THE SERPENT KING -- a funny and utterly heartbreaking story about friendship, family and forgiveness
The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner (2016, Crown Books For Young Readers; 384 pages)
This book is a touching coming-of-age story of three high school seniors, misfits and best friends. Written with a powerful and elegant voice by Jeff Zentner, the reader will automatically get involved in the stories of Dill, Travis and Lydia. None of them feel at home in Forrestville, a small Tennessee town named after the founder of the Ku Klux Klan. Dill has had to wrestle with vipers all his life. He is the only son of a Pentecostal minister who urges him to handle poisonous rattlesnakes. He also faces down bullies at school who target him for his father's extreme faith and very public fall from grace. Lydia is the lucky one, the girl with loving, supportive and prosperous parents who have given her the tools to create a popular blog about fashion and the opportunity of a college life in New York City. Travis, the third protagonist, deals with a difficult situation at home, with a drunk father who beats him up, and his own heartbreak over his brother's death. He escapes from his reality with the help of a fictional fantasy world and the sweetness of his mother.
The book is written in third-person chapters that alternate among the three characters, and the author is able to cover the whole of their senior year, the desire to follow their dreams, the fear to do so, the courage to survive their own realities, the complexity of wanting to go and to stay.
The novel has many strengths: great characters, extraordinary dialogue, and the description of the rural South are among them. The story, with its heartbreak and hopeful conclusion, are also strengths, as are the many opportunities that the novel offers to speak up about faith, fears of the unknown, and the courage it takes to survive.
Excellent choice for those who are voracious searchers of real voices in young adult literature. You won't be able to put the book down until you finish it.
Find this title in our catalog: The Serpent King
Recommended by: Maite
The Female of the Species by Mindy McGinnis (2016, Katherine Tegen Books; 352 pages)
A brutal and ferocious story, the type of story that won't let you go, this is the story of Alex Craft who knows how to kill someone. She learns how to kill someone after her sister, Anna, was murdered and the killer walked free. Alex has relegated herself to a life of loneliness, but then Jack Fisher – star athlete and valedictorian-- shows an interest in getting to know her. And then, Peekay - the defiant preacher´s kid - will also get tangled up in her life when they both volunteer together at an animal shelter.
We read the story of the events that occur after a night partying together, when Alex's darker side breaks out, through three alternating perspectives.
The book is best for older teens and/or mature readers. There is violence against women and violence against animals too, but they are part of a haunting depiction of loss, love, revenge, and friendship. It is an extraordinary book, one that deserves to be read, shared and talked about.
"McGinnis grabs the reader by the jugular with her first seven words and doesn't let go until Alex's story has been masterfully told. Layer by layer we come to know, if not understand, this young woman who has survived one of life's greatest tragedies. Her secrets may have protected her but cannot save her, and healing is not an option. Alex in all her complexity will not soon leave your mind or heart." -- Saddy Oddi, owner and manager, Cover to Cover Bookstore, Columbus, OH.
Find this title in our catalog: The Female of the Species
Recommended by: Maite
WE WILL NOT BE SILENT: THE WHITE ROSE STUDENT RESISTANCE MOVEMENT THAT DEFIED ADOLF HITLER -- the amazing true story of a group of courageous young German students who fought the Nazis with leaflets and graffiti
We Will Not Be Silent: The White Rose Student Resistance Movement That Defied Adolf Hitler by Russell Freedman (2016, Clarion Books; 112 pages)
This nonfiction book -- by Russell Freedman, American biographer and the author of nearly 50 books for young people -- is an account of the White Rose movement, its origins, its significance, and its extraordinary members. Inspiring brave members who were willing to sacrifice everything for freedom fighting against Germany’s Nazi regime from within.
The book is, of course, fantastic, filled with a wonderful historical collection of black and white pictures belonging to that period. The book also contains a fantastic chapter on source notes, and a brilliant selected bibliography for those who will want to continue reading about this crucial period in human history. But beyond that, what is marvelous about We Will Not Be Silent is the fantastic narrative used by Mr. Freedman to introduce us to White Rose members Hans and Sophie Scholl. Brother and sister, both had been loyal members of Hitler Youth as children, but came to doubt the humanity and integrity of their leaders. Details of how they came to those doubts are abundant in the first chapters of the book, and they are, I believe, a great perspective of how the environment can shape our thoughts if we are awake and aware.
