Normandy Pale’s life is…complicated. She and her two best friends have embarked on a truth telling crusade where they ask people at their arts high school the one burning question everyone wants to know about them. As you might imagine, this sometimes puts them into some fairly uncomfortable and occasionally hilarious situations. Normandy’s older sister Keira is an eccentric genius who publishes the Diana Chronicles, which is an exaggerated, unflattering comic version of Normandy’s family– another fairly uncomfortable and NOT always funny position to be in. Now the intensely private Keira has laid a pretty hardcore truth on her right as Normandy begins developing “like like” feelings for one of her best friends. How is Normandy supposed ask people the truth when her own sister is begging her to keep an awful secret and her crush has no idea how she feels? Normandy may want the truth, but she just may not be able to handle it! This wickedly sly, smart read could only come from the ever fertile brain of Canadian author Susan Juby. Full of funny footnotes and sardonic scribbles, this utterly original read is ripe pickings for fans of John Green, My So Called Life or Degrassi High. If you’re looking to fill your beach bag with intelligent laughs this summer, then this is the book for you!
Dear teen peeps, I was recently given the opportunity to review some fabulous up and coming YA fiction titles for the New York Times that are considered “crossover” books–that is, books that both you AND the adults in your life might enjoy reading. The print review appeared in the May 31 issue of the NYT Sunday Book review, but you can read it online here. Any of these titles would make outstanding summer reading choices and maybe even give you and your parents something to talk about while sunning at the beach or grilling the ‘dogs. Want more suggestions for laid back vacation prose? Then check out the entire 2015 NYT super-sized Summer Reading Book Review!
Sydney has always lived in the shadow of her older brother Peyton. Bigger than life Peyton has always more confident, more charismatic, more EVERYTHING than Sydney. “I was used to being invisible…I wasn’t shiny and charming like my brother, stunning and graceful like my mother or smart and dynamic like my friends.” But when Peyton’s bad boy antics climax in a drunk driving accident in which he paralyzes another teen, Sydney is thrust into the spotlight. Suddenly it seems like everyone knows what her brother did and are silently judging her and her family. So she isn’t too upset when her brother’s costly legal defense forces her parents to trade her private school for public. At least at Jackson High she can escape some of the scrutiny that comes from being Peyton’s sister, and distance herself from her brother’s creepy ex-addict friend Ames. It’s at Jackson that she meets bold Layla and her dreamy musician brother Mac, and embarks on a journey of self discovery that includes, but is not limited to: taking lessons in French fry etiquette, riding a secret carousel, donning the image of a mysterious saint, standing up to her take-no-prisoners-mom, and falling deeply in love. It is only when the worst happens that Sydney is able to uncover the best of herself. This latest offering from Sarah Dessen will be no doubt embraced by her legion of devotees, while new fans will quickly be drawn into her polished, quietly powerful orbit by her trademark Everygirl heroine and quirky secondary characters who steal both scenes and hearts in every chapter. As for me, seasoned Dessen reader that I am, this will always be the book where I discovered that Sarah Dessen LOVES THE REAL HOUSEWIVES FRANCHISE AS MUCH AS I DO. Sydney’s preferred method of escape is to watch a reality TV show that is clearly based on the RH. And the particulars were just WAY too detailed for Dessen to just have a passing knowledge of Kyle, NeNe and Bethany. That alone was worth the price of a hardcover
Laurel should be grateful that her best friend Viv’s wealthy dad footed the bill for the two of them to join the SOLU luxury cruise. After all, the producers of the brand new sweetener promise that anyone who sprinkles it on their cereal will drop 5% of their body weight in the first week, and even though Laurel has come to terms with her size 14 jeans, Viv is convinced that they both need to lose at least a dress size. So Laurel agrees to go, even though she secretly thinks that she and Viv look just fine the way they are. Soon they are partying with the likes of Tom Fiorelli, a hot teen celebrity spokesperson who wants to become the next Ryan Seacrest, and downing SOLU like water at every meal. Well, at least Viv is. Laurel is too seasick to eat anything for the first few days and by then, it’s clear that SOLU works, maybe a little too well. Laurel notices that within hours, all newly thin Viv wants to eat is SOLU. In fact, the fake sweetener is so addictive that soon everyone that has been eating it craves more. And when there isn’t any more, they begin to turn on each other in order to get their fix–in blood. The only ones who remain sane are those who never developed the craving, including Laurel, Tom and a few smart crew members. Now it’s up to them to ditch the cruise and warn the world that the greatest weight loss drug ever created has fatal side effects. There’s only one problem: the passengers are hungry. And the chance that Laurel and Tom will escape the ship with their lives is slim to none. But they have to try, because when it comes to SOLU, slim is better than DEAD! This highly entertaining dietary horror story manages to be compulsively readable while also imparting serious messages about identity, body image and the drug industry. If you like humor/horror mashups like Scream or Shaun of the Dead, then you will devour SWEET. Skip the latest dystopian blah blah, THIS should be the first book to grace your beach bag this summer. Get ready to become addicted when SWEET comes to a library, bookstore or e-reader near you June 2015.
