The smell is what gets him. He can survive the endless marching, total exhaustion and constant hunger. But the smell from the dirt piles, the piles of dead bodies, penetrates his wall of stone-faced nothingness. Sickly-sweet yet slightly bitter, the smell makes him wince, cringe, and lose what little he has been able to put into his stomach. He could survive another day if not for the smell.
Arn Chorn-Pond was 11 years old when the Khmer Rouge came into his Cambodian village and forced everyone to march to the work camps. Never Fall Down is a fictional account of Chorn-Pond’s capture, torture, and exploitation by these “freedom fighters.” Divided from his family, he struggles to survive each day by not drawing attention to himself. Arn is a smart boy, and eventually he uses his quick mind to learn to play the khim, a traditional musical instrument. The Khmer Rouge use music as propaganda to turn the minds of the captives and make them loyal to the cause, and as a musician Arn gains some small status among the soldiers. Does he dare risk standing up for himself and the other children against his captors? Now that he has some small measure of freedom, should he just run away?
Patricia McCormick is the author of numerous young adult novels, including Cut and Sold, for which she was nominated for the National Book Award. McCormick is an author who is not afraid to examine difficult topics such as self-injury and sex trafficking. She decided to write Never Fall Down in the first person so that Arn’s own voice (including his broken English) could be heard. This book is a good choice for reluctant teen readers needing to read historical fiction, or for anyone who enjoyed Ishmael Beah’s A Long Way Gone or Emmanuel Jal’s War Child.
Remember when vampires were the bad guys…not the dazzling creatures you fell in love with? In The Hunt, vampires live openly, while the last few remaining humans must either literally hide -- or hide their true nature -- in order to survive. Gene is one of these humans, the only one at his high school. He has perfected the art of blending in with the undead. He makes no sudden movements. He does not touch anyone or laugh out loud. He shaves all of his body hair every day. Though he is athletic, the only sport he participates in is swimming (real vampires don’t sweat). He sits close to the front so he can see in the dim nighttime light. He never has a girlfriend. All of these tricks have helped him survive so far.
One night, The Ruler announces that there will be a hunt, sponsored by the government, for the last remaining humans and a few “lucky” citizens will be chosen to participate. Gene’s number is pulled, and he is forced to leave the safety of his home and prepare for this great honor along with six other vampires. As he struggles to survive the training, he discovers that he is not the only one keeping secrets, and being human is not at all what he thought.
Andrew Fukuda’s writing captures the isolation and even terror of being an outsider in an otherwise homogenous community. His first novel, The Crossing, was an ALA Booklist Editor’s Choice. The Hunt is the first in a new series and was dubbed “unputdownable” by Becca Fitzpatrick (Hush, Hush). Fans of “old school” vampire fiction will celebrate this fast-paced yet character-driven story.
The nominees for the inaugural Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction were recently announced. This award recognizes books written for adults that were published in the U.S. in the previous year. The three finalists deal with varied and unique topics, but each has a strong emotional current running throughout.
In Lost Memory of Skin, Russell Banks turns a magnifying glass toward the outcasts of society. A “community” of convicted sex offenders has sprung up on a causeway at the edge of the city limits in South Florida. These men are caught in the grey area of the legal system; they cannot reside within 2500 feet of any gathering place for children but they must live within the city according to the conditions of their parole. Never one to shy away from the morally complex, Banks presents these men sympathetically and challenges the reader to reexamine his/her own moral code. Lost Memory of Skin was a 2012 Pen/Faulkner Award finalist.
Sparsely written and often surprising, The Forgotten Waltz is a novel set in Ireland that deals with the emotional taboo of extramarital affairs. A chance meeting leads Gina and Sean into a passionate affair that takes years to arrive at a crescendo. Booker Prize winner Anne Enright takes an unapologetic look at love, marriage, infidelity and secrets. Enright’s writing is non-linear and poetic. Musical metaphors abound in the witty dance that is The Forgotten Waltz, which was shortlisted for the 2012 Orange Prize.
