Blood and Ink by Stephen Davies

9781580897907_34ab1First appeared in School Library Journal, July 2017.

Though both raised in the Fulani tribe, teens Ali and Kadi are like oil and water when their paths cross in the midst of political turmoil in their home of Timbuktu, Mali. Religiously strict Ali belongs to the Defenders of Faith, a branch of Al Queda. His current assignment is to take control of Timbuktu, destroying any opposition in the way. Equally strict, brave, and feisty is Kadi, a lover of music and literature and the daughter of a librarian. As a Guardian, Kadi must keep ancient manuscripts safe at all costs. While trying to flee Timbuktu with the manuscripts, Kadi ends up in mortal danger. Ali must choose where his true loyalty lies. The ending is abrupt, but hopeful, and it begs for a sequel. Modern-day Timbuktu is brought to life in this timely, fast-paced story of teens falling in love despite being at war with each other. Historically rich background and Islamic culture combine, providing two perspectives on the war in Mali. The drama unfolds in alternating points of view between well-developed characters with multicultural subject matter that is unique, but relevant to current events.  Davies’ writing is authentic, because he spent over a decade with the Fulani tribe. Both a glossary and a fact & fiction section are included to enhance reader’s understanding and provide factual background of Islamic practices. VERDICT: Readers will enjoy the well-drawn characters and fast-paced action of this diverse YA thriller with a hint of romance.

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There’s Someone Inside Your House by Stephanie Perkins

15797848Stephanie Perkins’ YA horror/thriller novel, There’s Someone Inside Your House, will have adults and teens alike reeling until the very last page. Think Scream, but much more original and clever! Try to go right to sleep after finishing this book and let me know how that works out for you. It certainly didn’t work for me!

Makani left Hawaii and is now in her senior year at a small school in rural Nebraska, in the farming town of Osborne. She lives with her aging, and somewhat senile grandmother, sent to help her by her soon-to-be-divorced and non-present parents, who stayed behind in Hawaii. Her two best friends are Alex and Darby, and though she sometimes feels like the third-wheel of the group, she is going through the motions of surviving high school, all the while trying to keep a low profile so that no one finds out the true reason she left Hawaii and changed her last name to Young. Makani starts to take a renewed interest in Ollie Larssen, one of her classmates who is sexy and mysterious, but doesn’t care what others think about him, or his recent hot pink hair color. Ollie lives with his slightly older brother, Chris, a town police officer, because their parents were killed by a drunk driver a few years ago.

As Makani and Ollie get to know each other better (nothing like a good steamy romance!), random high school students are being brutally murdered one-by-one.  Makani fearfully begins to wonder who will be next. There seems to be no rhyme or reason to how the students are being chosen at random, but Makani can’t help but wonder if her past and the incident in Hawaii is finally catching up with her in Nebraska. The murders start to increase at an alarming rate, but the killer manages to escape capture, leaving a gruesome setup at each murder scene.

The book is packed with both fear and romance, a killer combination that will keep readers fascinated. I couldn’t put the book down! It was a very fast read, but the scenes and grisly details stayed with me well after I had read the last page. The murder scenes were bizarre and original, causing Perkins’ first horror novel to be a stand-out from other books of this genre.

Perhaps my favorite thing about the book is that the killer is revealed about three-quarters of the way through the book, and readers don’t have to wait until the final page to know who it is. However, even after the killer is revealed (in a most unsettling & painful way for Makani and Ollie, by the way), he/she keeps on killing, right under everyone’s noses. It’s crazy! The plot is original, wildly entertaining, and filled with creepy moments. When you start a young adult novel and one of the characters is murdered savagely in the first chapter, you know it’s going to be a game-changer for young adult horror. Fans of Scream and I Know What You Did Last Summer will absolutely love this book!

To quote of my high school student readers, “It was a real slasher!” (She gave it a 10 of 10.)

Welcome to the Slipstream by Natalka Burian

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Originally published in School Library Journal, May 2017.

