It’s not every anthology that can be described as a spirited game of Clue in literary form. Yet Who Done It?: an Investigation of Murder Most Foul, offers precisely that gift to readers. The scene is set in the Old Abandoned Pickle Factory, where the despicable Herman Mildew, the most callous, evil editor known to author, has just met his all too timely end. How did he perish? Who is responsible for this reprehensible, yet strangely justified crime? Author and editor Jon Scieszka presents the reader with an abundance of suspects: over eighty of the crème de la crème of teen and children’s authors.
Each had motive. Most had the means. Every last one has an alibi. Your task: Scour their alibis, discern truth from deceit, and glean clues about the real killer of the loathsome Herman Mildew. The formats, ranging from inner monologues and illustration to Twitter feeds and poetry, are as varied as the authors and artists they defend.
Hilarious, smart, and as accessible to adults as to kids, Who Done It? is the perfect diversion for an idle hour, or even a few minutes of reading. The alibis are succinct, highly entertaining, and utterly addictive. A remarkably cohesive collaboration, it is important to bear in mind that the book features contributions from over eighty authors. For this reason, the anthology is best digested over multiple reading sessions. Readers are well advised to keep an eye out for subtle clues that pepper the suspects’ respective alibis. Together, these breadcrumbs may lead to some startling conclusions, as YOU, The Reader, and editor Jon Scieszka unravel the mystery of murder most foul.
Changing schools can be a stressful experience, especially when you are in high school. There are so many things to navigate—teachers, classes, building, and students—not to mention the social cliques. New sophomore Sadie Wildhack welcomes the chance to reinvent herself, and maybe this time be a part of the popular crowd in Ayun Halliday’s graphic novel Peanut, illustrated by Paul Hoppe.
Somehow Sadie has decided that having a peanut allergy will give her special attention, and increased social status. She orders a medic alert bracelet online, and writes her required introductory essay on the perils of having a life-threatening condition. Sure enough, Sadie’s “peanut allergy” is enough of an icebreaker to earn her some new friends, a spot at a lunchroom table, and even a boyfriend. Christopher Suzuki, “Zoo”, christens her “Peanut”, writing her adorable, origami-folded notes since he avoids communicating through modern technology.
But faking a peanut allergy requires much more vigilance than Sadie bargained for, especially since her mom is not in on the ruse. Author Halliday has created a likable, angsty protagonist whom teens can readily identify with, even as they shake their heads at the problems her deception creates. And Zoo is the understanding, thoughtful, cute and attentive boyfriend girls wish they had. Halliday perfectly captures teen banter, as well as the dialogue of the adults that populate this graphic novel. Paul Hoppe’s line illustrations evoke not only the nuances of the characters, but also the classrooms, cafeteria, and locker-lined hallways of a high school that could be any high school. Hoppe’s art is rendered in grayscale, with the notable exception of Sadie’s shirt (and a single rose provided by Zoo), always a bright red hue. Peanut is highly recommended for teen readers and adults who remember the struggle to both fit in and stand out.
Sophronia Temminnick, the heroine of Gail Carriger’s new teen steampunk novel, Etiquette & Espionage, loves to climb trees, take machines apart, spy on her family, and worst of all has never learned a proper curtsy. Her mother believes that a stint in finishing school will transform Sophronia into a lady, so she sends her to Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality. However as Sophronia soon finds out, Mademoiselle Geraldine’s is not an average finishing school—students are taught how to dress, dance, and curtsy, but much more effort is given to the study of espionage.
Sophronia discovers that she was recruited secretly to the school because of her less than lady-like behavior. She quickly proves her merit during the journey to the academy, when she fights off a group of bandits trying to steal a mysterious prototype from the carriage. Upon arriving at Mademoiselle Geraldine’s, Sophronia begins lessons in everything from intelligence gathering and fundamental espionage to dance and dress. While she enjoys the espionage classes most, she does come to recognize the importance of the more typical finishing school classes as well. She puts her new knowledge to the test almost immediately, as she and her new group of friends investigate what happened to the mysterious prototype that bandits tried to steal during her journey to school.
Gail Carriger’s witty novel is one that teens and adults alike are sure to enjoy. Etiquette & Espionage is a fun addition to Carriger’s other steampunk novels. Readers can look forward to more of Sophronia’s finishing school adventures in the sequel, Curtsies & Conspiracies, which is set to be released in the fall of this year.
Are they bad? Or just drawn that way? Those are the questions award-winning children’s author Jane Yolen and her daughter Heidi Stemple debate as they take an entertaining tour through the lives of some of history's most notorious women in Bad Girls: Sirens, Jezebels, Murderesses, Thieves, and Other Female Villains. Arranged chronologically from Old Testament barber Delilah to 20th century mob courier Virginia Hill, this deck of 26 dicey dames includes royalty (Bloody Mary, Catherine of Russia), wild women of the Wild West (Belle Starr, Calamity Jane) and out-and-out criminals (Moll Cutpurse, Bonnie Parker).
