and closure where it falls apart. Potential wasn't as fully realized as it could have been.
What did work for me in the book was the big lesson that Donna learns: that she can be what she wants to be, and that if she pursues her passions hard enough, things will work out in the end. I had the feeling this lesson would come full circle when the story began, but it was still a good one nonetheless. I love how Violi took a look at a topic that really isn't much talked about -- the funeral business -- and made it interesting. Donna's passion for it is palpable, and as a reader, I was sucked into it. It wasn't at all morbid, but instead, it was interesting to see the entire process of funeral planning and body preparation. It makes sense to me why this book needed to tackle a wealth of issues, including faith, since that's something hit upon quite heavily in Donna's school and internship. Although I wasn't crazy impressed with the writing, I would have read another 50 or 100 pages of this story to see that fleshed out further.
Putting Makeup on Dead People is a good read for your younger teens who like stories about growing up, finding oneself, and non-traditional routes post-high school. There aren't enough stories that touch that topic, and this is a worthy entry into that area. Despite the weaknesses in this story, I am eager to see what Violi writes in the future, as she managed to keep me reading and interested in Donna's final outcome anyway.
Picked up at ALA. Putting Makeup on Dead People will be released May 24.
Thursday, May 19, 2011
We're still making our way across the globe, and after stops in the Middle East and in Australia and New Zealand, we're going to Europe this week. There are so many books that fit -- pages worth, in fact -- so I'm limiting it down quite a bit to stuff that's fairly current and primarily not historical fiction. It seems as though most books set in European countries is historical, so it's impossible to avoid it and it does, without question, have appeal to readers. To further limit my choices, I'm using three books to any given country, since some countries like England and France could be displays all their own. I'll tell you which country the book's set in, and as always, I welcome your suggestion for countries that aren't represented. And if you'd like more books set in Europe, drop a line -- I can share my length list with you.
Without further ado:
Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins (France): Anna's got it fine at home, but her dad thinks she needs a new adventure and sends her overseas for her senior year of high school to the city of lights. Anna might be the only person in the world not thrilled to be spending a year in Paris, but a little romance might change her mind.
No and Me by Delphine de Vigan (France): Lou, who lives in Paris, is an extremely intelligent and slightly OCD girl whose school project on homelessness ends up making a huge impression on not just her assignment, but on her life as a whole.
Finding Lubchenko by Michael Simmons (France): Evan's been commissioned on a fast-paced, action-packed adventure in Paris to find a murderer.
The Boy Who Dared by Susan Campbell Bartoletti (Germany): When the Nazis begin outlawing anything that's not issued by them, one brave boy listens to an illegal radio and begins sharing the real news with other German citizens.
Ashes by Kathryn Lasky (Germany): Another story similar to Bartoletti's about the rise of power of the Nazis and the loss of rights of the German citizens. This time, the story focuses on 13-year-old Gabriella and the loss of her freedom to read what she wishes.
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak (Germany): A story of the Nazi uprising told through the eyes of Death. A modern classic.
Spain or Shine by Michelle Jellen (Spain): Another entry into the Students Across the Seven Seas series (which include books that do take place in a number of European countries). Elana feels like she's the lost child among her three overachieving siblings, but a semester in Spain might make her understand who she is a little bit better and understand the role she plays in her family.
Bog Child by Siobhan Dowd (Ireland): This historical mystery takes place in 1981, during the height of troubles in Ireland and Fergus loses his ability to concentrate on school exams with the discovery of a dead girl's body and his imprisoned brother's hunger strike.
Why I Let My Hair Grow Out by MaryRose Wood (Ireland): Morgan's boyfriend dumps her on the last day of school and to cheer herself up, she dies her hair orange and chops it all off. Her parents freak, and rather than ground her, they send her away to Ireland for the summer. During her time in Ireland, she learns a lot about herself and even a little bit about love.
Angus, Thongs, and Full Frontal Snogging by Louise Rennison (England): The hilarious first installment of the diary of 14-year-old Georgia Nicholson, wherein she talks about her nose, her cat, and a boy who makes her gaga.
