A.J. Betts' first U.S. published book Zac and Mia follows the sick lit trend popularized recently by the success of John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars. However, Zac and Mia are very different from Green’s characters in both personalities and stories. Zac is in isolation in a cancer ward after receiving a bone marrow transplant, when his life is made vastly more interesting as Mia moves into the room next door. On her first day in the ward, Mia comes in yelling at her mother and blasting pop music, causing Zac, a cancer veteran, to reach out with her through their shared wall, the only way he can while in isolation.
After knocking on the wall for a while and having nurses pass notes to the other, the two teens become Facebook friends. Then, they begin chatting each night at 3 a.m. when neither can sleep. Zac tries to reach out to Mia and help her come to terms with her diagnosis, but she keeps everyone at a distance, not even admitting to her friends that she has cancer. Their friendship ends abruptly when Mia goes into surgery, and Zac is released after his isolation finishes. They spend months apart until one day when Mia shows up on Zac’s doorstep, traveling across Australia to see him. Together again, Zac must try to break down the barriers Mia has been putting up her entire life and find out why she’s at his door.
Zac and Mia is an incredibly realistic book, featuring characters who face their cancer in vastly different, but equally realistic, ways. Betts has created characters that seem like they could be real teenagers, often unlikeable, but ultimately characters that you root for. Fans of The Fault in Our Stars will enjoy this new addition to the sick lit genre.
The third book in Jessica Spotswood’s The Cahill Witch Chronicles, Sisters’ Fate, wraps up the Cahill sisters’ story. Cate, Maura and Tess are three very powerful witches living in an alternate America in which anyone suspected of being a witch is locked away in an asylum, or worse, sentenced to death. The Brotherhood who control the country has continued life in the Puritan tradition, oppressing women and blaming witches for the country’s problems.
In Born Wicked and Star Cursed, Cate tried to protect her sisters from the Brotherhood and other witches who are jealous of their powers, but now because of the betrayal of one sister and the burgeoning power of another, Cate is conflicted about how to proceed. Cate eventually begins to work with a group of people resisting the Brotherhood, attending secret meetings and planning ways to change life in the country. When a fever begins to ravage New London and the witches are blamed, change becomes essential to preventing the deaths of witches and humans alike, bringing Cate and the other witches to make extreme choices.
At turns a nail-biting, action-packed story and family story about sisters who just happen to be witches, Sisters’ Fate is a satisfying conclusion to Spotswood’s series. Spotswood does a wonderful job creating flawed, interesting characters who fight for what they know is right until the very end.
Wildlife is Australian author Fiona Wood’s first novel to be published in the United States. It tells the story of two high school girls on their wilderness term at an Australian high school. Sibylla and Lou’s elite school makes students spend one term at their outdoor education campus, living in cabins, going on solo hikes and learning to fend for themselves. Sib and Lou are thrown together in a cabin with a few other girls, and each have to deal with their respective relationship and friendship issues.
Sib has always been outside of the popular group, but a once-in-a-lifetime modeling gig puts her in the spotlight. Her newfound popularity catches the attention of the most attractive guy in her class, Ben. When the two start dating, Sib begins to worry about her inexperience in relationships because of pressure from her best friend Holly. The peer pressure leads her to question her relationship with Ben and eventually her existing friendships.
Lou, on the other hand, is a transfer student looking to start over after her boyfriend died in a car accident the previous school year. She keeps her distance from her fellow classmates, including Sib, until the situation between Sib and her friends escalates, and the two form a new friendship.
Ultimately a story about friendship, romance and growing up, Wildlife is a well-written novel that readers looking for a high school story with a twist will enjoy. Wood’s characters are highly relatable and fully realized — Sib, Lou and their fellow students all seem real, their issues ones many teens face.
Katherine Howe’s first teen novel Conversion follows in the footsteps of her adult novels, as it deals with the paranormal, with witches and witchcraft. Conversion switches perspectives—from modern day St. Joan’s Academy, an elite, all-girls private school, to 17th century Salem Village—as Howe tells the story of two girls, Colleen Rowley and Ann Putnam Jr., who are linked despite growing up centuries apart.
The majority of the story is Colleen’s, a high school senior whose greatest desire in life is to be class valedictorian and attend Harvard. When Colleen returns to St. Joan’s for the last semester of her senior year, things take a drastic turn, as her classmates begin falling sick. Initially, the media blames a vaccine for the odd tics that the girls develop, but as more and more St. Joan’s girls succumb to the mystery illness, Colleen and others begin to question the diagnosis. Meanwhile, Howe weaves in chapters of Ann Putnam Jr.’s confession of her involvement in the Salem witch trials, drawing parallels between the two stories.
Longtime fans of Katherine Howe will enjoy this new teen title, while those new to Howe’s books, looking for a book with a paranormal twist, will enjoy Conversion. Loosely based on a real story of teenage girls falling sick at a New York high school and Ann Putnam Jr.’s real accounts of her involvement in the Salem witch trials, Conversion is based in reality. Howe adds her signature paranormal elements that make the reader question everything.
High school author, Amy Zhang’s first book Falling into Place is filled with twists and turns, taking readers inside the head of high school student Liz Emerson and some of her closest friends. Liz is an unlikable character, a mean girl who has decided that she is going to take her own life, making it look like an accident by driving off a cliff. The book goes back and forth between before and after the crash, unravelling the mystery of what led Liz to such a drastic choice. Before starting Zhang’s book, read what she had to tell Between the Covers about her first novel.
Between the Covers: The book shifts back and forth between before and after Liz’s crash, how did you handle writing a book that shifted in time so frequently?
