Riot Grrrl!

Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver


before i fall
Samantha Kingston is a bitch.  She and her three best friends Lindsay, Elody and Ally rule the school with their better-than-you attitudes and sky-high stilettos. Sometimes Sam feels a twinge in what passes for a conscience at the bottom of her small black heart, but she usually manages to squish it. February 12 is a Friday like any other, except on the way home from a party, Sam and her girls end up rolling their car and Sam’s life as she knows it is over. Until the next morning, when she wakes up in her bed. It’s February 12—again. At first Sam thinks maybe this is a coma dream, but soon she realizes that she’s trapped in a weird limbo—and she’s not sure what she’s supposed to do next. “Maybe when you die time folds in on you, and you bounce around inside this little bubble forever.” She feels anger (“I hate both of my parents right now…for letting the thread between us stretch so far and so thin that the moment it was severed for good they didn’t even feel it.”) then hopelessness (“I’m dead, but I can’t stop living.”) and finally resolve, as Sam realizes she can alter events, move people around, and perhaps avoid the inevitable crash that takes her life (“From now on I’m going to do things right. I’m going to be a different person, a good person. I’m going to be the kind of person who would be remembered well, not just remembered.”) But is Sam meant to save herself? Maybe the point of all this is to save someone else…

If Sarah Dessen and Jenny Downham collaborated, it might look a little like this rad reinvention of the mean-girl novel. Full confession? I dreaded reading this book. C’mon, a teen relives the last day of her life over and over? (Have I ever mentioned that Groundhog Day is one of my most hated movies of all time?) And it’s loooonnngg. Like 450+ pages long. But surprise, surprise, Lauren Oliver had me at hello with this elegantly crafted and completely mesmerizing story about a dead girl who learns what it means to live in just seven short days. Unlike Groundhog Day, each February 12 of Sam’s day is different, a whole life lived in 24 short hours as she tries to accept what she has lost and wishing she appreciated it more. The length ended up being important, as Sam goes over every detail of the careless existence she took for granted, causing  YOU to consider all the little things in your life that you never think about but would miss terribly if they all went away. Like sunsets, little sisters and sappy movies, just to name a very few. Despite the length, there was a feeling of constant suspense as I wondered how on earth Oliver was going to solve Sam’s existential conundrum. I ended up loving every bit of it: the premise, the way Sam’s character realistically develops over the course of the story, the bittersweet end and yes, even the voluminous page count. This is a heart book. You will have an illogical urge to hug it when you’re done. I found myself racing through it, and sighing with great satisfaction upon finishing the last page. As you will, when this lovely and amazing tome comes to a library or bookstore near you.

Folly by Marthe Jocelyn


“Somehow I knew there were a gulch between what got writ down about history and what were remembered by the people who went along living it.” In this hip hist. fic. about Victorian London, Marthe Jocelyn successfully channels the authentic voices of the ordinary people who “went along living” history, and whose stories are just as interesting as those famous folks who end up in all the textbooks. It’s 1877, and fifteen-year-old Mary has been sent away by her humorless potato-faced stepmother to find work. She secures a position in the scullery of a grand manor, where her fresh-faced innocence catches the roving eye of Bates the butler, and stirs envy in the bitter heart of parlor maid Eliza. A failed romance with a fickle groom ends in the unthinkable, and Mary learns the hard way that “Love is not for the likes of us, belowstairs.” What price will she have to pay for her folly? Flash-forward to 1884, where six-year-old orphan James Nelligan has been taken from his foster family and placed in the Coram Foundling Home, where he is taught that he is a “progeny of sin. It is therefore your duty to devote yourselves to goodness and servitude.” Under that dire legacy, he must learn to navigate the treacherous waters of hunger, bullies and strict headmasters. Still, he remains hopeful that one day he will be reunited with his foster mother, and keeps an eye out for the man who might be his biological father. How these two souls are related will soon become clear to quick-thinking readers, but what is masterful is how Jocelyn weaves the two stories together into a working class opera of hope and despair, adding the soprano of Eliza’s spiteful voice, and the pragmatic tenor of Oliver Chester, one of James’s teachers and a foundling himself. You might also want to check out some of Jocelyn’s other under the radar reads. Trust me, she’s the awesomest author  you aren’t reading, and the time to change that is NOW.

