Age and ability share a unique relation in fiction. Sometimes authors choose to write prodigious characters who display impressive physical prowess and struggle with complicated emotions earlier in life. In his debut novel If I Fall, If I Die, author Michael Christie pits 11-year-old protagonist Will against the sprawled, dilapidated Canadian port town of Thunder Bay.
Will’s childhood has been squandered within the confines of his home, due to his mother’s plethora of phobias. A former artist, Will’s mother is so afraid of what exists beyond her front door that she cloisters herself and her son within their dwelling. Will stews in his room painting abstract art while nursing a burgeoning curiosity of the Outside, about which everything he knows is cobbled from brief interactions with delivery men on the porch. One such meeting with a boy named Marcus opens Will’s eyes to the omnipotent wonders of the woods beyond his yard, and leaves him yearning for adventure into town. Exceptionally wily thanks to his mother’s unique homeschooling methods, Will finds every opportunity to venture further into the world with his only friend Jonah, resorting to his recently acquired and rapidly evolving sense of perspective as a heading.
Readers will delight in Christie’s frequent and masterful use of similes throughout If I Fall, If I Die as they color Will’s Wizard of Oz-esque quest for humanity. A debut that reads as beautifully as it echoes, If I Fall, If I Die is for readers who enjoy coming-of-age stories or tales of adventure. Readers who enjoyed Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian will see shades of Junior in Will, and will definitely like his story too.
Victoria Laurie doesn’t just write about mediums. In addition to being a New York Times bestselling author, Laurie does psychic readings as well. One of her new novels, When, hits close to home with a story about a girl who sees the date someone is going to die, just by looking at them.
It’s unfortunate that Maddie didn’t understand what those numbers were in time to let her father know. She is now being raised by her mother who has become a severe alcoholic after her husband’s murder. In order to help support the family, Maddie’s mother sets up appointments where she can do readings for people who want to know when they or a family member will pass away.
While doing a reading, Maddie has to give a client sad news, and is met with skepticism and disregard. In an effort to help her client’s child, she calls to repeat her plea to keep her son close on his death date. When the boy goes missing, Maddie comes under scrutiny as the prime suspect, and rumors about her involvement run rampant through her school, making her life miserable.
Laurie has created a fast-paced thriller that is hard to put down. When is a character driven novel sure to entice not only young adults, but anyone looking for a page-turner in the same vein as The Naturals by Jennifer Lynn Barnes.
Unlike Gayle Forman’s previous two-book series (If I Stay/Where She Went and Just One Day/Just One Year,) I Was Here, is a standalone novel. Nevertheless, it feels very much like her previous novels. I Was Here is heartbreaking and beautifully written, with characters that are relatable. The novel begins after the funeral for Cody’s best friend Meg, who partway through her freshman year of college commits suicide. Cody and Meg had been almost inseparable since they became friends in kindergarten, and now Cody, left behind, must figure out how to deal with the loss of her best friend and her guilt at not being able to stop Meg before it was too late.
After graduating from high school, Cody and Meg began to drift apart as Meg left their small Northwestern town to attend college in Tacoma, Washington on a scholarship, and Cody stayed behind to go to community college. Cody felt like their friendship was changing, which only adds to her guilt when she receives Meg’s goodbye email. When Meg’s parents ask Cody to go to her dorm room and bring her things home, Cody sees it as a request she can’t deny. There Cody meets Meg’s former roommates and begins to discover more about her recent life which sets her on a journey to find out why Meg made the decision to end her life.
I Was Here is a heartbreaking story of young adults dealing with friendship, love, loss and guilt. Forman again deals with difficult issues like depression and suicide. Best for older readers, I Was Here is a strong follow-up to Forman’s other novels.
One day during their senior year, Theodore Finch and Violet Markey find each other on the bell tower at their Indiana high school, each contemplating ending their lives. Violet saves Finch or Finch saves Violet (that part is unclear to both them and the reader), but what is important is that they both leave the bell tower alive and now their lives are inextricably linked. Jennifer Niven’s All the Bright Places tells the story of Finch and Violet’s lives after that fateful day.
Violet’s life has been forever changed since her sister died in a car accident that she survived. Since the accident, she hasn’t been herself — refusing to drive in cars, not writing, disengaging from her friends and ending up at the bell tower with Finch. Finch goes through periods of days or weeks when he shuts down and sleeps, but when he’s awake, life isn’t much better. He’s abused by his father who has left his family for a “better” one, and everyone at school thinks he’s a freak, so he spends his time thinking about death and ways he could commit suicide. But after the bell tower, Finch and Violet begin spending more time together — initially because they’re working on a school project together that has them wandering around Indiana, but eventually because they find they help each other grow.
All the Bright Places is “the story of a boy called Finch and a girl named Violet,” but it’s also a beautifully told story of grief, depression and finding yourself again. Niven has written a powerful, heartbreaking, romantic novel that is difficult to put down. All the Bright Places is set to become a film starring Elle Fanning.
My True Love Gave to Me is a collection of 12 holiday stories from young adult authors like Rainbow Rowell, Stephanie Perkins, Laini Taylor and David Levithan, among others. Each story is unique — some are realistic, romantic stories set at Christmas or New Year’s Eve celebrations, others are fantasy stories filled with elves or set in far-off lands. They’re all sure to put readers in the holiday mood!
