Friday, August 28, 2015

Hello, Goodbye, and Everything in Between by Jennifer E. Smith

Hello, Goodbye, and Everything in Between by Jennifer E. Smith

It's the night before Aidan and Clare leave for college on opposite coasts, and they have 12 hours to decide their fate -- do they break up, or do they stay together and try the long-distance thing?

They spend this last night together, visiting spots around town that have meaning in their relationship.  They meet up with friends and family along the way, who all have their own opinions about whether or not they should stay together.

This is a real dilemma, faced by many high school sweethearts every summer. Those of us who have been in that position will remember being told how "high school relationships never last" and "long distance never works," but Jennifer E. Smith handles the topic with sensitivity and nuance, going beyond these stereotypes.

Reading this was almost painfully real for me at times.  I've been through nights like this more than once -- both when I went away to college and then when my then-boyfriend did (I hope it's not a spoiler to say that he's now my husband!)

Hello, Goodbye, and Everything in Between in on order, so put a hold on it today.  While you're waiting, be sure to check out Jennifer E. Smith's earlier novels. Readers may also enjoy other contemporary YA authors, such as Sarah Dessen, Huntley Fitzpatrick, and Deb Caletti (note that Caletti has also published several novels for adults).

Thursday, August 27, 2015

To All the Boys I've Loved Before by Jenny Han

To All the Boys I've Loved Before by Jenny Han

High School junior Lara Jean, and she and her older sister Margot have practically raised her younger sister since her mother passed away several years earlier.  Their widowed father tries to continue their family traditions while working long hours as a doctor. When her older sister leaves to go to college in Scotland, Lara Jean is suddenly left "in charge" of the family.

Lara Jean has written letters to each of the boys she ever had a crush on, but has never mailed them (and never intended to).  She keeps them in a special hat box under her bed.

But when her younger sister, angry about something she did, finds the letters -- she mails them, and Lara Jean is forced to confront her feelings about these boys.

While this is a story about teen love, it is also a story about family and friendship.  All of Lara Jean's relationships are realistically detailed, and her Korean-American heritage is reflected in her family's traditions as well. 

If you enjoy To All the Boys I've Loved Before, you'll definitely want to check out the just-released sequel P.S. I Still Love You.  These are really two parts to a whole -- and you'll want to find out how the story ends!

Readers interested in reading about teen romances with Asian American  characters might also enjoy Good Enough by Paula Yoo and Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell (reviewed on the blog by Ashley).  Readers who enjoy the love letter element might also enjoy The Boyfriend List by E. Lockhart

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Six Impossible Things by Fiona Wood

Six Impossible Things by Fiona Wood

Fourteen-year-old Dan Cereill is not having a good year:

  • His father has just announced that he's gay and left the family...
  • So, his mother has moved them into his deceased great-aunt's home...
  • Which means that he has to attend to a new school..
  • And on top of all that, he has a crush on the gorgeous girl next door (who just happens to be in his homeroom class)
Fiona Wood is an Australian author, and her debut novel sweetly portrays the coming of age of her young hero.  Readers will laugh with Dan and cheer him on, as he tries to navigate his new life.

Readers who enjoy this title may also enjoy other Aussie YA authors, such as Nick Earls, Jaclyn Moriarty, Lili Wilkinson, and Rebecca Sparrow.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Never Always Sometimes by Adi Alsaid

Never, Always, Sometimes by Adi Alsaid

Dave and Julia have always been best friends, and when they start high school, they create a "Never List" -- a list of things that they're never, ever going to do in high school, to avoid all the typical high school cliches.

Fast forward to their senior year -- when they stumble upon their old list, and decide, as a joke, to do every "never" on the list before the end of school... and as an reader of teen novels would anticipate, thing don't go exactly as planned.

Sweet, and funny, and real --  Adi Alsaid realistically portrays the teen struggle to be truly yourself while taking part in the larger world around you.

Highly recommended for older teens who enjoy contemporary YA novels and who are contemplating that transition from high school to college. Because the novel alternates between both Dave and Julia's perspectives, it will have wide appeal to both genders.

Readers may also enjoy Alsaid's first novel, Let's Get Lost,  or novels with alternating teen viewpoints, such as Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist, Naomi and Eli's No Kiss List, and Will Grayson, Will Grayson

Monday, August 24, 2015

Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen

Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen

If you've been following my reviews since we started this staff blog, you'll probably know that I love Sarah Dessen's books (see previously: Along for the Ride, What Happened to Goodbye, and The Moon and More).  She seems to put out a new novel every two years or so, at the beginning of the summer, and so they've become my go-to beach reads -- striking that perfect balance between serious and sweet.

In Saint Anything, Sydney has spent most of her life in the shadow of her popular older brother.  But as the novel begins, he is spending time in prison for DUI, after an accident that left a 15-year-old paralyzed.  Wanting to escape her brother's reputation, Sydney decides to leave their prestigious private school and attend the local public high school instead.

There, she meets Layla Chatham, whose family owns the local pizza parlor... and her older brother Mac.  In the Chatham family, she finds a warmth that she's been missing from her own family, and begins to figure out who she really wants to be.

As always, Dessen has created characters with such intricate detail that they seem real, and readers will want to spend time with Sydney and her friends.  With her trademark sensitivity, she handles Tough Issues with realism and nuance.

