When you go into the Young Adult section of your public or school library, does it seem like all the books are for girls? Are The Clique and Gossip Girls threatening to overwhelm you with their glossy, lip-sticky covers? Well, never fear, Best Boy Reads are here! Believe it or not, there are some great books out there for the teen-aged males of the world who like a little more testosterone in their paperbacks.
Boy Meets Book
Who’s afraid of vampires, werewolves or zombies anymore? These former baddies have totally lost their fear factor by becoming sparkly, hunky and objects of our affection. Luckily for those of us who still like to get our scare on, there’s a new fright in town. And it’s coming from the sky. Famous astrophysicist Stephen Hawking said, “If aliens ever visit us, I think the outcome would be much as when Christopher Columbus first landed in America, which didn’t turn out very well for the Native Americans.” Cassie should know. She’s barely survived the first four waves of the alien invasion of Earth. First, the worldwide loss of electricity, then the massive tsunamis, followed by a fatal plague and finally the outright assassinations by roving drones of any humans left alive after all that. She’s lost everyone but her little brother, lost everything but her iron will to live. When men claiming to be American military separate her from her brother Sammy, Cassie decides she will do anything to get him back, even if it means sacrificing the only thing she had left—her life. But her mission is compromised when she joins forces with a mysterious stranger who has a secret agenda that could derail Cassie’s journey before it’s even begun. And the 5th Wave is silently rolling out, even more deadly than the the first four. This tense, high wire, sci-fi thriller could only come from the terrifying mind of Rick Yancey, author of my deeply beloved Monstrumologist series. While this new series opener is not quite as ooey gooey gory as The Monstrumologist, Yancey doesn’t shy away from the visceral violence of an unfriendly alien invasion and the nearly nonstop action is super intense. I could barely sit still while reading this juggernaut of a book, surely annoying everyone around me with my tapping toes, jiggling feet and chattering teeth. Cinematic, epic and downright addictive, The 5th Wave reminded me of one of my fav Stephen King stories, The Stand. Get ready to be swept away when The 5th Wave crashes into a library, bookstore or e-reader near you!
Autumn and Adonis couldn’t be more different. Autumn is a top wrestler, one of the few girls in the league. She’s always a winner on the mat, but when report cards come out, her weakness is revealed: she can’t read on grade level. “I’m a great cook and wrestler…but reading—that’s gonna take me down. I try not to think about it. Or read too often. That way I feel better about myself.” Adonis is a straight-A student, who volunteers in the library and is constantly called on to tour officials and administrators around the school. He’s always a leader when it comes to grades, but when he comes out from behind his desk, his weakness is revealed: he can’t walk. A birth defect left him without legs but not without resilience. “I know who I am. I know what I am capable of accomplishing. I do not dull my light so other people will feel better about themselves.” But despite their differences, Autumn is determined to make Adonis hers. And Adonis is equally determined to keep his wheelchair as far away from Autumn as possible. “I do not like aggressive girls.” But after Autumn is cut from the team because of her failing grades and starts volunteering in the library, Adonis sees another side of the “dumb” girl he scorned, and wonders if he was wrong about her. “Autumn does not cheat. She speaks to everyone. Besides wrestling, smiling is her favorite activity.” It’s possible that there’s hope for these polar opposites yet. Sharon Flake turns the stereotypes of the school jock and the scholarly nerd on their heads with this sensitive portrayal of two teens trying to fulfill their destinies in spite of their physical and mental deficits. Because of Flake’s uncanny ability to write the way teens really speak, you’ll be pinned by PINNED before you know it!