Though each story is delightful, Stephanie Perkins’ “It’s a Yuletide Miracle, Charlie Brown” was my personal favorite. Perkins, who is also the editor of My True Love Gave to Me, brings holiday romance into readers’ lives with Marigold and North’s story. When Marigold buys a tree at North’s family Christmas tree lot, he agrees to help her carry the tree across the street to her apartment, not knowing the night of adventures this decision will bring. Other stories deal with lesser known holiday traditions, like Holly Black’s “Krampuslauf” about a group of teenagers who live in a town who have an annual celebration for “Saint Nick’s creepy buddy, the Krampus.” Gayle Forman’s “What the hell have you done, Sophie Roth?” follows Sophie, a freshman at a college in the middle of nowhere, who is sad to be away from her mother on the last night of Hanukkah. Other stories are totally fantastical, like Laini Taylor’s “The Girl Who Woke the Dreamer,” set on the Isle of Feathers, where a girl named Neve must face the Advent traditions of her home.
Perkins did a wonderful job editing a diverse group of stories dealing with holiday traditions both real and imaginary. My True Love Gave to Me is a great holiday read, especially for those looking to find new teen authors to enjoy in the future. As an added bonus, make sure to pay close attention to the cover, as you can see the couples from each of the stories!
Meg Wolitzer received the attention of most of the top ten books lists of 2013 with her stand-out novel, The Interestings, which tells the story of a group of adults who befriended each other at an arts camp decades before. Now she is getting into the Young Adult literature game with her new novel Belzhar.
Jam Gallahue thought her life was perfect: She was very much in love with her handsome British exchange student, Reeve Maxfield. When Reeve dies suddenly, Jam is thrown into an emotional tailspin and is sent to The Wooden Barn, a boarding school for “emotionally fragile, yet highly intelligent teens.” At The Wooden Barn, Jam is surprised to be enrolled into a class called Special Topics in English. She’s even more surprised when there are only five students in the class.
The teacher, Mrs. Quennell, has hand-selected each of these five students to participate in the class because they’ve experienced a deep trauma: There’s Casey, bound to a wheelchair; Griffin, who is carrying a horrible secret; Mark, suffering from his parents’ divorce; Sierra, whose brother has gone missing; and, of course, Jam. The class is to study the work of Sylvia Plath for the entire semester. She gives each student a red leather journal and requires them to write in it twice a week. Jam is especially hesitant to write her feelings, but when she does, strange things start happening. Reeve appears and things are better than ever between them, but Jam knows their time is limited. Is she really able to connect with him again on the other side?
As each of the characters in Special Topics reclaim the part of the lives they are missing through the mysterious red journals, they meet in secret to try to get answers about traveling to the place they call Belzhar: What happens when the journal runs out of pages, and what happens if they never want to leave?
The obvious choice to pair with this novel is Silvia Plath’s classic The Bell Jar. The influence of Plath’s work is on every page, even beyond the group discussions of her work in the Special Topics class. Fans of Plath will be excited that a new generation of readers, through this novel, can discover her genius for the first time. Perfect for teens experiencing a tough break up or adults who remember those adolescent pangs, Belzhar speaks to the part of our hearts that have trouble letting go.
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.
When it comes to comic books and graphic novels, Jeff Lemire is a 21st century Renaissance man. Hailing from Canada, he has been recognized numerous times for his prowess in both storytelling and artistry. Lemire has written and drawn most of his works completely on his own, but he also fares incredibly well when teaming up with other writers and inkers at DC Comics.
Lemire’s sci-fi brain bender Trillium is an eight-issue comic series published over the span of August 2013 to April 2014. In Trillium, adventurers Nika and William are torn from their worlds by occult magic and thrust together in an alien jungle on a foreign planet. Through this supernatural machination, the couple becomes intertwined, although they don’t realize it at first since they’re unable to communicate due to language disparities. Nika and William fight to understand each other while combing the flora and fauna in search of the rare trillium flower, which is thought to be the only possible cure to a sentient, space-travelling supervirus that has decimated humanity.
Trillium is confounding and strangely beautiful. Navigating dimensions with William and Nika is a thrilling experience with a rewarding narrative that endears readers to persevere. Throughout the series, Lemire toys with conventional comic layout standards and actually has readers flipping the book upside down and reading from back to front, conveying the disorientation the characters are feeling. Lemire’s signature mixed medium art style leaves each page messy and scrawled, evoking hysteria and tension. His ability to convey emotions through his characters’ faces is incredible; oftentimes it isn’t what’s said, but what’s left unsaid that resonates in Lemire’s works. The same is true of his 2008-2009 Essex County Trilogy, which has been praised as one of the best Canadian graphic novels of its decade.
There was a time when child sleuths were all the rage, when Nate the Great, Encyclopedia Brown, the Hardy Boys and Tom Swift solved crime along with just being kids. John Allison has brought mystery solving-teens back, and they are wittier than ever. Bad Machinery: The Case of the Good Boy is based on a the daily "Bad Machinery webcomic. It's girls vs. boys as babies go missing and any number of large, hairy beasties may or may not be invading the neighborhood.
Representing the girls, there's Lottie, all attitude and puff jackets. Shauna is the brains. Mildred has just found an incredibly large, friendly dog who just so happens to drink from a cup.
On the boys' side, there is Linton, most notable for a profound lack of tact. Jack is the quiet one who attracts the ladies. Sonny is sort of like a human Golden Retriever.
John Allison once described his writing style as word mangling, and it starts with the very first page.
"It's perfectly natural for babies to be out in nature, Carol!"
"The babies are getting quite dirty."
"Stop FUSSING and help me make their gruel."
It's all sideways from there, as bullies, scouting, stinky younger siblings, and dogless families are navigated. There's a missing magic pencil and a case of arson. Everything is bounced through at a well-measured pace. Allison has been writing comics in this universe for well over a decade now, and he knows exactly what he wants to do with every panel. The art looks intentionally rough and energetic.
While the main story is found online, the book ends with six pages of supplemental material that won't be found anywhere else. They're the perfect, silly complement to an already high-quality print.
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.