There was a time when child sleuths were all the rage, when Nate the Great, Encyclopedia Brown, the Hardy Boys and Tom Swift solved crime along with just being kids. John Allison has brought mystery solving-teens back, and they are wittier than ever. Bad Machinery: The Case of the Good Boy is based on a the daily "Bad Machinery webcomic. It's girls vs. boys as babies go missing and any number of large, hairy beasties may or may not be invading the neighborhood.
Representing the girls, there's Lottie, all attitude and puff jackets. Shauna is the brains. Mildred has just found an incredibly large, friendly dog who just so happens to drink from a cup.
On the boys' side, there is Linton, most notable for a profound lack of tact. Jack is the quiet one who attracts the ladies. Sonny is sort of like a human Golden Retriever.
John Allison once described his writing style as word mangling, and it starts with the very first page.
"It's perfectly natural for babies to be out in nature, Carol!"
"The babies are getting quite dirty."
"Stop FUSSING and help me make their gruel."
It's all sideways from there, as bullies, scouting, stinky younger siblings, and dogless families are navigated. There's a missing magic pencil and a case of arson. Everything is bounced through at a well-measured pace. Allison has been writing comics in this universe for well over a decade now, and he knows exactly what he wants to do with every panel. The art looks intentionally rough and energetic.
While the main story is found online, the book ends with six pages of supplemental material that won't be found anywhere else. They're the perfect, silly complement to an already high-quality print.
The third book in Jessica Spotswood’s The Cahill Witch Chronicles, Sisters’ Fate, wraps up the Cahill sisters’ story. Cate, Maura and Tess are three very powerful witches living in an alternate America in which anyone suspected of being a witch is locked away in an asylum, or worse, sentenced to death. The Brotherhood who control the country has continued life in the Puritan tradition, oppressing women and blaming witches for the country’s problems.
In Born Wicked and Star Cursed, Cate tried to protect her sisters from the Brotherhood and other witches who are jealous of their powers, but now because of the betrayal of one sister and the burgeoning power of another, Cate is conflicted about how to proceed. Cate eventually begins to work with a group of people resisting the Brotherhood, attending secret meetings and planning ways to change life in the country. When a fever begins to ravage New London and the witches are blamed, change becomes essential to preventing the deaths of witches and humans alike, bringing Cate and the other witches to make extreme choices.
At turns a nail-biting, action-packed story and family story about sisters who just happen to be witches, Sisters’ Fate is a satisfying conclusion to Spotswood’s series. Spotswood does a wonderful job creating flawed, interesting characters who fight for what they know is right until the very end.
Lish McBride, author of the teen series Necromancer, has come out with a new young adult novel titled Firebug. This preternatural pleasure is equal parts Twilight by Stephenie Meyer and Firestarter by Stephen King. Start with a young girl who has the ability to create fire with her mind, and mix in a love triangle and a sinister paranormal mob. The result is a fast-paced romp that’s hard to put down.
After Ava’s mother is killed by the Coterie, an organization that governs paranormal citizens, Ava is forcibly enlisted as a hitwoman by the same organization. Her talents and affiliations have limited her circle of friends to her guardian, Cade, and her two partners, Ezra and Lock. When the leader of the Coterie, a vampire named Venus, threatens her last remaining family, Ava balks and starts a fight that just may be too big to win.
Morris Award-nominated McBride created a page-turner in this first installment of her new series. The combination of action, drama and witty banter is sure to leave you wanting more.
Richard is going crazy. His 14-year-old cousin Malley doesn't want to go to boarding school. Now she has run off with some guy named Talbo Chock. Luckily for Richard, he crosses paths with Skink, the 72-year-old oddball protagonist in Carl Hiaasen's newest teen novel Skink: No Surrender. Skink has been around before. He is one of Hiaasen's most beloved characters first appearing in his adult novel Double Whammy over 25 years ago. Now he's back, just in time to dish out his own weed-whacking brand of integrity and justice.
Richard doesn't know what to make of Skink, the eccentric, one-eyed ex-governor of Florida. One minute Skink is burying himself in the sand waiting to catch Loggerhead turtle egg thieves, the next he's off to help Richard solve the mystery of Malley's disappearance. Richard and Skink’s swampy journey leads them into one white-knuckle situation after another, thankfully diluted with plenty of humor along the way. Road kill for dinner, anyone?
Hiaasen, a Florida native and columnist for the Miami Herald, has long been an advocate for the Everglades. This latest plot-driven adventure, told from Richard’s perspective, continues Hiaasen’s subtle brand of environmental awareness while skimming over the creepier aspect of the story: a teenage girl’s abduction by an older man. As with his previous books, nature — and man's disregard for it — pulse below the surface, as does the fact that imperfection is not, by itself, a bad thing. There's a place for even flawed superheroes, like Skink, when it comes to defending what's right. Marketed for teen readers, this latest effort, recently long-listed for the National Book Award, will appeal to the legion of Hiaasen fans who appreciate his popular brand of humor and zesty storytelling.