Amy Zhang: Lots and lots of outlines. I drew diagrams and color-coded and made charts before I started writing, I did it again while I was writing, I did it before I revised, I did it after I revised and revised again. The last chart had something like seven colors on it for all of the different “time zones” of the book, and it reached from ceiling to floor when I hung it up.
BTC: Liz is such a complex character, where did you draw your inspiration for her struggles?
AZ: I guess when I thought of Liz, the characteristic that stood out was her loneliness. One of the first things I saw when I first began outlining the book was the image of her sitting in her closet on the night before her suicide attempt, and that isolation is what made me understand her. You’re always isolated as a teenager. You feel alone in your thoughts, as though you’re the only one to ever think, really think—you’re afraid to have the opinions you’re developing and you’re afraid to share them. You also feel sort of isolated in time, because you’re not thinking about consequences. You only exist in the moment. I think high school can be one of the loneliest places in the world. For me, being alone was sort of at the heart of Liz’s character, and her other struggles all stemmed off of that in some way. Liz, Kennie and Julia were all hiding some really serious issues, but it was pretty easy for me to relate because it was my reality. I think a lot of parents would be shocked if they knew what their kids were really going through every day, and what they feel the need to hide.
BTC: Were you able to draw on your experiences in high school to write about Liz’s high school experience?
AZ: Definitely. The scenes that stand out are Liam’s, which were especially hard for me to write. My school has this horrible tradition of voting people on to dance courts as jokes, and I remember sitting in class and hearing courts announced and just kind of wincing every time. And how do you stop something like that? I was pretty average in high school—I was never really bullied, and I hope I never bullied anyone like Liz did. I had great friends and great teachers, but up until junior year or so, I never really thought about the fact that I sat around a lot. I watched a lot of crap happen and I didn’t do much to stop it, except push a pencil around, and Falling into Place is an apology for that.
BTC: What is your writing process like, as a younger writer who’s still in school?
AZ: Late nights, early mornings, and enough coffee to drown out desire for sleep until the book is done. I write a lot during summer, and, um, during school. At least half of my notes for Falling into Place were scribbled in the margins of my physics notebook. I guess it really just comes down to making a schedule and sticking to it. I have a jar of chocolates on my desk to bribe myself when I need to — one piece per thousand words!
BTC: Who are some of your influences as a writer?
AZ: Music is a pretty heavy influence on my writing—before I start a project, I put a lot of effort into tailoring a playlist. For Falling into Place, it was a lot of Bon Iver, Imagine Dragons and Keane. For my current project, I actually have two: one of classical music, and one of mostly Birdy, Regina Spektor, Iron & Wine and Vincent James McMorrow.
For Falling, though, I think my biggest influence was the death of a classmate during my junior year. For my grade in particular, I think that was the moment we started realizing that we weren’t invincible, and all of the emotions from that were very influential while I wrote the book.
BTC: This is your first book; do you have anything else planned?
AZ: I’m currently working on a project tentatively titled This Is Where the World Ends, which is about a boy who’s obsessed with apocalypses and a girl who’s trying to make the entire world fall in love with her.
Stephanie Perkins, the author of Anna and the French Kiss and Lola and the Boy Next Door returns with her third and final novel in the series, Isla and the Happily Ever After. This heartwarming new romance follows Isla and Josh from their homes in New York City to their boarding school in Paris, as they look for their happily ever after.
Isla has been in love with Josh from afar for ages, and when they bump into each other in New York City during the summer vacation before their senior year of high school, she hopes this is her chance with her crush. But when they return to the School of America in Paris, fondly known as SOAP, everything is just as it always has been. Josh is distant and secretive, and Isla feels awkward every time he’s around. She doesn’t give up hope, and when she discovers that Josh returns her feelings, she must learn how to deal with her new reality of happily ever after. Ultimately, Isla and the Happily Ever After is a book about knowing yourself as much as it is a romance.
Isla and the Happily Ever After is a romance that fans who have been reading Perkins for years will devour, and new fans will enjoy just as much. Having read Perkins’ other novels adds something extra to the reading experience, but Isla and the Happily Ever After can be read alone as well. Anna and St. Clair, and Lola and Cricket each have brief, yet wonderful appearances, but this novel is truly Isla and Josh’s story. With Perkins’ wonderful descriptions of New York and Paris, readers will feel like they’ve traveled the world with Isla.
Imagine willingly telling strangers on the Internet your deepest, darkest secrets and letting them give you an assignment that you have to complete to protect your secret — that’s what Tabitha decides to do in Corey Ann Haydu’s Life by Committee. Tabby feels like her life is falling apart after her best friends abandon her and she kisses someone else’s boyfriend, a boy that she’s been flirting with online for months. When she’s given a used copy of The Secret Garden filled with someone’s thoughts on the book and a website link handwritten in the back everything changes. Intrigued by the website, “Life by Committee,” and frustrated with how things are going in her life, Tabby decides to join the group, which requires members to provide one secret a week and then perform a task to keep the secret safe.
As Tabby joins the website, she’s pushed outside her comfort zone again and again by group members as she reveals more secrets. As time goes on, she begins pushing away her only remaining friend and her parents as she becomes wrapped up in the website and the assignments they give her. Only when the assignments begin to go too far does Tabby begin to question her choices.
Haydu’s Life by Committee is a strong second book after her memorable debut novel OCD Love Story. Again Haydu has written about a character who is flawed, and all the more interesting because of it. Tabby makes some cringe-worthy choices and many mistakes throughout Life by Committee, making her a realistic, relatable character. Readers who enjoy Haydu’s books can look forward to two new titles set to be released in 2015.