Six months after Ashlyn Montiel dies in a bicycling accident, her best friend Cloudy and her boyfriend Kyle are still reeling in The Way Back to You by Michelle Andreani and Mindi Scott. Kyle copes with his grief by quitting the baseball team and adopting a feral kitten that he maybe suspects might be Ashlyn reincarnated. Cloudy copes with her grief by not coping with it.
Cloudy learns that Ashlyn’s parents have been in contact with a few of the recipients of Ashlyn’s donated organs. When her parents go out of town for winter break, she takes advantage of their absence and embarks on a top secret road trip to visit them and somehow make sense of her friend’s tragic death. And who better to invite on the road trip than Kyle — the one person who understands exactly how much she misses Ashlyn?
To complicate things, Cloudy had a crush on Kyle for months before she knew Ashlyn was interested in him. And after she made a fool of herself in front of Kyle when he and Ashlyn were together, things have been awkward. Hours and hours alone together in a car? Definitely going to be awkward.
Beginning with a little boy’s play and ending with a young woman’s Las Vegas wedding, with detours to visit family and friends who know them better than anyone (or at least should know them from a stranger on the street), Cloudy and Kyle confront their feelings — about Ashlyn’s death and about each other.
Scott is the author of two previous novels including Freefall and contributed to the collection Violent Ends, while this is Andreani’s debut. The duo met in an online writing class and exchanged thousands of emails, texts and Tweets while co-writing The Way Back to You. They chronicled their experiences over the past four years on their website.
Aaron O'Faolain has a lot of problems right now. He just got expelled and his parents are divorced and inattentive, which is how he managed to scam them all by dropping out of his new school and going to live on the streets of San Francisco. Only that didn't work as well as he was expecting. This is The End of FUN by Sean McGinty.
To make some quick cash, Aaron signs up to test out the latest product from FUN®! — Tickle, Tickle, Boom!, an anticipated virtual reality platform that integrates social media, gaming and online marketing. After spending a month doing nothing but playing, he owes $10,000 and a virus in the software is giving him tiny seizures. To get out of his contract he has to pay back the money he owes and collect enough YAY!s to meet his user agreement. Luckily for him, his grandfather just died and left him as the sole beneficiary — if he can solve the treasure hunt his grandfather stipulated in his will. Debut author McGinty breathes new life into the cyperpunk genre with this sardonic spin on Young Adult archetypes, setting his narrative in the midst of multiple concurrent global catastrophes, rather than in a post-apocalyptic world. Aaron begrudgingly (and sometimes unwittingly) embarks on a multi-tiered quest that has him searching for material wealth, spiritual fulfillment and rectified relationships, although not actually saving the world. Fans of Holes, Ready Player One and The Westing Game will appreciate this nuanced and realistic story that is completely fun.
Penny has the worst luck. She lost her job and her apartment on the same day and now her best friend Helen is moving to Long Island. But she'll be okay! She is resourceful and obtusely optimistic. Plus, Helen got her a job interview at her family's laundromat, which is where Penny bides her time, fighting off the neighborhood delinquents and trying to figure out how to move forward under the watchful glower of her new petty dictator of a boss. To stay clean, she scams showers from the cute nerd working at the gym next door. Despite the fact that their dates are disastrous and their interests are wildly divergent, Penny develops a real infatuation for Walter. But can their relationship survive Penny's contretemps? What about the villains waiting in the shadows, plotting Penny's downfall?
Lucky Penny by Ananth Hirsh and Yuko Ota is a book that revels in the absurdity of everyday life and in absurdly dramatic climaxes. Fans of Scott Pilgrim and 500 Days of Summer will find this a romantic-comedy of errors that is sweet without being saccharine, funny without being trivial. Originally serialized as a webcomic, you can find Easter eggs detailing the hilarious romance novels adorning Penny's shelves, Penny's bad advice blog, as well as more comics by Ota and Hirsh (a couple in real life) at their website Johnny Wander.
Wink Poppy Midnight is original and utterly enchanting. April Genevieve Tucholke casts a spell over readers that will hold them in thrall until the last page.
The author reminds the readers that, like soups, all stories start with the same key ingredients. Every cohesive story has a hero, a villain and a secret. In this dark mystery, readers are never really sure who is who. Each chapter is alternately narrated by the three title characters and, as the story progresses, readers are less sure of who to trust.