Wildlife is Australian author Fiona Wood’s first novel to be published in the United States. It tells the story of two high school girls on their wilderness term at an Australian high school. Sibylla and Lou’s elite school makes students spend one term at their outdoor education campus, living in cabins, going on solo hikes and learning to fend for themselves. Sib and Lou are thrown together in a cabin with a few other girls, and each have to deal with their respective relationship and friendship issues.
Sib has always been outside of the popular group, but a once-in-a-lifetime modeling gig puts her in the spotlight. Her newfound popularity catches the attention of the most attractive guy in her class, Ben. When the two start dating, Sib begins to worry about her inexperience in relationships because of pressure from her best friend Holly. The peer pressure leads her to question her relationship with Ben and eventually her existing friendships.
Lou, on the other hand, is a transfer student looking to start over after her boyfriend died in a car accident the previous school year. She keeps her distance from her fellow classmates, including Sib, until the situation between Sib and her friends escalates, and the two form a new friendship.
Ultimately a story about friendship, romance and growing up, Wildlife is a well-written novel that readers looking for a high school story with a twist will enjoy. Wood’s characters are highly relatable and fully realized — Sib, Lou and their fellow students all seem real, their issues ones many teens face.
Would you know a monster if you saw one? Are you sure? Sometimes these creatures are easy to recognize, such as a vampire, a harpy or even a kraken. Other times, they may look like high school students who play in a garage band that just so happen to also be demonic. Don’t forget the ones who appear to be ordinary people. To be on the safe side, you should read Monstrous Affections: An Anthology of Beastly Tales, edited by Kelly Link and Gavin J. Grant.
A collection of 15 short stories, each author explores what it is to be monstrous. Whether it is a story about an actual supernatural entity, a human harboring an evil within or the horrors that lurk in the deep recesses of our own minds, no two stories address the aspect of being a monster in the same way. Some of the stories seem to be a retelling of a fairy tale or fable, while others are a refreshing new take on a folkloric creature. Link and Grant, known for their award-winning anthology Steampunk!, did an excellent job at bringing these various authors together and compiled their works into one cohesive book of tales that will leave the reader haunted, yet entertained. While focused on teenaged protagonists, this book is sure to appeal to adults who enjoy teen fiction or a wickedly good monster story.
So check under your bed, in the closet and deep within the shadows. You never know what kind of scary creatures may be lurking there. Just remember, you have been warned. Often, the monsters within are the most terrifying of all.
Adam Selzer brings life (and undeath) to the suburban Midwest with his young adult books set in Cornersville Trace, a fictitious neighborhood in Des Moines, Iowa, where the fantastic is not quite impossible. Selzer’s latest novel Play Me Backwards is a story of reinvention through satanic machination, only in the Trace, Satan isn’t a horned demon; he’s a teenage burnout.
Before his girlfriend moved to England, Leon enjoyed his life as a quasi-intellectual, roguish guy wrapped in adolescent love. Four bleak years later, Leon is realizing he has come unraveled. His grades are so bad that he might not graduate, his girlfriend Paige is only with him because she hates being alone and his job at the Ice Cave sucks because the place is a den of teenage lechery and nobody should ever buy ice cream there. At least he gets to work with his lifelong best friend and fellow underachiever Stan, who it turns out might actually be Satan. His folks just dropped the first “A” so he could go to private school.
Stan gives Leon some otherworldly advice as a pick-me-up: Listen to Moby-Dick on audiobook, seek out an elusive flavor of frozen slushee called “White Grape” and do whatever else the Dark Lord may require. Leon and Paige spend their free time driving from convenience store to gas station buying frozen drinks and changing CDs, which turns out to be pretty fun. Stan’s infernal intervention gives Leon hope that he could shape up and make something of himself, but doing so means leaving the teenage debauchery, Satan-worshipping and his former self behind.
Shamelessly allegorical and unabashedly funny, Play Me Backwards is great for readers who enjoy young adult fiction or alternative culture. Leon also appears in Selzer’s 2007 debut novel How to Get Suspended and Influence People.
"Distinctive" is the word I would use to describe Scott Westerfeld’s previous books, and his latest young adult novel Afterworlds is no different. With alternating chapters and the combination of two genres, Afterworlds is a unique work of fiction.
As the book opens, Darcy has graduated high school and deferred college to pursue a writing career in New York. She has sold her debut novel and signs a book deal for $300,000. As an 18-year-old girl in New York City, Darcy is exploring what it means to be an independent adult, discovering her own sexuality and learning the art of book publishing.
In the alternate chapters, we see how Darcy’s life affects her writing. Lizzie, Darcy’s protagonist, is caught in a terrorist attack. The trauma forces her into the Afterworld – the place where people go when they die. While there, she meets a captivating young man who helps her evade the terrorists and return from the Afterworld unharmed. It’s after this traumatizing event that Lizzie finds she is able to walk in two worlds and is blessed and cursed with a macabre gift that she can’t just give back.
Half of this book is realistic fiction and coming of age story about an emerging writer. The other half is a paranormal romance. At times Afterworlds is similar to The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman; other times it can be likened to Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell. This is a peculiar combination that mixes surprisingly well.
