The Last Execution.
By Jesper Wung-Sung.
Mar. 2016. 144p. Simon & Schuster, $17.99
(9781481429658). Gr. 8–12.
This haunting slip of a novel reflects on the
final day of a 15-year-old boy slated for execution. Like a refrain, each chapter begins
by counting down the hours until Niels’ beheading for “arson and the
murder of the sheriff’s little
son with a stone.” The lyrical
text then meanders, sometimes through Niels’ mind
and recollections, sometimes
through the thoughts of
other townsfolk connected
to the execution. The baker
prepares raisin bread to sell to the crowd on
Gallows Hill; the messenger posts the official
notice of execution; the master carpenter takes
measurements for the coffin; the priest tries to
save the boy’s soul; the poet scribbles impressions of the morbid scene. Popular Danish
YA author Wung-Sung embroiders upon the
true story of the last execution performed
in Svendborg, thereby offering a fascinating
glimpse into the city in 1853. The mix of poetry and prose with shifting perspectives, all
told beneath the looming shadow of death,
is reminiscent of Edgar Lee Masters’ Spoon
River Anthology. As Niels’ story gently unfurls,
readers come to know the unfortunate—but
undeniably guilty—boy. His harsh, itinerant
life with his father, his dreams of seeing the
winding Mississippi River—these things enrich the tale and prick the conscience. Was his
death truly justice served? Thought provoking
and beautifully written, Niels’ plight will linger well beyond the page. —Julia Smith
By Deirdre Riordan Hall.
Mar. 2016. 388p. Amazon/Skyscape, paper, $9.99
(9781503948587); e-book, $4.99 (9781503935716).
How low can Pearl’s mother sink? The former rock star, Janet Jaeger, has spiraled down
a path of drugs, drinking, and homelessness,
prompting Pearl’s uncle to rescue the teen
by sending her off to an exclusive boarding
school. While school is clearly better than the
streets, it will be a long, difficult time before
Pearl can come to terms with the neglect and
danger she experienced, the conflicted love
she has for her mother, and this affluent new
world. When Janet eventually overdoses, she
leaves Pearl truly, achingly alone—her rich
uncle may pay the bills, but he does not offer
emotional support. She may, too, have more
in common with her mother than she would
like to admit, as she falls in with hard-partying
classmates who offer instant friendship and
camaraderie. Add a gruff, demanding art
teacher; a tender, budding romance; some
missteps; and tough self-questioning to round
out this intense coming-of-age story. Pearl’s
desperate fight to discover who she is and who
she can become will grab teens from the start.
By Charles Benoit.
Mar. 2016. 288p. Clarion, $17.99 (9780544318861).
How does a guy who doesn’t steal or do drugs
get mixed up with selling cocaine? Through
deceit and sex, of course. When former drug
honcho Zod walks out of prison and back into
his life, Nick, who testified against him, knows
it’s bad news, but the person who proves far
more dangerous is Dawn. Her edgy Joan Jett
look gets under his skin immediately, and he
finds he would do anything for her—even if
it means double-crossing her abusive, drug-dealer boyfriend. Benoit’s quiet, noir-tinged
novel is largely devoted to sifting through
Nick’s thoughts and his efforts to reinvent his
life. His disenchantment with being sorted
into high-school cliques—bangers, polys,
jocks, brainiacs—prompts him to rebel against
the crowd and start carving his own path in
the world. It begins with a four-point list that
guides his decisions, but can Nick stick to his
new principles as things start spiraling out of
control? Atmosphere and tension outweigh action, but the compelling way in which Benoit
doles out details ensures that readers will plow
straight through to the end. —Julia Smith
What You Always Wanted.
By Kristin Rae.
Mar. 2016. 320p. Bloomsbury, $17.99 (9781619638211);
paper, $9.99 (9781619633452). Gr. 7–10.
Even with her dad’s job loss and a move from
Chicago to Houston, 16-year-old Maddie
knows what she wants—real friends, a career
on the stage, and a guy just like Gene Kelly.
The problem is most guys are into sports, not
singing and dancing. Enter good-looking
Jesse Morales, her new neighbor. The attraction is strong, but how could Maddie ever fall
for a guy who loves baseball more than the
stage? So she immerses herself in school and
community theater, both of which are run by
Jesse’s mom, and makes new friends who “get”
her. Still, she cannot get Jesse off her mind,
and the attraction is mutual. Perhaps the seed
of an idea from High School Musical led Rae to
create her latest novel, but this novel takes on
a life all its own. Narrated by Maddie’s winsome voice and incorporating issues of race,
vocational choice, tight finances, and what
makes a family, this sweet romance has a classic feel that will find a wide readership among
Glee fans. —Melissa Moore
Where You’ll Find Me.
By Natasha Friend.
Mar. 2016. 272p. Farrar, $16.99 (9780374302306).
Anna, the 13-year-old protagonist of
Friend’s bittersweet story, thinks her life is
falling apart. It’s bad enough her best friend,
Dani, doesn’t want to be friends anymore.
Anna also has to deal with her mother’s
recent suicide attempt. Now, while her
mother is in the hospital, Anna has to live
with her father, his new (and young) wife,
and their baby, Jane. At school, she sits at
Rape, Bullying, Shame
NEW TITLES AVAILABLE MAY 1, 2016
Mental Illness, Teen Runaways
Grades: YA | RL: 3.0
STICKS AND STONES