Tag Archives: genre: young adult

We Now Return to Regular Life by Martin Wilson

We Now Return to Regular Life

We Now Return to Regular Life by Martin Wilson

Published by: Dial Books on August 1, 2017
Rating: 4 stars (★★★★☆)

Sam Walsh went missing three years ago, presumed kidnapped and gone without a trace. His older sister, Beth, believed he was dead. His best friend, Josh, was wracked with guilt that maybe he could have done something to stop him from being taken. They both worried that they somehow contributed to Sam’s disappearance. But when Sam is found alive, their worlds change all over again. While Sam is indeed Sam, his experience and his ordeal have changed him. As Beth and Josh deal with relating to the new Sam, Sam also needs to find a way to adapt to his own new reality. And then there’s the age-old question: Do we talk about everything that happened as a means of processing it, or do we keep it all bottled up with the hope that we can just move past it? And the answer may be somewhere in between–a happy medium that is different for all three of them.

Told from the perspectives of Beth and Josh, this is a powerful and poignant story about love, regret, growing up, secrets, trauma, and simply dealing with the realities of life. This is likely to be a challenging read for some, especially considering the truth of what happened to Sam. But the author deals with the subject matter in a real and raw way, while demonstrating a sensitivity to Sam and to the others affected and impacted by the ordeal. There is no quick fix here for anyone. And sometimes we have to open doors when we know we won’t like what’s on the other side because if we leave the door closed, what’s there will simply continue to haunt us. There’s a lot for these teenagers to deal with in this story, but there’s also a strength that each one of them demonstrates that I can only say is inspiring and instructional.

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

Published by: Simon Schuster Books for Young Readers on February 21, 2012
Rating: 4 stars (★★★★☆)

Aristotle (Ari) could be described as a bit of a loner, keeping people at least an arm’s length away. But when he goes to the swimming pool one day in the summer (even though he can’t really swim), he finds a potential new friend in Dante. Although Dante is also a bit of a loner, he’s less jaded and more spirited than Ari, which seems at first like it may not bode well for a budding friendship. As the two get to know each other better, however, they learn that they can find commonality even in their differences. They face a number of challenges, both individually and together, that bring them together in ways neither expected.

This is a beautifully-written and compelling narrative. Written from Ari’s perspective, there is an authenticity to the narration that brings the characters to life on the page. The development of the characters (including those in the background) is defined and believable, presented in ways that make sense in the context of the plot and that keep readers connected to and grounded in this universe. Incredibly enjoyable and moving at the same time.

 

The Five Stages of Andrew Brawley by Shaun David Hutchinson

The Five Stages of Andrew Brawley

The Five Stages of Andrew Brawley by Shawn David Hutchinson

Published by: Simon Pulse on January 20, 2015
Rating: 3 stars (★★★☆☆)

Andrew Brawley’s life changed forever in one night. His parents and sister dead, he found his only choice to remain in the hospital–but not as a patient. Drew sleeps in an empty supply closet, works in the cafeteria (being paid under the table), and befriends many of the long-term patients. His cover story is that he’s visiting his sick grandmother who is in a coma, and while many of the staff don’t necessarily believe it, they let it slide. And as long as he can steer clear of a too-inquisitive social worker, he knows he could keep this going for a while. But one night when he sees a young man brought in to the emergency room, apparently set on fire by his classmates, Drew is immediately drawn to the new patient. Drew feels for him, and in some ways he sees a kindred spirit. As he learns more about Rusty’s situation, and eventually gets to know him after he wakes him, Drew begins to wonder if there could be a potential future in which they might leave the hospital together. But before that can happen, Drew needs to face the demons that have kept him in the hospital in the first place–and those just might lead to the undoing of the life he has built.

I think the one word that stands out to me most after finishing this book would be “refreshing.” Drew is far from perfect. And the author does not try to hide or mask that in any way during this book. There is a realness to it that I don’t think I always get from young adult titles, and I found myself really connecting to the material and the characters as a result. An interesting and insightful read.

Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson

Bridge to Terabithia

Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson

Published by: Thomas Crowell on October 21, 1977
Rating: 3 stars (★★★☆☆)

Jess Aarons lives a simple life for a teenager, helping his parents with the chores, doing his schoolwork, and trying his best to become the fastest runner in school. When a new girl, Leslie Burke, moves in as his new neighbor, all of that changes. For one, Leslie turns out to be a rather fast runner herself. And together they invent Terabithia, an enchanted land that only they can get to or see in the woods near their homes. But fantasies can only last for so long, and a tragic accident shatters their world in a way that leaves Jess wondering if he can ever truly pick up the pieces.

