By Jennifer Mathieu.
Sept. 2016. 320p. Roaring Brook, $17.99
(9781626722385). Gr. 8–11.
With her usual knack for thoughtful, nuanced, character-driven takes on difficult
subjects, Mathieu tackles kidnapping and
PTSD. Alternating chapters from Ethan (a
kidnapping survivor who was imprisoned
for four years) and Caroline (whose autistic
younger brother was held captive with Ethan
for four days) chart the families’ reactions
after the rescue. The kidnapper shot himself
rather than yield to police, but the damage
inflicted on both boys and their loved ones
inevitably builds up post-rescue before turning the corner toward health. It doesn’t help
that their small Texas town turns an inquisitive, well-meaning eye on the two families,
or that Caroline’s parents’ marriage, never
strong, unravels under the stress. However,
Caroline and Ethan, despite wildly different
backgrounds, discover a common ground of
music, and their garage jam sessions build
a friendship that blossoms into something
more. With sympathetic and believably
flawed characters of all ages, a great cover that
effectively portrays Ethan’s lost innocence,
and terrific psychiatric treatment scenes, it’s
both a page-turner and a thought-provoking
source for discussion. —Debbie Carton
Amy Chelsea Stacie Dee.
By Mary G. Thompson.
Oct. 2016. 304p. Putnam, $17.99 (9781101996805).
Six years after two preteen girls are abducted, only one returns in this traumatic,
psychologically taut novel. Sixteen-year-old
Amy arrives shell-shocked at her home without an explanation as to where she was,
how she escaped, and what happened to her
cousin Dee, who disappeared the same day.
Amy struggles to readjust to a “normal” life,
where her name is no longer Chelsea, and
where her parents are no longer together.
Though she knows what happened to Dee,
who she still thinks of as Stacie, and her aunt
demands answers, Amy can’t tell without
risking two other lives. Amy narrates in a
tight first person, moving between past and
present, giving her story immediacy and intimacy. The details of the girls’ harrowing
experiences with their kidnapper, Kyle, a
childlike adult prone to frequent rages, are
revealed slowly, with explicitness but without
sensationalism, building to an unrelentingly
tense (though occasionally implausible)
climactic confrontation. Thompson deals
honestly with the guilt and grief of Amy
and her family, and, though grim, this tear-jerker has a welcome, hopeful resolution.
The Bad Decisions Playlist.
By Michael Rubens.
2016. 304p. Clarion, $17.99 (9780544096677). Gr. 9–12.
There are bad decisions—like serenading
a troupe of girls while their angry, hockey-player boyfriends look on. Then there are
bad decisions—like placing your faith in the
father who abandoned you. For Austin Met-hune, such decisions come naturally. So it’s
no surprise that he is intrigued when Shane
Tyler, music superstar and Austin’s biological
father, returns to town looking for him. Austin reaches out, despite his mother’s protests,
and forms a bond with the dad he never knew.
Soon things start looking up. His own musical
talent gets recognized. He gains confidence.
He even gets the girl. But are those worth losing his relationship with his mother? This is
an infectious read that, like a good pop song,
works despite familiar patterns and parts. The
key is the amount of heart with which Rubens infuses his characters. They are flawed,
authentic, and tragically real. Most notably,
Rubens perfectly renders the friction existing
between being a confused boy and a responsible (though still confused) man. Tailor-made
for teen boys and the people who, for better
or worse, know them. —Reinhardt Suarez
By Miriam Halahmy.
Oct. 2016. 224p. Holiday, $16.95 (9780823436941);
e-book, $16.95 (9780823437221). Gr. 7–10.
As the sole caretaker for her helpless mother
in their insular island community in England,
angry 14-year-old Alix feels abandoned. In
school, Alix learns about people who seek asylum in Great Britain, but it barely penetrates
her self-absorption. This changes, however,
when she witnesses the cruelty of her classmates to Samir, a newcomer to the island and
obviously foreign. When Alix and Samir drag
a bloodied man out of the sea, realizing that
he is an illegal refugee, they hide him in a
small hut and try to secretly nurse him back
to health. Although the story is firmly from
Alix’s point of view, the author introduces issues of global importance. How does a nation
balance compassion for innocent refugees
against the fear of allowing terrorists easy entry? Through Alix’s eyes, readers get a lesson
in the reasons for the surprising Brexit vote, as
well as the inflammatory issues surrounding
immigration in the U.S. For other viewpoints, try Jamila Gavin’s See No Evil (2009)
or Maria E. Andreu’s The Secret Side of Empty
(2014). —Diane Colson
Lucy and Linh.
By Alice Pung.
Sept. 2016. 352p. Knopf, $17.99 (9780399550485);
lib. ed., $20.99 (9780399550492); e-book, $17.99
(9780399550508). Gr. 9–12.
This Australian author’s beautifully writ-
ten YA debut follows a lower-middle-class
Chinese Australian teen who wins a pres-
tigious scholarship to an exclusive all-girls
school and struggles to find herself among
the snobby mean girls. In a letter to Linh, the
constant friend she’s left behind, 15-year-old
Lucy recounts her first year as an “Equal Ac-
cess” scholarship student at
Laurinda Ladies’ College.
Once fearlessly outspoken
and full of fun, Lucy has
become withdrawn and
unsure of herself. A small
group of rich, spoiled, and
casually racist girls, known
as the Cabinet, dominates
her class and play horrible pranks on students
and teachers with impunity. With the help
of a male teacher and a popular boy from a
nearby private boys school who’s not ashamed
of being lower-middle class, Lucy learns to
stand up for herself and reject the Cabinet.
Lucy’s biting comments about Laurinda and
her struggle to reconcile her school and home
life in the dilapidated and rundown town of
Stanley effectively ring true as she realizes her
family’s immigrant life there is precious. The
reveal of the truth of her relationship with
Linh is seamlessly incorporated into the narrative. Lucy’s struggle to find her place and
sense of self will have a wide appeal for teen
readers and is a welcome addition to the prep-school canon. —Sharon Rawlins
By Kristen Simmons.
Sept. 2016. 384p. Tor Teen, $17.99 (9780765336620).
Simmons’ bleak dystopia takes place in the
future, after global famine, flu, and warfare
have decimated the human population, but it
recalls the sooty, industrial early 1900s. Teenagers Colin and Ty work at the Small Parts
factory in Metaltown, where they and other
children build explosives for an endless war.
For Ty, the grueling, dangerous work is preferable to prostitution; for Colin, the meager
pay helps support his family. When Lena,
the privileged daughter of the factory owner,
visits Small Parts to learn the business, she’s
horrified enough to question her previously
idolized father. Principled but naive, Lena
makes a mistake that sparks a strike, giving
the characters a choice to fight for their future
or give in to corruption. Simmons’ immersive
world building and intense action create a
gripping read, but the nuanced characters are
the core of this dark, intense, but ultimately
hopeful tale about love, loyalty, and sacrifice,
especially the relationship between idealistic
Colin and resilient, valiant Ty. Even better,
this is a stand-alone, so readers can be satisfied right away. —Krista Hutley
By Sherri L. Smith.
Sept. 2016. 240p. Putnam, $17.99 (9781101996256).
Jude’s visit to her aunt’s home in New Jersey
is cut short by a phone call that sends her fly-