Hilary T. Smith’s debut teen novel Wild Awake is a powerful story exploring loss, mental illness and family. Kiri Byrd, the 17-year-old narrator of the novel, is spending a few weeks home alone while her parents are on a cruise, when she receives a phone call from a stranger named Doug. Doug claims to have the rest of her beloved dead sister Sukey’s belongings, and tells Kiri she can come pick them up from Sukey’s old apartment. Sukey died when Kiri was 12, in what her parents told her was a car accident. Kiri is suspicious of Doug’s motives, but meets him because she misses her sister.
When she arrives at the address, she’s dismayed to find that her sister had been living in a rundown apartment in a dangerous area of town, not with the other up-and-coming artists that Sukey had described. As she discovers that Sukey’s life wasn’t at all what she had imagined, she finds that her sister didn’t die the way her parents told her. This revelation turns Kiri’s life upside down. As she struggles to accept this news, she spirals out of control—she drinks, takes drugs, stays up all night practicing for a piano recital, and makes rash, dangerous decisions—making her friends and family scared for her. Her only bright spot during the ordeal is Skunk, a boy she meets near Sukey’s apartment who becomes increasingly important in her life.
Wild Awake takes readers along on Kiri’s search for the truth amidst the grief she still feels from losing her sister and discovering the secrets her family has kept from her. Smith has written a moving novel that older teens and even adults will enjoy.
What is normal? Normal often defies definition, especially for teenagers. Dealing with physical and emotional changes on a daily basis is tiring, so throwing a mental illness into the mix creates a recipe for disaster. Cameron and the Girls by Edward Averett is a fictional first-hand account of a boy dealing with schizophrenia and junior high, and not having much success with either.
Cameron’s medication quiets the voices in his head, but it also makes him feel sluggish and not present in his life. He experiments by taking himself off his meds, questioning the advice of both his doctor and his parents. He feels strong enough to handle the voices on his own, and for a time he feels better, especially when a new voice emerges. "The Girl" is sweet, kind, pretty, and wants to be his girlfriend. So what if she isn’t quite real? If he can just act "normal" enough to avoid suspicion, then they can be happy. Unfortunately, an actual girl has taken notice of Cameron and threatens his self-created utopia.
Averett, a clinical psychologist, has created an eye-opening look into the mind of a mentally ill teen. The "voices" are all written in different fonts, and they are all truly unique from each other and from Cameron. Unusual in teen literature, Cameron’s family are included as loving, supportive, and concerned for his safety and happiness. The junior high setting adds a level of discomfort to the experience, taking the reader back to their own adolescence and how out of place you can feel in your own mind and body. While not completely "normal", Cameron’s struggle for control, of his health, mind, and life, is a brave one, and readers will root for him to find balance and happiness.
Astrid Krieger is not your average teenager. For starters, she lives in a rocket ship prototype in the backyard of her parents' mansion. Then there's the fact that her family is rich, and she's been kicked out of multiple fancy, private schools for various pranks and other school code infractions. When David Iserson’s teen novel Firecracker begins, Astrid has just been kicked out of her latest school, Bristol Academy, after she’s caught in a cheating scandal. As punishment, her parents inform her that she’s being sent to public school, not another ritzy boarding school. Astrid, who has been raised thinking she’ll always get what she wants, is shocked when they follow through on their plan and she ends up going to the local high school.
Once she’s at the public school, she ends up begrudgingly making friends, and demands their help in her grand quest for revenge. Astrid knows that someone turned her in for cheating at Bristol Academy, so she becomes determined to find out who did it and seek vengeance. Her scheming nature, which she learned from her grandfather (the head of the family company and the only person Astrid really likes), keeps her going even when things don’t go according to her plan. David Iserson, who writes for the television show New Girl, delivers a snarky new comedy with Firecracker, which older teens will enjoy. Astrid may seem like a shallow character at first, but she ends up learning a lot about herself throughout the novel, and keeps readers laughing until the very last page.
Alex London’s thriller Proxy propels the reader into a not-so-distant dystopian future in Colorado. An orphan teen living in the Valve, the slum of Mountain City, Sydney Carton is forced to take on years of debt just to secure his meager existence. And like many orphans, he’s repaying this debt by serving as a proxy, made to take any physical punishments intended for his patron. Unfortunately for Syd, his patron is the incorrigible, spoiled Knox Brindle, son of the wealthy head of SecuriTech.