The Scholls and other like-minded young people decided to form the White Rose to spread the message of resistance all across Germany and they did so by writing and distributing leaflets at the risk of their own lives.
One of the most powerful pictures in the book is the picture of Hans' portable typewriter. So much said in just a picture!
The format of the book is fantastic, with clear pictures, and great fonts.
The reading of this book should be a must, and I recommend it for readers of all ages: youth with a curiosity for history and a desire to get involved in social change projects will devour the story of the Scholls and the White Rose Student Resistance Movement; adults will refresh in their memory a part of history that should not and cannot be forgotten.
Find this title in our catalog: We Will Not Be Silent
Recommended by: Maite
My Sister Rosa by Justine Larbalestier (2016, Soho Teen; 320- pages)
This book is a bloody masterpiece, a brilliant thriller that will shake you, dazzle you and leave you speechless. It is one of those JT novels that you can't put down. It starts like this: "Rosa is pushing all the buttons."
Che Taylor is a seventeen-year-old boy in a strange new country, and he's the only one who knows his ten year-old-sister is a deadly psychopath. They are Aussies arriving in New York City, that presents in itself as much of a challenge to him as to his sister's sinister and devious behavior.
Rosa, one of those characters able to leave the pages and stand up at your side, with all the creepiness involved, is a smart girl, talented, pretty and very good at hiding what she is and the violence she's capable of. Che and Rosa's parents refuse to see the warning signs of Rosa's "acting out."
This is a thriller and a story about immigration. It is also a story about love. Che needs to balance his desire to protect his little sister from the world with the painful and desperate need to protect the world from her. Expect dark humor, disconcert, brilliance, secrets, unexpected romance and great dialogues. And characters walking with you all along. Recommended for older teens and adults.
Find this title in our catalog: My Sister Rosa
Recommended by: Maite
SMILER'S BONES -- a striking novel based on the harrowing true story of Minik, an Eskimo boy seized in the name of exploration and brought to New York at the beginning of the 20th century
Smiler's Bones by Peter Lerangis (2005, Scholastic Press; 160 pages)
In 1897, famed explorer Robert Peary took six Eskimos from their homes to be "introduced" to the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. Among the six were a father and son, Qisuk ("Smiler") and Minik. They became living, breathing museum exhibits. Soon, four of the original Eskimos were dead - including Smiler, whose burial was not at all what it appeared to be. One of the survivors returned to Greenland, leaving young Minik to be the only living Polar Eskimo in New York for twelve long years.
Smiler's Bones is Minik's story, a tale of lies and deceptions and a reflection on the price of exploration. Minik's story brings us many questions about science, racism and ethics. The author's choice of a first-person point of view works very well, and Minik's character becomes unforgettable. I'd recommend this book to anyone who likes stories based on reality, and to those who enjoy stories about discovering the truth, even if it is painful.
Find this title in our catalog: Smiler's Bones
Recommended by: Maite
Exit, Pursued By a Bear by E.K. Johnston (2016, Dutton Books For Young Readers; 256 pages)
This is the story of Hermione Winters, the captain of her cheerleading team. She is the popular, envied girlfriend and the queen of her school. The book is the story of her last year at school and how she discovers that most of the time, even when we seem to be in control, an event can change our lives forever.
And that is what happens to Hermione when someone puts something in her drink at a party, a moment that determines the new labels she will be both wearing and fighting for the weeks to come.
The story is heartbreaking and empowering. It celebrates the power of friendship, it talks about the difficult decisions that have to be made, and about how to work and deal with trauma. The book is beautifully written and the story is so engaging that you simply can't put the book down until you get to the final page.
The pages are filled with tenderness, rawness, and truth. This is the portrait of a young woman facing an unthinkable void. It is also a portrait of a strong and fierce friendship between women, and a portrait of the horrors of sexual violence. There is a great conversation in the book between Hermione and a pastor that also brings faith and spirituality to the table in times of trauma. And the story does a great job describing the cheerleading world, and treating it with respect, as a sport.
"Broken is harder to deal with. That´s the first time I´ve thought of myself as broken. Polly won´t let me, I don´t think, but everyone else seems to expect it. And maybe I am. Maybe this would be easier if I acted like I am broken. Then they´ll be able to fix me. You can´t fix something that doesn´t know it´s broken."
A must read.