In 1975, Arn Chorn-Pond was a carefree and enterprising Cambodian kid who snuck into movies with his brother, listened to the Beatles and played games of chance on the street to make money for candy and coconut cake. Then the Khmer Rouge came to town. The rebel military group had won control of Cambodia, and they began ordering Arn’s family and neighbors to pack up and leave because the Americans who had been at war with Vietnam were now coming to bomb them. The rebels would protect them and bring them back to their homes in three days. Frightened, but also a little excited, Arn joins the mass exodus out of the city of Battambang. But what he doesn’t know is that the Khmer Rouge are lying. There are no attacking Americans. What waits for him and thousands of other children in the country and fields outside of town isn’t salvation but fear, starvation and death at the hands of the brutal Khmer Rouge who believe that in order to build a new Communist society, they must first destroy the old one. So begins Arn’s horrific odyssey through a Khmer Rouge work camp, training as a child soldier and eventual escape to the United States. He quickly learns that showing emotion can be deadly: “I make my eye blank. You show you care, you die. You show fear, you die. You show nothing, maybe you live.” But while he finds physical safety, will he ever be able to forget the friends and family he was forced to leave behind? “…after all the thing I been through, now being rescue is something I also have to survive.” This true story of heroism and fortitude was related by Arn himself to the award-winning author Patricia McCormick, who wove his words into a fictionalized account of real events. The result is a harrowing but ultimately uplifting narrative that demonstrates humanity’s enduring tendency towards hope, even in the darkest of circumstances. I was completely undone by the simplicity and power of this book, couldn’t stop thinking about it for DAYS and already anticipate that it will be wearing several shiny metals on it’s cover come YA book award season. In other words, an absolute must read! (To see an interview between Arn and McCormick and to find out more about the Khmer Rouge and the Cambodian Killing Fields, click here)
Chester Kates is a hardscrabble teenage orphan who lives on whiskey, pancakes and fistfights in a desolate corner of the Old West. It’s not much of a life, so when a shady railroad exec offers him 40 bucks to burn down a ghost town called Whale that sits in the railroad’s future path, Chester jumps at the chance. But when he gets there, he finds that Whale is not entirely deserted. It is still home to a few souls who were fortunate enough to have survived the mysterious fatal plague that laid waste to Whale’s meager population. Chester teams up with Caroline, the pretty daughter of a crazy miner named Whitley Barber who may or may not have hidden a valuable treasure somewhere in Whale. Together they try to convince Barber to uncover his loot and leave the doomed township before Chester burns it to the ground. But the old miner won’t budge, and when Chester discovers the evil reason why, he is forced to make a terrible decision between love and justice. This imaginative graphic novel is a bone-chilling blend of horror, mystery and Western that will keep you guessing until the very last page. JT Petty’s dark story has more twists and turns than a bucking bronco, while Hilary Florido’s sketchy manga-light artwork conveys the inhospitable bleakness of home on the range–which is quickly shown to be the opposite of the cozy cowboy song. If you find your appetite whetted for more menacing Old West/horror mash-ups, try The Sixth Gun or American Vampire.
There are handful of authors who never disappoint me, and Kenneth Oppel is one of them. This splendid sequel to This Dark Endeavor proved to be just as satisfying, if not even a bit more so, than its predecessor. Victor’s twin Konrad is barely cold in his grave before the young Frankenstein is trying to raise him from the dead. Of course, for any one else this would be utter madness, but Victor’s hubris knows no bounds. He’s sure that if he just had the right formula, he could defy even Death. Led by enigmatic clues that appear in a self portrait of his famous ancestor Wilhelm Frankestein, Victor finds his way into a shadow world of his family’s vast mansion where his brother still lives. Accompanied by his cousin-crush Elizabeth and best friend Henry, Victor travels to this strange purgatory frequently to search for a way to bring Konrad back to life. But what he doesn’t know is that there is malevolent presence that is invested in not only keeping his beloved brother right where he is, but drawing Victor, Elizabeth and Henry closer and closer to death as well. If I tell anymore, it will give too much away, but the way Oppel inventively reinterprets the classic Frankenstein monster will just floor you. Perfect pacing, non-stop action and complicated characters make Oppel’s writing an absolute pleasure to read. I adore brilliant, headstrong, jealous Victor and his raging ego. And Cousin Elizabeth is no shrinking violet, regularly kicking Victor to the curb every time he tries to convince her that it is really him and not his dead twin she is in love with. While you could easily read this title without having paged through the first one, why would you? And since SWI won’t be coming to a library, bookstore or e-reader near you until August 2012, you have plenty of time to go back to the beginning of this fantastic Frankenstein re-boot!
Sometimes you read a book and you say, “That’s my book.” It seems like the author wrote it just for you, that everything in it was created for your amusement and suspense and pleasure. It is intimate and wonderful and you want to tell everyone you know about it and keep it all to yourself at the same time. I know many of you have felt that way about this book, and this one and this one. And that is how I feel about Diviners by the diabolically funny and utterly fabulous Libba Bray. This is SO my book. It is full of everything awesome and scary and merry and sweet. It is set in the Roaring Twenties in a swanky, swaggering New York City and features a collection of complex, confused teens with mysterious powers, who, one by one, realize that their destiny is to fight an ancient evil that is rising up in their very midst. (My favorite started out as unapologetic party girl Evie, but oh, you are gonna have such a crush on dance hall Theta and moody poet Memphis as well) There is both a haunted house AND a haunted museum. There’s a serial killer who steals body parts and a terrifying religious cult baying for blood. There are speakeasys and rent parties. It is about both big things like Manifest Destiny and little things like sparkly headbands. You get a front row seat to the Harlem Renaissance and a balcony chair to the Ziegfeld Follies. And the frights aren’t just lame-o gross-outs, but deep psychological chills that get under your skin (although there are some pretty good gross-outs, and someone does lose their skin). There’s a diversity of character that without message or pretense, makes you understand that America is and always has been a melting pot and that characters of color or of various sexual orientation can be an intregal part of a story without their background being THE story. There is romance (but not too much), gore (but not too much), loads of suspense and even a Model-T car chase. All things I adore (who knew I loved Model-T car chases but it turns out that I DO). All things I can’t believe are in the same epic voluminous book that despite being over 500 pages is as tight as a proverbial drum. And the only reason that I’m not in deep mourning at having finished it and at never being able to read it again for the first time is that it is just the FIRST BOOK IN A NEW SERIES. THERE WILL BE MORE. And I’m already a hot mess of anticipation for book 2. An exquisitely written, sumptuous affair of a novel that you will want to pull up around your ears and roll around in like a flapper’s mink stole. I can’t wait for you to discover that this is YOUR BOOK TOO when it comes to a library, bookstore or e-reader near you. On your way to the library, check out this hilarious video of LB acting out the first scene of The Diviners with action figures. (Yes, I know. You thought you couldn’t love her more and now YOU DO.)