Katherine Howe’s first teen novel Conversion follows in the footsteps of her adult novels, as it deals with the paranormal, with witches and witchcraft. Conversion switches perspectives—from modern day St. Joan’s Academy, an elite, all-girls private school, to 17th century Salem Village—as Howe tells the story of two girls, Colleen Rowley and Ann Putnam Jr., who are linked despite growing up centuries apart.
The majority of the story is Colleen’s, a high school senior whose greatest desire in life is to be class valedictorian and attend Harvard. When Colleen returns to St. Joan’s for the last semester of her senior year, things take a drastic turn, as her classmates begin falling sick. Initially, the media blames a vaccine for the odd tics that the girls develop, but as more and more St. Joan’s girls succumb to the mystery illness, Colleen and others begin to question the diagnosis. Meanwhile, Howe weaves in chapters of Ann Putnam Jr.’s confession of her involvement in the Salem witch trials, drawing parallels between the two stories.
Longtime fans of Katherine Howe will enjoy this new teen title, while those new to Howe’s books, looking for a book with a paranormal twist, will enjoy Conversion. Loosely based on a real story of teenage girls falling sick at a New York high school and Ann Putnam Jr.’s real accounts of her involvement in the Salem witch trials, Conversion is based in reality. Howe adds her signature paranormal elements that make the reader question everything.
High school author, Amy Zhang’s first book Falling into Place is filled with twists and turns, taking readers inside the head of high school student Liz Emerson and some of her closest friends. Liz is an unlikable character, a mean girl who has decided that she is going to take her own life, making it look like an accident by driving off a cliff. The book goes back and forth between before and after the crash, unravelling the mystery of what led Liz to such a drastic choice. Before starting Zhang’s book, read what she had to tell Between the Covers about her first novel.
Between the Covers: The book shifts back and forth between before and after Liz’s crash, how did you handle writing a book that shifted in time so frequently?
Amy Zhang: Lots and lots of outlines. I drew diagrams and color-coded and made charts before I started writing, I did it again while I was writing, I did it before I revised, I did it after I revised and revised again. The last chart had something like seven colors on it for all of the different “time zones” of the book, and it reached from ceiling to floor when I hung it up.
BTC: Liz is such a complex character, where did you draw your inspiration for her struggles?
AZ: I guess when I thought of Liz, the characteristic that stood out was her loneliness. One of the first things I saw when I first began outlining the book was the image of her sitting in her closet on the night before her suicide attempt, and that isolation is what made me understand her. You’re always isolated as a teenager. You feel alone in your thoughts, as though you’re the only one to ever think, really think—you’re afraid to have the opinions you’re developing and you’re afraid to share them. You also feel sort of isolated in time, because you’re not thinking about consequences. You only exist in the moment. I think high school can be one of the loneliest places in the world. For me, being alone was sort of at the heart of Liz’s character, and her other struggles all stemmed off of that in some way. Liz, Kennie and Julia were all hiding some really serious issues, but it was pretty easy for me to relate because it was my reality. I think a lot of parents would be shocked if they knew what their kids were really going through every day, and what they feel the need to hide.
BTC: Were you able to draw on your experiences in high school to write about Liz’s high school experience?
AZ: Definitely. The scenes that stand out are Liam’s, which were especially hard for me to write. My school has this horrible tradition of voting people on to dance courts as jokes, and I remember sitting in class and hearing courts announced and just kind of wincing every time. And how do you stop something like that? I was pretty average in high school—I was never really bullied, and I hope I never bullied anyone like Liz did. I had great friends and great teachers, but up until junior year or so, I never really thought about the fact that I sat around a lot. I watched a lot of crap happen and I didn’t do much to stop it, except push a pencil around, and Falling into Place is an apology for that.
BTC: What is your writing process like, as a younger writer who’s still in school?
AZ: Late nights, early mornings, and enough coffee to drown out desire for sleep until the book is done. I write a lot during summer, and, um, during school. At least half of my notes for Falling into Place were scribbled in the margins of my physics notebook. I guess it really just comes down to making a schedule and sticking to it. I have a jar of chocolates on my desk to bribe myself when I need to — one piece per thousand words!
BTC: Who are some of your influences as a writer?
AZ: Music is a pretty heavy influence on my writing—before I start a project, I put a lot of effort into tailoring a playlist. For Falling into Place, it was a lot of Bon Iver, Imagine Dragons and Keane. For my current project, I actually have two: one of classical music, and one of mostly Birdy, Regina Spektor, Iron & Wine and Vincent James McMorrow.
For Falling, though, I think my biggest influence was the death of a classmate during my junior year. For my grade in particular, I think that was the moment we started realizing that we weren’t invincible, and all of the emotions from that were very influential while I wrote the book.
BTC: This is your first book; do you have anything else planned?
AZ: I’m currently working on a project tentatively titled This Is Where the World Ends, which is about a boy who’s obsessed with apocalypses and a girl who’s trying to make the entire world fall in love with her.