“Food tasted better in Fairfold, people said, infused as it was with enchantment. Dreams were more vivid. Artists were more inspired and their work more beautiful. People fell more deeply in love, music was more pleasing to the ear, and ideas came more frequently than other places.” For the people of Fairfold, living alongside fairies is normal, and the many blessings they receive as a result helps soften the blow when an occasional foolish tourist disappears or turns up dead. Fairfold is where Hazel and her brother Ben have grown up, with artist parents, friends who are half fey, and the eerie presence of a horned prince who slumbers eternally in a glass coffin in the woods behind their house. Along with the rest of the Fairfold locals, they think they know how to navigate the strange waters of their town, know the right charms to mutter and the wrong places to stay away from. But then someone or something smashes the unbreakable glass coffin, and everything changes. The horned prince has awakened. Sorrow is suddenly stalking the homes and schools of Fairfold. No one trusts anyone anymore, especially those who have ties to the Folk who live under the hill. And guilty Hazel knows that it’s all her fault for striking that bargain with the fey so long ago. Now she’s going to have to try and make it right the only way she can–with a magic sword and just a little help from a new friend with a hard head and a soft heart. This captivating offering from renowned fantasy author Holly Black charms and beguiles at every turn of the page. Black drops clues like breadcrumbs that lead to a “holy crap!” twist about halfway through, revealing whole new layers to Hazel’s initial quest. Black also plays havoc with gender stereotypes, giving us new and improved versions of knights, monsters and damsels in distress while still paying homage to the myths and legends of old. Boys fall in love with boys, girls fall in love with swords and heroes emerge from unexpected places. Prepare to be completely, utterly, thoroughly enthralled.
“When I don’t have anything to read, I feel like a tortoise without a shell or a boat without an anchor. There is nothing to hide under. Nowhere to stop and rest. When I don’t have a book, there is nowhere good or interesting to be, there is nobody to care about, nothing to hope for, and nothing to puzzle over.” Fourteen year old Dime’s life with Daddy, L.A. and Brandy can sometimes feel hopeless. If it wasn’t for her books, she would never be able to imagine her way out of the life of prostitution that Daddy has forced her into. If not for Scout, Mandy, Charlie, Katniss and other characters from her favorite novels, Dime would drown in a sordid sea of dirty alleyways, anonymous hotel rooms and Daddy’s black silk sheets. She wouldn’t be able to withstand the loneliness of never being able to tell anyone the truth, or the fear that Daddy will actually kill her someday. Sometimes she wishes she was dead. But her books give her the strength to go on. Until Daddy brings home Lollipop, who is only eleven years old, can’t read and whose only understanding of life outside a hotel room comes from Nickelodeon. And Dime realizes that stories aren’t enough. Now she has to leave her imaginary worlds in order to save someone in her all too real world. And if she’s very, very lucky, Daddy won’t realize what Dime is up to until it’s too late. Dedicated readers of this blog know E.R. Frank is one of my very favorite authors, and even though it has been ten long years since her last novel, her writing is just as rich and raw as ever. Dime’s brutal story is beyond sad, and often difficult to read. But her haunting voice and her abiding faith in the power of books make her absolutely unforgettable. Dime’s devastating story is coming to a library, bookstore or e-reader near you May 2015. To read more about teen sex trafficking and what you can do to help (or get help), check out LOVE146, Womenslaw.org and the National Human Trafficking Resource Center.
Pakistani American teenager Kamala Khan wishes she could just be like everyone else. She’s tired of the kids at school making fun of her culture and her Muslim parents’ strict rules. “Why do I have to bring pakoras to school for lunch? Why am I stuck with the weird holidays? Everyone else gets to be normal. Why can’t I?” But one night, after sneaking out to a party that her parents forbid her to attend, her wish to be someone else comes true in a way she could never have imagined. When Captain Marvel, Iron Man and Captain America appear to her in a sea of fog and ask who she wants to be instead of Kamala Khan from Jersey City, she quickly replies, “Right now? I want to be beautiful and awesome and butt-kicking and less complicated.” In other words, she wants to be like Captain Marvel herself. But when the fog clears and her wish is granted, Kamala discovers that her new shape shifting abilities have made her life more complicated, not less. While she does manage to pull off a pretty heroic rescue, she also accidentally destroys her school locker room when her “embiggen” powers get away from her. “What does it mean to have powers? To be able to look like someone I’m not? What if I don’t fit into my old life anymore? Like it’s a pair of pants I’ve just outgrown? Would I still be Kamala?” As Kamala struggles to answer these questions, she and her friends are drawn into a battle with shady villain known only as “The Inventor.” Does Kalmala have what it takes to bring down the Inventor? Maybe…if she learns to believe in herself as much as she does her beloved Captain Marvel Carol Danvers. “I’m not here to be a watered-down version of some other hero…I’m here to be the best version of Kamala.” This fresh, funny, thought provoking graphic novel featuring a realistic teen who turns the superhero stereotype upside down makes a terrific read alike to Gene Yang’s equally awesome Shadow Hero.
