Sending people backward or forward through time has been done so many times that authors Adam Mansbach and Alan Zweibel decided on a fresh take with time traveling mail in Benjamin Franklin: Huge Pain in My...!
Franklin Isaac Saturday, preferably known as "Ike," is stuck in the social bubble known as middle school. Although his school life isn't super terrible — he's kissed two girls and he's usually picked somewhere in the middle for sports teams — it could definitely be better. Popularity seems to be the only thing the other students care about, and Ike feels that he is always grasping for it. His troubles also include his stepdad, his crush on Claire Wanzandae with her cherry blossom-and-gasoline-scented hair and that his first name is "Franklin" because his dad thought Benjamin Franklin was cool.
So when Ike's history teacher assigns the class an extra credit letter-writing assignment, he chooses to write to his namesake about all of his grievances. As a joke to make Claire laugh, Ike actually mails his letter. Imagine his disbelief when he receives a reply from Ben Franklin a few days later.
While initially skeptical, once Ike believes the correspondence is real, he seeks advice from Ben about his life and, in return and unasked, he feeds the Founding Father tidbits about America's history and present. It's one thing for Ike to share his problems with Ben and quite another thing when Ike shares evidence with him that could affect the course of American history.
Don't be fooled! Benjamin Franklin: Huge Pain in My...! is a teen book in middle grade packaging which is in line with Mansbach's previous books (New York Times bestsellers Go the F**k to Sleep and You Have to F**king Eat). That said, Mansbach and Zweibel created a funny story centered around the idea of mail that can travel through time. Judging from the climatic ending, there may be a sequel in the future.
Fans of Andy Gavin's Untimed, another teen time-traveling novel featuring Ben Franklin and disguised as middle grade fiction, will enjoy this book as well.
Stand-Off by Andrew Smith, the sequel to the acclaimed Winger, starts off with our hero, Ryan Dean West, about to return to his prestigious (if strict) boarding school Pine Mountain Academy as the school’s first 15-year-old graduating senior. Along with the normal doubts and insecurity his relative youth to his senior classmates would bring, he feels overwhelmed by the enthusiasm of his bright-eyed 12-year-old roommate Sam Abernathy. Sam’s relentless chipperness is more oppressive than endearing, and to make matters worse, he suffers from extreme claustrophobia that could send him into a panic if conditions aren’t just perfect. Normally warm and friendly, Ryan Dean begins to push friends new and old away, refusing advice from his girlfriend, honor from his Rugby coach and friendship from Sam, who reminds him a little too much of himself three short years ago. The real crux of Ryan Dean’s pain, however, is dealing with the trauma of the previous year, the chillingly real terrors that plague him night and day that force him to accept grief, resolution and humility.
Andrew Smith’s first person storytelling is warm, direct and effortless. Ryan Dean comes to life in voice as well as in visuals. Sam Bosma accompanies Smith’s prose with illustrations and comics crafted to fit Ryan Dean’s voice, which takes the storytelling to a new level. A read of Winger first is a must for this excellent, fast-paced sequel. Lovers of imaginative but ultimately down-to-earth and realistic fiction of all levels will find themselves exhilarated, heart-broken and lost in these two books.
It takes a certain kind of writing magic to transport readers so completely into the past, but that is exactly what Libba Bray does in Lair of Dreams, her latest installment of The Diviners series. With careful attention to detail she brings to life New York City during the Roaring 20s with all its slang, speakeasies and the social issues bubbling just beneath the glossy surface. From this setting Bray weaves a spine-tingling ghost story that will keep readers up late into the night.
The Diviners introduced us to Evie O'Neill, a young girl heading to New York City in search of parties and good times. Beneath her flapper façade she hides a special ability, and she soon finds herself drawn into a much stranger circle of friends chasing down a paranormal serial killer tormenting the city.
In this sequel, a strange “sleeping sickness” is striking citizens in Chinatown, killing more victims each night and reaching out into the city. This group of gifted teens must face the terrifying and unknown world of dreams to stop a new ghostly killer. This time, they are joined by Ling Chan, a dream walker who can communicate with the dead. Meanwhile, Sam, a fellow Diviner, and Evie have uncovered some strange clues about why they have these powers, and how much danger they may be in because of them.
This engrossing book has a little of everything including horror, humor and history in perfect measure.
Sam Bosma’s debut graphic novel Fantasy Sports is a late gift to any kid who felt gym class lacked a Tolkien-esque quality.
