It’s 1969, the war (excuse me, “military action”) is raging in Vietnam, Charles Manson is on trial for mass murder, and fourteen-year-old Bliss In-the-Morning-Dew is fresh off the commune. Her hippie parents have fled to Canada to escape the draft and left Bliss high and dry with her prissy southern grandmother in Atlanta. But this is not a tragedy. Bliss discovers that she actually likes real soap, clean sheets and remote-controlled television. She’s even looking forward to making friends at the chi-chi private school her grandmother has enrolled her in. That is, until she steps on campus and hears the otherworldly voice that keeps whispering in her head, speaking of blood, death, and sacrifice. Until she explores the abandoned third floor of the school’s oldest building, once a convent, and discovers the room of the young novice named Liliana who plunged to her death to escape the soul-cleansing whip of a sanctimonious Mother Superior. Until she finds out that one of her new chums actually plans on becoming a vessel for the vengeful Liliana and needs Bliss’s blood to seal the deal! OMG, Lauren Myracle, who knew you were hiding a bloody butcher knife behind that Mayberry smile? Myracle, lately she of the sweet, pastel-covered stories of girlhood has returned to her darker, a la Rhymes with Witches roots with this delicious package of scary goodness all wrapped up in a blood-soaked bow. Lately I have been pissing and moaning about the fact that there is not enough true YA horror to fill the desperate need of teens everywhere for some good old-fashioned thrills and chills. Well, I’m here to tell you that YA horror is BACK because Lauren Myracle has BROUGHT IT with this spine-tingling nightmare that is 1/3 Carrie, 1/3 classic Lois Duncan, and the rest gorgeously gory urban legend. The YA horror gauntlet has been THROWN my adolescent, Stephen-King-reading friends, and I can’t wait to see how many YA writer-peeps start penning their own terrifying tales in order to reach the bar raised by this bloody Myracle!
The main character of Nancy Werlin’s latest novel, seventeen-year-old Lucy Scarborough, happens to be a pregnant teenager, but this shockingly original hybrid of fantasy and psychological thriller is like no pregnant-teen-story you’ve ever read. Besides dealing with the same problems as any young mother-to-be, Lucy also has to contend with the conditions of an age-old curse that landed her in this situation in the first place. See, in Lucy’s family, all the women get pregnant as teens, give birth to daughters, and then promptly go insane. The daughter grows up and the cycle starts all over again. This is all due to the fact that one of Lucy’s ancestors refused to return the romantic affections of the evil Elfin King, and he in turn cursed her and all her future generations with schizophrenic madness that kicks in during late adolescence. There is only one way to break the curse: perform the three impossible tasks described in the balled Scarborough Fair. For hundreds of years, no Scarborough woman has been able to solve the puzzle. But this is the twenty-first century, and with the help of the Internet, a supportive family and a solid boyfriend who believes in her, Lucy may just be the first Scarborough with a real shot at banishing the Elfin King forever. This perfect blend of contemporary teen angst, romance, and myth had me racing through the pages to find out if Lucy beat the clock on going crazy while simultaneously Googling the lyrics to Scarborough Fair to see if I had any better luck at solving the riddle. And the climax, well, you’ll just have to see for yourself, but it literally gave me goosebumps. (For the record, evil fairies scare me!!) But you shouldn’t be afraid to look for this impossibly good book at your local library or bookstore.
In a world where evil magicians called Danisoba steal away small children who display any hint of mystical talent, orphan pirate girl Kestrel works hard to hide her ability to whistle up the wind. But she may be forced to show her hand when her beloved Captain Binns is arrested by the Royal Navy and sentenced to hang for his dastardly deeds. Kestrel is frantic to save him. But if she allows her talent to show, any sailor worth his salt will sell her out to the nearest Danisoba for top dollar. So instead she relies on more earthly means to orchestrate the save of the century. Hampered by a mutinous crew, a disappearing ship, and a double-dealing jack o’ napes named Philip McAvery, (who may or may not be on her side but is far too good looking to be trusted either way) Kestrel has to decide if she’s willing to risk life and liberty to save the man who has been like a father to her. Shiver me timbers! This thrilling paperback original reminded me of my all-time favorite series, Bloody Jack(except with magic). So if you’re a fan of the nefarious Jack Sparrow, or just partial to spell-casting buccaneers and swashbuckling acts of derring-do, sail out the door to your nearest bookshop and drop some gold doubloons for this high seas fantasy adventure penned by newbie author Misty Massey.