David Smith is a disgraced artist. Once a rising young star in the art world, he said the wrong thing about the wrong critic and suddenly his career was in the toilet. Now he’s washed up at twenty six and about to be evicted from his apartment. But just when he’s resorted to drinking his days away, Death shows up in the form of his former Uncle Harry and presents him with a proposition he can’t refuse: the ability to sculpt any material with his bare hands in exchange for (what else?) his life in 200 days. David has a little under seven months to make his mark on the world before he leaves it forever. But right away he runs into complications. First of all, there’s the little matter of his rent–he’s still jobless and broke. His landlord throws him out and confiscates all his new work. His phone is cut off. Then the very worst possible thing of all happens. David falls in love with an angel named Meg and the endless 200 days suddenly seem a lot shorter. Can David beat Death at his own game by finding a way to live forever through his artwork? Or will he die in obscurity, content that at least he was truly known and loved by one very special person? Since the “making a deal with Death” is a familiar story, you might think you know how this epic graphic novel ends. But you would be dead wrong. Scott McCloud‘s richly rewarding GN, with its timeless themes of life, death, love and art has the feel of an instant classic. The pale blue artwork is restrained, the panels are perfectly placed. The moment I finished it, I knew it would become a literary touchstone that I would return to again and again, like Craig Thompson’s Blankets, Toni Morrison’s Beloved, or S.E. Hinton’s Tex. For anyone who’s ever wondered what they would sacrifice to fulfill their dreams or which dreams they would be willing to sacrifice for a beloved someone.
Ever since I read French Milk before taking my first trip to Paris, I have been utterly charmed by Lucy Knisley‘s delightful (and often delicious) graphic memoirs. Her latest effort, which chronicles her travels through Europe while on a book tour, does not disappoint, as it is filled with the quiet humor and delectable food descriptions I have come to expect from this intrepid young artist. In 2011, twenty-something Lucy was enjoying the first flushes of her success as a working cartoonist when she was invited to present at a comic festival in Norway. She decided to tie it into a visit with friends in Sweden and Germany, and then join her mother and her friends for a short vacation in France. Once she is overseas, Lucy is blindsided by an unexpected love affair in Stockholm while trying to decide where the next chapter of her life will lead. She finds herself discombobulated and questioning everything she thought she wanted as she teaches European school kids about comics, drives across France with her mother and samples every local delicacy that comes across her plate.While at a wine tasting, it is a bearded old sommelier who gives a name to the experiences Lucy is having: “L’Age License, as in: License to experience, mess up, license to fail, license to do…whatever, before you’re settled.” Lucy decides then and there she will do less worrying about the future and more enjoying of the present. Peppered with appetizing cuisine pictures and unexpectedly beautiful full color portraits of her friends and family, An Age of License is a lovely story about food and firsts. It is perfect for anyone at the start of their travels who wonders where their road will lead–or for those in the middle of their journey who would enjoy a wistful moment looking back.
When Meg commits suicide, Cody is stunned. “…even though Meg was my best friend and I have told her everything there is to tell about me and I assumed she’d done the same, I’d had no idea. Not a clue.” What could possibly have caused cool, smart, indie-music loving Meg to take her own life? After inheriting Meg’s laptop and reading through all her old email, Cody uncovers a sinister trail of messages that lead straight to an online suicide encouragement group called The Final Solution. She begins to dig deeper into the Internet world of suicide support, with the reluctant help of Meg’s last crush Ben, who ended their relationship shortly before Meg ended her life. As the two of them try to get over their instant dislike of each other and understand Meg’s actions, they discover a different, sadder Meg than the one they knew. They also realize that they just might be falling strangely, awkwardly, bizarrely in love. This heartbreaking, heartfelt ten hankie read combines elements of romance and psychological thriller in a way that is pure Gayle Forman nirvana. Her buttery prose goes down so easy that you don’t realize you’re crying until you see the tears splash across the screen of your e-reader. Cody is a tough, angry outsider that anyone who’s ever lost someone will recognize while Ben is the wounded bad boy you want to kiss and slap across the face at the same time. I can’t stop thinking about them and you won’t be able to either as soon as you beg, borrow or check out a copy from your mom, best friend or local library. (And if you or someone you know is thinking about suicide, please check out these suicide prevention resources and then go find a parent, friend or teacher and tell them how you’re feeling. There’s always help, please don’t be afraid to ask.)