For far too long, Midnight has been in love with Poppy, the gorgeous girl next door. Though he knows all too well that she is as cruel as she is beautiful, he has never been able to shake her control over him. Now that he and his father have moved to an old house outside of town, perhaps he will truly be able to get over Poppy. Midnight now finds himself living next to the eccentric Bell family. Everyone in town whispers that their mother is a witch because she tells fortunes from tea leaves and reads tarot cards. The kids run wild, and Midnight is drawn to their stories and games. Wink Bell, with her crazy red hair, freckles and overalls is the exact opposite of Poppy, and perhaps that is exactly what Midnight wants after all.
Don’t be tempted to label Wink Poppy Midnight a teen book with a mandatory love triangle. The characters feel variations of love, but it is more of a dark, mysterious fairy tale than a romance. The characters are complex and quirky. The writing is beautiful and smart. Tucholke seems to be spinning us a yarn with a sly smile on her face, trusting that her readers will get it and be delighted in the strangeness of it. Needless to say, I was.
Time-traveling pirates? Count me in. Heidi Heilig has offered up just such delicious fare with The Girl from Everywhere, the first installment in her new teen series.
Nix, whose father is the captain of The Temptation, has grown up on the ship traveling to any far-flung place in time they happen to have a map for, including magical and mythological locales. The eccentric crew members are the closest thing she has to family. But, one place always beckons her father back — the place where he lost Nix’s mother. If he could get back, perhaps he could save her.
Time travel has rules, however. The crew can never use the same map twice, and the map must be an original reflection of the place in time it was created. While the captain would do anything to get his hands on a usable map of 1868 Honolulu, it is hard to find one that will actually work.
To acquire a potentially usable map, the crew will have to pull more than one major heist. Since piracy is never as simple as it sounds, they must also deal with unforeseen obstacles along the way.
Nix’s complex relationship with her father is especially compelling, though there are also hints of romance. Nix’s best friend aboard the ship may have deeper feelings, and she also meets an enigmatic stranger who will test her loyalties to the ship and the crew.
Heilig, a native Hawaiian, ties in a surprising amount of actual history concerning the island at this pivotal time in its history, and her descriptions of the place, the people and the food are magical.
Readers who enjoy this book should check out Unhooked by Lisa Maxwell, The Love That Split the World by Emily Henry and Passenger by Alexandra Bracken.
Children of the Sea is at times about the ocean, at times about the power of myth and spirits, at times about young people trying to discover themselves and their needs. One thing it is always, from the first page to the last panel, is breathtakingly magical.
Ruka’s summer isn’t looking so great. She has few friends, and her relationship with her parents is strained. Her moments of peace and clarity come from visiting the aquarium where her father works, gazing into the tanks and slowly sensing the life force of the sea creatures as it transforms into glowing lights right before her eyes. Her meditation is interrupted one day, however, when a young boy appears in the tank she’d been gazing at — completely out of place and yet exactly at home, somehow.
The boy who at first appeared to be a mystical creature is Umi, a ward of the aquarium while his scientist caretaker works on research there. Along with his more mysterious, reserved brother Sora, Umi takes Ruka out to the ocean, which has become more of their natural habitat than the land most humans walk. As she swims with Sora and Umi, they become friends, but the mystery of their nature and their strangely aquatic bodies becomes more complex. Ruka finds herself determined to help her new friends.
Soft, mystical and deeply gorgeous, Children of the Sea is a work of art to be dwelled over page by page. Igarashi’s storytelling makes full use of his stylistic yet depth-oriented illustration, taking the reader on an impossibly immersive journey to the bottom of the sea.
Music connects us regardless of gender, age and race, articulating emotion in a way few other things can and uniting us during horrific events. A perfect example of this plays a vital role in M.T. Anderson’s new nonfiction book Symphony for the City of the Dead: Dmitri Shostakovich and the Siege of Leningrad.
Using Dmitri Shostakovich’s life as the framework for the story, Anderson begins with his childhood in St. Petersburg during the Russian Revolution. Later, we see Shostakovich as a composer of classical music under Joseph Stalin after St. Petersburg was renamed Leningrad. But this isn’t just a biography of a composer; Anderson delves into the fears and struggles of living under Bolshevik rule to the Soviet Union’s entrance into World War II and the disastrous siege of Leningrad. Shostakovich wrote part of his 7th Symphony while in the besieged city. And as the Nazis’ attack on Soviet soil continued, that symphony became a symbol of endurance and resolve for the people of Leningrad, in particular, and the Soviet people as a whole.
Anderson blends musical theory, sociology and war history into a compelling examination of the events, philosophies and people that led to such an appalling tragedy as the Siege of Leningrad. While not an easy read in terms of content, Anderson’s writing is accessible for readers from teens to adults. His thorough research provides readers with greater context into this particular event during WWII as well as Russian and music history.
