Featured Teen Books
I loved Cosmic. LOVED IT. Read this book. Read it with your kids or by yourself. Read it if you love your dad, or don't have a dad, or want to be a dad someday. Read it if you always wanted to be an astronaut, or if the last great frontier always scared you out of your wits. Read it if you are an unusually mature 12 yr old, or a sometimes unusually immature 30-something. Just read it.
Cosmic has an extraordinarily tall 12 year old, Liam, who is dealing with the advantages and disadvantages of his height. He discovers on a school holiday to the amusement park that his physical stature and premature facial hair get him entree to a host of grown-up privileges, like riding cool thrill rides all day and (almost) test driving a Porsche. Much to the consternation of Mom and Dad, Liam begins to take advantage of his abilities, even going so far as to bring a classmate, Florida Kirby, along on his adventures to pose as his daughter. Somehow (and I had no problem suspending my disbelief on this one, Cottrell's just that good) Liam and Florida find themselves in China posing as father and daughter in an attempt to experience the coolest thrill ride ever: a trip into space.
A Telecom entrepreneur wants to send 4 extraordinary children into space, and Liam convinces her that sending one dad would be a good idea because he can't stand the idea of coming all that way just to get fame-obsessed Florida a seat in the rocket. But to earn his way onto the spaceship he's got to beat out the three other authentic (if misguided) dads by convincing the 4 kids to vote for him as best dad.
It's sort of a 21st century Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, but better, with shades of Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett. I love the British sense of humor (I laughed out loud throughout), but it's also sweet and smart and filled with wonder. For the first time in my life I wanted to see the world from out of this world. And there's a tenderness for the bond between father and child, and a respect, too, for the way a father's love can save his child. Trust me, you will love Liam; you will learn to love Florida. You will love this book.
Reviewed by Marilee
I really, really, really liked this book. More YA novels should be like this. Marcelo is a seventeen year old boy with Asperger's syndrome, a high-functioning form of autism. His dad is a high-powered Boston attorney who thinks Marcelo needs to be challenged by getting away from the comfort of his private therapeutic school and into the "real world", so he arranges for his son to spend the summer working in the mail room of his firm. At the firm he meets a number of real-world people, from jerkwad Wendell to Jasmine, the girl who runs the mail room and soon becomes Marcelo's friend. The story of Marcelo's summer is one of the best and most unique coming-of-age stories I've ever read. Told in his first person narration, Marcelo recounts his struggles to make sense of the "real" world and discovers the dilemmas that mark adult life. He finds weaknesses in his father and in himself, he's faced with agonizing choices where the right thing will also hurt him and people he loves, and he begins to unravel the mysteries of love and attraction. Marcelo is a delightful character--awkward, but also smart, thoughtful, courageous and deeply compassionate. There is some raw language, and it's not suited for young teens or those who are easily offended by all the things that easily offend on every side of the cultural divide, but it's one of the best, truest YA novels I've read in years.
Reviewed by Marilee
Scarlet by A. C. Gaughen (T Gaughen)
Will Scarlet likes to slip about unseen. It’s only natural. A thief, and a fine one at that, Will’s livelihood depends on it. But Will has well-kept secrets of another kind too. Will is actually a she, and the less people outside of Robin Hood’s band that know she is a girl the better. Walking unnoticed through taverns and sneaking soundlessly into prisons in Nottingham is easy enough for Scarlet, who honed her stealthy skills on the streets of London where she was forced to fend for herself for years before Robin took her in. More difficult for Robin, John and Much is getting Scarlet to open up about her past. When the infamous Thief Taker Guy Gisbourne is hired by the sheriff to sniff out Robin Hood, she’s forced to either face her demons or let her unflinching loyalty to Robin waver. But everyone knows that won’t happen. The past it will be then, with any pain and humiliation that may accompany it. Perhaps Scarlet’s better-forgotten memories deserve less suppression than she hitherto thought.
