Across a War-Tossed Sea by L. M. Elliott
Disney’s Hyperion Books, 2014, 256 pp., $16.99
Charles and Wesley are two brothers from London navigating the cornfields, rivers, and dirt roads near Richmond, Virginia. The two blokes were sent to America to live with a farming family as refuge from the Nazi’s attacks on their homeland during WWII. While they work and play alongside the Ratcliff children, they must not only steer through unfamiliar Americanisms but an eerie isolation from the battle across the sea that makes both feel ashamed for and resent where they are.
The young boys fight a war of their own on American soil—against prejudice for Brits and blacks, attention-seeking bullies, and the temptation to make the German POWs who work on the Ratcliff farm suffer. Along the way, though, they unite with members of their new family, a young black boy named Fred, and even a Native American, realizing that they can learn a thing or two from “how things are done here in America” and that the impact of WWII is not as far-off as they believed.
Ann Marie Dvorak
Allegra by Shelley Hrdlitschka
Orca, 2013, 268 pp., $11.25
Allegra isn’t like the other girls. Even when she transfers from a public high school to a performing arts academy, she still finds herself at odds with her peers. But when her young, attractive music theory professor, Mr. Rocchelli, begins to take an interest in her, Allegra finally starts to feel like she belongs. She even puts dance, her true passion, on the backburner to pursue a special music composition project with Mr. Rocchelli.
As Allegra’s personal life begins to crumble, she discovers a love for composing music that threatens to ruin everything she has left . . . especially when she realizes that she’s falling for Mr. Rocchelli at the same time. Though this novel is set in a performing arts school, it doesn’t concern itself with petty drama. Instead, it focuses on the complex mind of an extraordinary teenager and, even more, the emotional roller coaster that is one’s first love.
Vero Beach, FL
Audacious by Gabrielle Prendergast
Orca, 2013, 327 pp. $19.95
Poetry / Identity
Raphaelle wants to leave her troubled past behind. When her family moves, she decides to reinvent herself as Ella, a girl who follows rules and fits in. Ella’s new identity works at first. She excels in art and develops a crush on Samir, a boy in her art class. But when both are asked to create art pieces for a schoolwide show, they create controversy as well. A nude self-portrait and a politically charged painting lead to trouble, and Ella wonders if she can ever leave behind her rebellious Raphaelle personality.
Written as a series of poems, Audacious explores the angst of being a teen. Ella faces issues regarding family, disease, politics, religion, and love as she navigates her new school and the potential selves she could become. Readers will question what truly audacious behavior looks like as they follow Ella through her decisions and mistakes.
Confederates Don’t Wear Couture
by Stephanie Kate Strohm
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013, 224 pp, $8.99
Libby Kelting is a history nerd set to spend the summer with her boyfriend, Garrett. However, her best friend Dev throws a kink in her summer plans when he recruits Libby as his assistant in selling “Confederate Couture” during a Civil War reenactment in Alabama. Southern boy Beau guides Libby and Dev through the hardcore world of reenactments. Unlike her boyfriend Garrett, Beau is a history buff and can waltz. As Libby falls further into the 1860s with Beau, she begins to question her future with Garrett.
Ultimately, Libby must make a decision that goes deeper than the stereotypical differences of the North and South. Boy Scouts, ghosts, and Gone with the Wind references frame Libby’s choice—living in the past or the future. With the help of a fabulous Dev-created wardrobe and Dev himself, Libby will take on the South and find love on a battlefield.
Grim edited by Christine Johnson
Harlequin Enterprises, 2014, 480 pp., $16.99
A girl’s psychic abilities lead her to a classmate’s unlikely murderer. A young man embarks on a perilous quest to break a maiden’s curse, only to face a surprising confession when his journey concludes. A woman finds herself caving in to the sincerity of her captor, even as she struggles within the confines of her prison.
Grim takes the reader through the voices of 17 protagonists as they tackle the timeless, often grotesque, predicaments first presented in fairy tales from various cultural traditions. The short stories range from meticulous retellings of classic tales to loose interpretations, and take the reader from enchanted high schools to spaceship communities. Steeped in courtships and vice, temptation and sacrifice, Grim’s short stories transform enduring questions about human identity and virtue into tales of contemporary relevance.