Fantasy Sports introduces us to Wiz, a young magician beginning her internship in the mage’s guild under the tutelage of the older, grumpier Mean Mug. It’s not going great. They don’t get along, and Wiz is less than thrilled that Mean Mug doesn’t seem to know any magic. But after a chewing out from their supervisor, the two are sent to prove themselves on a treasure hunt in a mummy’s tomb. This leads them to evil skeletons, magic puzzles and a basketball game with a smack-talking mummy (of course).
Similar to Scott Pilgrim or Adventure Time, this book mixes the tropes of fantasy and video games with the heightened drama of adolescence. Like peanut butter and chocolate, it works like a charm. Although a couple of crude remarks make this book inappropriate for young children, older readers will find it infectiously fun. You’ll feel yourself swept back to a time when a friendly game of basketball had the life-or-death stakes of a boss battle.
Popular even before it was complete, award-winning before it was published, Noelle Stevenson’s Nimona is a unique debut graphic novel about heroes, villains, monsters and peeling off those labels to see the people underneath. Our story begins when longtime supervillain Ballister Blackheart receives an unexpected visitor in his secret lair — stout little Nimona, a young and eccentric shape-shifter who insists on becoming his evil sidekick. As the story unfolds, it becomes clear that Nimona’s commitment to evil might be a little more heartfelt than Blackheart’s, and the question of which side of the fight is truly righteous comes into question not too long after.
Emotional backstory, in-depth character writing, a complex, strangely believable fantasy universe that combines medieval-style armor with apparatus of science fiction are all to be found in Nimona. Stevenson’s cartooning style, often praised for its expressive energy and humor, proves equally effective when expressing the dark, dismal and threatening — and a cool shadow dragon or two. LGBT readers can take note of the warm handling of the gay relationship in the book as well. It is written so subtly it has the effect of normalizing the subject rather than pointing aggressive arrows towards it.
After working on her last series for four years, mangaka — that’s someone who writes and illustrates manga — Go Ikeyamada has a super-fun and adorable new series called So Cute It Hurts!! The first volume of So Cute It Hurts!! follows identical twins Megumu and Mitsuru Kobayashi as they meet their first real high school crushes at the same time. Apparently, it’s a twin thing.
Megumu, or Mego for short, is a hapless history otaku who knows everything about Japan’s feudal warlords. Mitsuru is really good with a kendo sword and fights for his school team, but he’s even better with the ladies from the visiting schools. While his body is agile, his mind is not so sharp, and he’s bombing his history class. Knowing that his sis is well-versed in Japanese lore, he asks her to swap clothes with him and go to his all-boys school to take a test and save his grade. Mego likes her brother, but not enough to agree to such a hackneyed scheme.
When she wakes up the next day, Mego finds a wig and a note from Mitsuru in her room and realizes that he’s already absconded with her books and school uniform. Begrudgingly, she equips his slacks and hoodie and heads to his school, only to be accosted by the third toughest guy in the entire student body. Meanwhile, Mitsuru, dressed as Mego — “I’m so cute it hurts!!” — witnesses the class beauty tormenting a girl for being different, and can’t help but intervene. Neither Kobayashi twin realizes they’re about to meet the person of their dreams, but as their school days progress they draw closer to the fateful encounters that’ll leave them breathless and starry-eyed.
So Cute It Hurts!! is filled with lots of manga in-jokes that fans of the medium will appreciate, but newcomers will still laugh out loud at the silliness of the plot and the situations in which the twins find themselves. Ikeyamada’s art mixes traditional anime styles with adorable chibi stand-ins on nearly every page, giving the story a very light-hearted feel. So Cute It Hurts!! is shaping up to be a great teenaged romantic comedy that manga fans should definitely check out.
Two best friends fall for the same guy in Kris Dinnison’s new teen fiction novel You and Me and Him, but it’s not the same old story you may have heard.
Meet Maggie: she’s funny. She’s snarky. She’s smart. She’s a social outcast because of her weight. Meet Nash: he’s funny. He’s snarky. He’s smart. He’s also a social outcast, but because he’s gay. Because of their social statuses, Maggie and Nash have been inseparable since elementary school, helping each other weather the pains of childhood and adolescence. They crush on the same boys and shake off the same bullies in their tiny town near Seattle.