Each short (2- to 8-page) chapter opens with a lush, period-appropriate poster-style portrait by illustrator Rebecca Guay. The authors then outline each lady's dastardly deeds and point out the "aggravating or mitigating" circumstances that may influence the reader's opinion of their guilt. Yolen and Stemple speak directly to the reader, bickering delightfully about context and consequences as they model good discussion behavior (and shoes!), in a page of comics at the end of each chapter. The authors' enthusiasm for their subject is contagious, abetted by playful language that makes Bad Girls a rock ‘em sock ‘em read. Alliteration, rhyme, short sentences and a conversational tone combine with sometimes-challenging vocabulary to make this book readable but by no means dumbed-down. A hearty bibliography will give a girl a leg up on the further reading she is sure to want to do. Feminist, girl-powered, intelligent and open-ended - this book respects the reader as much as it does its subjects.
For Standish Treadwell, being one of the few remaining imperfect people in a society mandating perfection is beyond stressful. Survival means staying under the radar and following all of the Motherland’s rules—which is difficult when you can’t read. Echoes of Nazi Germany clash with the Space Race of the 1960’s in Maggot Moon by Sally Gardner.
Part dystopian fiction and part science fiction, the action takes place in an unnamed society. Standish is nearly fifteen, and he is getting tired of the violence that surrounds him every day. People keep disappearing, including his own parents, and no one will talk about it. The enemy, known only as the Greenflies, has pressured the President to send men from the Motherland to the moon as a show of superiority to the rest of the world. Anyone not necessary to achieve this goal is expendable. When his best and only friend goes missing, Standish decides it is time to stop hiding and plans to find him. He knows where he has to look—beyond the wall that towers over the last remaining houses in the city. As he makes his plan, he discovers a truth that could lead to freedom from the oppression. Can one person’s small rebellion be the spark that ignites a revolution?
The action in Maggot Moon plays out in extremely short chapters. These are snapshots of Standish’s thoughts, full of the muddled spellings that mirror his dyslexic brain. Author Gardner is dyslexic and is a strong advocate for educational assistance for children with dyslexia. Slightly disturbing pencil sketches on the page edges tell a simpler version of the same story as the text, and they beg to be flipped like an early moving picture book. While the extreme bravery from this 15-year-old boy veers slightly near the edge of believability, Standish is a likeable and honorable character who you want to root for.
For most people, identity is tied closely to place, often a birthplace or childhood home. How much does where we come from affect who we are? Ruta Sepetys asks this question in her newest novel Out of the Easy, introducing us to that dichotomy of charming beauty and sinister vulgarity that is 1950’s New Orleans.
Harkening to another famous literary Jo, namely Louisa May Alcott’s Jo March, Josie Moraine is an intelligent young woman trapped by time and place. The daughter of a prostitute, she is smart enough to get herself away from her neglectful and often abusive mother. Josie lives and works in a bookstore, saving money in the hopes of attending college far away from New Orleans. Self-sufficient since the age of seven, Josie creates a family out of necessity, including the Madam who becomes a surrogate mother (albeit a harsh and criminal one) and the bookseller and his son. But when her mother’s bad judgment pulls Josie back in to the criminal underbelly of the city, will she be able to rise above it yet again for a chance at her dreams?
Sepetys is no stranger to difficult subjects, and Out of the Easy explores the mature themes of violence, prostitution, and crime. As in her first novel for teens, Between Shades of Gray, the sense of place is paramount to the story. Indeed, many characters are named for places (Cincinnati, Charlotte, Forrest) and the city of New Orleans is a character in itself. This expertly-drawn portrait of a girl struggling to rise above her circumstances is highly recommended for mature teen and adult readers alike.
The 2013 Stonewall Book Awards were announced at this year’s American Library Association Midwinter meeting. The Stonewall Book Awards are given each year to exceptional books reflecting the gay, lesbian and transgender experience. Each year a fiction, nonfiction, and children's or young adult title is chosen for the award. Honor books are also chosen in each category. This year’s Barbara Gittings Literature Award went to The Last Nude by Ellis Avery. It tells the story of the passionate, tortured relationship between Tamara de Lempicka and her muse, Rafaela. The Last Nude is highly recommended to anyone who wants to immerse themselves in the Lost Generation of Paris, learn more about twentieth century art or simply wants to read a fascinating, wholly engrossing love story.