Swamplandia! by debut author Karen Russell is the story of Ava Bigtree, a thirteen-year-old alligator wrestler at her family’s animal park in the Florida Everglades. The struggle to save the park after the death of her mother rests squarely on Ava’s shoulders, as the other members of the family withdraw to battle their own personal demons. Whimsical, beautiful language anchors this magical tale to a place somewhere between imagination and reality. Swamplandia! was a finalist for the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.
Most people know the biblical tale of the birth of Jesus, including the visitation of the baby by three wise men. Very little is known about these men, not even their names. Seth Grahame-Smith has taken these undeveloped characters and given them life in Unholy Night. Warning: history is toyed with and turned upside-down by Grahame-Smith’s wickedly twisted mind. This is not your typical bible story.
The leader of the trio is Balthazar, an infamous thief and murderer, who finds himself in King Herod’s dungeon with two other criminals awaiting execution. The three men execute a daring escape disguised as holy men, and as they run for their lives they encounter a young couple with a newborn baby in a stable in Bethlehem. Soon discovering that they share a mutual enemy in Herod, an unlikely pact is formed and the group sets off across the desert toward Egypt. Along the way they meet Roman soldiers and zombies, magic and miracles, friends and betrayers. Other historical figures surface throughout, such as John the Baptist and Pontius Pilate, but it is on Balthazar and his hidden past that the story focuses.
Grahame-Smith is the best-selling author of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and both the novel and the screenplay Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. He has also written Tim Burton’s new film Dark Shadows. The audiobook version is masterfully read by Peter Berkrot, winner of an AudioFile Earphones Award.
Tucker Feye is not the type of boy to see things that aren’t there. His mother is not the type of person to see ghosts or act crazy. His father is definitely not the type of person to lie. Yet all of these things are happening and Tucker has no idea why. Perhaps it has something to do with the shimmering, round, glassy thing that keeps appearing in the sky…right near Tucker Feye.
In The Obsidian Blade, it seems that Pete Hautman is departing from his usual tale of precocious teens challenging authority and finding their own solutions to the problems of life. On the surface, this is a straight science fiction/dystopian story, complete with time-travel and futuristic technology. Tucker is trying to solve the mystery of the shimmering disks, the sudden disappearance of his parents, and a girl and her cat who seem to have appeared from the future. Once the reader gets past these things, The Obsidian Blade is a story about people: Tucker, his parents, his long-lost uncle, and a girl named Lahlia. It is a story about religion and belief. It is a story about truth and lies. Mostly, it is a story about the decisions we make and the effect those decisions have on both the people and the world around us.
Pete Hautman is the author of the National Book Award winner Godless as well as many other books for teens. The Obsidian Blade is the first book in the Klaatu Diskos trilogy.
Hope has always been rooted in the future. Each generation hopes that the ones who come after them will safeguard humanity and make things even better. So what happens to hope when there is no next generation?
In Partials, Dan Wells shows us a future in which hope is dying. In the aftermath of war, there is a virus that infects every newborn at birth, and none survive more than a few days. What remains of the government is a group called the Senate, and they have created The Hope Act, which requires all females age 18 or above to become pregnant in order to try and save the human race. But more babies are not the answer…finding a cure is. 16 year-old Kira is a trained medic who works on the maternity floor of the hospital. She sees babies die every day and watches young mothers grieve loss after loss. When her best friend becomes pregnant, Kira decides to try something radical—to capture and study one of the “partials.” Partials are genetically engineered beings that were created to protect and serve humans but later rebelled, launched a war, and attacked with the virus. Partials are the enemy, and the Senate officials will not condone such a mission; therefore Kira and a select group decide to strike out in secret. What Kira finds outside of the boundaries of East Meadow is not what she expected, and she learns that truth depends entirely upon who you ask.
Wells is the author of the thrilling John Cleaver series (I am not a Serial Killer, Mr. Monster.) He has been nominated for both the Hugo and the Campbell Award. Great writing seems to run in the family, as his younger brother Robison Wells is the author of the teen chiller Variant. Dan Wells’ first teen novel, Partials, is a smart post-apocalyptic thriller with great teen/adult crossover potential that will appeal to fans of medical thrillers, and dystopian and science fiction.
