Secrets. We all have ‘em. But at Illington Hall boarding school in Yorkshire England during the Vietnam War, the very air is rife with them. Every student there is concealing something that is at the very least embarrassing, and at the very worst, life threatening. Jenny’s American boyfriend is a solider in Vietnam. Or is he? Oona’s hiding a pretty big secret something from her best friend Sarah, while hunky Nico believes that no one knows about his secret sexy crush on the new teacher. Luke’s private obsession with a local “townie” could potentially put him in the hospital, while Percy’s public obsession with movies and films springs from a private sorrow that is surprisingly close to home. Penelope is always looking for the wrong kind of love and she would rather die than say why, while Brenda’s sneaking out for secret kisses that could lead to the same kind of trouble her sister’s in. It’s not just the bad food at Illington Hall that’s making everyone queasy, but the effort of holding in all those secrets! It’s up to Jenny to take a chance and tell the first truth…if she dares. This spicy, shifting narrative strongly reminded me of the bold, honest Doing It by Melvin Burgess. The ever-changing point of view from one character to the next made this book a rich if occasionally challenging read. I for one definitely needed the names at the beginning of each chapter to keep track of who was who. However, Canadian author Marthe Jocelyn’s briskly paced dialogue is so authentically British that I had to double check and make sure she didn’t grow up in the UK! A perfect read for spring as you shed all your physical and psychological winter layers. Coming to a library, bookstore or e-reader near you April 2014.
First, it was Lise, falling from her desk during a quiz, clutching her throat and frothing at the mouth. Then it was Gabby, twisting and jerking in her chair right in the middle of the spring concert, still holding her cello as she crashed to the floor. And finally Kim, who dropped during P.E., screaming and vomiting. Soon, there is an epidemic of seizing girls in Deenie’s small high school, twitching, ticking and muttering. “There was a low rumble everywhere…the thrum of confusion, skidding sneakers, a girl’s lone yelp, a teacher trying to be heard…more than twenty wrapped around the hallway in groups and individually. Drooping against lockers, slumped on the floor, their legs flung out, doll-like, one in the middle of a corridor, spinning like a flower child.” What is causing the strange convulsions that seem to have infected the female teenage population of Deenie’s school? Is it the poison-green algae covered local lake that is off limits but still tempts everyone with its silky, warm water? “They weren’t supposed to go into the lake. No one was. School trips, Girl Scout outings, science class, you might go and look at it, stand behind the orange mesh fences.” Or is it the HPV vaccine that the school system made mandatory for every high school girl? “The first shots were six months ago. HPV vaccines are more effective if administered before sexual debut. That’s what the department of health poster in the nurse’s office said.” No one knows for sure, but the parents in Deenie’s town are getting very anxious, eager to find the person or thing responsible for the plague that seems to be affecting their best and brightest girls. And Deenie is worried that it is only a matter of time before their scrutiny falls on her. Because the one thing the first three afflicted girls have in common is their close connection to her. “’But nothing happened to me,’ [Deenie] said. ‘I’m fine.’ ‘Well,’ Gabby said, looking down as their feet dusted along the glistening grass of the square, ‘some people are just carriers. Maybe that’s what you are.’” Deenie is running scared, desperate to find out the real reason that all friends have fallen ill. But the secret to their mysterious seizures is actually much closer to home than she ever could have imagined. Megan Abbott’s gripping adult-published tale of adolescent lies, lust and power reads like a modern day version of The Crucibleand boldly scrutinizes society’s long standing, Lord of the Flies fear of teenage sexuality and power. Coming to an e-reader, library or bookstore near you June 2014.
“When you’re Gavin and Opal’s gay kid, you always feel like someone is looking at you.” Rafe Goldberg is tired of everyone always looking at him. Ever since he came out in the eighth grade, he’s been “that gay kid.” Which would be fine, except it seems like that’s the only thing people know about him. He also happens to like soccer, “the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and taking photographs of nuns on Segways.” But all people ever seem to care about is who he wants to date. So Rafe convinces his parents to send him to an all-boys boarding school, where he plans to be “openly straight.” Instead of standing out and speaking up, he just wants to lay low and blend in. And it works…at first. But then Rafe starts to get close with Ben. Big sweet Ben who likes to talk both sports and philosophy. Rafe thinks he might be in love. But how can he admit that to Ben when he’s worked so hard to convince everyone how hetero he is? This well-executed leopard-changing-spots story realistically explores what it means to refuse labels, and makes you think extra hard about the folks who don’t have a choice when it comes to hiding part of their identity. Plus it has the sweetest love scene (for me, at least) since I read Forever. If you like this one, be sure to follow it up with Pink by Lili Wilkinson.
There are many memories Hayley would like to forget because they hurt too much: the clicking sound of her grandmother’s knitting needles, the taste of her stepmother’s peanut butter and banana sandwiches, the days and nights spent in the cab of her dad’s truck while he drove and homeschooled her at the same time. But every once in awhile, “A knife ripped through the veil between Now and Then and I fell in…” The knife of memory that brings back the past and makes it even harder for Hayley to live in her impossible present. The present where her father, an Iraq war veteran, copes with his PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) by drinking or smoking it away. A present where she can never concentrate on school because she’s too worried about what her dad might be doing at home–where the guns are. “How many of the girls in my gym class had to clean up gunpowder and barrel oil after school?” A present where she has to be the parent and there isn’t any time for her to just be a girl in love–until Finn comes along. Finn makes her feel safe. Finn makes her feel wanted. Finn makes her want to remember. But how can Hayley give her heart to anyone else when she needs all of it to care for her father? This tough, tender story of pain and redemption will resonate deeply with anyone who ever had to welcome home a loved one who went to war as one person and came back as someone else. Touching and true.
