Male, female or None of the Above? Surgeon and new author I. W. Gregorio explores intersexuality and gender identity in her debut novel.
High school senior Kristin Lattimer has it all: her two best friends, a full scholarship to college because of her track prowess, the title of homecoming queen and a boyfriend she loves. She enjoys a life that any teenager would want until she decides to take her relationship with her boyfriend Sam to the next level. But her first time is a painful disaster.
Kristin learns the startling truth after a visit to the doctor. She has Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome (AIS), a type of intersex condition. After confiding in one of her friends, rumors about her situation spread throughout school. Suddenly, she has to endure crude comments and cyber-bullying from ignorant classmates and people who don't know her. Her diagnosis forces her to question her identity, her relationships and even her athleticism.
None of the Above is a great introduction to the topic of intersex for unfamiliar readers as they learn about this biological condition with Kristin. It is also a journey of awareness and rediscovery that is relatable to anyone who has experienced a tough time in high school.
Amanda Panitch’s new psychological thriller Damage Done is being heralded by many as a Gone Girl read-alike for teen readers.
Julia Vann doesn’t remember anything that happened in the high school band room. She emerged the sole survivor of a shooting spree that left her boyfriend, best friend and nine other people dead. The shooter? Her twin brother Ryan.
Desperate to start a new life and leave the pain of the past behind them, her family changes names, moves south, and thus Julia is now Lucy Black. At her new school, Lucy has a best friend, a lunch table and a mild flirtation with a boy on the swim team who sits next to her in Spanish class. Life is attempting to get back to some semblance of normal. But then someone connected to that awful day starts appearing in unexpected places. Lucy knows that it is only a matter of time before the past will catch up with her; in order to stop the threat to her new life, she knows she must act quickly.
With danger at every turn, Panitch’s twisted novel does a lot to engage the reader from the first page. The author uses flashbacks from before the shooting to develop the codependent, unsettling relationship between Julia and Ryan. As the plot develops, readers are drawn to construct what really happened when Ryan entered the band room with the gun and what Julia swears she doesn’t remember. Damage Done is a great read for older teens who prefer something darker and more sinister than typical teen romantic fare.
Writer Reki Kawahara and designer abec have experienced unbridled success in the past half-decade with their original series Sword Art Online. In 2009, the first SAO light novel about virtual reality video games with real-life implications was released. The novel has since been expanded to 15 volumes and has spawned two seasons worth of anime, three PlayStation games, a handful of mobile games and eight manga adaptations. The most recent manga book to arrive stateside is Sword Art Online: Girls’ Ops, and it’s just as fun and endearing as the original SAO. It’s definitely cuter, too.
In SAO:GO, series favorites Suguha, Rika and Keiko are coping pretty well with the aftermath of the Aincrad tragedy, and are still just as hopelessly addicted to online gaming as ever. The trio play the new VRMMO Alfheim Online religiously, and are ecstatic to find a new add-on quest has arrived after a long day at the SAO returnees school. Dubbed “the Angel’s Whisper Rings,” the adventure has the young ladies aiding an angel in strife while proving their devotion to one another to earn powerful rings of friendship.
The three dive into Alfeim Online ready to take on the new high-level quest as their avatars Leafa, Silica and Lisbeth, using their previous experience with the angel in SAO as a starting point. On their way to find her, the trio encounters a familiar dual-wielding swordsman clad in a midnight-black coat. Fans of the series will know it’s fate that unites the girls with this swordsman, but will never foresee the impending twist that makes SAO:GO an enjoyable departure from the previous SAO adventures.
SAO:GO is a quirky, adorable spinoff of the Japanese megahit Sword Art Online. Readers who have enjoyed SAO arcs Aincrad, Fairy Dance and Progressive will find so much to love about Girls’ Ops. Gamers and anime fans alike should also check this out.
Sophie Kinsella, of Shopaholic series fame, returns with the new teen novel Finding Audrey. Protagonist Audrey is a 14-year-old British teen who has undergone severe bullying at the hand of her classmates. This has caused her a great deal of anxiety and depression, which leads to her leaving school, wearing dark glasses all the time and rarely leaving her house.