Grade 9 & up: Van, 17, was forced to grow up quickly in the slipstream of her mentally ill, brilliant mother. Her father died of a drug overdose when she was an infant. Van, her mother Sophie, and Ida, a surrogate grandmother, have lived as vagrants, following Sophie’s work. Leaving their home in Uzbekistan, the women land in Vegas, the city that never sleeps, for Sophie’s job at the Silver Saddle Casino. Van is tutored and left to spend her free time inside the lavish place with, Alex, a handsome college student, as her guide. Alex becomes her first true friend and love interest. Playing the guitar has always been Van’s true joy and form of escape, and she is now given the opportunity to join a band. Then, tragedy strikes and her family unit is falling apart before her very eyes. With Ida ill and Sophie caught in a scam, taken to the Sedona desert for “healing” by a cult, Van follows, determined to save her mother. The pacing is quick, parallel to the constant movement of Van and her mother Sophie. Van has an out of body experience and ends up fighting to survive in the desert. The end is filled with heavy-hearted goodbyes, but also hope and promise for Van’s future. It’s more of a beginning as Van makes a tough decision to set out on her own. The mood throughout is laced with worry and uncertainty, and readers will empathize with Van. Burian’s debut realistic fiction novel is based upon real-life events she witnessed. VERDICT: Recommended for general purchase, teen readers will enjoy the story line and well developed characters, while rooting for the strong female lead to survive what life has dealt her.

Four Weeks, Five People by Jennifer Yu

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Originally reviewed in School Library Journal, March 2017.

Gr. 9 & Up – Yu’s debut, realistic fiction young adult novel is set in upstate New York at Camp Ugunduzi, a wilderness therapy camp for troubled teens. The quickly-paced story is told in alternating points-of-view between five unique campers, just introduced and grouped together during the four week long camp. Clarissa, suffering from OCD, wants to get better and experience some “normal” teen activities. Andrew, whose eating disorder caused the band to break-up, is guilt-ridden and longs to get better. Ben, unable to separate fantasy from reality, prefers to go through life pretending to be in a movie, complete with voice-overs. Cold, unfeeling Stella has been to camp before, and doesn’t want to be back. Mason, narcissistic and full of himself, feels he has no problem, but is merely surrounded by idiots. Thrown together with no social media or daily luxuries, the teens find themselves getting comfortable with each other, despite initial trepidation. Perhaps one thing they all share is annoyance at the counselors: middle-age, hippie Josh and overbearing, prude Jessie. When tragedy strikes midway through camp, the teens’ progress and outlook are tested. The emotionally-charged, yet hopeful ending will encourage understanding and empathy to even the most reluctant readers. Background material is added piecemeal, as characters think back to the situations which brought them to camp. The characters are diverse, balanced well between male and female, and appealing to readers of both genders. The story includes mature language and content (i.e. underage drinking and smoking). At times raw and heartbreaking, the language is realistic, which teens will appreciate. VERDICT – Recommended as a first purchase for teens. Humorous scenes throughout will delight readers, despite the heavy subject matter.

 

The Heartbeats of Wing Jones by Katherine Weber

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Review first appeared in School Library Journal, January 2017.

WEBBER, Katherine. The Heartbeats of Wing Jones. 336p. Delacorte Press. Mar. 2017. $17.99. ISBN 9780399555022.

Gr 8 Up – Set in 1990’s Atlanta, this coming-of-age story is realistic fiction with a touch of magical realism, is full of diverse and strong female characters. Bullied for her looks, Wing Jones, half Chinese and half black, doesn’t stand out like her football star, golden boy brother, Marcus. After a night of drinking, Marcus causes an accident, killing two people and ending up in a coma.  Unable to sleep at night, worrying for Marcus and living on the brink of poverty, Wing starts running. Though Marcus is one of the reasons Wing is running, she is able to step out of his shadow, finally feeling acceptance and accomplishment. Aaron, Marcus’s best friend and Wing’s long-time crush, is also a runner, providing a romantic element and additional distraction for Wing. Running gives her the courage to embrace her differences and stand out. Wing’s family back-story regarding her father is heartbreaking, revealed early on, explaining why her father is not in the picture. Wing lives with her mother and both grandmothers, and as such, is surrounded by female role models with take-charge attitudes. The plot moves along quickly, written in first person through Wing’s perspective of the changing world around her. Fans of Jandy Nelson and Stephanie Perkins will enjoy Webber’s debut novel. VERDICT A uniquely original novel about family, love, and the courage to stand up to life’s challenges and triumph which will delight teen readers. Recommended as a general purchase for all libraries.

Guest Review: History is All You Left Me by Adam Silvera

I’m thrilled to have my friend and colleague, Cameron, who blogs at Cam Loves Books, here for a guest review post. Cam reviews YA books and her reviews are witty & fabulous!