Much like the music at the heart of the story, it’s a book that stays with you after you’ve finished it, reminding us not only of the atrocities we can — and have — perpetrated on each other but also the resolve and strength we can find within ourselves to triumph over the darker side of human nature. Shostakovich’s Leningrad Symphony can be checked out at BCPL or heard performed by the Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra. For more information on the Siege of Leningrad and the starving orchestra who played Shostakovich’s symphony in Leningrad approximately one year after the siege began, check out Leningrad: Siege and Symphony by Brian Moynahan.
I have been a fan of Francisco X. Stork since I read his novel Marcelo in the Real World. In his latest novel, The Memory of Light, Victoria (Vicky) Cruz wakes up in the Lakeview Hospital psych ward not expecting or wanting to still be alive. When asked if she knows how she got there, all of the memories come flooding back — the sleeping pills, living up to her father’s expectations, her nana leaving and her mother’s death. Vicky feels hopeless and is sure she will “try” again if she goes back home. Against her father and stepmother’s wishes, Vicky ends up staying at Lakeview for two weeks. While there, she befriends the others in her group therapy — Mona, Gabriel and E.M. — none of whom have as privileged a life as she.
Vicky’s father does not understand why she is so depressed since he has provided her with a good life. He feels as though she is just not trying hard enough or putting in the effort her older sister Becca has, who is studying at Harvard. In the end, Vicky finally breaks through some of her father’s anger and hurt, and they begin a slow start to building an authentic relationship.
The author notes that he has also struggled with depression and a suicide attempt while attending Harvard. This is a real look at what living with the illness of depression is like. This is a powerful, genuine story that will leave you cheering for Vicky and her friends. This is more than a story about suicide and depression — it is a story about loss, family, friendship and hope.
Alyce is trying to figure out how to attend the dance try-outs that could secure her future when she's supposed to be working on her father's fishing boat. Dora is trying to build a life for herself away from her abusive parents. Ruth is just trying to get by and avoid the attention of her domineering grandmother. Hank is running away with his brothers. Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock's novel The Smell of Other People's Houses interweaves the stories of four teens as they confront their personal challenges and begin to gain control in determining how their life choices are made.
Set in Alaska during the Reagan administration, Hitchcock makes the Last Frontier seem like home with her descriptions of daily life — hanging out with friends, shopping at Goodwill, eating blueberries — interspersed with that which is wholly new to “Outsiders” (anyone from the mainland United States). By writing this story, she brings to light many challenges of Alaskan society — limited resources, Native rights and government representation—as well as many challenges that are not unique to Alaska — alcoholism, divorce, and abuse. Fans of Rebecca Stead will find a compatible voice in the naturalistic way Hitchcock includes the historical aspects of the ’60s, juxtaposing her characters’ development with Alaska’s acceptance of statehood into the U.S., in this emotionally-driven tale.
Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely joined forces to write All American Boys, a story about police violence and how individual acts — whether justified or unjustified — can impact everyone in the surrounding community.
All American Boys is told from two perspectives: there’s Rashad, who enjoys drawing and hanging out with his friends as he follows in his father’s footsteps through high school JROTC; and there’s Quinn, an aspiring basketball player who also enjoys chilling with his friends. Rashad and Quinn go to the same school and run with some of the same guys, but they don’t know each other. Yet.
Rashad makes a quick trip to a corner mart to grab a snack. While he’s deciding on which flavor of chips to get (anything except plain), a woman trips backwards into him. Hearing the commotion and spotting the chips on the floor, the store clerk confronts Rashad and accuses him of stealing. Rashad tries to deny the accusation, but before he gets the chance, he’s slammed face-first onto the sidewalk with his hands behind his back and the full weight of a police officer on his ribs.
Quinn and his friends happen to be in the alley beside the mart. Quinn witnesses Rashad being manhandled by the officer, who he recognizes as his friend’s older brother. Realizing the gravity of the situation, he and his friends flee the scene hoping to remain unseen.
Thanks to a smartphone video, Rashad’s incident makes the news and goes viral overnight. While Rashad is recuperating in the hospital trying to deal with manic family visits, Quinn struggles to choose a side in a polarized school environment. With a protest demonstration looming days away, will Rashad and Quinn be able to rein in their feelings and set new headings for their lives in the midst of violence?
Reynolds and Kiely had a mission from page one in All American Boys, and it was accomplished without sacrificing literary quality or becoming preachy. Quinn and Rashad could be any real boys caught in this alarmingly common scenario — read this book, hear their voices and learn from them.
All American Boys is the teen title for BC Reads. Authors Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely are appearing at the Woodlawn Branch on April 19 at 3:30 p.m.