Monday, March 24, 2014

Debut Series: Alienated, Half Bad and Defy

New series by debut authors or authors new to young adult literature are always exciting discoveries.  One wonders if the series will be huge successes like Veronica Roth's Divergent series or Lauren Oliver's Delirium series, or if they will languish on remainders tables. This month I am recommending three new series that I hope will find an audience. Alienated by Melissa Landers, explores what might happen when alien exchange students come to Earth.   Sarah B Larson's Defy introduces a familiar story about a girl who must pose as a boy to survive, but the plucky heroine and the unexpected twists make it a fun read. Finally, Half Bad by Sally Green imagines a world where two factions of witches  Black and White, battle for dominance.

In Alienated high school student Cara Sweeney is chosen to host the first alien exchange student, Aelyx, on Earth. Not only will she get a college scholarship, she will also get to visit his planet L’eihr. What she doesn't anticipate is the prejudice against the L’eihrs and the danger it creates for her and Aelyx. As one by one her friends abandon her, she turns to Aelyx for love and support, but he is harboring secrets plans with deadly consequences. Will his love for her persuade him to abandon the plot, or will his loyalty to his planet prevail? Aelyx's fish out of water behavior and Cara's initial annoyance with him, followed by their slowly developing affection for each other, are just a few highly entertaining  plot elements in this refreshingly new exploration of prejudice. 

Taking place in the war torn kingdom of Antion, Defy, chronicles the story of Alexa, who, after her parents are murdered, must disguise herself as Alex to avoid being sent to the breeding house.  She and her brother Marcel join Prince Damian's elite guard, where her sword-fighting skills, coupled with her emerging magical powers, make her a force to be reckoned with.  When Marcel, the only one who knows her secret, is killed, she doesn't know who to trust.  Then a visiting sorcerer kidnaps her, the Prince and her fellow guard Rylan, in the hope of finding a way to negotiate an end to the war.  As the three are held prisoner, Alex is faced with her emerging romantic feelings for both men, as well as her conflicted emotions about her duty to serve the king, whose plans are not in the country's best interest.  All is not as it seems in this story of political intrigue and romance.

Although Half Bad was not my favorite of the three series, it probably has the best chance of success, as it has already been optioned for a movie by Fox Searchlight and rights have been sold in 27 countries.  The series, which is set in a modern day London filled with witches, introduces Nathan, a Half Code, a half white, half black witch.  His father, Marcus, who is the world's most powerful black witch, has been absent Nathan's whole life and his mother is dead.  After being forced to go through yearly evaluations to determine whether he is a black or white witch, Nathan is finally locked up in a cage and tortured by the witch council, which is hoping to persuade him to kill his father.  Nathan escapes and begins the hunt for Marcus, so that he can convince him to bestow upon him the three gifts promised to witches when they turn 17. The first book in the new trilogy sets up a world where the forces of good and evil are ambiguous at best, yet Nathan is an anti-hero that readers can root for.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Reality Boy, Fangirl and The Scar Boys

Many young adult novel protagonists travel to the beat of a different drummer. This month I have three new novels to recommend that focus on teens who are out of sync with the mainstream. In A. S. King's Reality Boy Gerald Faust is still dealing with the fallout from his family's appearance on a reality series when he was a 5-year-old boy with anger management problems. Rainbow Rowell's Fangirl explores the problems twins, who are obsessed with and write fan fiction for a fictional character, face when one of them is ready to move on. In Len Vlahos's The Scar Boys, Harry Jones, who was severely burned when he was 8 years old, lives as a recluse until a friend convinces him to join a band.

Reality Boy, Gerald Faust became a celebrity when he was five years old and his mother involved his family in a reality TV show that showcased his problems with anger management. What isn't exposed in the show is that his anger is triggered by the torment he suffers at the hands of his psychopathic older sister. Now twelve years later, he is haunted by his TV persona. No one cares that he has his anger under control. When he is befriended by Hannah, a girl with family problems of her own, they decide to run away together in an attempt to find a safe haven they can call their own. A.S. King, who will be speaking at the Colorado Teen Lit Conference in April, creates a sympathetic main character, who bears the brunt of a dysfunctional family's problems. With Hannah's support Gerald is finally able to tackle the problems head on and derail his sister's ability to sabotage anything good that happens to him.