Highly recommended for older teens (and adults who enjoy teen books!)  Readers who enjoy Saint Anything may also enjoy the novels of Huntley Fitzpatrick, Stephanie Perkins, Jennifer E. Smith (check back for a review of her newest title later this week!), among the many other amazing YA contemporary authors.

Friday, August 21, 2015

The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin (Broken Earth trilogy)

“Broken” commonly means physical damage to an object, but Jemisin takes it further with a broken world, broken system, and broken people.  The Fifth Season pushes boundaries for genre fantasy, going beyond escapism, adventures, and quests that are so typical of fantasy.

The world is broken, and the people have to live in it.  The Stillness is prone to catastrophes that leave the place uninhabitable for years, even decades, and the people call these Fifth Seasons. Many civilizations have risen and fallen with Fifth Seasons. The people have developed a culture and mentality geared towards long-term survival.  Add to that, there are people who are gifted with abilities to manipulate the earth called orogenes.  They can prevent catastrophes or reduce its effects, yet, for all their power, they are feared and kept under tight control by the Fulcrum and its Guardians.

The people’s status quo could be summed up with “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”, and, in following three different storylines and their characters, readers will learn that there is a bigger, more complicated situation.  There is Damaya, a young orogene girl taken to the Fulcrum for boot camp-style training.  Syenite is a young orogene woman tasked with two regular-seeming missions who gets a huge wake-up call about the complex politics involving orogenes.  Essun is a middle-aged mother and rogue orogene whose child was murdered, and she seeks revenge.  Readers learn about orogenes, with different perspectives from the varying ages and experiences.  Their seemingly separate stories eventually connect.  Orogenes are considered monsters without any rights, even on a Fulcrum leash.  More than just a story about the orogene plight, things get complicated by competing interests from orogenes, the Guardians, stone builders (a separate humanoid species that little is known about), and the current government, and all these groups have their own factions.  Then, there are hints of a mysterious technology from the past that may play a role in the outcome of this mess.

The world-building and development are phenomenal.  This book is well-crafted, incorporating a world created from the ground up, a people and culture built around survival (and how it affects issues of diversity), orogenes with their fearsome-but-tightly-controlled abilities, and unique voices using second and third present tense.  This is a powerful, well-written story, with the world-building and story carefully integrated together.  The main characters are well-developed, giving readers an inside look into orogene life, as well as the people’s survivor mentality and culture, and how short-sighted they are in understanding the world, which is all fascinatingly foreign to readers.  Often, fantasy runs along the lines of escapism, adventure, and a main character with a quest to accomplish, sometimes with a strange world as background, so it becomes about saving the day. Here, there are long-term problems and issues that are not going to be easily resolved.

Look for The Fifth Season and its sequels in the VBPL Catalog.  Try Jemisin’s Inheritance trilogy (starting with The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms) and her Dreamblood duology (starting with The Killing Moon). For more works with strong world-building, try Ann Leckie’s Imperial Radch series (starting with Ancillary Justice). 

Reviewed by Tracy V.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Liesmith by Alis Franklin

“I am Loki of Asgard, and I am burdened with glorious purpose.” Loki from The Avengers (2012)

The popularity of the movie’s portrayal of Loki and Tom Hiddleston make it a hard act to follow, but Alis Franklin’s urban fantasy debut featuring Loki stands out with fun and crazy twists.  Liesmith features Norse mythology set in modern times and in Australia, geeks, geek humor, gods, monsters, a serious case of mistaken identity, a star-crossed love story across the ages (with “it’s complicated” written all over it), and Loki in all his infamous glory.  

The plot sounds like some fantasy cliché:  A nobody, Sigmund, finds out he is kind of special, gets caught up in a world of magic and gods, falls in love, and everything that happens is fate.

This book is such a fun, entertaining, fast-paced read with a lot of snark, humor, and pop culture references. The book is an ongoing geek-out session, as the characters react and over-react about discovering Loki and his world.  Franklin’s research and interest in Norse mythology shows (complete with the less-familiar spellings) with the inclusion of the fascinating and complex backstory between Loki, Odin, Baldr, and Sigyn, making for a messy family drama that is not over yet. The geeks, with their interest in role-playing, video games, and all things fantasy, can accept the revelations of the Norse myths and Loki being real (though they also find that the real thing is not the same as fantasy and much scarier). They are an unusual cast for action, but Franklin makes it work.

The story stands out with her re-imagining of Loki, creative world-building, and an original premise that brings the Norse myths into present-day Australia.  The premise of the Wyrd revolves around the power of stories and how they follow particular narrative paths, how certain types of story persist—think genre tropes and clichés. There are also the hero and villain stereotypes, which is especially problematic for Loki since he is usually the bad guy. It does become an interesting interplay between the expected story and the characters' attempts to subvert it.  With all the fun fantasy ideas, Franklin also integrates issues of diversity, with a main lead who is a colored person coming out.

Look for Liesmith on VBPL’s Overdrive site.  The sequel is Stormbringer.  For fantasy with gods, try the Inheritance trilogy by N.K Jemisin, featuring her own prankster god (see review).  For another modern re-telling, try Joanne Harris’ Gospel of Loki.  Seanan McGuire’s Indexing is a modern fantasy featuring fairy tales with a literal narrative force (see review).

Reviewed by Tracy V.