H T YOUTH Older Readers Birdy Flynn.
By Helen Donohoe.
May 2017. 384p. Oneworld, paper, $11.99
(9781780749396); e-book, $7.99 (9781780749402).
Twelve-year-old Birdy thinks of herself as
one of the boys she hangs out with—until
the day one of them kicks her neighbor’s
cat half to death and, to stop its suffering,
Birdy drowns it. Desperate to keep her action a secret, she distances herself from the
boys who, she fears, might betray her secret.
It’s no secret, however, that she continues to
dress like a boy, fight like one, and delight
in strangers mistaking her for one. Birdy’s
struggle with gender identity is sufficient
story for one novel, but there is enough plot
here for two, as the story shifts to the girl’s
relationship with her favorite teacher, who,
to Birdy’s horror, forces her to touch her inappropriately. Meanwhile, Birdy’s mother’s
Irish ancestry becomes an issue: it makes her
and her children anathema in 1980s England, when IRA bombings were frequent
occurrences. Though this might have been
an even stronger book with less to manage,
first-time novelist Donohoe handles the material skillfully. —Michael Cart
The Crown’s Fate.
By Evelyn Skye.
May 2017. 432p. HarperCollins/Balzer+Bray, $17.99
(9780062422613). Gr. 9–12.
Backstory is always a problem for sequels,
and the elaborate 1825 alternative-history
Russian setting of this title will be daunting to newcomers. However, fans of The
Crown’s Game (2016) will be delighted to
see how Skye writes her way out of a mostly
dead antihero, a love triangle, and two royal
brothers vying to become tsar of all the Russias. As in the first title, inventive feats of
magic by sparring enchanters are the highlight; Vika’s control of the elements and
Nikolai’s affinity to metal allow for imaginative showdowns of sorcery. Skye weaves
in Russian history and culture, such as the
Decembrists, Fabergé eggs, the Nutcracker
ballet, and Pushkin’s “Bronze Horseman,”
along with plenty of culinary and costume details. There’s nonstop action, lots
of chapter hooks, comfortably predictable
elements of romance, and an empowering
message (“Imagine, and it shall be. There
are no limits”), all of which, despite some
stilted writing, will pull readers right along.
The Freemason’s Daughter.
By Shelley Sackier.
Apr. 2017. 384p. Harper Teen, $17.99 (9780062453440);
e-book, $17.99 (9780062453464). Gr. 7–10.
Jenna MacDuff has never wanted to leave
Scotland, but when her father and the rest
of her clan are hired by the Duke of Kes-
wick to build a garrison, she has no choice
but to follow. Quick, educated Jenna has
been raised by this small group of men,
and she understands that their new lives in
England are fraught with danger: the men
aren’t just freemasons but Jacobites, secretly
fighting for the exiled King James Stuart.
It’s 1714 and Britain is filled with unease;
Jenna knows to hide the truth from the
duke’s son, Alex. Despite mounting family
tensions and an impending, unwanted ar-
ranged marriage, Alex finds himself drawn to
the intelligent, fiery Jenna, who pushes him
away for the sake of her family. Sackier (Dear
Opl, 2015) balances her historical explora-
tion of a tumultuous period against a plot
laden with danger, betrayals, and a touch or
two of romance. The Jacobite uprising might
not be the most familiar historical event to
teens, and this is a thrilling introduction.
The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and
By Mackenzi Lee.
June 2017. 528p. HarperCollins/Katherine Tegen, $17.99
(9780062382801); e-book, $17.99 (9780062382825).
Henry Montague is the son of a lord, and
as such, his behavior is entirely inappropri-
ate. A lover of vice and
hedonism, Monty prefers
to spend his time drinking
(acceptable) and trysting,
both with girls and boys
(decidedly not acceptable).
Still, Monty is in high
spirits as he prepares for
his grand tour of the Con-
tinent. At his side is his best friend: polite,
gentlemanly Percy is the orphaned product
One of Myers’ key works is this groundbreaking piece of historical fiction that depicts, with startling starkness, war, poverty, drugs,
racism, terror, and cowardice. See p. 64 for a look at the audiobook
version. —Daniel Kraus
By Walter Dean Myers.
1988. 286p. Scholastic, $16.95 (978059040921); paper, $5.99 (9780590409438).
“We’re all dead over here. . . We’re all dead and just hoping we come back to life.”
Though the words belong to black, 17-year-old Richie Perry, they merely echo the
thoughts of all the characters in this gut-twisting Vietnam War novel
that breaks uncharted ground in teenage fiction. With the papers full of
peace talks and money scarce at home, Richie, like others he will come
to know, enlists—more to postpone a dead-end life in Harlem than
to defend his country. He does not really understand what awaits him
overseas—a war that will rip away his youth and test his sanity, while it
forges bonds of friendship and love unlike any he has ever known. Myers
does an outstanding job of re-creating the theater of war—from the tedium that breeds violence and vicious words among American comrades
(black against white, black against black, white against white, and man against man), to
the sudden shock, the pain, the confusion, and the stark terror that brings soldiers face-to-face with their ideals, their religious beliefs, and their morality—in a world where a
mother turns her child into a human bomb, and an officer sends men into combat only
to reap honors for himself. Social and political concerns related to the conflict blend
smoothly into the plot: American antiwar sentiment, draft dodgers, drug abuse among
servicemen, and the role of the media all concern Perry and his friends. Plot tension
expertly reflects the extreme conditions of the battlefield—including highly charged,
touching scenes along with those demonstrating heroism, cowardice, and visceral terror.
While descriptions are explicit, action shocking, and language rough, Myers has kept a
tight rein on his telling, presenting, in unadorned prose, the way it was. And he unfolds
the separate and connected stories of Richie and his squad so deftly that it is hard to
believe they are not real. —Stephanie Zvirin
YA Flashback: Class of 1989