Throughout their lives, Knox has been forced to watch Syd suffer the painful effects of the electro-muscular disruption (EMD) stick, used to deliver physical discipline. But since they’ve never met and he’s always watched onscreen, it’s been easy to remain detached. Now it seems Knox is responsible for the death of a young woman, and Syd will have to pay with his life. An unusual turn of circumstance throws the teens together in the same place at the same time, and it turns out that nothing is as it seems. Syd’s life may be worth more than anyone realizes.
Baltimore native London has created a detailed science fiction world that takes our current technology and debt-driven society to a whole new level. He manages to put a fresh spin on some time-honored storytelling tropes, creating an exciting, fast-paced novel that makes for a great summer teen read. Proxy is rife with both big thoughts and big action, as London explores the complex nature of friendship, sacrifice and the value of human life.
Fourteen-year-old Carey Blackburn can shoot a rabbit and cook it for dinner, raise her baby sister by herself, and survive freezing winters in an old camper without electricity, but can she handle attending high school? From the first page of If You Find Me by Emily Murdoch, it is obvious that this is not your typical teen coming of age story. Carey has spent the last ten years living in a secluded part of a national forest with her methamphetamine addicted mother. Raised on the story they had fled her abusive father and needed to hide to stay safe, her life in the woods have made her independent and strong. Her little sister Jenessa is the most important thing in her world and Carey’s every thought is about how to care for and educate her. Their mother leaves them alone for weeks at a time, until she ultimately abandons them altogether. The girls have endured countless difficulties, but can they manage in the civilized world once their camp is discovered by their father and a social worker.
This touching and powerful story is told from Carey’s perspective, with a backwoods dialect she tries desperately to lose. Her life experience means that she behaves much older than a typical 14-year-old; however these skills are of little value when it comes to fitting in at high school. She doesn’t know what a locker is, can’t understand teen fashion or cell phones, and has never spoken to a boy. Carey needs every bit of the willpower that ensured her survival to adapt to the new situations she encounters in the outside world. The reader cares deeply for the characters and gets invested in trying to learn what the secret of the “white star night” that has led to Jenessa’s inability to speak. If You Find Me explores the healing power of family and ultimately the definition of home.
Jennifer Smith’s new teen novel This is What Happy Looks Like is an inventive romance that will make a great beach read. The novel begins when teen celebrity Graham Larkin mistakenly sends an email to Ellie O’Neill, a girl from a small coastal town in Maine. Ellie replies to the email letting Graham know about his mistake. The two immediately feel a connection and continue emailing for months. Graham is a young Hollywood star, constantly followed by the paparazzi, and he enjoys having regular conversations with Ellie, which is only possible since they have never exchanged names. Ellie, on the other hand, feels a deeper connection with Graham than she does with any of her Maine friends.
As their virtual friendship grows, Graham begins to fall for Ellie, and he convinces his latest movie crew that Ellie’s small beach town is the perfect place to film. Graham hatches this elaborate plan so that he can meet Ellie: the only problem? Ellie still doesn’t know that she’s emailing the one and only Graham Larkin. When he shows up in Maine, Ellie is frustrated that her wonderful town is infiltrated by film crews and his followers, and that everyone seems to have gone crazy over Graham’s arrival in town. Graham knows where Ellie works, and goes looking for her, and while another case of mistaken identity delays their first encounter, they eventually meet, and their relationship grows beyond email.
Ellie and Graham face unique challenges as their relationship moves out of the digital world and into a world filled with Graham’s fame, the paparazzi, and secrets Ellie’s not prepared to share with anyone. Told through a mix of emails between the two teens, and traditional prose, This is What Happy Looks Like is a fun summer read.
Appearances can be deceiving. Author David Levithan has explored identity before in such highly-praised books as Every Day and Will Grayson, Will Grayson. He has teamed up with another celebrated author, Andrea Cremer, for Invisibility, a fantastical tale of those intangible somethings that make people attracted to one another. Sixteen-year-old Stephen is alone in the world. His father abandoned him long ago, and his mother died nearly a year ago. He is also invisible, the victim of a mysterious curse at his birth. He makes his way, day by day, on the very edges of existence. One day he meets Elizabeth and is astonished to discover that she can see him. As she attempts to help him find a "cure", they grow closer, inevitably since she is the first person who has ever been able to truly see Stephen. Will they be able to lift the curse, and will they still love each other when nothing is hidden?
Invisibility is a mash-up of two dissimilar styles that works because of these talented authors. Levithan and Cremer have created an extremely likeable and sympathetic character in Stephen, and readers will root for him in his quest to find his identity and reveal himself to the world. A magical urban fantasy masquerading as realistic fiction, Invisibility will appeal to fans of both genres.