Don’t Look Back by Jennifer L. Armentrout
Hyperion, 2014, 367 pp., $16.99
After being missing for four days, Samantha wanders out of the woods covered in dirt and blood. Before she disappeared with her best friend, Cassie, everyone said she had everything: wealth, popularity, the perfect boyfriend. But she can’t remember any of it. As she goes back to school and tries to put her life back together, she begins to realize that she has no desire to be who she was because the old Sam was the meanest girl in school. Being completely separated from who she was, Sam starts to have feelings for the wrong boy, and she has to face the fact that she can’t remember what happened to the missing Cassie.
Don’t Look Back is a gripping young adult novel that will keep the reader coming back to find out what happens to Sam and why she lost her memory.
Heartbeat by Elizabeth Scott
Harlequin Teen, 2014, 240 pp., $16.99
Young Adult Fiction/Romance
Ever since her mother’s stroke, Emma’s life has deteriorated. All the things that Emma once cared about—academic success, family, and friends—seem meaningless now that her mother and an unborn baby are being kept alive by hideous machines. No one seems to understand the grief and hatred that rages inside Emma, except the bad boy Caleb Harrison, who is hiding a few of his own tortured secrets. As Emma begins to connect with the surprisingly caring Caleb, she begins to realize that, even after death, it might just be possible to learn to love and live again. In Heartbeat, Elizabeth Scott weaves together an authentic narrative voice, raw emotion, and a cast of deeply flawed characters for an unforgettable story about overcoming grief, finding hope, and relearning to love.
Heaven Is Paved with Oreos
by Catherine Gilbert Murdock
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013, 201 pp., $16.99
Young Adult Fiction/Romance
Almost ninth grader, Sarah Zorn, likes the following things: walking her grandmother’s dog, Jack Russell George; eating her favorite food of all time, Oreos; and conducting scientific experiments with her best friend (and pretend boyfriend), Curtis. However, once fake dating leads to some real, complicated feelings, Sarah isn’t quite sure how to deal with the suddenly moody Curtis. When her kooky grandmother invites her on an adventure to Rome, Sarah agrees immediately, hoping for a much-needed distraction. But as Sarah discovers the many wonders of Italy, she also unexpectedly uncovers a few secrets that will soon change her outlooks on both family and love. Written as a series of journal entries, Catherine Gilbert Murdock’s Heaven Is Paved with Oreos, captures the heartbreaking, yet funny journey of a precocious young girl’s foray into the world of broken hearts and first loves.
High & Dry by Sarah Skilton
Amulet Books, 2014, 258 pp., $16.95
Mystery / Substance Abuse
Charlie has not stopped drinking since Ellie broke up with him. He knows alcohol impairs his ability to play on the high school soccer team, but he does not realize how much it impairs his social relationships until he shows up drunk and uninvited to a choir party. At the party, when someone causes a choirgirl to overdose on LSD, accusations of the crime fly toward Charlie. Now Charlie must investigate to find which of his classmates had a real motive to drug somebody and how the students gained access to the illegal hallucinogen.
The mystery intensifies as clues lead Charlie to realize many students, teachers, and their families may be tangled up in the crime. As Charlie finds information that implicates many people he knows, he must decide—with a sober mind—what must be done to protect the people around him.
Hot New Things by Laura Langston
Orca, 2014, 131 pp., $9.95
Half White and half Chinese, Lily finds herself not being recognized by either side of her family. Plus, her dream of acting and school do not seem to mingle well in her parents’ eyes. With her Chinese grandmother’s help, she sets out from Vancouver to Hollywood to fulfill her dream after being discovered by a big-name director. When she thinks she is finally reaching her long-dreamed career, she discovers that she might need to make sacrifices that would take her entire body away. Standing on her own ground, she finally finds a balance between her dream, family, and identities.
Through her lively first-person narrative, Langston brings her readers to a teenage girl’s inner world revolving around family, friends, dreams, and the road of finding identity. With Lily’s words, readers see the bright and dark sides of real-world Hollywood, and contemplate racial and identity issues with which Lily struggles as well.