Audrey’s family is incredibly supportive of her, even if they don’t always understand her anxiety disorder. Her family, consisting of mom, dad, older brother Frank and younger brother Felix, provide levity throughout the story. Their antics, which Audrey records in a video diary that her supportive therapist suggests she make, are hilarious. When her brother’s friend, Linus, begins coming over to their house to practice for a gaming tournament, Audrey is pushed out of her comfort zone. She finds herself relearning how to interact with people other than her family. As Audrey becomes more comfortable with Linus, she finds herself wanting to push herself more, at times frustrated with what she thinks is her slow progress.
Kinsella has written an honest portrayal of a teen with anxiety — Audrey isn’t magically fixed, but has to work hard to make progress with a combination of therapy and medication. Finding Audrey is at times funny, sad and romantic — switching between video diary script and traditional prose. Kinsella has written a novel that will appeal to teen readers as much as it does to adults.
Virginia Boecker was able to cross an item off her bucket list when she published her debut novel The Witch Hunter. As an English history buff, Boecker was spending time in London when she was inspired to write the novel. Though this story takes place in a very different world, where witches and other paranormal creatures are common place, the setting is reminiscent of old world England.
It’s 1558, in a place known as Anglia, where witches and other creatures are pitted against the monarchy for the right to live and practice their beliefs freely. The country is divided with many wanting to see witchcraft practiced openly. King Malcom and his grand inquisitor do all they can to eradicate witches and witchcraft by having a small and elite band of witch hunters that tracks and captures witches who are later burned alive.
By day, Elizabeth Grey is a servant in the kitchen. By night, she is one of the king’s most capable witch hunters. When she is caught with a collection of suspicious herbs, she is arrested as a witch. It’s while she sits rotting in a cell and awaiting her execution that she finds an unlikely ally who leads her to question her black and white world. Could it be that she has been manipulated by the very people she trusts the most, or is she simply being misled?
This young adult novel is a wicked mashup of genres, from romance to adventure, with a healthy dose of historical paranormal fiction to tie it all together. If this is your magical brew, look to Sabaa Tahir’s An Ember in the Ashes for another gripping historical paranormal fantasy with a strong female protagonist, who also has a tendency to challenge authority.
Robin Benway’s latest novel, Emmy & Oliver begins when the title characters, on a day that neither of them will ever forget. That day, Oliver’s father picks him up after school and runs away with him. From that point onward, Emmy’s childhood is filled with news media obsessed with the missing child case, nervous parents and a missing best friend. Even 10 years later, she’s still highly affected by Oliver’s disappearance—she still wonders about Oliver and keeps secrets from her parents to gain back some of the freedom she lost when Oliver disappeared. She has secretly learned to surf, keeping her surfboard hidden in her car, and applied to a college with a good surfing team—all without letting her parents know.
When Oliver suddenly reappears at age 17, both their lives are upended once again. All Emmy wants is to pick up where they left off. However, she and their other childhood friends, Caro and Drew, are cautioned to give him space to let him readjust. Whereas Oliver, who has missed his mom and his friends for 10 years, now finds himself missing his dad and having difficulties adjusting to his old life. Forced by their parents, the two begin spending time together again after Oliver has been home for a few weeks. Their initially uneasy friendship begins to turn into something else, as they discover they can share things with each other that they can’t tell anyone else.
Emmy & Oliver is a sweet novel with a heartbreaking premise. Benway creates characters that readers quickly feel like they’ve known for years. Fans of Gayle Forman and Sarah Dessen will enjoy Benway’s new novel.
A.J. Steiger’s debut novel Mindwalker is a futuristic dystopian novel geared toward young adults. Steiger received a fiction writing degree from Columbia University—so while this is her first novel, she’s no stranger to the writing process.
Mindwalker takes place in a future dictated by psychologists who determine people's mental stability, and their "class" in the U.S. region as a result. “Type ones” are mentally stable and given every opportunity that society has to offer. On the other end of the spectrum, “type fours” could be a danger to society, so they are fitted with collars and liberally given pills to facilitate suicide. Though this creates a society with less crime and violence, people live in a constant state of anxiety. Anything they do or say could cause their type to go up and their potential to go down. If a person’s type does go up, they can lower it by agreeing to mental reconditioning.
One form of reconditioning is known as mindwalking. A Mindwalker is a person with the ability to see into someone's mind and, at their request, remove traumatic memories in order to help them live a more fulfilling life. The novel’s protagonist, Lain, is a Mindwalker. She was passionate about her job and believed it to be completely rewarding until a fellow student, Steven, asked for a favor. When Lain finds that Steven's memories don't match reality, Lain begins asking questions that challenge her principles and make her question the whole structure of society.