Fangirl Cath and her twin sister Wren became obsessed with the Simon Snow series when they were just kids and their mother left. Hanging out in Simon Snow chat rooms, dressing up as characters for movie premieres and writing fan fiction consumes their lives until they go to college and Wren wants to leave all that behind, including her sister. Coupled with her sister's defection, Cath also worries about her father's fragile mental stability, now that he is alone. Cath’s new roommate and her boyfriend, as well as her creative writing teacher who abhors fan fiction, try to take Cath out of her comfort zone. Can she leave Simon Snow behind and write her own stories, or is she doomed to hide forever in her fandom?

Eight-year-old Harry Jones’ life changed dramatically when neighborhood thugs tied him to a tree during a lightning storm and he was burned severely when the tree was struck by lightning. Living with physical and emotional scars, Harry is a recluse until eighth grade when charismatic Johnny rescues him from bullies and convinces him to join a band. After modest success in their hometown, The Scar Boys, who play punk rock, hit the road in a funky van to play gigs in college towns along the coast. Harry takes great solace in the music, but is also harboring a crush on Cheyene, the band's bass player. As with many bands, the personal dynamics are complicated by the members' close proximity. When his relationship with Johnny becomes toxic, Harry doesn't know where to turn.

The characters in these three books are really something special. I hated to leave them behind when the stories came to a close. As with many realistic YA novels, these seem to be stand alones. It will be interesting to see if teens embrace the characters, they way they did Hazel and Gus in The Fault of our Stars. I definitely think Gerald, Cath and Harry are worthy of such affection.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Romantic YA Novels: Heartbeat, These Broken Stars, and The Beginning of Everything

Many young adult novels, regardless of the genre, include a romance. Whether the book is realistic fiction, sci-fi/fantasy or mystery, it frequently includes male and female protagonists, who are interested in each other romantically.  This month I'd like to recommend three novels that include a teen romance that compliments an intriguing plotline.   In Elizabeth Scott's new novel, Heartbeat, Emma meets Caleb, while she is visiting her mother in the hospital.  Mom is brain dead, but is being kept alive until the fetus she is carrying is viable.  The first novel in Amie Kaufman and Megan Spooner's new science fiction series, These Broken Stars, introduces Lilac LaRoux, a spoiled heiress, and Tarver Merendson, a poor war hero, who are the only survivors when their intergalactic space-liner, malfunctions and plummets out of hyperspace, crashing on a nearby planet. Finally, The Beginning of Everything by Robyn Schneider explores the struggles tennis star Ezra Faulkner has when he is injured by a distracted driver. Returning to school, he joins the debate team where Cassidy, a transfer student, helps him redefine himself. Three vastly different stories are sweetened by the romantic relationship that develops between the two protagonists.

In Heartbeat Emma’s pregnant mother is brain dead and being kept alive until the baby boy she is carrying becomes viable. Caleb’s little sister died in an accident while he was in charge of her.  Emma is furious with her stepfather for keeping her mother on life support. Caleb is struggling with overwhelming feelings of guilt and is acting out. When they meet at the hospital where Emma is visiting her mother and Caleb is doing community service, they find the strength in each other to work through their issues with grief.

These Broken Stars chronicles the developing relationship between Lilac LaRoux, daughter of a wealthy tycoon, and Tarver Merendson, a soldier, who are the only survivors when the Icarus, an intergalactic space-liner, crashes on a seemingly deserted planet. Using her knowledge of her father's ship’s design, Lilac is able to free the escape pod they make it to when Tarver rescues her from the sea of crazed passengers. They safely land on the planet which has been “terraformed,” the theoretical process of modifying its atmosphere, temperature, surface topography or ecology to be similar to the biosphere of Earth to make it habitable for humans. Although Lilac is attracted to Tarver, she maintains her distance and Tarver finds her arrogance insulting. However, they must work together to make it across the planet's unforgiving terrain to the ship’s carcass where they hope to send a message for help. The dual points of view give the reader an insider's look at the process by which their disdain for each other turns to love.

