National Book Award-finalist Sara Zarr is known for her spot-on portrayals of contemporary American teens. In The Lucy Variations, Zarr once again writes teen characters with pitch-perfect voices and concerns. While in her previous work she dealt mostly with middle-class families, this novel is a bit of a departure, looking at the rarefied world of a family of classical music prodigies. As a child and young teen, Lucy was a top concert pianist who was known among this elite group of musicians. But suddenly everything changed, and Lucy stopped playing altogether. Now, will her younger brother Augustus (“Gus”), a pianist prodigy himself, take up the family mantle?
Zarr is a master of plotting and examining family dynamics. Lucy’s grandfather, the patriarch of this musical family, shows utter disappointment and disbelief that his granddaughter with so much promise throws it all away when faced with adversity. Meanwhile, Lucy’s father has to recalibrate his life after having been her de facto manager for so many years. And Lucy and Gus have a supportive, intelligent sibling relationship, a nice change from the often-adversarial portrayal of siblings in books for teens.
Glamorous whirlwind tours of European concert halls, backstage intrigue and grand parties contrast with Lucy's desire to simply be a normal teen. Her friendship with down-to-earth Reyna provides grounding. The possibility of reclaiming her former glory comes in the appearance of Gus’ new piano teacher, who encourages Lucy to sit behind the keys again. Readers will be drawn in to the often unfamiliar world of a teen whose love of classical music is lost and regained.
Sara Grant’s Half Lives begins on what seems like any other day, but readers quickly discover that the world is never going to be the same. Icie receives a 911 text from her parents, and hurries home to find the family’s bags packed and her parents ready to head to the airport. Working for the government, they have intercepted information about a bioterrorist attack set to happen in the coming days. They plan to fly to Las Vegas to hide in an unused nuclear waste bunker just outside the city. With little time to explain the situation to Icie, the family travels straight to the airport, where they separate to avoid raising suspicions. When Icie arrives in Las Vegas, she can’t find her parents, but follows through on their plans to travel to the bunker, hoping that they’ll meet her there. Along the way, she meets Marissa, Tate and Chaske who join her in the bunker as the effects of the attack begin.
Meanwhile, sometime in the future, a group of people living on a mountain are in the middle of a religious ceremony. This group follows The Great I AM, a religion filled with “Just Sayings,” and its own set of unique rules. They refuse to leave their mountain as they fear the terrorists who destroyed life “out there.” The action begins when a group of outsiders from nearby Vega comes to the mountain and a power struggle ensues.
Grant’s Half Lives switches between Icie’s attempts to survive the end of the world and the post-apocalyptic story on the mountain. Readers will be anxious to find out how these two fast-paced, intense stories work together. This novel is a thrilling read for fans of dystopian novels.
The Earth has been horrifically damaged by the Seven Stages War. Water supplies are contaminated by nuclear waste, vegetation obliterated and mutations of animals and humans roam the wild charred remains of North America. There are 18 colonies of survivors throughout the land who are governed by the United Commonwealth, with the mission of regenerating the Earth and improving the quality of life. Their method for choosing the future leaders of the land is simple, selecting only the very brightest students from each colony, they offer this elite group an opportunity for The Testing. If successful, they go on to University where they will learn skills to continue improving their world. The Testing by Joelle Charbonneau chronicles these challenges as faced by Cia Vale, and her specifically chosen peers.
Cia has always tried her best in school in the hope that she may qualify for The Testing, and a University education just like her father. When she learns she has been picked to go to Tosu City she is overjoyed, although her father’s reaction is much more reserved. He tells her about terrible nightmares of events he thinks may have taken place, but because of the mandatory mind wipe he has never been certain what was real. The only words of advice he can offer are “trust no one.” 120 students have been selected for Testing, yet only 20 will be offered coveted positions at the University, and failure in any of the four stages has severe consequences. Cia quickly learns that more is on the line than her future education, her very life is in danger.
Readers who enjoyed The Hunger Games will not want to miss this debut book from Charbonneau, which is also the first of a trilogy. The Testing requires more than intelligence and instinct to survive, and some of the students will do whatever it takes in improve their odds. Cia’s optimism and altruistic values in the face of the United Commonwealth’s sinister methods are also endangered. Will she ultimately sacrifice her humanity in order to pass The Testing?
There is much to be afraid of in the dark. Michael wakes to screams and discovers that his little brother is not in the Pokémon sleeping bag next to him. He must be sleepwalking again, but there is more than one dark shape moving around their camp, and the screams do not sound human; at least not living humans. Thus begins the nonstop action in The End Games by debut novelist T. Michael Martin, a zombie apocalypse thrill ride with a strong brotherly bond at its center.
On Halloween the world as we know it came to an end. What replaced it was something that 17-year-old Michael calls "The Game." Survivors play by a series of rules laid down from the “Game Master” in order to reach the safe zone. Michael and his 5-year-old brother, Patrick, have now been playing The Game for weeks, battling strange zombie-like monsters called “Bellows,” in hopes of reaching safety and reuniting with their mother. Unfortunately, The Game is starting to change, and there are other players who don't play by the rules.
Yes, there are zombies. Yes, there is thrilling action. Yes, there are evil villains and multiple plot twists and turns. But the heart of this story is the love between the brothers. Michael’s only thoughts are to protect Patrick morning and night, day after day, until the end. Martin gives enough glimpses into the past, before The Game, for the reader to understand the very special and unique relationship between the boys even then. Their struggle to survive is a heart-wrenching one, so keep a tissue handy. Recommended for fans of zombie fiction, action-adventure or stories of unique sibling bonds.