Wanqing L. Apa
Beijing, P. R. China
Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley
Harlequin Enterprises, 2014, 384 pp., $17.99
One of ten brave Black students in Virginia, Sarah takes part in a crucial step toward ending segregation in her southern town—school integration. At her new school, Sarah is confronted with both physical and verbal abuse from almost everyone she encounters, and she must learn to ignore this cruelty in the hallways.
Linda, one of the most popular girls in school, comes from an influential family in town. Raised with segregationist ideals, Linda views the integration endeavor as superfluous and agitative. What these two girls learn about each other and themselves while working on a project together is life-changing.
Told from the perspectives of these two high school seniors, Lies We Tell Ourselves illuminates the very real experiences of the civil rights movement from opposite lenses. Talley’s compelling novel does an excellent job of portraying the sentiments of the segregated South while helping readers identify with the narrators.
Coral Springs, FL
Lost in Thought by Cara Bertrand
Independent Publishers Group, 2014, 282 pp., $11.95
Lainey Young is going crazy. She has migraines and fainting spells . . . brought on by her visions of deaths in the past and future. After moving to a new school in an attempt to “cure” her problem, she soon finds out that her visions of death are not a sign she’s having a mental breakdown—though her budding relationship with local heartthrob Carter Penrose is enough to drive every female around her insane with jealousy. Lainey learns that she is Sententia, a person with psychic gifts beyond the usual
As Lainey tries to navigate the new challenges of friends, boys, and school, she also faces the difficulty of coming to terms with her extraordinary gifts and their mysterious source. The more Lainey learns about her family history and her own abilities, the more the consequences of her discoveries threaten her newfound home.
My Beautiful Hippie by Janet Nichols Lynch
Holiday House, 2013, 186 pp., $16.95
Coming of Age/Historical Fiction
A brief interaction with a hippie named Martin while on her way to purchase Cool Whip sends 16-year-old Joni into a lovesick tailspin that will change not only her summer but will cause her to question her formerly bland way of life. It is up to Joni to choose either a path of security or one of nonconformity, which she believes will help her “find herself” in the midst of such a chaotic time in American history.
Readers will immerse themselves in a colorful, radical, yet turbulent world defined by the “Summer of Love” of 1976. Set in the vibrant Haight-Ashbury District in San Francisco, the novel offers an educationally enriching experience while still presenting the coming-of-age tale through an untraditional lens. The characters display memorable qualities that live on after finishing the novel. While some content is for mature readers only, it still holds much instructional value.
Muckers by Sandra Neil Wallace
Alfred A. Knopf, 2013, 274 pp., $16.99
Historical American Fiction
Hatley, a mining town in Northern Arizona created by the company Eureka Copper, may soon be the casualty of a declining ore yield. The town’s high school is already scheduled to close at the end of the 1950–51 academic year. Many of the town’s residents are also treated as if they are expendable, not unlike the Hatley High Muckers’ football field, which is made of slag—a waste gravel leftover from the smelting process. As the Muckers prepare for the school’s last gridiron campaign, the teams’ lofty dreams appear to exceed their numbers, their size, and realistic expectations.
Will Felix “Red” O’Sullivan, Hatley High’s quarterback, and his teammates summon the strength for one final, memorable football season?
Paul E. Binford
Baton Rouge, LA
On a Scale from Idiot to Complete Jerk by Alison Hughes
Orca, 2014, 144 pp., $9.95
J. J. Murphy has finally finished his science fair project. He’s gathered the data and is ready to weigh in on the matter of what makes idiots and jerks the way they are. Doing this in a “sciencey” way, he makes sure to provide plenty of graphs and case studies as he asks the big questions: Can family members be Jerks? How about babies, old people, and even animals?
J. J. provides more rigor than usual for an ordinary middle school science project. Filled with definitions and examples, On a Scale from Idiot to Complete Jerk gives a comprehensive outlook on who idiots and jerks are and why some people qualify but not others. But underneath this cerebral exterior lies a lighthearted investigation into the people J. J. Murphy interacts with and the things they do to bother the rest of mankind.