The Knife That Killed Me by Anthony McGowan (England): Paul's been given a mission by his school's biggest bully, Roth. When this mission insights a fight, Paul wants nothing to do with it, but he discovers he's in deep -- but he's also the one with immense power.
The Agency: A Spy in the House by Y. S. Lee (England): Mary Quinn, rescued from an orphanage, is sent to spy school to learn the tricks of the trade. Bonus: this one's set in Victorian London.
A Golden Web by Barbara Quick (Italy): Alessandra needs to escape the year-long imprisonment her stepmother has placed her under, but being a teen girl in 14th century Italy makes this a little challenging. But using her intelligence to guide her, she does more than simply escape. Based on the true story of anatomist Alessandra Giliani.
Girl at Sea by Maureen Johnson (Italy): Clio's not interested in being stuck on a boat in the Mediterranean during her summer, but this vacation might be one that has a huge impact on the future of her life. Oh, and there is a little romance, too.
Duchessina by Caroline Meyer (Italy): A fictional story of the life of Catherine de Medici. Even though she grew up in a wealthy family, her life was far from easy, especially when she becomes engaged to an aloof and cold boy.
Tamar by Mal Peet (Netherlands): This story about the discovery of one's heritage begins with a box to teen Tamar, who searches through it and through her country to learn about her grandfather, who played a big role in World War II.
Swede Dreams by Eva Apelquist (Sweden): Another entry in the Students Across the Seven Seas series, this time set in Sweden. Calista's time in Sweden promises to be exciting, especially since she can finally escape the constant piano playing noise of her cousin Suzanne. Calista's interested in boys, but the one with whom she's spending a lot of time with may be the one causing the most trouble.
Milkweed by Jerry Spinelli (Poland): Set in Nazi-occupied Warsaw, this story follows a boy who desires little more than to grow up to become a Nazi. But when he understands the atrocities imparted upon the Jewish people by the Nazis, he might have a change of heart.
iDrakula by Bekka Black (Romania): This modern day take on Dracula not only takes the vampire trope to a different level, but it also incorporates plenty of text messages, emails, and more atypical story telling devices.
The Musician's Daughter by Suzanne Dunlap (Austria): This historical mystery follows 15-year-old Theresa Maria in the aftermath of discovering her father dead on Christmas and his violin missing. Murder, romance, and music permeate this novel.
The Water Song by Suzanne Weyn (Belgium): A retelling of The Frog Prince.
A Field Guide for Heartbreakers by Kristen Tracey (Czech Republic): Dessy and Veronica end up in Prague with two very different missions -- Dessy wants to dive head first into the creative writing workshop they signed up for while Veronica wants to dive head first into European boys. Who ends up ahead?
Revolver by Marcus Sedgwick (Finland): A knock on the door of 15-year-old Sig's home reveals Wolff -- a guy who has some unfinished business with Sig's father. But the thing is, Sig's father's dead and the truth is that Sig may be the one with some unfinished business.
Goddess Boot Camp by Tera Lynn Childs (Greece): So not necessarily set in Greece, this story is the second in the series by Childs that sets Greek mythology in high school. If anyone has any suggestions for books set in Greece, share 'em. Lots of mythology, little set in the country itself.
Thief Eyes by Janni Lee Simner (Iceland): 16-year-old Haley's mother's disappeared, and she convinces her father they should go to Iceland to heal from the loss. During the healing, Haley meets a mysterious and gorgeous boy, as well as unravels a saga much deeper than she can imagine.
Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetyas (Lithuania): A powerful story that begins in Lithuania and follows a family torn apart during World War II. Lina, her mother, and her brother are separated from their father, and sent to a labor camp in Siberia by Stalin while her father lives in a prison camp. It's a little known story -- thanks Rachel, for clarifying, since I haven't read this one yet!
Sing Me to Sleep by Angela Morrison (Switzerland): In this story that transforms a "Beast" into a "Beauty," Beth's chosen to travel with her choir to Switzerland, where she meets a guy who causes her to question her best friend at home.