Find this title in our catalog: Exit, Pursued By a Bear
Recommended by: Maite
Ask Me How I Got Here by Christine Heppermann (Greenwillow Books, 2016; 240 pages)
The author of the acclaimed Poised Apples, Christine Heppermann, has written a brave, beautiful and thought-provoking novel in verse about a young woman and the aftermath of a life-altering decision. This is a book about Addie, a young adult who has always known what she was running toward: in cross country, in life and in love. Her life turns around when unexpectedly she gets pregnant and she chooses to end the pregnancy. This book is not a book about making the decision of having an abortion. This is a story about accepting how our decisions will alter or shape who we are, for better or for worse. This is also a story about love, acceptance, great families, and self-discovery. For Addy, her choice was the right decision to make, but after it was made, nothing was the same.
It is rare to find young adult books that approach this topic the way that Christine Heppermann has. She has been able to bring us a character who is not defined by the choice she takes. You won't find here the typical pregnant teen story. The raw sincerity of the author allows the character to exist with the choice she made, without being just that.
The novel is an emotional journey in verse of a very important and delicate moment in the life of a woman who will discover beautiful and surprising facts about herself in the aftermath of her life-altering decision. The writing is gorgeous and adults and mature teens not looking for radical answers about abortion and its consequences will appreciate the author's sensitivity and honesty. She has absolutely nailed the portrait of Addy, with all her complexities. Her honesty is fantastic and the free verse poems are a perfect vessel to let it run. The reader will find herself or himself carried along by humor and emotion, rawness and deep thoughts.
From the novel:
Going home from work on the bus,
a woman sat next to a man who was
eating a falafel wrap. It smelled incredible,
so she asked him where he got it.
That's why I exist:
Because my mother chose not to stand.
Because my father was not
in the mood for Chinese.
Find this title in our catalog: Ask Me How I Got Here
Recommended by: Maite
THE PASSION OF DOLSSA -- weaves complex historical and religious matters into a spellbinding thriller
The Passion of Dolssa by Julie Berry (2016, Viking Books for Young Readers; 496 pages)
The author of All the Truth That’s In Me will release a new historical fiction young adult novel in April. I’ve been able to read an advance reader’s copy, and I found it fascinating.
The novel is set in Medieval France, under the shadow of The Inquisition. There, the lives of two extraordinary young women, a mystic and a matchmaker, collide, resulting in miracles that put an entire village in mortal danger. This book is the story of Dolssa.
The back cover of the book adds this information:
“In the waning days of the thirteenth century, a Dominican friar stumbled on a secret that the Church had intended to keep buried forever-a testimony so dangerous, it had to be burned. Hidden in the archives, among decades of records, was a story-the shocking, heartbreaking, awe-inspiring story of an unlikely friendship, of thwarted love, of a searing mission for vengeance that brought the wrath of a ruthless and far reaching hierarchy down to crush an entire village. All because of one girl, Dolssa, who refused to remain silent.”
With unique characters and a strong plot, this reading was a transcendent experience that I recommend to readers with a passion for historical novels, religious mystics or gender politics.
Find this title in our catalog: The Passion of Dolssa
Recommended by: Maite
Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo (2015, Henry Holt and Co.; 480 pages)
It has been considered one of the best books released this year and everybody is talking about it. Six of Crows is the beginning of a new Fantasy series written by Leigh Bardugo, who brings us another stunningly compelling story with epic adventure centered around a band of misfits who set out to take on an impossible heist. The premise is this: six young criminals are hired to break into (and then out of) the most secure prison in the world, a premise that compares to that of Danny Ocean and his Ocean's 11.
The world of Six of Crows is set in the universe created in the Grisha Trilogy, but you don't need to read the trilogy in order to enjoy, and love, this book. The novel, set two years after Ruin and Rising, is narrated from the perspectives of 6 of the characters: Kaz Brekker, Inej, Nina, Jesper, Wylan and Matthias.
“Ketterdam: a bustling hub of international trade where anything can be had for the right price–and no one knows that better than criminal prodigy Kaz Brekker. Kaz is offered a chance at a deadly heist that could make him rich beyond his wildest dreams. But he can’t pull it off alone…
A convict with a thirst for revenge.
A sharpshooter who can’t walk away from a wager.
A runaway with a privileged past.
A spy known as the Wraith.
A Heartrender using her magic to survive the slums.
A thief with a gift for unlikely escapes.