Scarlet caught me off guard. I’m not a die-hard fan of Robin Hood by any means so I wasn’t sure what my reaction would be to this latest retelling, but my hesitation was unfounded. Entertaining from the first page, I loved Scarlet for a myriad of reasons, the first for Scarlet herself. She is an extremely strong protagonist, a fact that is sure to polarize readers. But I absolutely adored her for the fierce, unapologetic way she conducts her life. The pain of her past is hers alone and only under extenuating circumstances will she disclose why she ran and why she robs the rich to feed the poor. I respected her pride and found her secrecy true to life. Besides the immediate connection I felt to her, Scarlet charmed me with her – ahem – more amoral skills. An excellent liar, a deadly knife thrower, and a vicious hand-to-hand fighter, Scarlet is one part fearless urban fantasy heroine and another part Megan Whelan Turner thief. Being a girl has no bearing on her integral place in the Hood, and I enjoyed the dynamic she brought to the band and her at times uneasy relationships with both John and Robin. So much is said in the pregnant pauses and meaningful glances between Scarlet and Robin. Add the characterization to the romance and the perfectly paced and spaced prison-breaks, roadside thieving, and character-driven scenes and Scarlet is a near perfect Robin Hood retelling. I hope AC Gaughen has something else up her sleeve because I can’t wait to read it.
Reviewed by Holly Grierson
The Running Dream by Wendelin Van Draanen (T Van Draanen)
The story follows the emotional and physical healing of sixteen-year-old track athlete, Jessica Carlisle, after she becomes a below-knee amputee. After a car accident leaves her barely able to hop, let alone run, Jessica sinks into depression, barely able to cope with the loss of her leg. But her youth and athleticism enable Jessica to learn how to move about, and eventually walk, in amazing time. Still, Jessica wants to run again, and with the help of good friends, teammates and a supportive community, Jessica pushes herself to make that dream come true--for herself as well as for another disabled friend.
Disclaimer: I'm not a runner; I hate running. I'm told you either "get" running or you don't, and I definitely don't. But I really liked this book. The author did a good job of making a runner's obsession accessible even to us non-running types. Typically, I have not found contemporary teen lit to be interesting or even particularly believable, but I may have to revise my opinion if I can find more authors like Van Draanen or Phyllis Reynolds Naylor. She managed to convey what seemed to be an authentic rendering of teen life without any gratuitous profanity or promiscuity. In short, I loved it. Highly recommend. (It is a Beehive nominee, for anyone who cares.)
Reviewed by Erin Mumford
The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater (T Stiefvater)
On the fictional island of Thisby, nineteen year-old Sean Kendrick trains horses for Benjamin Malvern. His mother, like so many of Thisby's residents, emigrated to the mainland years before, and his father lost his life to one of the fearsome cappail uisce, the water horses that emerge from the sea every November. Puck Connolly is an orphan, too. She and her two brothers, Finn and Gabe lost their parents when a water horse attacked them on their fishing boat. As the annual race of the water horses approaches, Gabe announces his intention to leave the island. In a desperate attempt to keep him home, Puck announces her intention to ride in the Scorpio Races.
No woman has ever ridden in the races before, but when she finds out they will lose their home to Malvern without a serious influx of cash, she is determined to try to win the purse. The cappail uisce are as bloodthirsty and unpredictable as they are fast and strong, so Puck decides to ride her dun mare instead, another first. No one quite has the touch with the water horses as Sean, and he's won four of the last six years on his beloved cappal stallion, Corr. Sean's determination to win is just as urgent as Puck's. He wants to buy Corr from his boss, and Malvern has agreed to sell as long as he wins again, and the purse will provide the last of the price. Only one of them can win, and as Puck and Sean's curiosity about each other grows into something stronger, the stakes rise even higher.
This is a masterful fantasy. It's somehow both intense and subtle at the same time, with a beautifully detailed setting, fully developed characters, and a narrative that manages to be effortlessly breathtaking and thoughtful. Thisby is fully rendered--grounded enough in real world details to keep you rooted in the story even as magical, carnivorous equine beasts start roaming the island on a dark and stormy night. It is told alternatively between the two main characters, whose voices are both believable and differentiated. Both boys and girls will like this book--enough bloody, heart-pumping racing scenes and slow-burning love story to keep everyone happy. And the romance? Mmm-hm. When these two finally realize what's going on between them, it actually means something. I like that a lot. It's also very cinematic--I found myself imagining how it would look on screen as I was reading it. We're still early in 2012, but if this one doesn't show up on best of lists in December, it'll be a shame.