Dear teen reading peeps,
Reading Rants will be giving up Marley’s ghost until January 15th so that I can enjoy the holidaze and work on some other pressing writing projects. Until then, enjoy my 2013 Top Ten list and check out some of these other great end of year booklists, which are in absolutely no particular order.
Pink Me’s 16 Memorable Reads of 2013 (many of which are YA)
It’s Top Ten time, teen reading peeps! Please note that there has been absolutely no attempt to balance this list by age, gender or genre. These are just my “from-the-gut” favorites of the books I read this year. (While I love all my Top Ten books the same, I just might love BOXERS & SAINTS a tiny bit more:) Click on the title to go right to the review.
Black, Holly. Doll Bones.
Dahlquist, Gordon. The Different Girl.
Finneyfrock, Karen. The Sweet Revenge of Celia Door.
Forman, Gayle. Just One Day.
Forman, Gayle. Just One Year.
Kninsley, Lucy. Relish.
Rowell, Rainbow. Eleanor & Park.
Sedgwick, Marcus. Midwinter Blood.
Sepetys, Ruta. Out of the Easy.
Yang, Gene Luen. Boxers & Saints.
You know when sometimes you discover that amazing book that is ALL THE THINGS? Mystery? Check. Romance? Check. Family DRA-mah? Check. Unexpectedly awesome, never-saw-it-coming ending? Check, check! I wish I could tell you more about this book about a girl, her two cousins and the love of her life. But to say too much about this story of a family slowly rotting from the inside out because of greed and fear would be a great disservice. You should get the chance to savor this delicious narrative of privilege, love and madness on a private island for yourself. Suffice it to say that it contains shades of King Lear, Wuthering Heights and The Virgin Suicides. That the small, perfect characterizations: “Bounce, effort, and snark.” “Sugar, curiosity, and rain.” “Ambition and strong coffee” will have you pulling out your own writer’s notebook to follow the pattern. That not only people but HOUSES in this story have their own personalities and strange little quirks. That the plot rug is pulled out from under you the minute you think you understand what is going on. And try not to scream when I tell you this terrific little tension filled package is coming to a library, bookstore or e-reader near you May 2014.
Mila is an exceptionally observant person. The intuitive only child of academics, she uses her keen sensory powers to discover what it is that people aren’t saying through their body language, facial expressions and clothing choice. That’s why her father agrees to bring her along on a trip to visit his best friend Matthew’s family, even though Matthew himself has gone missing. Maybe Mila can uncover the reason he abruptly left his wife, small baby and loyal dog. Mila interviews Matthew’s wife, plays with Matthew’s baby, walks Matthew’s dog and visits Matthew’s summer cabin. But as Mila carefully collects clues, she is drawn deeper and deeper into a mystery that perhaps only exists to her. While the ending of the book didn’t work for me for all sorts of reasons that will give away important plot points, I found Mila’s voice and the construction of the story unusual and intriguing. If you follow The Mentalist or enjoyed The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, you’ll dig Mila’s cerebral adventures as well. Also, not for nothing, Picture Me Gone was nominated for a National Book Award.
Failin, Oregon, like every small town, has as many secrets as people. When lonely teens Anne and Lewis strike up an unlikely friendship, they have no idea that their innocent romance will end up bringing so many of the town’s secrets to light. Secrets about hoarder moms and absent dads. Secrets about lost belongings and found treasures. Secrets of past misunderstandings and future relationships. Each person in this intricate character-driven graphic novel will feel familiar as someone you know or love, and each one will lodge deeply in your heart. It’s hard to explain exactly how without giving it all away, but I can say that it reminded me of one of my favorite classics. Sara Ryan has always excelled at crafting fully rounded characters, and her first graphic novel is no exception. Her words are aided by the spot-on, realistically drawn art by Carla Speed McNeil. A well-told and astutely drawn story of fate and forgiveness.
World-weary traveler Willem is lost. But not in a GPS sort of way. He knows exactly where he is geographically. But ever since his father’s sudden death and his mother’s consequent withdrawal, he’s been wandering lonely as a cloud, drifting from one European destination to the next, trying to find an emotional anchor. And then for one day in Paris, he does. He meets the charming Lulu, an American girl on vacation who needs a distraction from her life as much as he needs one from his. They spend an amazing twenty four hours together. And then he wakes up in an emergency room, battered, bruised and barely able to remember the girl of his dreams. All he knows is that he wants her back, and he will do anything to find her. Except where does he start when he realizes that Lulu isn’t even her real name? Told in Willem’s brave, tender, tragic voice, this extremely satisfying sequel to the beautifully wrought Just One Day will satiate salivating fans who have been dying to find out what happened to Lulu’s mysterious Dutch crush. If you haven’t encountered Willem and Lulu before, you’ll want to read their twinned accounts back-to-back to get the full experience of their long distance love story. A Just Wonderful romantic adventure for the lucky-in-love and brokenhearted alike.