The Beginning of Everything puts a new twist on the injured athlete story.  Ezra Faulkner has a theory that everyone has a watershed moment that changes his life.  His best friend Toby's changed when a severed head lands in his lap after a decapitation on a roller coaster. Kids shun Toby and Ezra drifts away into the world of jocks.  When Ezra's leg is shattered in a car accident, he avoids his former friends and reconnects with Toby in the debate club where he also meets Cassidy, a transfer student. Although Ezra's athletic friends try to maintain a relationship with him, he shuns them in favor of falling head over heels for Cassidy, a rebellious genius with a mysterious past.  Readers will not want to put the book down until they find out what is haunting her.  Throughout the book Ezra finds parallels in his life to those of the Great Gatsby, which literary teens will love. Fans of John Green's books and Perks of Being a Wallflower will also enjoy the debate club's quirky members whose witty repartee and sarcastic views on high school life are a breath of fresh air in YA literature.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Colorado Blue Spruce Young Adult Book Award 2014

The winner of the Colorado Blue Spruce Young Adult Book Award for 2014 is Divergent by Veronica Roth.  This book is the first in the Divergent series and is followed by Insurgent and Allegiant. For those of you unfamiliar with the series, it takes place in a futuristic dystopian Chicago, where all people are born into one of five factions which have a different strength and focus:  Abnegation (service), Amity (friendship) Candor (truth) Dauntless (bravery) and Erudite (intellect). On their 16th birthday teens take an aptitude test, and can choose to remain with the faction they were born into or change allegiances.  The main character, Tris, chooses to leave her abnegation family and join dauntless, where she meets and ultimately falls in love with her demanding instructor, Tobias (aka Four). Much of Tris's success in training is because she is actually a divergent with strengths in multiple factions. This makes her a target of the merciless autocratic leaders who kill divergents because they are hard to control.  As in all dystopian literature, Tris and her friends fight the status quo in hopes of creating a "brave new world" where all inhabitants live in harmony. The struggle continues in Insurgent, leading up to the final book in the series, Allegiant, which is told from both Tris and Tobias's points of view. The shocking, yet satisfying, ending leaves no doubt that this is truly the end of the series. Divergent comes out as a movie starring Shailene Woodley on March 21st.
Most of the nominees for 2015 are books from series as well. They include Beautiful Darkness by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl, Blood Red Road by Moira Young, Cinder by Marissa Meyer, Delirium by Lauren Oliver, The Eye of Minds by James Dashner, The Fifth Wave by Rick Yancey, The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson, Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers, I am Number Four by Pittacus Lore, Infinity by Sherrilyn Kenyon, Legend by Marie Lu, Matched by Ally Condie, The Paladin Prophecy by Mark Frost, Proxy by Alex London, The Selection by Kiera Cass, Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi, Smoke by Ellen Hopkins, Truancy City by Isamu Fukai, The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin, and Unwholly by Neil Shusterman. I guess a surefire way to win over teen readers is to give them a dystopian or fantasy series to which they can become loyal.
The other two nominees are The Aviator's Wife by Melanie Benjamin and Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys.  For more information about the Colorado Blue Spruce Young Adult  book award, including book talks for each of the nominees, as well as contest rules and promotional materials, go to

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Classic Connections: Will in Scarlett, Man Made Boy and Far Far Away

Many young adult authors are incorporating elements of classic stories in a modern tale, which provides the opportunity for teachers to pair these novels with the classics they reflect. By having students read and compare the classic and the related modern novel, we can expose kids to plots that form the backbone of literature and help them appreciate the clever variations that the modern authors imagine.  This month I am recommending three new "classic connections." Man Made Boy by Jon Skovron tells the tale of Boy, the son of the Frankenstein monster and his bride.  Will in Scarlet by Mathew Cody reimagines the Robin Hood story, and Far Far Away by Tom McNeal is narrated by Jacob Grimm, who is stuck in a plane of existence between life and death.