This World We Live In by Susan Beth Pfeffer


Miranda and her family from Life As We Knew It have made it through the brutal winter. Limited government food supplies have started coming to her small Pennsylvania town, enough to keep her, her mother and two brothers alive as they try to figure out what to do next. Even though any food is long gone, Miranda and her brothers have taken to looting abandoned houses for items like toilet paper and toothpaste, which now seem like huge luxuries almost a year after the asteroid that hit the moon changed everything. And now things are changing once again. Suddenly, there are more mouths to feed when older brother Matt shows up with his new “wife,” Syl. And Miranda’s dad finally comes back with his wife Lisa, their new baby and several traveling companions, including Alex Morales and his sister Julie from The Dead and the Gone. Tensions rise around food distribution and family affections. While Miranda is thrilled to see a cute boy her age who isn’t related to her, she’s also worried about how much the newcomers will eat, and resents the fact that her father seems to care about Alex and Julie more than his own children. In addition, Alex has a secret that could either save or destroy this fragile new community of survivors. Who will live, who will die, and who will fall in unexpected love in This World We Live In?

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: what I love about these books is how Pfeffer paints the Armageddon not with a broad 2012 brush, but instead takes a subtle, infinitely scarier approach, where the simple things Miranda takes for granted, like privacy, the taste of toothpaste and the regularity of the seasons gradually disappear. Even something as benign as a quick bike ride to town could end in tragedy if she fell and broke a bone, as there are no more working hospitals, or doctors to staff them. All the rules have changed, and the consequences for thoughtless behavior could very well be fatal. Can love even exist under these conditions? Is it worth caring for someone who could be taken from you at any moment?  Pfeffer raises these questions and many more in this thoughtful, moving conclusion to her end of the world trilogy. While you can read World on its own, you’ll want to take in all three titles for the full-on post apocalyptic experience.

Ash by Malinda Lo


In a medieval land where science and logic have begun to overtake faith and enchantment, Aisling still believes in fairies, having been fed a steady diet of supernatural tales by her beloved mother since she was a tot. But now her mother is dead and her father soon follows—but not before marrying a cold noblewoman who finds fairies to be superstitious nonsense. After her father’s death, Aisling or Ash as she is called, is demoted to a servant in her stepmother’s household, where she begins to dream of escape. She visits her mother’s grave, willing the fairies to take her, only to be turned down again and again by the fairy lord Sidhean. Then one day, Ash notices and is noticed by the King’s Huntress, a mysterious woman named Kaisa. Despite the difference in their stations, they soon become friends and suddenly Ash regains her will to live. But now she needs a favor in order to get closer to Kaisa, a favor only Sidhean can grant. The fairy agrees to give Ash what she wants, in exchange for her vow that she will become his “when the time is right.” Ash recklessly agrees, but soon regrets her choice when she realizes that she no longer wishes to leave her world for the cold, bright world of Fairie. Is it too late to change her mind? Is she brave enough to break her promise? Told in an understated, traditional tone, this upgraded and updated Cinderella story will take you by surprise when the love triangle of girl, fairy and huntress takes an unexpected turn. Newbie author Malinda Lo gives this oft-told tale a modern spit and polish, the results of which landed her as a finalist for the American Library Association’s William C. Morris YA Debut Award. And Lo’s in pretty hot company, check out the rest of the nominees (including Nina LaCourhere.

Bad Apple by Laura Ruby


bad apple
Tola (short for Chenerentola, Italian for “Cinderella”) Riley’s life is like a fairy tale. But not one of those pretty pink-tinted ones—more like the one where small children get lost in a dark forest, or the one where the girl finds pieces of her husband’s past wives hacked up behind a secret door. Tola’s as small as Thumbelina, with a nasty stepmother who never lets her see her father, a deeply depressed older sister who would like to fall asleep forever, and a wicked witch (swap that “w” for a “b”) named Chelsea spreading malicious rumors that Tola is sleeping with her dorky art teacher Mr. Mymer who wears t-shirts with sayings like, “Full Frontal Nerdity.” Even though the gossip is completely untrue, Mr. Mymer has been suspended and Tola’s been locked up like a princess in a tower by her angry and terrified mom. Alone in her room and surfing the Internet, Tola can’t believe what people are saying about her on their blogs: “How can all those people at TheTruthAboutTolaRiley keep telling stories using my name, if they’re not really about me? Am I so small, so insignificant that my own story doesn’t need me anymore?” Fortunately for her, lucky number Seven Chillman, resident hottie and all around cu-tee, has offered to be her toffee-candy secret prince. He believes in her. How come no one else does? Laura Ruby’s latest is an awesome mash-up of mean girl-meets-folklore-and-so-much-more. Cleverly told in a full-on snarky tone that hides a smile behind its’ snarl, BAD APPLE is a thoroughly modern and highly entertaining anti-fairy tale that is as sweet and sour as the Granny Smith on the cover!

