It’s the summer of 1977 in Queens, New York and situations both inside and outside seventeen-year-old Nora Lopez’s life are threatening to explode. Outside the tiny apartment Nora’s single mom works day and night to hold onto, it is the hottest summer on record. Arsonists are setting random fires around the city that are keeping the firemen like Nora’s best friend Kathleen’s dad busy day and night. There is a serial killer on the loose calling himself “The Son of Sam” who murders young couples in their cars and sends terrifying letters to the newspapers that give Nora nightmares. A city-wide blackout encourages a wave of crime that causes tempers to flare and feelings of fear and racism to flourish. Meanwhile, closer to home, Nora’s younger brother Hector, always a troublemaker, seems to be getting worse. A violent drop-out with a drug addiction, Hector rages at Nora, physically strikes their mother and rarely comes home at night. Nora is worried that he is possibly one of the city’s destructive arsonists. But she stuffs her misgivings deep inside, afraid of what telling the truth will do to her already fractured family. “How can you make people understand about brothers who hit and spit? How do you explain why you listen at your own door before going in? How do you explain that it’s not only parents who beat kids, but sometimes the other way around, too?” Nora longs to ask her father for help, but he has a new family in Manhattan and only calls on holidays to hear good news, not problems. The only bright spot in Nora’ life is her blossoming romance with her deli co-worker Pablo. His dreamy good looks and positive attitude give Nora hope. But when Hector takes his brutality to a new level and her mother loses her factory job, Nora pulls away from Pablo, afraid to draw him into her family drama. She’s never felt so alone, and wishes her mother didn’t always expect her hold everything together. “Shouldn’t she be able to take better care of us? Isn’t that what adults are supposed to do? Take care of their kids? Shield them from stuff? Pay bills? Why is everything the other way around for us?” Can Nora learn to ask for the help she needs before her entire world combusts? The novel takes it’s title from a well known disco song, but while Nora escapes to the club to forget her problems, the music can’t save her. I have deep love for Meg Medina’s books because they are set in my beloved Queens (my neighborhood of Forest Hills gets a shout out for it’s historical Tudor houses and because it was sadly a notorious site of one of the Son of Sam murders) and her teen characterizations are spot on. The feelings she conveys are honest and authentic, and her descriptions of NYC back in the day will make the 70’s come alive for you. Nora is a complex, original character who will bring your summer to its knees when you get your hands on this hotter than hot novel in March 2016.
Dan’s divorced mom has never had the best taste in men, Dan’s dad included. So when she tells Dan that she has arranged a hardcore camping trip for him and her newest beau Hank so that they can “get some quality guy time in,” Dan is obviously less than thrilled. Dan is sure that Hank is going to be just “another one of Mom’s freeloading man-child boyfriends eating all our food, shedding body hair in the shower, and stealing money out of my change jar.” At least Dan is able to convince his sarcastic brainiac best friend Charlie to come along as a buffer. But Charlie has other ideas–“You need to convince Hank that he’s in way over his head with the stepdad thing. Be creative. Have fun with it.” So the boys plan a serious of disasters intended to drive Hank as far away from Dan as possible. These include, but are not limited to: an extreme B.O. situation, a puking event, and an intense case of flatulence + diarrhea + poison ivy–all while trying to survive in woods “Man vs. Wild” style. After putting himself through bodily fluid hell, Dan hopes that will be enough to make Hank head for the hills. But when the camping team is forced to scatter due to a crazed bear attack, Dan and Hank have to depend on each other to make it out of the woods alive, and Dan starts to wonder if his scorched butt campaign was really the smart way to go. This scatologically funny comedy could only have come from the hilariously warped brain of screen writer Don Calame. The last time I was so completely amused and grossed out simultaneously was when I read his equally raunchy and highly entertaining Swim the Fly trilogy (which I recommend unequivocally to anyone aged 14+) If you appreciate witty dialogue, drawn out fart jokes and quick tips about how to survive in the woods with minimal supplies (and honestly, who doesn’t?) you are going to want to catch, snare or trap Dan vs. Nature when it comes to library, bookstore or e-reader near you April 2016.
Happy New Year, teen peeps! Here is my top ten list, delivered like a baby 2016 to your email, Twitter or Pinterest right on January 1. 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 DIME a tiny bit more:) Click on the title to go right to the review.
All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely
Dime by E.R. Frank
Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan
Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon
Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead
The Hired Girl by Laura Amy Schmitz
Lair of Dreams by Libba Bray
Nimona by Noelle Stevenson
Orbiting Jupiter by Gary D. Schmidt
The Tightrope Walkers by David Almond