In a reimagining of Shelley's Frankenstein, Jon Skovron's Man Made Boy introduces Boy who performs in his parents'  Broadway revue of fantastical monsters, including Medusa, singing trolls, and sirens.  The audience thinks these characters are real people in makeup. Little do they know Boy's hideous appearance is due to his parentage; he is the son of the Frankenstein monster and his bride. When Boy, a computer hacker in his free time, creates a sentient computer virus that he unleashes on humanity, he must go out into the real world to undo the damage he has done. He embarks on a road trip to L.A., where he takes refuge in a community of magical creatures who work in TV special effects. Fantasy lovers will enjoy this action-packed supernatural mash-up, that has an underlying message about self acceptance and the value of family.

Will in Scarlet, an homage to the Robin Hood legend, introduces Will, whose father Lord Shackley is away on the Crusades with King Richard. Will finds himself fleeing the family manor when he wounds the manservant of Sir Guy, one of Prince John’s men. He ends up in Sherwood Forest where he is taken in by a gang of bandits known as the Merry Men.  He is befriended by Much, an orphan girl disguised as a boy, who has also taken refuge with the group. Determined to get revenge against Sir Guy, who has taken over his family's manor, Will schemes to get the Merry Men to aid him with his quest. Although Will's story is gradually woven into the Robin Hood legend, each of the characters feels like a new individual, some who resemble legendary figures more than others. 

In Far Far Away the narrator, Jacob Grimm, is stuck in a plane of existence between life and death and is the constant companion of Jeremy Johnson, a teenager who is the only one who can hear him. Jeremy’s abilities make him an oddity, and his only real friend is Ginger Boultinghouse, who seems to gravitate toward trouble. Grimm tries keep Jeremy on the straight and narrow, so he can get a scholarship and escape from the town of Never Better, but Ginger’s allure is hard for Jeremy to resist.  When Jeremy and Ginger are abducted and held in a dungeon by the town baker, he must find a way to get word to his father, before they become ingredients in the baker's next batch of Prince Cake. Details about the Brothers Grimm, as well as the tales they told, make this more than a run-of-the-mill fantasy. It is a finalist for the 2013 National Book Award.

Monday, November 11, 2013

New Series: The Naturals, Pawn and Tandem

It's always fun to find a new series which promises lots of future reading pleasure.  This month I have three to recommend.  The Naturals by Jennifer Lynn Barnes is a psychological thriller that launches a group of teens who have special abilities that are useful in solving crimes. Pawn by Aimee Carter is a new dystopian series which focuses on a rebellion against a rigid class system. Tandem by Anna Jarzab is a sci-fi/fantasy about parallel universes where everyone has doubles who look identical but have very different personalities.

The Naturals introduces Cassie, who is gifted at reading people.  She doesn’t think much about this gift until the FBI recruits her for a group of crime solving teens with exceptional abilities.  Cassie agrees to participate, secretly hoping the group will help her find the killer who brutally murdered her mother five years earlier.  As she gets to know her fellow her fellow crime solvers, Cassie finds herself attracted to both Michael, who has a knack for reading emotions, and Dean, who shares Cassie’s gift for profiling, but avoids entanglements. However, there is little time for romance, because a serial killer is on the loose and seems to have his sights set on Cassie.

Pawn, the first book in The Blackcoat Rebellion series, sets up a dystopian world where people are assigned to a social class when they turn eighteen and are labeled with a tattoo on the back of their necks.  Kitty Doe is disappointed to be designated a III which will relegate her to a janitorial crew in far-off Denver. Benjy, her childhood love, is sure to be a V or VI and they will be separated for life.  Then she is abducted and when she regains consciousness, she finds she has been “masked” and is now a VII who will be trained to pass for the missing Princess Lila. Lila’s mother Celia is seeking revenge against those she deems responsible for her daughter’s death and hopes to use Kitty as a pawn in her plans. Kitty has only one goal – getting back to Benjy by any means possible.  Captive, the sequel, follows in 2014.