Pinned by Sharon G. Flake
Scholastic Press, 2012, 228 pp., $17.99
Though able and disabled in key aspects of their lives, ninth graders Autumn and Adonis could not be more different. Autumn splits her time between being an aspiring baker, accomplished wrestler on an all-male team, and loyal friend. Adonis, on the other hand, shines as a math tutor, manager of the wrestling team, and volunteer at the library. Autumn struggles intellectually with reading, leaving her in a constant precarious state with her teachers and parents, not to mention her own confidence; Adonis struggles physically with a disability that has left him in a wheelchair, rendering him stoic and detached from peers. Both become entwined in a relationship that will forever test the boundaries of their own self-control and discovery.
Told from alternating voices, Pinned gives a voice to the daily struggles and triumphs of adolescents with special needs, asking readers to empathize and consider difference in a nuanced light.
Remember Dippy by Shirley Reva Vernick
Cinco Puntos Press, 2013, 226 pp., $9.95
Realistic Fiction / Friendship
Johnny expects a boring summer when his mom drops him off to stay with Aunt Collette and his cousin Remember. Now his summer job is to watch Remember, who has Autism, while Aunt Collette works. Getting to know Remember well is difficult for Johnny at first, but as the summer progresses, Johnny learns how to be friends with Remember despite their differences.
As Remember and Johnny grow closer, they have many summer adventures together: finding a lost ring so the owner of their favorite restaurant can propose, saving a kid from swimming in dangerous riptides, and helping a sick old neighbor back on his feet. Through their relationship, Johnny and Remember learn to be kinder, more helpful people, and stories of their summertime adventures may just inspire readers to reach out to the many different people in their own communities as well.
of the Mariposas by Guadalupe Garcia McCall
Lee & Low Books, 2012, 352 pp., $19.99
Affected by the instability of an absent father and an overworked mother, Summer of the Mariposas shares Olidia and her four younger sisters’ work to understand their lives and the world around them. It takes the help of a decaying dead man and La Llorona, the ghost of a mother accused of killing her children, for the girls to realize that a journey does not make sense until it is over.
McCall carefully interlaces the vibrancy of Mexican folklore with the classiness of the canonical to remind readers of the sameness of the human experience, despite the passing of time. She speaks to the cynic in readers and dares them to believe in magic and its power to save.
The Candy Smash by Jacqueline Davies
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013, 232 pp., $15.99
In this continuation of the Lemonade War series, Valentine’s Day is coming up for the fourth graders in class 4-0, but siblings Evan and Jessie Treski are not ready. Jessie needs to find a big story for her new newspaper, the 4-0 Forum. Evan needs to finish his love poem assignment without revealing his crush on Megan. When somebody starts leaving candy hearts with personal messages in each student’s desk, Jessie sees a lead into writing an exciting story, while Evan only sees embarrassment.
As Jessie investigates the mystery, she finds the story she has been searching for, but writing it may expose her classmates’ secret crushes. Readers will be able to relate to Jessie’s and Evan’s exploration of grade-school love and writing. Throughout the book, readers will learn about poetry and news alongside the siblings and pick up writing techniques to try on their own!
The Deepest Blue by Kim Williams Justesen
Tanglewood, 2013, 288 pp., $15.99
Tragedy / Family
Mike has not had contact with his birth mother in years. He sees his father, who has raised him, as his best friend, and he sees his father’s girlfriend, Maggie, as the best example of what a mom should be. When Mike’s dad tells him of plans to propose to Maggie, Mike imagines the whole family he has dreamed about. Mike’s father goes to buy a ring, but a car accident prevents him from ever returning. In the aftermath of his tragic death, Mike and Maggie must learn to move forward together.
Legal drama ensues when Mike’s absent birth mother appears to try to take him to live with her new family. Mike must fight to be adopted by Maggie. During the battle, he recalls painful memories of his childhood, and he must learn how to accept and move beyond tragedy with the help of loving friends and family.
The Inventor’s Secret by Andrea Cremer
Philomel Books, 2014, 372 pp., $18.99
After the failure of the American Revolution, the revolutionaries must go underground. Charlotte is a 16-year-old girl living in the Catacombs, preparing for the day when she too will join the Resistance and fight for freedom from the British Empire. When Charlotte rescues a strange boy with no memory of who he is from the woods, it sets off a chain of events that will change her life. She is thrown undercover into New York’s elite society, where she must not only do her duty to the Resistance, but discover what it means to fall in love.