Reviewed by Marilee Clark
Girls Don’t Fly by Kristen Chandler (T Chandler)
Of all the YA standouts here in Utah, I really think Chandler ranks as the most underrated. I’m guessing this is due to the almost myopic focus on sci-fi and fantasy in YA generally, but it’s a shame because she’s writing contemporary realistic fiction that easily could go toe to toe with the best of that genre—Sarah Dessen included. Chandler’s sophomore effort focuses on Myra, a seventeen year old working class girl living in a fictional community near the Great Salt Lake. Myra ‘s in the midst of struggle. In addition to her family’s working poor status that keeps her continually responsible for her three little brothers while Mom and Dad are working, her older sister has moved home from college and lost her scholarship after finding herself pregnant at 19. Add to her troubles a sudden, unwelcome break up with her high status boyfriend and you’ve got a recipe for a smart, poignant coming-of-age.
Reviewed by Marilee Clark
If you like James Dashner, you gotta give Variant a go. It's a page-turner—the kind that'll keep you up all night and leave you cursing the months and months you'll have to wait for the next one. Seriously, the last page will have you screaming for just some little hint of what comes next!
Benson Fisher is a 16 year old foster kid who thinks he's found a way out of the endless stream of unsatisfying temporary homes. He's received a scholarship to Maxfield Academy, a private boarding school. But this is an odd boarding school: isolated, without teachers, and run by unseen powers and the social maneuverings of three "gangs", the Society, Havoc and the Variants. Each group is responsible for some part of the running of Maxfield—and they've established a tentative truce after the violently turbulent relationships between the students resulted in several deaths before Benson's arrival. The students are essentially prisoners, held in by walls, razor wire and the security detail contracted to the Society. The rules are simple and straightforward, but the punishments are sinister and result on a number of kids just disappearing.
Almost from the moment he arrives, Benson is looking for a way out. He's a smart, tough kid--a convincing and mostly likable character. The pros of this book: a fast-paced, cinematic plot that will appeal to fans of James Dashner, Suzanne Collins, and Michael Grant; undeniable appeal to teenage boys and especially reluctant readers, and a wild cliffhanger ending. Cons are few: a sometimes annoyingly masculine viewpoint that will likely turn off the independent-minded end of the girl reader population (sometimes it seems Benson's only means of relating to a girl is the urge to protect her), and that wild cliffhanger ending that will drive you nutty until volume two of this trilogy is released!Reviewed by Marilee Clark Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow by Jessica Day George (T George)
I'm not much of a fantasy reader, but this one worked for me. It's an adaptation of the Scandinavian folktale East of the Sun, West of the Moon.
The youngest daughter of a poor Norwegian woodcutter is caught up in the enchantment of magical Scandinavian creatures. Nameless, overworked, and under-appreciated, she is nevertheless kind and beautiful, and she has an uncanny ability to communicate with animals.
This comes in handy early in life when she rescues a mystical white reindeer who gives her a name, and later when a giant isbjorn (polar bear) intrudes on her home and promises her family wealth and prosperity if she will live with him for one year and one day. She agrees out of a desire to help her family, and is whisked away along with her wolf Rollo to an enchanted ice palace. During the day, she explores the palace, acclimating to the finery she now enjoys and trying to decipher the odd symbols carved in the walls. By night, she retires to her suite, where she drifts to sleep in comfort. That is until she feels someone slip into the bed next to her. Each night a man sleeps beside her, and every morning he's gone, and no one, not the enchanted isbjorn or any of the other magical creatures, will answer her inquiries about anything.
It's beautifully written; I can't wait to read it aloud to my nieces. This one would be great for fans of Shannon Hale, Donna Jo Napoli or Martine Leavitt.