Mahalia and Mouse are “war maggots,” children orphaned by the violent and ever changing civil war that has ravaged the bleak futuristic landscape of the United States eastern coast, and caused the Chinese peacekeepers to cut their losses and flee. They find temporary safety and shelter with Doctor Mahfouz, a kind physician who works hard helping their small village of civilian survivors stay alive. But when the United Patriot Front, a ragged gang of young men and child soldiers, invade Banyan Town while on the hunt for an escaped genetically engineered canine soldier named Tool (one of my all-time favorite characters), Mahalia and Mouse are dragged back into the danger and chaos of the civil war that destroyed their families and took Mahalia’s hand. In this dark companion novel to the Printz award- winning Ship Breaker, Paolo Bacigalupi paints a terrifying picture of a future that looks frighteningly similar to recent conflicts involving child soldiers in countries like Sierra Leone, Somalia, Sudan and Uganda. Though Bacigalupi’s precise, crisp prose and masterful plotting was as excellent as expected, I had a very hard time finishing this book because Mahalia and Mouse’s situation is so grim, the violence they endure is so pervasive, and any hope they find is brutally snatched away. But I know my reaction is no doubt what the author intended. Because if the readers of this book, and others that chronicle the real lives of child soldiers, are inspired to take action as a result of what they have read, then maybe someday the global epidemic of war and violence against children will end. A piercing, powerful book that will sear itself on your heart and soul.
Serious Lita and easy going Adam have been BFFs forever. But that doesn’t mean that they agree about stuff, especially when it comes to girl/boy stuff. They each have very different opinions about the best way to go about currying the favor of the opposite sex. So when Adam decides he’s going to write a self-help book for girls that gives them the secret scoop on what boys are really thinking, Lita is more than a little annoyed because a) Adam has NO idea what he’s talking about and b) Lita DOES know what she’s talking about because she advises clueless teens though her anonymous blog, “Ask Miz Fitz.” But she can’t tell Adam that because, well…it’s an anonymous blog. So she continues to fume while Adam continues to write and have no idea why Lita is so angry with him. Meanwhile, Adam develops a crush on a “skank”, while Lita starts dreaming about a “grease monkey” mechanic, but neither one of them is about to ask the other for dating advice. Finally, when Lita discovers that Adam’s research for his book has been collected in questionable ways and that his skank knows her grease monkey, the self-help really hits the fan. This rollicking read by one of my favorite authors reads like the teen version of Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus. Pete Hautman writes some of the sharpest, funniest teen dialogue around, and this title is no exception. Think you know what boys really want? Think you have any idea what goes on in girls’ heads? Think again!
Let’s be clear: Lucky Linderman is NOT lucky. First of all, he’s named after his grandfather, a Vietnam POW who’s presumed dead. Also, because of an ill-worded homework survey intended to liven up the social studies curriculum (“If you were going to commit suicide, what method would you choose?”) he’s on wrist-slashing watch by the assorted powers and teachers-that-be. He’s being seriously bullied by Neanderthal-in-training Nader McMillan, whose blood pressure doesn’t even rise when grinds Lucky’s face into the pavement. And did I mention that his distant parents are too involved in their own middle-aged misery to notice how wretched he is? Lucky hasn’t smiled in over six months, and so far nothing’s tempted him to start up again. The only place where Lucky doesn’t suck is his dreamscape, a humid jungle full of danger where he heroically rescues his grandfather over and over. But he can’t keep hiding in his dreams forever, and when Nader finally goes too far, Lucky begins seeing the ants—tiny heralds who tell him the hard truth about what he needs to do to get his life back. There’s only one problem—Lucky’s not sure he wants it. This darkly humorous book may be one of the best I’ve ever read about how it feels to be relentlessly, aggressively bullied and how adults don’t do nearly enough to protect teens who are being targeted. Lucky’s story is raw, ragged, honest and true and quite possibly happening to you or someone you know. The way to make it end is both the easiest and hardest thing to do—act. Tell. Help. Read. And don’t stop until you see a change.