Similarly, Tandem, the first book in the Many-Worlds Trilogy, introduces sixteen-year-old Sasha Lawson who thinks that parallel worlds are a fantasy created by her grandfather, until she is transported to Aurora, another world where she takes the place of the missing Princess Juliana for whom she is an analog. "An analog is a type of double. We all have them; if not in one universe, then in another and in an infinite number of others besides. Analogs should not touch or one of them is ejected from the universe they both stood in. They are essentially equal, but not identical". The tandem is a force field through which analogs move between universes. As the story opens, Sasha thinks she is going to the prom with Grant, on whom she's had a crush since childhood.  However, Grant is actually Thomas, his analog from Aurora who has been sent to abduct her, so she can pose as Princess Juliana.  If Sasha succeeds in fooling everyone until the princess is found, she can return home.  If not, she’ll be trapped forever. Although Sasha wants to return home, she finds herself falling for Thomas and compelled to help resolve the conflict on Aurora.  The sequel called Tether comes out in the summer of 2014


Wednesday, October 16, 2013

MPIBA trade show: Lauren Myracle, Matt de la Pena & Holly Goldberg Sloan

Last week I went to the Mountains and Plains Independent Booksellers trade show where I met some of my favorite authors and was introduced to their new books.  Lauren Myracle talked about The Infinite Moment of Us that fits into a new category of YA lit "New Adult" which includes books which have fairly graphic sexual encounters between characters.  Matt de la Pena admitted to wanting to try something new with The Living, the first book in his new action adventure series. Finally, Holly Goldberg Sloan (author of Blue Spruce nominee I'll Be There) shared the inspiration for her new book about a highly gifted girl who struggles with her parents' untimely deaths in Counting by 7s.

In The Infinite Moment of Us, high school seniors Wren and Charlie are an unlikely couple.  She has always been an overprotected  parent pleaser and he is a foster child who has finally found a supportive foster family.  She is attempting to assert her independence by taking a gap year in Guatemala before college, whereas he is thrilled with his scholarship to Georgia Tech. But when their eyes meet at graduation, they fall head over heels in love. In alternating chapters that move between Wren's and Charlie's third-person perspectives, we follow their summer romance, that could just be something more.
Matt de la Pena has had a lot success with his character driven explorations of bi-racial kids, so his decision to branch out into the adventure/survival genre is a departure from his comfort zone.  The Living is actually four books in one: a survival at sea adventure, a global disaster tale, a pandemic thriller and  a social-class drama. Shy Espinoza is working on a luxury cruise liner when a massive earthquake in California causes a tsunami which capsizes the boat and leaves him adrift in a life raft with a spoiled rich girl. Her father heads up a pharmaceutical company that is mysteriously involved in the proliferation of an infectious disease from which Shy's grandmother died. After a harrowing few days in shark-infested waters, the two end up on the company island where even greater intrigue awaits.  This action-packed page turner will leave readers anxious for its sequel The Hunted which will be published in the fall of 2014.
 Holly Goldberg Sloan, whose sons attend a school for the gifted, said she is fascinated by some of the quirky geniuses who attend the school, so she set out to write a book focusing on an unusually gifted kid. Counting by 7s introduces 12-year-old genius Willow Chance, who is obsessed with tending her garden, diagnosing medical conditions and counting by 7s. Her life is turned upside down when her adoptive parents die in a car accident and she is taken in by her friend Mai and her mother and brother, who live in a room behind their nail salon.  When social services comes to call, they move in with the kids' misfit guidance counselor Dell Duke and pose as one big happy family.  As Willow tries to adjust to the new normal, she worries about her upcoming custody hearing and what will happen when she is once again at the mercy of the social services system.  Although Counting by 7s is billed as a middle school read, it will tug at the heart strings of readers of all ages.