Marcia, moves to a trauma center to aid in
her care. That leaves Andrew alone, upset, and
dealing with his older brother, a bullying col-
lege football star. Laura, Andrew’s longtime
crush and a stalwart Christian, gives Andrew
her number in case he needs to talk. Andrew
is so dazzled by Laura, he follows her to her
church group, where he finds both solace and
confusion. First-time author Cranse juggles a
lot here—family dynamics, catastrophic ill-
ness, religious experiences, deeply personal
issues—and things do fall through the cracks.
For instance, the church group, though con-
sistently described as not born-again, is never
well defined, seemingly made up of a few kids
with no adults around. But Andrew is nicely
drawn, and his frustrations are particularly
well depicted. His struggles are less about reli-
gion and more about people, and that makes
for an impressive debut. —Ilene Cooper
The Head of the Saint.
By Socorro Acioli. Tr. by Daniel
Mar. 2016. 192p. Delacorte, $16.99 (9780553537925).
Before Samuel’s mother died, she asked
him to travel to his grandmother’s house in
Candeia to find his father, whom he has never
met, and to light candles
at the foot of three saints
on his journey. When he
finally arrives, starving and
exhausted, his grandmother
won’t take him in; rather,
she directs him to a small
cavern in the forest where
he can find shelter. That cavern, it turns out, is the gigantic, hollow head
of a statue of Saint Anthony, and once inside,
Samuel can hear the entreaties of women praying to the saint for luck in love and marriage.
It’s with this secret information that he sets a
series of marriages in motion, and suddenly
Candeia becomes a pilgrimage site for women
all over Brazil. But with all the newfound attention on the town, Samuel inadvertently
stirs up old troubles. Acioli’s swirling, deadpan
narrative recalls classic Latin American magic
realism—the unexplained miracles, intricately entwined stories, and long-buried family
secrets would be at home in a García Márquez
novel. Samuel’s struggle with his faith is a
strong undercurrent to the story, though the
complexities emerge askance, evident in his
actions and the enigmatic plot turns rather
than in any kind of verbal meditation. With
an offbeat approach and beautiful, evocative
language, this unusual, fablelike novel will appeal to literary-minded teens. —Sarah Hunter
The Serpent King.
By Jeff Zentner.
Mar. 2016. 384p. Crown, $17.99 (9780553524024);
e-book (9780553524048). Gr. 9–12.
In small-town Forrestville, Tennessee,
broody musician Dill Early begins his senior
year with a general feeling of dread because it
means his best friend, Lydia, will be leaving
for college once they graduate. As the son of a
snake-handling Pentecostal preacher currently
in prison, Dill is unable to escape his father’s
shadow. Lydia, on the other hand, is an out-
spoken blogger and fashionista, who can’t wait
to get out of Dodge. Completing their trio is
Travis, a gentle giant who carries a staff and is
obsessed with fantasy novels. In chapters that
shift among the teens’ perspectives, Zentner
effectively shows the aspirations, fears, and
dark secrets they harbor during their final year
together. A musician himself, Zentner transi-
tions to prose easily in his debut, pulling in
complex issues that range from struggles with
faith to abuse to grief. Refreshingly, this novel
isn’t driven by romance—though it rears its
head—but by the importance of pursuing in-
dividual passions and forging one’s own path.
A promising new voice in YA. —Julia Smith
My Name Is River.
By Wendy Dunham.
2015. 144p. Harvest House, paper, $7.99
(9780736964616). Gr. 4–7.
When 12-year-old River Starling’s grandmother moves them to Birdsong, West
Virginia, near the end of the school year,
River believes her chances of feeling at home
are going to be slim—she knows no one, she’s
been abandoned by her adoptive parents and
birth mother, and her grandmother is engaging in really silly-looking exercises. But when
her new classmate Billy Whippoorwill, son of
the local preacher, takes her under his wing
and introduces her to his family, things start
looking up. River and Billy build a small bird
sanctuary, and she and her grandmother join
Pastor Whippoorwill’s church. But when a
dark turn of events changes everything, River
and her grandmother will need to rely on
their faith, their new friends, and the healing
power of forgiveness. Dunham writes with a
steady pace, and her characters are generally
well-rounded. Striking an interesting balance
between Christian fiction and classic middle-grade realistic fiction, this will find an easy
home with fans of Robin Caroll’s Samantha
Sanderson series. —Francisca Goldsmith
It’s Ramadan, Curious George.
By H. A. Rey and Hena Khan. Illus. by
Mary O’Keefe Young.
May 2016. 14p. Houghton, $7.99 (9780544652262). PreS–K.
Curious George has his first experience
with the Muslim holy month of Ramadan in
this slim picture book. In it, George helps his
friend Kareem through his first fast by play-
ing games to distract the boy from his hunger.
Once the sun goes down, “The room is filled
with happiness / And the peaceful sounds of
prayer,” followed by an abundance of food
to fill the stomachs of Kareem’s family and
friends. Another day, George accompanies
Kareem to the mosque to help with donation
drives. The book ends with the Eid festival
and characters enjoying “hours of feasting
and fun” as Ramadan draws to a close. Few
facts about Ramadan appear in this book (its
connection with the Muslim religion is never
even mentioned), but young readers will get a
sense of some of the activities that accompany
its observance, such as fasting and charity
work. Pair with a more informational book,
such as Lisa Bullard’s Rashad’s Ramadan and
Eid al-Fitr (2012), for a more rounded look at
the holiday. —Julia Smith
The Mountain Jews and the Mirror.
By Ruchama King Feuerman. Illus. by
Polona Kosec and Marcela Calderon.
2015. 32p. Kar-Ben, $17.99 (9781467738941); paper, $7.99
(978146773965); e-book, $6.99 (9781467788465). K–Gr. 2.
With the old-fashioned feel of a folktale,
this story about a young couple from the
mountains of Morocco offers readers a sweet
lesson in having faith in those they love.
When newlyweds Yosef and Estrella move
from their small village to the city, they are
in for a few surprises. One afternoon shortly
after their arrival, Estrella returns from the
market to find a beautiful young woman in
their home. Convinced her husband has taken a new, more attractive wife, she runs to the
rabbi for advice. That same day, Yosef finds a
handsome man in the house, who can only
be a husband to replace him. He, too, seeks
out the rabbi, who senses something is amiss.
A visit to the couple’s home reveals all to be a
comical misunderstanding, but one that forti-fies their love for each other. Beautiful acrylic
paintings in crimson, olive, fig, and umber illustrate the tale, with particular care given to
the couple’s expressions as they navigate their
emotions and new life together. —Julia Smith
The Plans I Have for You.
By Amy Parker. Illus. by Vanessa
2015. 32p. Zonderkidz, $16.99 (9780310724100). PreS–Gr. 2.
“You are my hands and my feet there on
Earth,” narrator God says to an array of kids.
“I’ve given you a purpose—it’s been there
since birth! ” Splashy, energetic illustrations
introduce us to the YOU Factory, a colorful, Willy Wonka–style building where God
makes kids, imbuing them with all the skills
they will need to be successful in life. Each
has a specific purpose—a nurse, a zookeeper,
an entomologist—and are encouraged to find
the one thing that inspires them. The factory
metaphor may not hold up under intense
scrutiny, but the find-your-passions message
is an appealing one. The joyful, rhyming text
and bright, whimsical illustrations make this
well suited for read-alouds, and the religious
elements are gently woven into the story—
though God and the Bible both appear,
neither is referred to by name—making this
somewhat more accessible to a wider denomination. Parents raising their children to have
faith in both themselves and in a higher power
will appreciate this offering. —Maggie Reagan