Six dangerous outcasts. One impossible heist. Kaz’s crew is the only thing that might stand between the world and destruction—if they don’t kill each other first.”
The book starts with a long and somewhat hard to read chapter that serves as a prologue and as an introduction into the universe of the Grisha. I had to fight to finish this first chapter, but once I crossed it, I was in heaven. Heaven is good literature, filled with fantastic and diverse teen characters. Heaven is finding a new fabulous villain to fall in love with. And heaven is to get lost in a plot where the reader simply reads and goes along, enjoying the adventure through the eyes of six different characters- six points of view of six anti-heroes to love.
I want to emphasize that this novel cares about diversity. There is an African-American character, a bisexual character and a gay character. And then, of course, the author chooses to include disability as a main aspect of the greatest protagonist -- for me -- of all. This is something unique and fantastic: a disabled protagonist in genre fiction. We read about PTSD and Kaz, the main protagonist, has chronic pain and a limp from an old injury, and he uses a cane to help him get around. And we also read about one of the characters being dyslexic.
From the NPR review of the book by Jason Sheeha:
"Bardugo has created a grimy fantasy with a thin blank-punk veneer laid over the top. There are knives and rifles, magic and technology — everything mashed together in a jumble of influences that is wickedly attractive because (and not in spite of) the characters inhabiting it so fully. It's a slick trick of world-building that eschews the info-dump (save that first regrettable chapter) in favor of making the world simply the world, defined by the way the characters move through it. The smell of coal smoke in the morning does more to set a scene than 10,000 words describing the industry that produces it."
And Bardugo certainly knows how her world smells.”
Read the book and do it now!
To explore more about the Six of Crows universe, click here.
Find this title in our catalog: Six of Crows
Recommended by: Maite
CARRY ON -- a cute and funny ghost story, love story, and mystery all wrapped in one -- with monsters!
Carry On by Rainbow Rowell (2015, St. Martin's Griffin; 528 pages)
Rainbow Rowell is one of my favorite authors these days. She writes both for teens and adults. Her book Eleanor and Park is one of the most beautiful stories you'll read, but I won´t write a review about that book because you can find a great review of it at Bookshelf Envy -- our teen reviews blog -- written by wonderful Kaya.
Rowell also wrote Fangirl, giving birth to two great characters named Cath and Levi. I mention Fangirl because Carry On has its origins in that book. In Fangirl, college freshman Cath is famous on the Internet for her Simon Snow fanfiction—written with her twin Wren—but far less capable at interacting with people IRL. Cath's sister has mostly grown away from fandom, but Cath can't let go. Now that they're going to college she is outside of her comfort zone. Simon Snow is definitely staying in her world.
That's Fangirl. Then comes Carry On. Rowell describes it like this: "After I finished writing Fangirl, I kept thinking about Simon and Baz and the World of Mages … I wanted to write more about them, but I didn’t want to write the full series GTL-style. And I also didn’t want to write through Cath’s hands and brain. I wanted to explore what I would do with this world and these characters. So, even though I’m writing a book that was inspired by fictional fanfiction of a fictional series …… I think what I’m writing now is canon."
What is Carry On? The publishers describe the book this way: ¨Carry On is a ghost story, a love story, a mystery and a melodrama. It has just as much kissing and talking as you’d expect from a Rainbow Rowell story—but far, far more monsters."
This is a book where fan fiction comes to life, it is a book conceived like a Russian doll, a nest: a book inside of another book inspired by a book outside her book! And it has a connection with Harry Potter! A total winner. It is funny, and clever and the plot evolves around a fun world. Rainbow Rowell has created a world of warm and complex characters, totally charming, opening to the readers the messiness of growing up into themselves.
I recommend ALL of Rainbow Rowell's books. And I recommend you read this one as soon as you can get your hands on it, specially if you are a fan of Harry Potter.
An excerpt about the book written by the author:
"Simon Snow just wants to relax and savor his last year at the Watford School of Magicks, but no one will let him. His girlfriend broke up with him, his best friend is a pest, and his mentor keeps trying to hide him away in the mountains where maybe he’ll be safe. Simon can’t even enjoy the fact that his roommate and longtime nemesis is missing, because he can’t stop worrying about the evil git. Plus there are ghosts. And vampires. And actual evil things trying to shut Simon down. When you’re the most powerful magician the world has ever known, you never get to relax and savor anything."
Find this title in our catalog: Carry On
Recommended by: Maite