At its heart, Sara Farizan's contemporary coming of age novel If You Could Be Mine is a love story about the romantic relationship between two teenage girls from Iran and the complex decisions they face. In the Islamic Republic of Iran, there are no public displays of affection between the sexes, no Facebook, no women in football stadiums. But for best friends Sahar and Nasrin, it never mattered. They had their stolen kisses and untested promises. They had each other. Since they were small, Sahar never doubted she wanted to marry her best friend, Nasrin.
Unfortunately, relationships like Sahar and Nasrin’s must be kept secret in a country where any one gay is an enemy of the state. So, when 18-year-old Nasrin decides to do what society expects and marry a young male doctor because "he makes sense," Sahar can hardly breathe. She searches for a way they can be together openly. She believes she has found it with sexual reassignment surgery, a legal option in Iran. The problem is that Sahar is not even sure she wants to be a man. "She needs to know this isn't a game. It isn't something you just try on," a transgender acquaintance she meets through her cousin explains.
Farizan, an Iranian American who was born in the U.S., exposes in her simple writing style the absence of choices for young women while weaving in historical perspective. She does not condemn Iranian culture. "I respect a woman's decision to cover up as long as it is the woman's decision," Sahar says. It shows the naïveté, impulsiveness and self-deprecating humor that define youths who are still defining themselves. Mature teens and adults alike will find a tender yet compelling read in this fresh debut.
Daisy Whitney’s When You Were Here is a realistic teen novel that takes place during one particular summer of Danny’s life. All Danny’s mother wanted was to see him graduate from high school, but she succumbed to cancer two months before the momentous day. As he faces graduation, and college after, Danny is all alone in the world; the only exception is his loyal dog, Sandy Koufax. His only human comfort since his mother's passing has been his ex-girlfriend, Holland, whom he still loves. This only causes him more trouble and heartbreak. A few days after graduation, a letter from the caretaker of the family’s apartment in Japan convinces Danny that he needs to travel to Tokyo to learn more about his mother’s life and cancer treatments.
When Danny arrives in Tokyo, he meets Kana, the caretaker’s daughter, who was friends with his mother. Kana shows Danny what his mother did during her last months in Japan, taking him to his mother’s favorite places, and eventually to her doctor. Meanwhile, the two become friends, with Kana becoming someone Danny can confide in about his love for Holland and his grief from losing his beloved mother. As the story progresses, Danny learns that his mother wasn’t entirely truthful with him, and that there are secrets he needs to fully uncover.
When You Were Here is a coming-of-age novel dealing with the changes that most teenagers go through after high school. In this case there is the added drama of Danny’s loss, which adds another layer to the story. Older teens that are fans of realistic fiction will enjoy Whitney’s latest novel.
Set in the late 1800s just as the Eiffel Tower is being built, Elizabeth Ross’ Belle Epoque tells the story of Maude Pichon, a 16-year-old girl who ran away from her small French village to Paris. Maude’s fresh start in the City of Lights doesn’t go exactly as she’d planned, as she has trouble finding work, and quickly runs out of money. However, things seem to be turning around for Maude when an ad for a job with the Durandeau Agency catches her eye, and she is hired on the spot. The details of the job are sketchy; Maude only knows that the work is supposed to be undemanding and well-paying.
On her first day at the agency, Maude learns that the young women are hired by wealthy Parisians as repoussoirs. The owner of the agency, Durandeau, had the idea that rich Parisian women need a repoussoir, an ugly woman, to make them seem more beautiful in comparison. Maude is dismayed at the thought that she is ugly enough for the job, but given her dire financial situation, she feels she has no choice but to accept the work.
She is quickly hired by Countess Dubern to be the repoussoir for her daughter Isabelle, with the caveat that Isabelle can never know that Maude has been hired to spend time with her. Instead, the countess tells Maude to pretend that she is a distant relative of a friend, who has just arrived in Paris for the season. Maude quickly gets swept into Parisian high society, attending operas and balls, dressed in the latest fashions, all the while becoming friends with Isabelle, whom she is supposed to be deceiving. Belle Epoque is a fascinating novel—a coming of age story, mixed with a bit of romance, and a lot of history—perfect for fans of historical fiction.
“Is Samantha Shannon the next J.K. Rowling?” That's the question asked in the July 15th edition of Forbes magazine. Shannon’s debut novel, The Bone Season, is the first in what's expected to be a seven-part series. The novel begins in an alternate universe in the year 2059, about 200 years after a plague covered the planet causing some of the population to become clairvoyant. In the world Shannon has created, there are guards who protect the Scion city of London from clairvoyants because the general population has been told that clairvoyants are dangerous. This futuristic world is a totalitarian society where clairvoyants have to hide their abilities and are treated as criminals.
Paige Mahoney is the 19-year-old protagonist of this science fiction thriller. She is called the "Pale Dreamer" because she’s a dream walker, a rare form of clairvoyant. All clairvoyants have a specialty, an area of the sixth sense at which they excel, and Paige’s spirit is able to leave her body and travel into the aether to visit the thoughts and dreams of others. She uses her gift for an underground crime syndicate that employs clairvoyants in a variety of ways depending on their abilities. The lifestyle allows Paige to be around others like her and not feel ashamed of her gifts.
The Pale Dreamer’s world is thrown into chaos when underguards discover that she is clairvoyant. She is taken captive and detained with others who have similar abilities. She must learn about herself and her gift in order to regain her freedom, but the task is greater than it seems and failing isn’t an option.
This is an incredibly unique book by a debut author. According to The Bone Season’s website, the book’s movie rights have already been claimed by The Imaginarium studios.
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.