I saw this movie a few years back, and it was one that I certainly enjoyed right away. The book provided an interesting comparison. The movie follows the book pretty well, though I think the book provides a little bit better sense of how Jess feels about his life and the people around him. It’s subtle, which I think is a testament to the way the author has developed the world and the characters, but it’s there. And, overall, I think it adds both to understanding Jess’s motivation and his reactions as we move through the book.

The Shadow Cipher by Laura Ruby

The Shadow Cipher

The Shadow Cipher by Laura Ruby

Series: York, Book 1
Published by: Walden Pond Press on May 16, 2017
Rating: 4 stars (★★★★☆)

Tess and Theo Biedermann and their friend Jaime Cruz like where they live. Not only is there a community in their apartment building, but it is one of the five remaining Morningstarr buildings, part of the architectural vision of the mysterious Morningstarr twins who built much of early New York City. But the Morningstarrs did more than just build magnificent buildings before they disappeared; they built a puzzle, the Old York Cipher, into their design of the city. And legend has it that the one who solves it will find an untold treasure waiting at the end. Tess, Theo, and Jaime set out on a mission to solve a puzzle that no one has been able to solve for nearly 200 years. They hope doing so will prove the cipher is real and save their building. And they also know that once the remaining buildings are destroyed, the likelihood of anyone ever solving the puzzle will go from slim to none. Their journey involves solving a mystery, but it is not one that is without danger. For where there is talk of treasure, there will always be people with less-than-honorable intentions sniffing around…

This is a fun urban fantasy story with some hints of steam punk that I really enjoyed reading. Following these amateur sleuths on their adventure was even a bit exhilarating at times. This is billed as a middle grades book, and it has a spirit and energy that fits for that audience (but also audiences of all ages) quite well. It is a bit on the hefty side for middle grades, both in terms of length and some aspects of the plot, but I think it would be a great choice for earlier advanced readers or older students looking to jump into reading longer novels.

[Disclaimer: This review is based on an advance reading copy received from the publisher.]

Cold Summer by Gwen Cole

Cold Summer

Cold Summer by Gwen Cole

Published by: Sky Pony Press on May 2, 2017
Rating: 4 stars (★★★★☆)

Kale Jackson has an exciting special ability, but it is one that he is beginning to think is not quite so exciting anymore. He travels through time. That might sound fascinating to many people, but Kale cannot control it. Though he can usually tell when he’s likely to travel shortly before he does, he can’t stop it or force it to happen. And with his recent travels taking him back to World War II, fighting on the front lines as a sharpshooter, the danger has taken much of the fun out of the whole experience. Of course there’s also the fact that he cannot explain to most people why he disappears for days at a time without any notice. They would never believe him–including his own father.

But one person who has always believed Kale is Harper, a childhood friend who used to live next door. And when Kale finds out she’s returned for the summer, he has the smallest glimmer of hope that quickly fades. In the years that have gone by Kale has changed. But so has Harper. Although she promised she would never ask Kale where he travels, she is more assertive and insistent that Kale not resign himself to being alone. The two quickly reforge a friendship that has the potential to become something more. That is, until Harper looks up Kale’s involvement in World War II online. What she finds has the potential to change everything.
This is a wonderfully written young adult science fiction story that doesn’t rely on all of the tropes that are so common these days in the genre. Yes, there’s angst and a budding relationship, but they don’t drive the story. Instead we see Kale, a young man who feels very much at the mercy of this thing he can’t control or explain, finding his way back to feeling like he has some agency over his life. And we see Harper, a young woman who has recently claimed her own agency, working to feel comfortable with her choices while trying to help Kale do the same. And everyone will have to love Uncle Jasper. Definitely recommended reading!

[Disclaimer: This review is based on an advance review copy provided by the publisher via Edelweiss.]

The Wingsnatchers by Sarah Jean Horwitz

The Wingsnatchers

The Wingsnatchers by Sarah Jean Horwitz

Series: Carmer and Grit, Book 1
Published by: Algonquin Young Readers on April 25, 2017
Rating: 5 stars (★★★★★)

Felix Carmer III, aspiring inventor and tinkerer, sees his work as a magician’s apprentice as worthwhile but only a means to an end. But with his employer’s show not doing so well as of late, he finds himself invested in helping them win the grand prize in a magic competition–which may be more difficult than it seems. When he unexpectedly crosses paths with a faerie–a faerie??–he learns that there is a real magic that goes well beyond the tricks they perform in the show. But he also learns things that make him question some of the scientific advancements that have recently intrigued him as well.