The Inventor’s Secret is an intriguing start to a series that raises the question of what it means to be human while still acting as a juicy page turner riddled with teen angst, plot twists, and sexual tension.
The Killing Woods by Lucy Christopher
Scholastic, 2014, 384 pp., $17.99
A young girl is found dead. The worst part is that everyone blames Emily’s dad. It’s true he’s an ex-soldier. Sure, he might be suffering a little PTSD. But when he comes out of the forest that surrounds their house holding Ashlee’s corpse in his arms, he couldn’t be the one who did it . . . could he?
Emily teams up with Damon, the dead girl’s boyfriend, as they try to uncover the identity of the murderer. Emily teems with the strength of a realistic protagonist, while Damon’s accounts contain the barest hints of his own dark secrets. As they investigate the dark woods together, they realize the trees contain their own life, their own sacred evil that whispers of the deeds that have occurred amongst them. This deceitful mystery contains mystical elements of the classic fairytale, yet all the chilling suspense of a thriller.
Jonathan W. Thurston
The Testing by Joelle Charbonneau
Houghton Mifflin, 2013, 325 pp., $17.99
Young Adult/Dystopian/Science Fiction
Newly graduated Malencia (Cia) Vale hopes to receive the high honor of being selected to participate in The Testing, the United Commonwealth’s brainchild for choosing future leaders from the most promising graduates of all the civilization’s colonies. When Cia learns she will travel to Tosu City to partake in The Testing, her father, himself a former Testing candidate, shares with her his nightmares, ominously foreshadowing what Cia may encounter in her experience. Although her father cautions her to “trust no one,” even his warnings cannot prepare Cia for the trials she will face in The Testing.
The Testing offers a thrilling picture of a dystopian civilization whose government tests the limits of its youth in every way. Charbonneau’s gripping account of Cia’s struggle to contend with the challenges she faces throughout The Testing invites the reader to question what actions he or she might take if forced into Cia’s position.
The Screaming Staircase by Jonathan Stroud
Disney Hyperion, 2013, 374 pp., $16.99
Fantasy / Adventure
Ghosts have been appearing in London, and not all of them are harmless. When a haunting becomes dangerous, people call in agencies of kids with psychic abilities to investigate. Lucy, Lockwood, and George make up Lockwood & Co., an agency desperately in debt after a destructive mistake in fighting a ghost. They accept an offer to explore Combe Carey Hall in exchange for paying off their debt. No agent has ever survived its deadly Red Room or Screaming Staircase, but Lockwood & Co. have one night to try.
The Screaming Staircase introduces the Lockwood & Co. series with equal parts horror and humor. Readers will wonder about the origin of London’s ghostly problem, the background of A. J. Lockwood and his agency, and how Lockwood & Co. will solve mysteries to defeat fearsome foes—both living and dead—before they become ghosts themselves.
The Sultan’s Tigers by Josh Lacey
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013, 298 pp., $16.99
Fiction/Action and Adventure
Tom Trelawney is a teenaged thrill seeker who feels out of place in his suburbanite family. When Tom and his Uncle Harvey discover that one of their ancestors stole a Sultan’s bejeweled tiger statue hundreds of years ago, they set out for India to find the treasure. Along the way, they encounter mercenaries and a billionaire who will do anything to obtain that jewel-encrusted tiger. Tom and Uncle Harvey must figure out a way to get the treasure and escape India alive.
The Sultan’s Tigers is everything you want out of an adventure novel—thrilling chases, brutal fights, clever getaways, and even narrower escapes. However, the novel is unique for taking place in India. Lacey does a great job of depicting India’s landscape, lifestyle, history, and culture. Furthermore, Lacey hardly spares the details in his writing, which makes for a fast and exciting read.
The Upside of Ordinary by Susan Lubner
Holiday House, 2012, 136 pp., $16, 95
Fame and stardom. Those are 11-year-old Jermaine Davidson’s main goals in life. And what better way to achieve fame than to film a reality television show of her family and friends? Jermaine is excited at first, but soon realizes that her life is pretty boring. She needs to spice it up, so Jermaine creates some thrilling events that make her life appear more action-packed for the camera.
