Red Spikes by Margo Lanagan

red spikesThis third installment of Aussie author Margo Lanagan’s short story collections is just as bizarre and mind-bending as her previous two. My favorites include “A Good Heart,” about a medieval peasant boy who discovers that the girl he loves, a lady above his station, is harboring a dark secret, and “Under Hell, Over Heaven,” which takes place in Purgatory, where some souls try to earn their way into Heaven by forcibly transporting other unfortunate souls to Hell. “Winkie,” in which Lanagan reinterprets the benign Wee Willie Winkie from Mother Goose into a tall, scrawny, child-snatching bogeyman gave me the heebie jeebies, which were soothed away by “A Feather in the Breast of God,” a sweet story that suggests sometimes our pets come back to watch over us after death. Another thing I appreciate about Lanagan’s books is that she always includes notes at the end that let readers know where the inspiration for her weird, wonderful stories comes from. I loved the shout-out she gave to fellow Aussie Garth Nix when she wrote that the title of her last story, “Daughter of the Clay” came from reading about the Clayr in his Abhorson trilogy. If you want to take a short trip to a strange place, then these stories are just the ticket. Don’t forget to go back and check out her first two books, Black Juice (a Printz-honor title) and White Time.

The Restless Dead: Ten Original Stories of the Supernatural edited by Deborah Noyes

restless dead In Deborah Noyes’ latest horror anthology, the dead not only won’t stay put, they’re hanging out at dance clubs and visiting the local 7-11! Noyes, whose first collection Gothic!: Ten Original Dark Tales knocked my socks off, has assembled another winner with The Restless Dead. Marcus Sedgewick tells a story of a transplanted heart that takes over its’ new owner’s body in “The Heart of Another,” while Annette Curtis Klause shares what it’s like to infiltrate a trendy vampire nest in “Kissing Dead Boys.” Chris Wooding’s traditional Victorian ghost story will keep you guessing until the last line, while Herbie Brennan’s unexpectedly funny story about a greedy old grandpa who refuses to go back to his grave will have you laughing even as you suppress a shiver. Libba Bray, Holly Black, and Nancy Etchemendy also all penned chilling shorts that gave me the heebie jeebies, but I have to say my favorite was M.T. Anderson’s “The Gray Boy’s Work,” a strange historical fiction about the horror that comes home with a Revolutionary War soldier who deserted his post. Give yourself some goose bumps in the middle of summer, or anytime of year with this gorgeously ghoulish collection!

Black Juice by Margo Lanagan

Black JuiceMy teenage compadres, I have finally read something that has left me…speechless. These 10 short stories by Margo Lanagan are breathtakingly indescribable. Using elements of science fiction, fantasy, and horror, Lanagan drops the unprepared reader into 10 wholly original worlds, where first you flounder and flap…and then you swim. Into places and people you couldn’t even begin to imagine—like a tar pit where justice is sung as you sink to your death, a lonely rural ridge where carnivorous red dragon angels grant wishes, and a tribal village where a broken accordion speaks to gods. And that’s just a sampling of the amazing dimensions you will experience when you crack open this brilliant, disturbing, too wonderful for words short story collection.

Past perfect, Present tense: new and collected stories edited by Richard Peck

Past perfect, Present tenseThis series of stories by YA literature godfather Richard Peck highlight the very best of his short story career. Arranged into simply named sections called “The First,” “The Past,” “The Supernatural,” and finally “The Present” Peck gives teen readers a look at what goes into crafting the heart and soul of a short story. Besides providing examples of his work, each section starts with a short explanation by Peck about who or what inspired the story or how it came to be written. But best of all is the writerly advice contained in the last two sections: How to Write a Short Story, and Five Helpful Hints, which include my two favorite adages, NOBODY BUT A READER EVER BECAME A WRITER, and THE ONLY WRITING IS REWRITING. Using a very few perfectly chosen words, Peck boils down the very essence of how to write a story. Teen writers will welcome his stripped down advice, as it will keep them from becoming overwhelmed by the empty monitor screen. All of his selected stories are such gems of the genre that it will certainly inspire young authors to follow his sage advice.

One Hot Second edited by Cathy Young

One Hot SecondIf I said, “Sarah Dessen,” could I make you pause? What about “Jacqueline Woodson, Rich Wallace, and Ellen Wittlinger?” Would you stop to see what all these fabulous YA authors (and many more too numerous to mention in this short space) were doing in one collection? What if I said all of these cool shorts were about DESIRE in all its forms: sexual, identity, wanting to belong, wanting to connect, just WANTING? Would you stop for one hot second and see what all the heavy breathing was about? I’m thinking you might for a collection full of funny, smart, serious and true short stories about all the different people, privileges, feelings and connections that we long for as teenagers. There, made ya look!

Tomorrowland compiled by Michael Cart

TomorrowlandWho hasn’t wanted to see into the future, even if it was just a little peek? Editor Michael Cart asked 10 well known YA writers to pen their versions of the future and they came up with some pretty funky results. Katherine Paterson created a future where humans have made their homes in sealed domes and no longer know the meanings of words like “hot” or “loneliness” except through virtual reality lessons. Jacqueline Woodson writes about how one girl, born out of a sperm donor deposit, is searching for both her father and her future. And Rodman Philbrick gives us a taste of his longer futuristic novel, The Last Book in the Universe, by describing a future where violence and brutality rule, and hope comes in the form of the written word. And those are just a few of the space age stories from this eclectic volume. Cool tattooed cover, too. Make sure you bring this one along on your latest mission to Mars.

The Rose and the Beast: Fairy Tales Retold by Francesca Lia Block

Before diving into the dark and delicious mix of Francesca Lia Block’s collection, be warned that these fractured fairy tales are not for the faint of heart. Block imagines the fabled Wolf as a predatory live-in boyfriend who won’t leave you or your mother alone, and Bluebeard as a club-land, hipster serial killer of drugged-out, runaway girls. But there’s always a touch of Block’s signature whimsy–like when Beauty kinda wishes that her Beast had stayed a cute and cuddly lion instead of turning into an argumentative b-friend, and Thumbelina cures adolescent depression by making her crush-boy into a happy flower-prince who is as tiny as she. Another fabulous book by the amazing Block. Oh, stop making me gush and just go read it, already!

Life is Funny by E.R. Frank

Life is Funny is a book of inter-connected stories about this group of teens who are growing up in Brooklyn. Their individual first person voices are at once innocent and jaded, funny and incredibly heartbreaking. First-timer author Frank is also a social worker, and does she ever prove how well she knows her stuff. Gingerbread is in love with Keisha, who doesn’t mind that her hilarious and loving boyfriend has to control his manic personality with Ritalin. Eric is determined to keep a hold of his little brother Mickey, no matter how many foster homes they are moved to. Grace and Ebony, though worlds and skin colors apart, manage to have an awesome friendship in spite of Grace’s racist and alcoholic mom. And those guys are just a sample of the teens you’ll meet in these pages. Frank tackles almost every contemporary teen issue and put a new face and a fresh talking mouth on it. Which is a struggle for established YA authors, let alone a newbie. A guaranteed perfect read.

Doing Time: Notes from the Undergrad by Rob Thomas

Like all of Rob’s books (with perhaps the exception of Green Thumb, in my humble opinion), Doing Time is fabulous. The stories all share the same premise: every student in them has to perform some sort of community service work to graduate. There’s Laura, a total wannabe, who does her community service in the local hospital in the head trauma unit because she has a crush on last year’s Prom King, a permanent resident since his motorcycle accident. In “Loss of Pet,” Fiona hears a very unusual story from the most popular girl at school as she’s serving her time as a library assistant. And Teesha learns that charity can hit a little too close to home when she signs on to help with a local food drive. All of these stories contain powerful hooks that will reel you all the way in and keep you on the line until the very last page. Short, but completely satisfying.

What’s in a Name by Ellen Wittlinger

There are two kinds of people who live in Scrub Harbor–the people who like it just the way it is and those who would change the city’s name to the classier “Folly Bay.” Not surprisingly, the working class folk are sticking with Scrub, while the upper crusty set are wrangling for the name change. The class division has trickled down into the high school, where the students are also arguing over the name issue. Readers discover that labels and stereotypes really have nothing to do with the actual person. (But you go to high school– you know that already!) There’s O’Neill, who seems like a typical anti-social loner, but who’s really a complex person with a pretty complex secret. Popular, run-everything Gretchen decides that maybe it’s NOT all about wearing the right clothes and dating the star football player. Middle class Nelson thinks that just because he’s black, he has something in common with Shaquanda, but he couldn’t be more wrong. What’s in a Name is a frosted mini-wheat of a book–a sweet, easy read with some real substance inside.

Here’s Your Hat, What’s Your Hurry by Elizabeth McCracken

Almost indescribable, this collection of stories about complete oddballs will challenge you to try and figure out what a tattooed librarian, a homeless old lady named Aunt Helen and a little girl who’s dad is entirely too nice to strangers, have in common. This book defines the word “quirky.” A really original read that I haven’t been able to get out of my head, and I hope you will invite into yours.

145th Street by Walter Dean Myers

These ten stories are about what life is like in the Harlem neighborhood of 145th Street. You got quiet Monkeyman, who’s still waters run deep the day he decides he won’t be intimidated by gang warfare no more. There’s Kitty, who won’t let Mack give up on their love and Big Joe, who wants to enjoy his funeral NOW instead of after he’s dead. There’s drive-bys and beatings and unexpected death, but also tons of friendship, humor and laughter. An excellent introduction to Myers writing, if you haven’t read him before. And if you haven’t, shame on you! His novel Monster won the first ever 2000 Printz award, for outstanding YA lit!

Kissing Tennessee and Other Stories from the Stardust Dance by Kathi Appelt

The best way to describe this book that revolves around the events of an eighth grade dance is “sweet” and “low.” There are some truly sweet moments, like when Peggy Lee REALLY kisses her best friend Tennessee for the first time, or when Russ remembers his first love, Annie P., who he will never be able to kiss again. But these are balanced by the hard-hitting lows of watching Becca Scott relive the horror of her recent date rape, and Mary Sarah hoping that the wearing of a forbidden red ribbon won’t earn her a beating. A good blend of hard and soft tales, despite the somewhat mushy and romantic-al book cover.

Places I Never Meant to Be: Original Stories by Censored Writers edited by Judy Blume

And now, the best for last! Judy Blume, a veteran YA author who’s taken many pot-shots for her ground-breaking novels, has assembled and edited some awesome shorts by other YA authors who have had to deal with censorship. The stories themselves aren’t ABOUT censorship, but showcase some really fine writing that perhaps censors wouldn’t let us read if they had their way. I don’t think there was a story here I didn’t love. Julius Lester writes about the son of a civil rights hero who falls for the only white girl in his African American lit. class. Paul Zindel writes about the revenge wrecked on an evil cheerleader by a lonely fat girl. Rachel Vail writes about a female basketball star who, after having sex for the first time, wonders what all the hoopla was about. And Walter Dean Myers delivers a lyrical, beautifully written story about how hard it is for his main character to reconcile his campus life at a small liberal arts college with his home life in Harlem, where his sister is slowly losing her battle with drugs. And each story comes with a personal note from the author about their thoughts on censorship. Really fantastic stuff. I envy you if you haven’t read it yet, ’cause you’re in for a delicious treat. I ate it all up in two days flat!