By Hannah Vincent.
2016. 192p. Myriad, paper, $13.95 (9781908434456).
Indigo Taylor and brother Robin leave their
modest English home for Cape Town, South
Africa, where their dad has emigrated after
their mom died. The transition is anything
but smooth: 11-year-old Indy and 13-year-
old Robin are given alarms to wear around
their necks for safety. Dad has moved on with
his girlfriend, Beautiful, while Indy is fixated
on the cause of her mom’s mysterious death,
on her ninth birthday. This debut novel of
British playwright Vincent has tones of despair and loneliness as the Taylor family crawls
toward a new normalcy. Alternating passages
with mother Karen’s accounts of meeting her
husband, starting their family, and falling
into depression with Indy’s reluctant adjustment to swank African life, which includes
bed-wetting, pondering conspiracy theories,
and the killing of the family dog, are written
for an attentive audience. Vincent’s style has
the sparse, quiet voice of some other South
African writers, lending subtle nuance to this
disturbing family saga. —Gail Bush
Burn Baby Burn.
By Meg Medina.
Mar. 2016. 320p. Candlewick, $17.99 (9780763674670).
It’s 1977 in New York, and almost-18-year-
old Nora is about to graduate high school and
is saving up for her own place. Of course, it’s
not that easy. Her Cuban immigrant mother,
Their mother, she does noth-
ing about Hector and faults
Nora for his delinquency, and, before long,
his terrifying, uncontrollable rages become
too scary to handle on her own. Medina art-
fully links Nora’s escalating domestic turmoil
with the infamous summer of 1977, marked
by blackouts, sweltering heat, racial tensions,
arson, and the Son of Sam killings, all of which
simmer menacingly in the background. Medi-
na weaves historical context throughout Nora’s
first-person narrative, cultivating a rich atmo-
sphere while still keeping her characters sharply
in the foreground. Nora herself is wonderfully
multifaceted—hardened by responsibility, de-
lighted by disco, crazy about the handsome
boy at her job, and, all the while, stalwart and
determined to make her life on her own terms.
Powerfully moving, this stellar piece of his-
torical fiction emphasizes the timeless concerns
of family loyalty and personal strength while
highlighting important issues that still resonate
today. —Sarah Hunter
A Fierce and Subtle Poison.
By Samantha Mabry.
Apr. 2016. 288p. Algonquin, $17.95 (9781616205218).
Lucas spends his summers in Puerto Rico
with his dad, who is a reviled American developer building resorts all over the island.
Lucas dislikes his father, too, preferring to lose
himself in the stories told by the local señoras,
especially the one about the cursed house occupied by a poisonous, wish-granting witch.
When girls start going missing—later washing
up on the beach, covered in blistery rashes—
Lucas never dreams that the cursed house
could be related. But when he hops over the
garden wall of the house on a whim and meets
Isabel, the cloistered, ill girl who lives there, he
learns there’s more truth to the old stories than
he could have imagined. While a few relationships and plot points seem a bit flimsy, debut
author Mabry cultivates a rich setting, offering
lush descriptions of the island, its stories, and
the sharp divide between the old world and
the incoming new one, characterized by swift
modernization and the careless destruction of
history. Perfect for fans of Carlos Ruiz Zafón’s
atmospheric Marina (2014). —Sarah Hunter
Nora & Kettle.
By Lauren Nicolle Taylor.
Feb. 2016. 325p. Clean Teen, paper, $11.95
(9781634221351). Gr. 9–12.
WWII is over, but community feelings toward Japanese Americans still run high, and
two very different teens are
struggling to live in the aftermath. Seventeen-year-old
Kettle has been an orphan
living on the streets for
years, working the docks
when he can and trying to
care for other street children,
alongside his brother, Kin.
Nora, on the other hand, is the daughter of a
wealthy, big-name civil rights lawyer, but that
does not protect her from his violent beatings
behind closed doors. Existing side by side
without knowing it, Kettle’s and Nora’s paths
cross one night, and suddenly everything
changes. Lyrically written, this powerful and
at times painful read captures the reader and
does not let go. Told in alternating chapters
from the two characters’ perspectives, their
respective narratives cross and intertwine,
drawing Nora and Kettle closer until they fi-
nally unite. Parallels to Peter Pan and Wendy
provide motif and depth without overwhelm-
ing the reader. Firmly rooted in the history
of internment camps and racial prejudice, this
remarkable novel educates subtly while focus-
ing on themes of home, acceptance, courage,
and the danger of secrets. —Melissa Moore
By Julie Mayhew.
Feb. 2016. 320p. Candlewick, $16.99 (9780763677312).
Melon got many things from her mother,
Maria: Greek heritage, an oft-told family fairy
tale, and a ridiculous name. Maria claims that
the name is a reminder of her happy childhood
on a melon farm in Crete, but Melon, who is
stuck in the phase of hating her mom, just sees
it as another thing that makes her different. But
everything upends when Maria is killed, leaving Melon, who has never known her father,
alone and questioning everything she thought
she knew about her mother’s past. This debut
novel about loss, family, and the way stories
change in the telling is a rich portrait of grief
and recovery. Melon tells her own story interspersed with her mother’s in fractured, chaotic
vignettes that circle the day of the accident: 17
days since, 3 days since, 6 years before. As a
narrator, she is harsh and abrasive but always
sympathetic. Gritty and sad as this may be, it
certainly rings true. —Maggie Reagan
Allie, First at Last.
By Angela Cervantes.
Apr. 2016. 208p. Scholastic, $16.99 (9780545812238);
e-book, $16.99 (9780545812672). Gr. 3–5.
Allie feels the weight of achievements by her
family members, from her beloved great-grandfather, who won the Congressional Medal of
Honor, to her two multi-award-winning older
siblings and her younger sister, who has been
acting in TV commercials for years. As Allie’s
last year at Sendak Elementary School draws
to a close, she feels enormous pressure to excel at something. Meanwhile, her best friend
is drifting away, and stressed-out Allie seems to
be making things worse. Some sage advice and
an unforeseen crisis bring her misaligned values
and actions more sharply into focus, enabling
her to put things right. Cervantes, the author
of Gaby, Lost and Found (2013), portrays Allie’s Mexican American family and community
with warmth and shows her dilemma with a
gradually widening perspective that lets readers gain understanding along with Allie. A
sprinkling of Spanish words helps maintain
the story’s cultural context. Throughout the