Devil’s Kiss by Sarwat Chadda


devil's kissYou think your after school job sucks? Try being fifteen-year-old Billi SanGreal for a day. After facing down mean girls in the cafeteria and sleeping through most of her classes, Billi has to go home to her London flat, don some chain mail, and head out into the dark to stake some undead with her hard bitten dad. See, Billi is the daughter of one of the last remaining members of the fabled Knights Templar, a mysterious society of Christian crusaders dating back to the 1100’s. Originally a monastic order of impoverished knights who ferried pilgrims back and forth to the Holy Land, the rag-tag modern day Order defends humanity against the supernatural forces of darkness, including vampires, werewolves and the occasional fallen angel. In spite of being a pretty smooth hand with a sword, Billi is sick of cleaning blood off her jeans and landing in detention for late homework because her driven, distant father thinks decapitating demons is more important than long division. Plus, her half Pakistani & Muslim heritage make her feel like a square peg in a round hole in the traditionally Christian fighting force. Tired of the politics and pain that come from being a Templar, Billi tries to leave the Order, but finds herself sucked back in when she discovers that her lapse in judgment concerning a tall, dark and handsome maniacal stranger may have resulted in the Tenth Plague being released on the greater UK. Equally distracting is the fact that her childhood friend Kay has returned from Oracle training in Jerusalem and somehow managed to turn into a total hottie while he was gone. Now Billi has to find a way to mend her relationship with her forbidding father, figure out if Kay is the Templar for her and somehow stop the Angel of Death from frying all of the world’s firstborn. It’s a tall order, but if anyone can do it, Billi can. Move over, Buffy Summers. Billi SanGreal eats vampires for breakfast. What else ya got? This creepy, cheesetastic gore-fest mixes history, fantasy and horror in a compulsively page turning way that will have you screaming for a sequel long before you hit the final chapter. (And yes, there is one coming.) Did I roll my eyes (okay, more than a few times) over some of the over-the-top bits? Sure. But Billi’s showdowns with various versions of The Unholy are truly terrifying and the book’s fighting sequences frightfully well choreographed. This is a must-read for The Da Vinci Code and Buffy fans alike. And don’t blame me if you stay up all night poring over the pages. I warned you–debut author Sarwat Chadda‘s story of the first female Templar is hopelessly addicting.

Hold Still by Nina LaCour


hold still
“My best friend is dead, and I could have saved her.” Caitlin was devastated when her BFF Ingrid committed suicide. Now she struggles with overwhelming feelings of guilt, wondering if there was anything she could have done to halt Ingrid’s gradual and largely secret descent into depression and pain. When she finds Ingrid’s last journal hidden in her bedroom, she only allows herself to read one entry at a time, hesitant to sever this last link. Slowly, she becomes aware of the other people who have lost Ingrid too: their favorite photography teacher who now can’t look Caitlin in the eye, the boy Ingrid had a huge crush on who never even had a chance to ask her out, Ingrid’s incredibly sad family. Slowly, she becomes aware of the other people who have lost HER while she’s been grieving for Ingrid: her terrified parents, new girl Dylan who just wants to be her friend, popular boy Taylor who has liked her since third grade. For a while, all Caitlin could do was hold still so she didn’t fall a part. As Ingrid’s journal comes to end, Caitlin is faced with an enormous decision: hold tight to her grief or dare to let go and move on. This powerful debut, rich with themes of renewal, hope and redemption, will resonate with anyone who ever survived losing someone. (1 weepie)

Hate List by Jennifer Brown


Valerie thought she knew her boyfriend Nick. He liked Shakespeare and hated algebra. He was smart and funny and angry and sarcastic, just like Valerie. Even though they were both outcasts at their high school, Nick always made Valerie feel like she belonged. Valerie thought she knew her boyfriend Nick. Until the day he walked into the school Commons and killed six students and one teacher, then turned the gun on himself. Until Valerie threw herself in front of Nick’s gun to stop the carnage and sustained a terrible wound to her leg. That was the moment Valerie realized she didn’t know Nick at all–at least, not this empty-eyed person who calmly gunned down their classmates one by one. Valerie is left with the terrible guilt that she possibly helped cause this catastrophic event with her Hate List, a notebook full of names of all the people who ever tormented her and Nick. “Maybe I thought I didn’t mean for those people to die, but somewhere, I don’t know, subconsciously, I really meant it. And maybe Nick saw it. Maybe he even knew something about me I didn’t even know. Maybe everybody saw it and that’s why they hate me so much—because I’m a poser. I set it all in motion with that stupid list and then let Nick do my dirty work.” Now Valerie has to put the pieces of her shattered life back together, and she’s never felt more alone. With the help of a caring psychiatrist, a crazy craft lady and an unexpected new friend, Valerie will slowly make her way out of the darkness and into a future where nothing is certain except the fact that she’s a survivor. Debut author Jennifer Brown has written a book about a complex and uncomfortable topic that is clear, compassionate and compulsively readable, a book that delves deeply into issues of consequence, survival and forgiveness. And if you want to read more about school shootings and understand how and why they occur, check out Dave Cullen’s detailed and meticulously researched nonfiction, Columbine. 2 weepies