What is a psychopath? What does he look like? Is he a monster with glowing red eyes and long sharp teeth, or is he an attractive man who appears in front of you in a time of weakness? What if you are in love with him? Little Girl Gone explores the mind of a criminal from a new perspective--the woman who loves him.
Willis rescued Madora from a life of drugs and depravity, and now they live alone in an isolated home in California. Willis dreams of becoming a doctor, but a dishonorable discharge from the military has left him disgraced and bitter. Madora loves him and wants to help him achieve his goal, believing that they can then marry and have a family of their own. In the meantime, Willis works as a home health aide, stealing from his elderly clients.
In need of more money in order to pay for medical school in Antigua, Willis abducts Linda, a pregnant teen. He holds her prisoner, with a secret plan to sell the baby. Madora wants to believe that Willis is saving Linda from a life on the streets, but she begins to have doubts when Willis starts spending more time with Linda than he does with her. Everything changes when a boy named Django finds their house while exploring on his bike.
Drusilla Campbell writes complex female characters who often do not know how strong they are until they are pushed to the brink. Madora’s self-realization is a fascinating journey, and Campbell’s supporting characters add interest and emotion to her story. Little Girl Gone is recommended for readers intrigued by abduction stories, such as A Stolen Life: a Memoir, by Jaycee Dugard, or the critically acclaimed novel Room by Emma Donoghue.
The eyes are often said to be the windows to the soul, but what if you could be on the inside looking out through those windows? And what if that person is a killer?
Slide by Jill Hathaway is named for the special “ability” that teenager Sylvia (Vee) possesses…when she is tired she can slide into someone else’s body if she touches something that they have touched. The trouble is that she cannot control it, so she spends much of her time trying not to touch things. This gets her wrongly labeled as OCD, narcoleptic, and just plain crazy. She hides the truth from her family (which is not difficult since her mother is dead, her father is a workaholic surgeon and her sister is a popular cheerleader who looks down on the rest of the school.) She also hides it from her best friend Rollins, who might be sympathetic but he has his own secrets to hide. But when Vee slides one night and finds herself standing over the dead body of her sister’s best friend with a bloody knife in her hand, she knows she has to gain control of her sliding and try to discover who the killer is.
Slide is a fast-paced mystery for those readers who like just a hint of the supernatural. Vee is a strong heroine who is remarkably well-grounded despite the trauma in her young life. Slide has received a starred review from Publisher’s Weekly and is Hathaway’s first novel.
It's no secret that many of Hollywood's most successful blockbusters are adaptations of popular books. The recent Academy Award nominees refect this, especially when it comes to family films. Here are some of the children's titles that brought magic to the movies this year:
The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick became the visually stunning film Hugo directed by Martin Scorsese. This tale of an orphaned boy living in a Paris train station was the surprise winner of the Caldecott Medal for the most distinguished picture book in 2008. Selznick’s creative style mixes pages of text with wordless pages that opens the reader’s imagination and invites them to create parts of the story for themselves. Selznick’s newest title Wonderstruck is similarly illustrated.
The Adventures of Tintin is adapted from the classic graphic novel series of the same name written by Belgian writer/artist Herge. Tintin is a young reporter who gets caught up in dangerous adventures as he completes his story assignments. Modeled after the boy scout values, Tintin always knows what is right and acts in the most upstanding manner. He is a role model for children (and perhaps adults everywhere.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II marks the end of the film journey into J.K. Rowling’s magical world. The books are now over 14 years old and a whole new generation of readers are jumping on the Hogwarts express and following Harry as he learns to be a wizard and discovers both good and evil along the way. The Harry Potter books have spawned movies, video games, board games, toys, websites, and even a theme park. The audiobooks are magnificently narrated by the Grammy award-winning Jim Dale. A fun fact—Jim Dale holds the Guinness World Record for creating 146 different character voices for the audiobook version of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows!