By Garth Nix.
Feb. 2017. 384p. Scholastic, $18.99 (9781338052084);
e-book (9781338052107). Gr. 6–10.
Princess Anya is in a bind. Her stepstep-father Duke Rikard (who happens to be an
evil sorcerer) is plotting to steal the crown,
her older sister’s suitor has been transformed
into a frog, and Anya has promised to help
turn him back into a prince—but she’s fresh
out of the transmogrification-reversal lip
balm she needs for the job. There’s nothing
for it but to embark on a quest to gather
the hard-to-come-by lip balm ingredients
and hopefully devise a way to stop the duke
while she’s at it. Anya is accompanied by
Ardent, an eager (talking) royal dog, and
it isn’t long before their journey takes on a
more significant purpose. Playing on fairy
tale tropes and conventions, Nix (Newt’s Emerald, 2015) delivers a delightful adventure
stuffed with absurdity, magic, and a spirited
young heroine. Beneath these entertaining
trappings lies a heartfelt message of justice
and fair treatment for all. As for Anya, there’s
always room for leading ladies like her: “I
don’t expect to need rescuing. I’m not that
kind of princess.” —Julia Smith
By Jeff Zentner.
Mar. 2017. 416p. Crown, $17.99 (9780553524062);
lib. ed., $20.99 (9780553524079); e-book, $17.99
(9780553524086). Gr. 9–12.
“I may have killed my three best friends,”
17-year-old Carver agonizes. How so? He
sent a text to his friend Mars, knowing
the boy was driving at the
time; distracted by replying
to the text, Mars crashed
into a stopped truck, killing himself and Carver’s
two other best friends,
Blake and Eli. Now Mars’
father, a judge, has called
on the district attorney to
open an investigation and weigh charges of
criminally negligent homicide against Carver. Bereft and virtually friendless, riddled by
guilt, and overwhelmed by stress, Carver begins having panic attacks, which send him
into therapy. Interestingly, he makes an unlikely new friend in Eli’s girlfriend, Jesmyn,
but when he tells her that he desires more
than friendship with her, she rejects him.
Meanwhile, Carver’s attempts at atonement
with Blake’s grandmother, Eli’s parents, and
Mars’ father meet with mixed success, feeding his subconscious desire for punishment.
Zentner does an excellent job in creating characters, especially his protagonist
Carver, a budding writer whose first-person
account of his plight is artful evidence of
his talent. The story builds suspense while
developing not only empathetic but also
multidimensional characters in both Carver
and Jesmyn. The result is an absorbing effort
with emotional and psychological integrity.
Just a Girl.
By Carrie Mesrobian.
Mar. 2017. 304p. Harper, $17.99 (9780062349910).
Rianne’s spent her whole life in Wereford,
a small, nothing town in the Midwest, living with her divorced mom, getting up to
mild trouble with her friends, casually sleeping around, and not trying
terribly hard in school. By
the time senior year rolls
around, she still doesn’t
have any plans for her future, and she finds herself
in a relationship with notorious playboy Luke Pinsky,
who’s kind of loyal and
sweet, if oblivious to her needs. But when
she meets Sergei, a 25-year-old Russian man
who’s studying agriculture at the community
college, she’s immediately entranced by his
assured worldliness and, later, the confident
way he touches her, which she keeps a secret
from everyone, especially Luke. When she’s
faced with making a definitive choice about
her future, can she decide between what
she truly wants and what’s been deemed
“good”? Mesrobian is at her best plumbing
the depths of what happens between big
choices and elevating those potent moments
of transition, and she does that beautifully
here. Rianne’s rich inner life, especially when
it’s at odds with what’s expected of her, is
captivatingly full of meaningful, compelling drama, and Mesrobian’s frank, realistic
depiction of teenage sexuality is a particular
bright spot. There’s nothing simple about
being just a girl, and this resonant, thoughtful novel makes that abundantly, stunningly
clear. —Sarah Hunter
Optimists Die First.
By Susin Nielsen.
Feb. 2017. 240p. Random/Wendy Lamb, $17.99
(9780553496901); lib. ed., $20.99 (9780553496918);
e-book, $17.99 (9780553496925). Gr. 8–12.
Petula is a pessimist or, as she prefers to
view it, prepared. She knows stats on freak
deaths and is taking precautions to make sure
another tragedy like her sister’s death never
sneaks up on her again. When Jacob shows
up in her art therapy group, she couldn’t be
less interested. Yet, Petula’s attitude begins
to change when she’s paired with him for a
school project, and she finally allows herself
to open up to someone again. Their romantic relationship is sweet but underdeveloped,
making the strongest aspect of the story the
growth seen in the quirky, yet endearing,
misfits of Petula’s art therapy group. Readers will be captivated by Petula’s journey, as
she tries to overcome her grief-driven obsessions and anxieties and reconnects with her
friends, family, and hobbies. Heartbreaking
and hopeful, this is a solid choice for readers looking for a book to make them cry and
laugh at the same time. Recommend to teens
who enjoyed Tamara Ireland Stone’s Every
Last Word (2015). —Sarah Bean Thompson
Piecing Me Together.
By Renée Watson.
Feb. 2017. 272p. Bloomsbury, $17.99 (9781681191058).
“Who owns the river and the line, and the
hook, and the worm?” wonders Jade, a scholarship kid at Portland’s prestigious St. Francis
High. Through her first two years of school,
she’s had to balance her home life in a poor
neighborhood with her life at a school populated mostly by rich white kids. When offered
a mentorship for at-risk girls (which includes
a full college scholarship), she jumps at the
opportunity to learn how to be a successful
black woman. However, she soon suspects
that her mentor, Maxine, may only have a
superficial understanding of Jade’s challenges
and that there may be things Jade can teach
her. Watson is unafraid to show Jade as a
young woman who is resilient and mature for
her age, but also plagued by self-doubt. The
book itself is a balancing act between class,
race, and social dynamics, with Watson constantly undercutting stereotypes and showing
no fear in portraying virtues along with vices.
The book’s defiance of a single-issue lens will
surely inspire discussion and consideration.
The Radius of Us.
By Marie Marquardt.
Jan. 2017. 304p. illus. St. Martin’s/Griffin, $18.99
(9781250096890). Gr. 9–12.
Marquardt’s latest is a gripping depiction of
many of the issues facing Salvadorean refugees.
Phoenix Flores Flores, 19, is a bright young
man and former gang member determined to
save his younger brother, Ari, from being forced
into a gang. A traumatic journey through
Mexico gets the brothers to Texas, where Ari,
now mute, lives in a government-run shelter
for refugees. Phoenix tries desperately to help
from Florida, where he’s been taken in by a
kind lesbian couple. Meanwhile, 17-year-old
Gretchen is struggling to recover from PTSD
after a violent attack by a Latino gang member. Alternating first-person chapters from
Phoenix and Gretchen describe their backstories and evolving situations as they meet
and fall in love. But there’s more to this in-tercultural romance: Marquardt’s protagonists
are complex and intriguing. Gretchen is both
fiercely feminist and totally fearful after her
attack; Phoenix is besotted and racked with
guilt. Of special note is a terrific court transcript (with sketches by Ari) that effectively
supplies missing puzzle pieces. Ari’s sweetly
satisfying epilogue provides a very happy ending. —Debbie Carton
The Secrets We Keep.
By Deb Loughead.
Jan. 2017. 184p. Dundurn, paper, $12.99
(9781459737297). Gr. 7–10.
Ever since Kit died, Clem has blamed herself for being the last person to see him alive
and for not possibly preventing a horrible accident. Guilt-stricken, she allows her former
best friend Ellie to blackmail her, in order to