Fourteen-year-old Henry lives in a classic, been-in-the-family-for-generations Massachusetts house with his perfect mom, dad, sister, and uber-perfect older brother, Franklin. Henry’s life is, in a word, perfect. But while PERFECT is all very well and good, the one thing it doesn’t prepare you for is TROUBLE. One cold spring day, on Henry’s birthday no less, Franklin is struck by a car while out running and falls into a coma. The driver is a Cambodian classmate named Chay Chouan, and the accident serves as fuel to an already smoldering racist fire between the old New England families in Henry’s town and the immigrant Cambodian families who have begun to settle there. Bricks are thrown, harsh words are said, and Henry’s perfect world is turned upside down. His father never leaves the house, his mother barely speaks, and his sister refuses to set foot outside her bedroom. The only thing Henry knows will make him feel better is to make a pilgrimage to Mount Katahdin in Maine, a hiking trip he had planned with his brother. Henry does eventually make that climb. But how he ends up doing it with Chay and a wonderful canine character simply named “Black Dog,” by his side is a powerful, subtle story of ultimate sacrifices, surprising secrets, and hard-won forgiveness. By book’s end, Henry has painfully learned that perfection comes at a price, and trouble can lead to truth. Penned by the author of one of my top ten favorite books of 2007, this smart, literary character study/mystery is a book worth lingering over and quoting from. Whatever you do, don’t let the humdrum earth-tone cover dissuade you from digging into the crackin’ good story underneath.
Yee haw! Shannon Hale and her hubby Dean have taken the tired old princess-in-a-tower-tale and re-imagined Rapunzel as a rootin’ tootin’ cowgirl, complete with scarlet lassoin’ braids, and a sassy sidekick named Jack (yeah, he of the magic bean fame). As in the original, Rapunzel is taken as an infant from her mother by a wicked witch in payment for some stolen…lettuce (for those of you not in the know, “rapunzel” is actually a salad green) and raised in isolation. But instead of sitting helplessly in a tower, she uses her mile-long braids to escape the tall tree-prison fashioned by said wicked witch Mother Gothel, and goes in search of her real mom, who has been forced to slave away in Gothel’s brutal mining camp. On the way she befriends huckster Jack, rescues a ransomed youngster, drives a pack of wild coyotes across the border, and wrestles a giant rattlesnake to death. This fearless ‘Punzie is more Sally Ann Thunder Ann Whirlwind Crockett than lovelorn Lady of Shallot, and ten times as fun! Hale & Hale’s brilliant cowgirl creation is brought to vivid, full-color life by Nathan Hale’s (no relation) rich illustrations, which resemble a grittier William Joyce. I haven’t had so much fun since Bloody Jack came to town! A must-read graphic novel for all ages.
Sixteen-year-old Katniss knows what it is to be hungry. Ever since her father died in a mining accident, she has been the sole breadwinner for her family, teaching herself how to hunt with snares and arrows in the dark woods that surround District 12. Now it’s time for the annual Reaping lottery, when Kat’s futuristic fascist government forces each District to send one girl and one boy (known as Tributes) to compete in the Hunger Games, sort of like Survivor—except, to the DEATH. When her sweet little sister Prim’s name is called, Katniss immediately volunteers to go in her place, along with Peeta, the brawny baker’s son. Thrown into a harsh landscape with little resources, each Tribute fights to stay alive as the cameras track their every move for the entertainment of the crowds back home. No one expects the scrawny girl from the poorest District to last very long. But Katniss is tougher and smarter than she looks. She knows how to hunt and forage, and she cunningly builds an alliance with the physically stronger Peeta. But there can be only one Tribute left alive. Does Katniss have what it takes to wipe out the competition, including loyal Peeta? This disturbing, fascinating novel is reminiscent of Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery, Stephen King’s The Long Walk, and more recently, Andrea White’s Surviving Antarctica. But what distinguishes Suzanne Collins’s clever take on televised Darwinism is her excellent pacing and the shrewd, brave character of Katniss herself. I was completely in love with this kick-ass girl by book’s end (as are two other main characters—hmm, wonder what book II & III will be about? The cliffhanger ending spells S-E-Q-U-E-L-S). The swift, brutal action is balanced by the utterly humane characterizations of both Katniss and Peeta. You can’t help but put yourself in their hiking boots and wonder how you would play this version of Real World, Destination: Hell.
Sarcastic, twenty-something amateur sleuth Madeline Dare, grown-up child of hippie parents, takes a job as a teacher at an elite, if fairly cult-ish private school for troubled teens. The head guru in charge, Santangelo, promises desperate parents results, no matter what technique he has to employ to get them, including isolation and humiliation. Madeline, who’s having nasty flashbacks about her own dad’s bizarre child-raising methods, is having serious doubts about whether she can continue to teach using Santangelo’s “unorthodox” techniques. Then, two of her fav students turn up dead and Madeline rejects the hypothesis that the kids offed themselves and instead begins to dig for evidence of corruption at the highest levels. Turns out that pseudo-suicides are the LEAST of what shady Santangelo has under his ridiculously pretentious opera cape. This bitterly funny mystery by Edgar Award-nominated author Cornelia Read has a great cast of teen characters, but the best voice is that of jaded, wickedly witty slacker sleuth Madeline Dare herself. This is one seriously dark comedic nailbiter.