Reviewed by Marilee Clark
Nevermore by Kelly Creagh (T Creagh)
With a football player for a boyfriend, lots of friends, and a spot on the cheerleading squad, Isobel has it all. Now if she wasn't so close to flunking English. Because if she does, she'll be kicked off the squad and miss Nationals. That's why she's a little worried when she's paired up with mysterious, Goth/emo Varen Nethers for the team project. Turns out that Varen is just as loath to be teamed with Isobel, but their professor insists that there's no trading allowed. So Varen and Isobel come to an agreement that the project will be on Edgar Allan Poe, and Varen will do all the research and Isobel all the talking. The dislike is equal on both sides until Isobel's possessive boyfriend Brad finds out she's making excuses and sneaking around to work on their project together. This is when the bullying starts, and instead of taking Brad's side, Isobel defends Varen. Suddenly outcast from her group of friends,
Nevermore surprised me. From the popular mean girl cliché to the paranormal world Kelly Creagh has so thoughtfully and painstakingly created using the works of Edgar Allan Poe, I was impressed by the depth and originality of it all. From the beginning I knew there was more to Isobel - the girl who truly liked cheerleading for the athleticism of it and is the #1 flyer on the squad. The partnering of two high school students from different cliques to work as a team is very Twilight but I knew that would be the only similarity. Turns out that was enough to hook me, and for the most part the 500+ pages flew by. I loved Varen. He's cold, internal, and doesn't feel like he needs to respond when addressed. The slow development of their relationship from hate to misunderstood to friends and more is compelling. So is Creagh's usage of Poe's works – with which I'm not all that familiar. She's done her research and it shows. In addition, her lush writing was arresting at times.Of course a review of Nevermore wouldn't be complete without discussing the nightmarish figures of the dream world. The enigmatic figure Reynolds and the startling bird-like, decaying creatures of the Other are truly chilling. Though somewhat confused in the latter half – when Isobel crosses completely into the otherworld – and badly missing Varen in the latter fourth which made that section plod, I read their reunion with a fluttering heart. Varen and Isobel individually and as a couple are Creagh's real strength. Ending as it did I would've been seriously disappointed – but little did I know Nevermore is the first book in a trilogy. And since I didn't get nearly enough of Isobel and Varen, I'll certainly be there next January when Enshadowed is released.
Reviewed by Holly Grierson
Chasing Brooklyn by Lisa Schroeder (T Schroeder)
One year ago Brooklyn lost her boyfriend Lucca. Now it's his friend Gabe who's died. If her still painful and raw grief wasn't enough, his death has made the small sane part of her snap. Worst of all, Gabe, not Lucca, is now haunting her dreams. Instead of his human self it's a gray-skinned, red-eyed Gabe on a relentless chase after her.
It's also been a year since Nico lost his brother, Lucca. The only way he knows how to deal with the loss is to run – literally. But he can't run forever, and it's looks like his problems will catch up to him unless he heeds his own ghost, Lucca, whose messages to help Brooklyn are becoming more desperate.
There's so much that is beautiful in this haunting story of loss and grief. As novels dealing with death tend to do, Chasing Brooklyn reminded me of how the experience can have many similarities with other loss novels on the surface but can still be its own original work, exploring something very human and universal in a totally different, but right way. There is also so much that I loved, starting with the eerie, blue-green cover and the reaching hand. I loved the journal-entry format, which fit the free verse well. The sparse, emotional verse also seems very appropriate for a story about void. Most of all I loved struggling Brooklyn and damaged Nico, whose pain was palpable and felt true to life. These two go from training partners, to friends, to "it's complicated"and more, and I enjoyed every sad, confused and sweet minute of it. As you can guess neither wants Nico to be the second-best replacement of Lucca, and that's the root of the conflict. If you're looking to try a novel in free verse please pick up Chasing Brooklyn. I'm anxiously awaiting my copy of the companion novel I Heart You, You Haunt Me.
Reviewed by Holly Grierson
Mare's War by Tanita S. Davis (T Davis)
An unconventional grandmother and her two teenage granddaughters leave for the summer on a road trip from California to Alabama to attend a family reunion. Tensions run high at the beginning as each girl expresses misgivings about spending an entire summer away from friends in a car with the slightly-off "Mare," as they call her. As they drive, however, Mare unfolds the story of how she ran away from home at age 16 and joined the WAC in WW II, detailing the experiences she had, the friends she made and the important lessons she learned. So what starts out as the road trip from hell for Octavia and Talitha Boylen becomes a poignant journey with their grandmother down her memory lane to a reunion, and a reconciliation, with the past.
Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins (T Perkins)
Seventeen-year-old Anna couldn't be more equipped for her senior year. She has Bridge, her fun and quirky best friend, Toph, her co-worker and new love interest, and the perfect starter job for a film buff at the local movie theater. But in an attempt to show he has some class to go with his bestselling sappy author status Anna's father has announced that she will be moving to Paris to attend SOAP (The School of America in Paris) instead. Although she misses home, Anna's lucky enough to fall into an awesome group of friends, which includes insta-crush Etienne St. Clair, the American born, half-French, British-raised hottie of the school, who just so happens to have a long-time girlfriend. As Anna and Etienne quickly become friends over the course of a year full of romantic misunderstandings and misassumptions, Anna tries not to think that her wishes might come true. But in the City of Light, anything could happen.