Michaela MacColl’s Nobody’s Secret, based on Emily Dickinson’s poem, “I’m nobody! Who are you?” creates a fictional story as background for the poem. In doing so, MacColl tells an intriguing story that is part historical fiction, part mystery, and filled with allusions to Dickinson’s poetry.
In 1846 when Nobody’s Secret begins, Emily is laying in a field trying to get a bee to land on her nose when she is approached by a man she’s never seen. The two have a brief conversation discussing the best ways to get a bee to land on Emily’s nose, after which he departs. They never exchange names, only referring to themselves as Mr. and Miss Nobody. The two run into each other the next day, and Emily’s fascination with the enigmatic stranger grows. They discuss their families without revealing too many details. She even confesses her deepest secret—that she writes poetry. The real mystery begins when Mr. Nobody turns up dead in the Dickinson’s pond the following day, just two days after he and Emily first met. Having never exchanged names, Emily is determined to find out his identity so he can have a proper funeral. During her investigation, she realizes that his death was no accident, and then she sets out to find the killer.
MacColl’s fictionalized Emily Dickinson is a fascinating character, whose determination is admirable. Readers are quickly charmed by Mr. Nobody’s relationship with Emily, leaving them rooting for her to figure out who he was, and why he was murdered. Nobody’s Secret is a great pick for teens interested in historical fiction and mysteries, while those who enjoy poetry will enjoy the bits of Emily Dickinson’s poems interspersed throughout the novel.
Comic artist Lucy Knisley reveals that her strongest memories are associated with flavors, from the chalky Flintstone vitamins she snacked on in front of the TV as a kid to the flaky, buttery apricot croissants devoured in Venice as a college student travelling thorough Europe. In her graphic memoir Relish: My Life in the Kitchen, she draws some of her favorite food-related stories, each with specific “taste-memories”.
Born in New York City, Knisley (apparently never going through a picky-eater phase) was raised a child of foodies, so her experiences transcend those of an average teen. Her mother worked in restaurateur David Bouley’s kitchen, her godfather was a food critic, and her uncle was the owner of a gourmet food shop. Nevertheless, teens with some interest in cooking (and eating!) will find her to be a likeable, relatable narrator. Knisley’s experiences stretch beyond Manhattan when her parents divorce and she moves to rural upstate New York with her mother. Living in Rhinebeck allows them to have an abundant vegetable garden and a flock of hens that supply a steady stream of fresh eggs, which ultimately gives young Lucy a greater appreciation of where her food comes from. Her first foray into independent cooking comes thanks to a craving for chocolate chip cookies. And since no parent can keep their child completely "pure", she credits a middle school friend for introducing her to such junk food delights as Kraft Macaroni and Cheese and Lucky Charms cereal.
What sets this graphic novel apart is its cookbook component. Each chapter relates a particular story, rendered in full color comic panels, that ends with a detailed, easy-to-follow, fully illustrated recipe for an appealing dish. Relish is recommended for both teens and culinary-minded adults. Knisley’s first graphic memoir, French Milk, which tells of a trip to Paris with her mother, is also available. Readers interested in even more of her work can check out her website.
Two new books for teens unleash anger, revenge, and, well, fury of mythological proportions. Both are based on the ancient Greek characters Erinyes, better known as The Furies. These three, Alecto, Megaera, and Tisiphone, embodied anger, jealousy, and vengeance, and, in myth, made sure justice was meted out by whatever means necessary. In Vengeance Bound by Justina Ireland, teenager Amelie Ainsworth is near death after being manipulated by a conniving psychiatrist, who also caused the death of the rest of her family. Amelie prays for guidance, when unexpectedly, the Furies answer her call. A few years later, rechristening herself as Cory Graff, she reappears at another high school and with the help of the Furies, plots her revenge on the mad doctor. Handsome Niko, a classmate at her new school, is a calming influence to the fury she feels, but Cory is hard-pressed to explain her otherworldly "assistants" to him. Short chapters and incredible situations fuel this paranormal novel to its shocking conclusion.
Furious, by Jill Wolfson, finds three wronged classmates, Meg, Stephanie, and Alix, under the spell of Ambrosia, a charismatic popular girl who has her own rage issues to contend with. After Ambrosia has convinced the three of their Furies status, the group becomes unstoppable in wreaking havoc and vengeance on those that deserve their comeuppances. Overwhelmed with the power that they now possess, the trio must wrangle with managing both vengeance and justice in equal measure. Their friend Raymond provides grounded counterbalance and hilarious asides to the spiraling intensity of the angry group. Satire, witty humor, and surprisingly well-handled issues of bullying and appropriate retribution make for a winning combination in this contemporary take on classic characters from mythology.