Enter Tom: the new boy. Charming, friendly and good-looking, Tom gravitated towards Maggie and Nash from the day he entered their school. As he hangs out at the record store where Maggie works (and where Nash gets all the gossip), Tom’s presence starts to peck away at the deep bond between these two BFFs when it is apparent that he may have feelings for only one of them. It doesn’t help matters that Kayla, the mean girl who ruined Maggie’s middle school years, seems determined to suddenly become friends again. It’s a lot of emotional upheaval to deal with. Add in the pressure from the adults in their lives to conform to what their standards of being “perfect” might be, and Maggie and Nash see what they thought was their unshakable friendship start to unravel.
The beauty of this novel lies in the character of Maggie: relatable and realistic, she’s not one of the cookie cutter heroines that typically populate the teen fiction genre. As she gains confidence throughout the story, it’s easy to root for her to not just have a happily-ever-after, but actually stand on her own.
Fans of novels like The Perks of Being a Wallflower will enjoy this story of teenage friendship and all its ups and downs.
Male, female or None of the Above? Surgeon and new author I. W. Gregorio explores intersexuality and gender identity in her debut novel.
High school senior Kristin Lattimer has it all: her two best friends, a full scholarship to college because of her track prowess, the title of homecoming queen and a boyfriend she loves. She enjoys a life that any teenager would want until she decides to take her relationship with her boyfriend Sam to the next level. But her first time is a painful disaster.
Kristin learns the startling truth after a visit to the doctor. She has Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome (AIS), a type of intersex condition. After confiding in one of her friends, rumors about her situation spread throughout school. Suddenly, she has to endure crude comments and cyber-bullying from ignorant classmates and people who don't know her. Her diagnosis forces her to question her identity, her relationships and even her athleticism.
None of the Above is a great introduction to the topic of intersex for unfamiliar readers as they learn about this biological condition with Kristin. It is also a journey of awareness and rediscovery that is relatable to anyone who has experienced a tough time in high school.
Amanda Panitch’s new psychological thriller Damage Done is being heralded by many as a Gone Girl read-alike for teen readers.
Julia Vann doesn’t remember anything that happened in the high school band room. She emerged the sole survivor of a shooting spree that left her boyfriend, best friend and nine other people dead. The shooter? Her twin brother Ryan.
Desperate to start a new life and leave the pain of the past behind them, her family changes names, moves south, and thus Julia is now Lucy Black. At her new school, Lucy has a best friend, a lunch table and a mild flirtation with a boy on the swim team who sits next to her in Spanish class. Life is attempting to get back to some semblance of normal. But then someone connected to that awful day starts appearing in unexpected places. Lucy knows that it is only a matter of time before the past will catch up with her; in order to stop the threat to her new life, she knows she must act quickly.
With danger at every turn, Panitch’s twisted novel does a lot to engage the reader from the first page. The author uses flashbacks from before the shooting to develop the codependent, unsettling relationship between Julia and Ryan. As the plot develops, readers are drawn to construct what really happened when Ryan entered the band room with the gun and what Julia swears she doesn’t remember. Damage Done is a great read for older teens who prefer something darker and more sinister than typical teen romantic fare.
Writer Reki Kawahara and designer abec have experienced unbridled success in the past half-decade with their original series Sword Art Online. In 2009, the first SAO light novel about virtual reality video games with real-life implications was released. The novel has since been expanded to 15 volumes and has spawned two seasons worth of anime, three PlayStation games, a handful of mobile games and eight manga adaptations. The most recent manga book to arrive stateside is Sword Art Online: Girls’ Ops, and it’s just as fun and endearing as the original SAO. It’s definitely cuter, too.
In SAO:GO, series favorites Suguha, Rika and Keiko are coping pretty well with the aftermath of the Aincrad tragedy, and are still just as hopelessly addicted to online gaming as ever. The trio play the new VRMMO Alfheim Online religiously, and are ecstatic to find a new add-on quest has arrived after a long day at the SAO returnees school. Dubbed “the Angel’s Whisper Rings,” the adventure has the young ladies aiding an angel in strife while proving their devotion to one another to earn powerful rings of friendship.
The three dive into Alfeim Online ready to take on the new high-level quest as their avatars Leafa, Silica and Lisbeth, using their previous experience with the angel in SAO as a starting point. On their way to find her, the trio encounters a familiar dual-wielding swordsman clad in a midnight-black coat. Fans of the series will know it’s fate that unites the girls with this swordsman, but will never foresee the impending twist that makes SAO:GO an enjoyable departure from the previous SAO adventures.
SAO:GO is a quirky, adorable spinoff of the Japanese megahit Sword Art Online. Readers who have enjoyed SAO arcs Aincrad, Fairy Dance and Progressive will find so much to love about Girls’ Ops. Gamers and anime fans alike should also check this out.