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About Cam

Children’s and young adult book blogger. Library professional. Dog mom. English major. Intersectional feminist. Livin’ life one book at a time.

Cam’s Review of History is All You Left Me by Adam Silvera  (release date 1/17/17)

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History is All You Left Me, Adam Silvera’s sophomore novel, cements him firmly in the ranks of my auto-buy, auto-love, absolute rock star, favorite young adult authors. His main characters, Griffin, Theo, and Jackson, all leap off the page as fully-formed, deeply grieving boys, mapping uncharted territories of love and friendship in ways I’ve yet to see explored in YA fiction. The book’s plot is new and intriguing, and its gorgeous execution left me speechless. I know it’s early, but I’m calling it now: this will be one of my favorite reads of 2017.

When Griffin’s ex-boyfriend, Theo, drowns while swimming in the ocean, Griffin is devastated. Griffin, who has OCD, thought that he and Theo were a perfect match, and that Theo might be the only person in the world who could understand and love him. He had always believed he and Theo would get back together, and imagining a future without him is something Griffin never thought he would have to do. His grief, guilt, and loneliness are threatening to consume him when Jackson, Theo’s boyfriend at the time of his death and the only other person who could understand what it’s like to lose him, offers to talk to him about their shared loss. As the surviving boys become closer and help each other heal, each must reveal secrets that could destroy their friendship, and potentially their memories of Theo, forever. With lovely writing and frank, complex examinations of grief and friendship, History is All You Left Me is a masterpiece from one of YA’s bravest new voices. 

Adam Silvera is an evil genius, and perhaps the greatest praise I can give his book is that I started crying in chapter three. It took me no time at all to understand the relationship dynamics between the characters and to care enough for each of them that it brought me to tears. And in a book that starts out with a bang – the death of a major character – it would have been easy for the action to fizzle, but Silvera managed to maintain a slight air of mystery throughout the entire story that leads to an even more shocking second act. I blame Adam Silvera for the worst book hangover of my life, because after reading his debut, More Happy Than Not, it took me five full weeks to be able to finish another book. So I knew I had to mentally prepare myself to read History. I knew it would make me cry, and I knew I would be faced with brutal realities packaged in gorgeous writing, which is an emotional one-two punch in itself. I definitely think you should come prepared to be knocked down, too: I think you should bring tissues, a fuzzy blanket, and your best waterproof mascara. However, I also think you should come prepared to be built back up, to think hard about friendship and healing, to learn something important about mental health, and to come out the other side a little more hopeful than you started out. 

Thanks again to Cam for this beautiful review. You can check out more of her reviews here.

What Light by Jay Asher

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What Light will be published on October 18, 2016 by Razorbill (a Penguin imprint).

Though meant for the young adult audience, adults would really enjoy this story as well. With respect to many YA books, the language and romance are very tame. What Light was like a breath of fresh air, compared to some of the YA books that I have read which are full of sex scenes and unsavory language.

This is a perfect book to get into the Holiday season and spirit of giving. For Sierra, Christmas tree farming has been in her family for generations and it is her life. She looks forward to the Holiday season each year, when she temporarily moves from Oregon to California to set up a Christmas tree lot there. Having done so since she was 5, Sierra has developed a set of best friends and neighbors in each of her homes. This Holiday season, however, is going to be bittersweet because it may be Sierra’s last winter spent in California. Her family doesn’t know how much longer they can afford to keep the tree lot open in California during the Holiday season. As with all the years prior, Sierra spends her days working at the Christmas tree lot and her free time with her best friend, Heather.

Though determined not to, Sierra ends up meeting and falling for a guy. Right away, Sierra can tell that Caleb is unlike any of the guys she has known in the past. Sierra has heard rumors about his past and she wonders about the truth. How can a guy who uses his own hard earned money to purchase Christmas trees for others be as bad as the rumors suggest? As Sierra gets closer to Caleb, despite her father’s protests, the Holiday season is also drawing to an end. Once Sierra discovers the truth about Caleb, will she be able to move forward and help him find forgiveness?  Along with the themes of first love and friendship, this novel also has a large focus on family relationships. Sierra’s relationship with her parents will change a bit this Holiday season as well.

I truly loved this book, and I couldn’t put it down. It really put me into the spirit for the upcoming Holiday season. Jay Asher has a knack for creating real characters; characters we can see in those around us on a daily basis. I highly recommend this book!