While amusing, this story proves the extreme selfishness of teens. Jermaine’s actions produce humor, yet they hurt a lot of people on the way. Readers see Jermaine’s relationships with her mother and best friend take a turn for the worse. Jermaine also risks a lot, like almost letting her house catch on fire, just to try and enrich her reality show. This novel takes readers into the crazy mind of a tremendously ambitious teenager and does not disappoint us.
Tides by Betsy Cornwell
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013, 294 pp., $16.99
Noah Gallagher has the perfect summer planned out. He and his younger sister Lo have managed to stay at their grandmother’s cottage on the Shoal Islands, and Noah has the internship of his dreams working as a marine biologist. Yet this is all interrupted when Noah meets Mara, a mysterious and enchanting girl unlike any he has ever met.
As the Gallaghers’ magical summer unfolds, so do everyone’s secrets. But when Mara finally shares the truth about her family, she unknowingly places everyone she cares about in danger, leaving Noah to choose between his dreams and the people he loves. Told with charm and magic, Cornwell’s adventure explores the challenges of family, love, self-discovery, and growing up in a world full of the unexpected.
New Canaan, CT
Unforgotten by Jessica Brody
Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2014, 399 pp., $17.99
Thanks to Zen, Sera has finally escaped Diotech, the futuristic company that created her. However, Sera’s nightmares remind her that they can never be safe. Sure enough, Kealan, a Diotech agent, discovers the pair hiding in another century. When Zen becomes sick and Kealan has information about his cure, Sera has no choice but to cooperate with the people she vowed to hate. Sera embarks on a mission to save Zen’s life, and in the process discovers secrets about her past that will determine the course of her future.
Sera knows she is different. She isn’t human, and yet she still struggles with human doubts and emotions. Sera wants to be in control of her own fate instead of existing to benefit someone else. And yet, in the end, Sera accepts that she cannot run from Diotech forever and sacrifices her own freedom to protect the ones she loves.
Hope Winburn Nashville, TN
Vampire’s Kiss by Veronica Wolff Teen
Penguin Books, 2012, 320 pp., $9.99
Annelise Drew is having a weird semester. Her two best friends seem to be avoiding her and the guy she has a crush on may or may not have a crush on someone else. Her courses make no sense (who needs conversational High German?) and it looks like some of her classmates want her dead. To top it all off, she has been getting a lot of attention from one very mysterious, very attractive vampire. . . .
The second installment in the Watchers trilogy, Vampire’s Kiss, follows Drew as she continues on her path to becoming a deadly agent for the undead. Filled with plenty of action and all of the romantic suspense that we have come to expect from its genre, this book will quench the bloodthirst of any reader—and it might just teach a lesson or two about friendship along the way.
Young Jerry Ford: Athlete and Citizen by Hendrik Booraem V
William B. Erdmans, 2013, 138 pp., $14.00
In September of 1912 in Harvard, Illinois, Leslie King Jr. was born. This book examines the many changes (including a name change) that Leslie would undergo before entering adulthood as Jerry Ford, a man who would later go on to become President of the United States. Booraem focuses exclusively on Ford’s early years from birth to the end of high school. We are invited to see Ford both as a growing individual and as a citizen during a fascinating time in American history.
Overall, the book offers a commendably detailed portrait of the young Ford. That said, with the exception of a tumultuous relationship with his biological father, Ford’s story offers little in the way of surprises. Those already interested in Ford will find here a treasure trove of information about the roots of Ford’s political persona, but non-history buffs may find the intense attention to detail a tad tedious.
Cherry Hill, NJ
Your Constant Star by Brenda Hasiuk
Orca, 2014, 236 pp., $12.95
When Bev Novak finds herself pregnant, she seeks support from her childhood best friend, Faye, from whom she has long been estranged. With Bev’s boyfriend, Manny, a stoner with a heart of gold, this unlikely trio attempts to navigate the complexities of choosing adoptive parents for Bev’s unborn child.
Brenda Hasiuk’s honest and smart portrayal of the emotional lives of these three Canadian teens is both compelling and refreshing. Readers will easily connect with this story that boldly resists clichés familiar to the genre as it simultaneously tackles difficult topics like teenage pregnancy, mental illness, and family conflict. Your Constant Star explores both the particular beauty and brutality of life as a young adult, suggesting that perhaps these things “are just two halves of the same whole.”
Kenan B. Kerr