Dani Noir by Nova Ren Suma


dani noir
Thirteen-year-old Danielle Callanzano knows that real life isn’t like the movies. If it was, she wouldn’t be stuck in her boring upstate New York town suffering the after effects of her parents’ recent divorce with no one to call and no cell reception even if she did. (Her best friend Maya moved to Poughkeepsie three months ago.) Luckily, the Little Art movie theater’s theme this year is “Summer of Noir,” so Dani can escape the pain of her mom’s depression and her dad’s deception by sneaking into Theatre 1 and watching Rita Hayworth slink her black and white way across the screen. But the thing about movies is that they end, and when they do, Dani is right back to having to deal with her feelings. Until she notices the mysterious girl in the polka-dot tights who seems to be hanging around the projection booth of the Little Art–the projection booth where cute, seventeen-year-old Jackson works. Jackson is dating Dani’s beloved older babysitter Elissa, but the girl in the polka-dot is definitely NOT Elissa. Determined to find out if Jackson is cheating on Elissa the way her father cheated on her mom, Dani launches her own investigation, trusting no one to tell her the truth. “If there’s anything I’ve learned from noir movies it’s that everyone lies about something. And if you lie about one thing, what’s to say you didn’t lie about it all?” The only problem is that if you don’t trust anyone, it’s pretty hard to make friends. As she gets closer and closer to the truth, Dani has to decide if solving the mystery is worth alienating her neighborhood peeps in the process. Instead of asking, “What would Rita Hayworth do?” Dani needs to ask herself some hard questions about privacy, friendship and forgiveness. Because “this is what’s happening in my real life, right now, the one I’m living. I don’t want to miss a thing…” This delightful debut novel had me at hello, with Dani’s snarky and endlessly quotable narration that begged to be Twittered. I had to restrain myself from tweeting lines like “Rita Hayworth would have eaten Jessica Alba alive,” or this astute observation of a femme fatale: “A femme fatale would have a sleek black phone…she’d set the ringer to silent. And she’d get calls all the time, but she’d rarely answer. What femme fatale would?” I welcome this original voice with open arms, and I can’t wait to see what Nova Ren Suma does next!

Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater


When she was a little girl, Grace was dragged off the tire swing in her Minnesota backyard one winter by a starving wolf pack who had every intention of having her for dinner. But one yellow-eyed male stopped the feeding frenzy and saved Grace’s life. So instead of being afraid of the wolves, she becomes their defender, especially the amber-eyed one she calls her own. Flash forward: Grace is a junior in high school when one of her classmates is attacked and killed by the pack. Armed, angry townsmen head into the woods to get rid of the wolves once and for all, and Grace throws her self into their line of fire in an attempt to save her wolf. Imagine her surprise when a bullet grazes the animal and he turns into a stunning young man named Sam right before her eyes. She acts quickly, saving his life as he saved hers all those years ago, and soon a passionate romance blossoms between them. Sam reveals to Grace that the pack are actually werewolves, who remain human for the most part as long as the weather is warm, but are forced to succumb to their wolf state when the temperature drops. To make matters worse, as the seasons turn, the pack remain as wolves for longer and longer periods of time until they stop becoming human altogether. Sam is eighteen years old, and knows that this is his last year as a human. Once he turns again, he will stay a wolf for the rest of his life. The shock of being shot caused Sam to revert to his human state, but the weather is growing frostier by the day, and despite all her efforts to keep Sam warm, Grace is terrified that she will lose her first love to his wolfish nature forever. Meanwhile, there are two renegade wolves on the loose who are determined to return Sam to the pack even if they have to kill Grace to do it. Can Sam protect Grace from their murderous means in his weakened human condition? Can Grace find a way to defy the laws of nature and keep their love from growing cold? Twilight fans, HERE is the worthy successor to your fav series. There is abundant romance, a little sex (mostly off page), a gorgeous, swoon-worthy boy, some suspenseful fight scenes and best of all, a strong, smart heroine who puts passive Bella to shame. I have to admit I rolled my eyes a little over Sam’s near-perfection (a song-writing literary werewolf who loves Rilke’s poetry and can read it in the original German? REALLY?), but even cynical old me got a little misty on the last page, which may be my favorite ending in recent history. A lovely Fall-into-Winter book for now, and a great romance anytime.


Jen Hubert Swan
Librarian, Book Reviewer,
Reading Addict