Always and Forever, Lara Jean.
By Jenny Han.
May 2017. 336p. Simon & Schuster, $17.99
(9781481430487). Gr. 9–12.
Nostalgia hangs heavy in the air as Lara
Jean and Peter wind their way through senior
year. Their romance is now solid with well-established pastimes, such as sharing favorite
movies and testing Lara Jean’s latest batch of
chocolate chip cookies. But next year will
bring college and the possibility of separation. The suspense of waiting for word from
college admission offices, particularly in a
town dominated by a large university, is perfectly rendered. Lara Jean, an insightful and
authentic narrator, strives to relish the final
moments of high school, while mustering the
courage to forge her own path onward. Readers of the first two novels will enjoy these final
chapters with Lara Jean, which are short on
drama and long on character growth. Those
who are starting the series with this novel
may find the pace a bit languid. Nevertheless,
Han reveals just enough of old subplots to
pique curiosity for new readers and reignite
interest for her loyal fans. A must-have conclusion. —Diane Colson
HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: Fans of
Han’s best-selling series will turn out in
droves to get their hands on this conclusion
to Lara Jean’s story.
The Art of Starving.
By Sam J. Miller.
July 2017. 384p. Harper Teen, $17.99 (9780062456717).
Miller’s heartfelt debut novel tackles difficult
subjects with a bold mix of magical realism,
group of high-school bullies led by handsome
Tariq, an object of desire for both Matt and
Maya. Feeling powerless, Matt realizes he can
maintain control over one thing: the calories
he consumes. As he restricts his food intake,
Matt feels his other senses sharpen to the
point where he believes he has superpowers—
hearing and seeing other people’s thoughts
and influencing others with his own com-
mands. Matt is delusional and anorexic, but
he’s also an admirably strong character who is
out and proud, brilliant, creative, and deter-
mined to survive. It’s not always easy to find
novels with troubled gay male protagonists
who aren’t doomed, and Miller’s creative por-
trait of a complex and sympathetic individual
will provide a welcome mirror for kindred
spirits. —Debbie Carton
By Heather Demetrios.
June 2017. 368p. Holt, $17.99 (9781627797726).
When charismatic, popular Gavin takes
a shine to awkward theater nerd Grace, she
can hardly believe it. Sure, he just attempted
suicide after his last girlfriend dumped him,
but that only adds to his troubled allure. If
you’re hearing alarm bells, that’s by design: in
Grace’s first-person narrative, she’s open from
the start that her relationship with Gavin
went bad, and as she describes the initially
gooey romance, she occasionally offers pithy
hindsight commentary. At first, Gavin is a pic-ture-perfect boyfriend, but before long, that
protective nature turns to possessiveness, and
that ardor to abusive manipulation. Through
Grace’s lively, engaging voice, readers gain a
vivid picture of the way a smart, self-assured
girl can fall into an abusive relationship.
Though it takes a long time for Grace to finally see the reality of Gavin’s abuse, her cadre
of multifaceted friends stand by her, despite
their frustration at her reluctance. While the
middle of the novel drags a bit, Demetrios’
well-drawn characters are tremendously appealing, and Grace’s discovery of the power
of her own strength will make readers cheer.
By Olivia Levez.
June 2017. 304p. Oneworld, paper, $9.99
(9781786070944); e-book (9781786070951). Gr. 9–12.
It’s a romantic notion, as well-known as
fairy tales and often instilled with the same
spirit of enchantment, but running away to
the circus doesn’t provide Willow a magical
escape from life’s problems.
On the surface, the calculated destruction of her
father’s fiancée’s wedding
dress and subsequent disappearance amount to nothing
more than a rich girl’s acts of
teenage rebellion. However,
Willow’s first-person narrative exposes an array of deep-seated troubles
propelling her from a posh life to a gritty existence on society’s fringe. Unable to tolerate
the prospect of acquiring “the Handbag” as
her new, twenty-something mom, Willow
runs away with a plan to track down her real
mother—a trapeze artist who returned to the
circus when her daughter was three. Willow
hitches her way to Hastings, a seaside town in
England, where she believes her mother once
worked, and ends up living on the streets.
Still convinced that her future lies with the
circus, she befriends a free-spirited homeless
girl, Suz, who teaches her to swallow fire and
walk a wire. Levez doesn’t glamorize the girls’
lifestyle, which leaves them hungry, filthy, and
vulnerable. Yet as Willow begins performing,
she truly comes alive. Some may find the end-
ing too pat, but Willow’s personal revelations
make her compelling journey of reinvention
soar. —Julia Smith
The Duke of Bannerman Prep.
By Katie A. Nelson.
May 2017. 352p. Skyhorse/Sky Pony, $17.99
(9781510710405). Gr. 9–12.
Private school has never been a possibility for Tanner McKay; money is tight, and
his single mom works long hours to support
Tanner’s intellectually disabled brother. But
Tanner is a debate team champion, and elite
boarding school Bannerman Prep wants him.
Bannerman could mean a chance at college
scholarships, and Tanner’s ready to win. But
then Tanner is assigned his debate partner:
the party-throwing school playboy everyone
calls the Duke. The Duke doesn’t seem to
have much of a work ethic, but he does have
a flashy car and a string of people willing to
do him favors. He has also set his sights on
Tanner’s cousin, despite her jealous boyfriend,
and as Tanner covers for them, he’s immersed
in the Duke’s high-stakes world as the Duke
himself grows only more mysterious. This debut is more homage to The Great Gatsby than
retelling, and the story is better for it. The
glitzy prep-school backdrop is offset by the
cutthroat world of scholarship competitions,
and Tanner’s moral struggles ring heartbreakingly true. —Maggie Reagan
By Liz Flanagan.
June 2017. 288p. David Fickling, $18.99
(9781338121209); e-book, $11.99 (9781338121216).
Gorgeous, wealthy Eden Holby and scrawny goth girl Jess Mayfield have been best
friends since girlhood and have seen each
other through wrenching experiences: Jess
was attacked by a gang of bullies and badly
beaten, and Eden’s older sister, Iona, recently
died in a car accident. But on the first day of
their senior year, Jess arrives at their school in
rural Yorkshire to discover that Eden is missing. So begins a series of cleverly constructed
flashbacks, interspersed with the present-time
search, which reveal both girls’ backstories,
leading to the current precipice of a triangular
romantic entanglement with Eden’s boyfriend,
Liam. While the stories themselves are compelling, the writing reaches a deeper level
when readers revisit a writing workshop held
in a cottage once owned by poet Ted Hughes.
Here we finally see the depths of Eden’s grief
and guilt, and fully understand the relationship between the girls. Part mystery, part
romance, Flanagan surpasses the boundaries
of these categories with finely crafted psychological portraits, slightly marred by a tonally
jarring ending. —Debbie Carton