Grit, faerie princess of the Seelie court, has never really felt like she fit in anywhere. Yes, she’s a princess, but she was born with only one wing and many would say she doesn’t act like a princess. But she isn’t going to set aside her sense of adventure or curiosity just because it is what people expect of her. And when faeries from across Skemantis start disappearing, she finds herself on a quest to help find out who is behind it. And that quest brings her to a young magician’s apprentice named Carmer. And while he seems an unlikely ally, he may just be the one person who can help her find out what is going on and put an end to it before more faeries are hurt.

I do not give many five-star ratings, but there was no question for me when I finished this book that it deserves it. I found myself quickly lost in the world of Skemantis, invested in the characters, and drawn to turn each page by wonderful pacing, description, and action. I particularly enjoyed the partnership between Carmer and Grit, both the way it developed and the dynamic between the two of them as the story drove on. For the first book in a series, this is a great start, and I look forward to reading future installments.

[Disclaimer: This review is based on an advance reading copy of the book received from the publisher in advance of publication.]

Guyliner by j. leigh bailey

Guyliner

Guyliner by j. leigh bailey

Published by: Dreamspinner Press on October 17, 2016
Rating: 4 stars (★★★★☆)

Connor is seen as the golden boy, and he’s okay with that as long as it means a ticket out of the small town where he lives. He gets good grades, is athletic, works a part-time job, has a great girlfriend, and gets along with pretty much everyone. And that includes the new kid, Graham. Graham is a self-assured star soccer player who wears eyeliner. Wait, eyeliner? But that’s not the only thing Connor notices about Graham. He’s drawn to him and can’t get him out of his head. And that’s just not acceptable–it doesn’t fit into Connor’s plans. He can’t be with a guy and get where he wants to go, can he? But as the two spend more time together, Connor begins to wonder if he really can deny the truth about how he feels. And even if he can, is what he’d be giving up worth the tradeoff?

I struggle to find the words to describe just how much I enjoyed this book. I cannot help wondering how many young men out there go through exactly what Connor goes through in this book. And Graham, too, to be fair. While we often reflect on the fact that it is “easier” to come out now than it was years ago or that young people seem to be coming out at earlier and earlier ages, we can’t simply dismiss the idea that it can be challenging for many people. And the pressure we all feel to be a certain kind of person or achieve certain things–even when it’s not made explicit–can be overwhelming on its own. To face the reality that being true to yourself means giving up many of the things that we’re taught to expect out of life as children (or to at least realize that they won’t happen quite as we expect) can be scary. And it’s even scarier to have to sort that all out as a young adult.

This is, hands down, one of the best young adult LGBT stories I’ve ever read. And I give it a very strong recommendation for all readers, both young and old.

Darkness Savage by Rachel A. Marks

Darkness Savage

Darkness Savage by Rachel A. Marks

Series: The Dark Cycle, Book 3
Published by: Skyscape on October 11, 2016
Rating: 4 stars (★★★★☆)

Aidan faces a difficult decision. He always knew his gift (though he often thought it a curse) would be the key to defeating a demonic force. He just never expected that force would manifest in his own sister. He will need to find a way to stop her; it’s just a matter of whether he can stop her and save her at the same time. He works to bring his team together, his “Lights” as he’s been told they are called. And his friend Rebecca, who he was certain was not a Light, suddenly finds herself with powers all her own. With so much at stake and so many variables at play, what will Aidan decide? And will he have the power to carry out his plan of action?

The final installment of this series does not disappoint! This unique world that Rachel Marks has created managed to draw me back in as quickly as it did in the last two books. And the twists and turns that are thrown at the reader–it’s quite a journey! This is an absolutely fitting third act. My only major disappointment is that the story has come to an end. I certainly look forward to more from this author.

[Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.]

Choices by Jamie Mayfield

Choices

Choices by Jamie Mayfield

Series: Waiting for Forever, Book 1
Published by: Harmony Ink Press on June 6, 2013
Rating: 3 stars (★★★☆☆)

Brian McAllister knows that he’s unlikely to find acceptance for his sexuality living in a small community in Alabama. He’s heard the comments people make at school. He’s sat through the sermons in church. So he’s never told anyone–the last thing he would need would be to lose his best friend or to have his foster parents send him away. So when his best friend, Jamie Mayfield, confronts him when he’s acting strange and said confrontation ends in a kiss, Brian thinks it’s all over. To his surprise, however, Jamie lets Brian know he feels the same way. The two embark on a clandestine relationship, but in a small town secrets can only stay hidden for so long. And once they’re found out, it’s hard to make them ever go away.

For being one of those “growing up gay in a conservative town of bigot stories,” this one was actually on the easy end of the reading scale. The angst level isn’t through the roof, and the supportive characters are written in a believable and understanding way. I tackled this one fairly quickly because it kept my attention and I never ended up putting it down until I was done.