It was not only the enchantingly authentic Paris that had me from the first page but the pitch-perfect voice of Anna. She's sarcastic, brutally honest, and full of the angsty teenage insecurities that everyone's been through. I enjoyed being in her overanalytic, unsure mind. The back book blurb by YA author Justina Chen Headley is spot on: "but-does-he-like-me?!" was perfectly captured in this book. I found this whole approach completely refreshing amongst the many love or lust-at-first-sight YA romances. It was a fun ride to see Anna and Etienne grow from acquaintances to best friends and potential lovers. I love a slow buildup with plenty of witty conversation, chance encounters, and just plain ole hanging out, and this had it all. I could say a lot more but I won't because it's hard to do this book justice, and many others have already said it better.
An incredibly sweet story, smile-inducing humor, an endearing protagonist, and the perfect charming and stylish nice guy? You can't ask for much more. Let's just say I'll be there in a year for the first companion book to Anna and the French Kiss, Lola and the Boy Next Door.
Reviewed by Holly Grierson
The Big Crunch by Pete Hautman (T Hautman)
June is a 16 year-old nomad, roaming from school to school as her dad's consulting job changes. Wes is just beginning his junior year as a bachelor, having broken up with Izzy over the summer. There is no instant attraction here, no intense, mysterious gazes over the microscope in biology. Hautman has created a very realistic portrait of a teenage relationship—from it's inauspicious beginnings (he thinks she looks a little like a fish, she starts dating his geeky friend) through a surprising attraction and inevitable heartbreak, to a satisfying, but uncertain ending.
Hautman has no magical solutions for his teenagers. The truth is it's really hard to fall in love when your life is still inextricably connected to your parents' whims. As Wes and June travel through the four seasons of their relationship, they struggle with jealousy, confusion, and insecurity, even as they are enjoying that first blush of a romance, where every sense is heightened and the whole world seems a little more intense.
Reviewed by Marilee Clark
The House of Dead Maids / Dunkle, Claire (T Dunkle)
I know there are several Hollow Kingdom fans roaming the stacks here, and although I haven't read that series yet, I can see how you could fall in love with Dunkle. She creates a low murmur of creepiness in this Wuthering Heights prequel that I thoroughly enjoyed. Dunkle has melded Emily Bronte's famous blackguard Heathcliff with a fictionalized historical character, Tabatha Aykroyd, who was the Bronte's long-time and well-beloved maid. Young Tabby is taken from her orphanage to Seldom House by Miss Winter, where she discovers some odd circumstances. An apparition of a girl she recognizes as the last maid Miss Winter picked up from the orphanage haunts her. Of course, no one will explain what happened to Izzy, or why she is haunting Seldom House; nor will they explain what's going on when "young master" appears, a dirty six year-old urchin with no name who the old master refers to as "a heathen git". Tabby, tough little soul, is determined to get some answers about the old master and maid, and her role as young maid to the young master. The answers she finds are quite disturbing.
I haven't read anything quite like The House of Dead Maids. It reminded me of Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book with the ghosts and the creepy illustrations, but without the tenderness of Gaiman's story. This one is more straight scary ghost story. It also had an echo of Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery". A slim volume, I think it would make a delightfully creepy Halloween read aloud for the younger end of the YA audience, but enjoyable by anyone who likes a good cobwebby story.Reviewed by Marilee Clark
Paranormalcy / White, Kiersten (T White)
There are plenty of vampires and werewolves in this novel, but unlike the Twilight series, nobody falls in love with them. The heroine is Evie--a 16 year old agent with the International Paranormal Containment Agency.
Evie can see through paranormal "glamours," so she's sent out on missions throughout the world to bag and tag hags, vamps, werewolves, banshees and all other supernatural creatures so the agency can keep them in check. But when paranormals begin turning up dead, and shapeshifter/elemental Lend breaks into agency headquarters, Evie begins to question her world and her work.
It's a funny, clever novel that doesn't take itself too seriously. Still, I'm reserving all my paranormal romance adulation for the YA author who can make the kraken sexy.
Reviewed by Marilee Clark