With thought-provoking ideas regarding self-perception, plus a healthy dose of action, this dystopian romance is a quick read. For those who are hooked by the unique plot, its sequel Mindstormer is expected to be released next June. If you just can’t wait till then, look to Plus One by Elizabeth Fama for equal amounts of dystopian romance and action.
Perennial teen favorite Sarah Dessen’s latest novel, Saint Anything, is sure to capture the hearts of readers. Sydney has grown up in the shadow of her older brother Peyton, who has always been more popular and attractive — not to mention her parents’ favorite. Now she’s in his shadow for a completely different reason, as he’s just been sentenced to jail time for paralyzing a young boy during a drunk driving accident. As Peyton heads off to jail, Sydney’s family reels in the aftermath.
Sydney feels an immense amount of guilt because neither her parents nor Peyton seem to care about the boy he hurt. This is one of the things that pushes her to transfer from her elite private school to a large public school where no one will know her or her brother. What she doesn’t expect is to find a friend in Layla and her loud, boisterous, fun family. Layla’s family owns Seaside Pizza, where she and Sydney spend time after school, eating pizza and lollipops. Sydney also finds herself intrigued by Layla’s older brother Mac. Layla and her family make Sydney feel like she’s no longer in her brother’s shadow.
Saint Anything is a wonderful addition to Dessen’s novels. Longtime fans will count Sydney among their favorite heroines, while those new to Dessen will enjoy the well-drawn characters. Dessen is frequently called a romance writer, but her novels are much more than romance. While Saint Anything does have romance, it's also about family, forgiveness and finding oneself.
In Jessica Warman’s new teen mystery, The Last Good Day of the Year, 7-year-old Samantha is startled to see a man dressed as Santa Claus enter the basement of her home while her parents host a New Year’s Eve party upstairs. When he abducts her little sister, Turtle, Sam is paralyzed with fear. She thinks she can identify the man as her older sister’s boyfriend, Steven, and she does to police.
Ten years later, Turtle’s body has never been found and Steven sits in jail, convicted of her murder. Sam’s family returns to the house where their nightmare took place. Her older sister, coping with a broken marriage, has been acting strangely. Now, a new little girl in a town not so far away has gone missing. Sam has started to question whether or not she was right in pointing the finger at Steven all those years ago.
As the story alternates between the night of Turtle’s abduction and 10 years later, Warman weaves an unsettling tale of one family’s tragedy and its far-reaching implications — not just for those closest to the victim, but for an entire neighborhood. As old neighbors try to rekindle their long-dormant friendships, secrets emerge from that night, leaving Sam, with the help of her childhood best friend Remy, to sift through the clues that may lead her to the truth about her sister’s disappearance.
Fans of April Henry’s The Girl Who Was Supposed to Die or Chris Crutcher’s Period 8 will enjoy this mystery with its sharp twists and turns.
Tommy Wallach’s pre-apocalyptic debut novel We All Looked Up follows four initially loosely connected fellow Seattle-area high school seniors. Peter is a type-A, handsome jock in a bad relationship. While they were juniors, he kissed avant-garde photographer Eliza in the school’s darkroom. Anita, a well-to-do, prim and proper African American serves on the Student Council with Peter, and was recently observed breaking down in the guidance counselor’s office by slacker/skater Andy, whose best friend is also dating Peter’s freshman sister. All of this connected drama is nothing compared to what comes next – the approach of asteroid Ardor to the Earth’s orbit.
At first, NASA doesn’t expect Ardor to cause much of a problem to Earth, but when they revise the likelihood of a major catastrophe to two in three odds, each of the teens react in their own way to the impending doom. None of the adults in the teens’ lives are much help, as they too have no idea how to handle the end of the world. Forging their own paths in the final weeks of their lives, each teen decides what is most important and chooses unexpected but interconnected paths.
A foreboding darkness imbues much of the contemporary novel, but it is not without humor and bright dialogue. Wallach writes thoughtful and realistic scenes that are relatable to the second decade of our century. Teen readers will consider what their choices might be if a similar catastrophic event befell their own community, and the conclusion will resonate long after the last page is read.