The Mike Morgan & Larry Romans Children's & Young Adult Literature Award went to Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz. Aristotle and Dante, two Mexican-American teens, are trying to figure out where they fit in the universe and how to navigate their ever-evolving friendship. Aristotle and Dante walked away with multiple awards this year. In addition to the Stonewall Award, it was also the winner of the Pura Belpre’ Award, which goes to the work for children and youth that best represents the Latino cultural experience. The book also garnered a Printz honor award, which highlights teen books of excellent literary merit.
This year’s Israel Fishman Nonfiction Award was given to For Colored Boys Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Still Not Enough: Coming of Age, Coming Out and Coming Home, edited by Keith Boykin. For Colored Boys is a collection of over 40 essays and personal stories from gay and transgender people of color. The collection features essays on coming out in communities of color, religion, HIV/AIDS, family dynamics and finding love. A powerful and diverse collection, For Colored Boys gives voice to life stories that are rarely told.
A complete list of The Stonewall Winners and Honor Books can be found on the ALA website.
Fitzgerald McGrath is a 15-year-old boy who lives with his mom in St. Paul, plays guitar in a band with his best friend, and has a crush on a pretty red head at school. On the surface, he appears to be an average teenage kid. However, readers soon find out that he has a turbulent, pain-riddled side to his personality, which has progressed to the breaking point. Fitz, by Mick Cochrane is a skillfully crafted novel which explores the impact and consequences of a boy who never had a father.
From childhood fantasies of a loving Dad who watches him from afar, to seething anger toward a man that has never been in touch, the reader easily identifies with Fitz’s anguish. Not knowing anything about his father, other than his once-a-month monetary contribution to the household, has gotten to be too much for Fitz to handle. Taking matters into his own hands, Fitz purchases a Smith & Wesson .38 Special and kidnaps his father. What follows is a day that will forever change both of their lives.
This bittersweet novel establishes characters the reader will completely empathize with, being in turn both hopeful and fearful regarding the story’s outcome. The steady and measured rhythm provides a perfect balance for the intensity of emotion experienced by both father and son. The climax of the story will have people holding their breath. In Fitz’s own words, “It feels like the longest day of his life. It also feels like the shortest” and there isn’t a reader who will want it to end.
Morgan Rhodes’s new teen fantasy novel, Falling Kingdoms, is a fast-paced, thrilling read—a mix of betrayal, secrets, and magic. Mytica, the fantasy land where the novel is set is made up of three kingdoms—Auranos, Paelsia, and Limeros. The kingdoms are very different and as a result, they are held together by a tenuous peace at the start of the novel. Following the murder of a boy from Paelsia by an aristocrat from Auranos, that peace ends, and war becomes imminent. Meanwhile, the novel’s four main characters, Cleo, Jonas, Lucia, and Magnus, become embroiled in the conflict, despite their very different lives.
The novel switches between each teenager’s perspective, telling four different stories that eventually merge into one. Cleo, a princess from Auranos, fights against her royal destiny by fleeing her home in an attempt to find magic. His brother’s death pushes Jonas, a rebel from Paelsia, to fight against those in power. Meanwhile, Lucia, who was adopted as a baby and raised as a princess in Limeros, discovers she is a powerful sorceress and begins to realize the strength of her magic. Finally, Magnus, the heir to the Limeros throne, tries to please his father and king, but at the same time resents him. By the end of the novel, their lives become increasingly intertwined, as their kingdoms fight each other and magic returns in full force to Mytica.
Teen and adult fans of fantasy will enjoy this new series. Falling Kingdoms has elements reminiscent of George R. R. Martin’s fantasy series, A Song of Ice and Fire. Readers looking for something similar will enjoy the vivid world that Rhodes has created, and will look forward to exploring the world more in the novel’s sequel, Rebel Spring, which is set to be released in late 2013.
The William C. Morris Award honors a debut book published by a first-time author writing for teens. The 2013 winner is the New York Times bestselling Seraphina by Rachel Hartman. In the kingdom of Goredd, humans and dragons coexist peacefully under a decades-old treaty. With this treaty about to expire, can a talented young musician accept her true nature and thwart the secrecy and ambition that threatens the peace? Margaret A. Edwards award winner Tamora Pierce had high praise: “Seraphina is strong, complex, talented — she makes mistakes and struggles to trust, with good reason, and she fights to survive in a world that would tear her apart. I love this book!”
There were four other finalists for the 2013 Morris Award. Wonder Show by Hannah Barnaby is the story of a young girl who runs away from an orphanage and joins the circus in 1939. Love and Other Perishable Items by Laura Buzo examines young love and why the word “crush” is more accurate as a verb than a noun. The world in the aftermath of a new ice age is the subject of After the Snow by S. D. Crockett. Finally, The Miseducation of Cameron Post by emily m. danforth follows the dual journeys of guilt and self-discovery of a girl whose parents are killed in a car accident.