Cath is the shy “Clark Kent” half of Cath and Wren, a pair of twins who used to share everything, including their love of writing and reading fan fiction. But now that they’re headed to college, Wren isn’t as interested in their online stories anymore and wants to go off on her own, while Cath just longs for everything to stay the same. At first Cath is as miserable on campus as she thought she’d be. She desperately misses her twin and worries about her single advertising exec dad, who is prone to fits of extreme mania that leave him exhausted and unstable. The only thing that makes school even bearable is keeping up with her fan fiction about Simon Snow (a very thinly concealed version of Harry Potter). But bit by bit, almost against her will, she is coaxed away from her computer screen by her smart, sarcastic roommate Reagan and new creative writing partner Nick. Then there’s flirty Levi, Reagan’s Starbucks barista boyfriend. No matter how much she tries to ignore him, he just refuses to let Cath slip away into her shell. Cath can’t decide if Levi is charming or annoying, but he’s certainly entertaining. Suddenly college isn’t so awful after all. But then Nick starts acting weird, her dad goes off the deep end and her long lost mom, who deserted Cath and Wren when they were little, decides she wants to be a part of their lives again. And if all that weren’t enough, Cath thinks she might be falling for the worst possible person in the universe, and her sister is too busy with her new life to help her decide what to do. Cath is so overwhelmed that the only thing that helps is immersing herself in all things Simon. But how will she ever learn to solve her real life problems when the first sign of trouble sends her running to the safety of her fictional world? This delightful and poignant story by the beloved author of the beyond amazing Eleanor and Park does not disappoint. Rainbow Rowell uses realistic, absurdly funny dialogue like a BOSS, exploring in spirited conversations between her quirky, flawed characters everything from plagiarism and identity to divorce and mental illness. It’s a book about being an artist, being in love and being true to your self. Just read it and you’ll see exactly what I mean.
Fifteen-year-old Colette is “what your English teacher calls an ‘unreliable narrator.’” Or in other words, a big fat liar. Her therapist says she lies because she’s “got a very bad case of Daughter-of-a-Famous-Movie-Star Disorder.” But Colette disagrees, even though the part about having a blockbuster mom is true. “I say I lie because it’s the most fun I can have with my clothes on.” Even though her lying gets her in trouble with her family and friends, Colette finds the exaggerated storytelling too much fun to stop, especially when her elaborate fibs find such an appreciate audience in her little brother Will. Then Colette meets Connor, the boy of her dreams on the set of her mom’s latest movie, and lies about everything from her age to who her mother really is. But this time she regrets not keeping it real, because she finds herself truly falling for Connor. One thing Colette is honest about is how far she wants to go physically with Connor, and when he storms off after she tells him “no” one time too many, Colette regrets not being more honest about why she doesn’t want to go all the way. When Connor finally returns and shares some shocking truths about himself, Colette has decide if she should come clean or keep her flirty fictions intact. This light and frothy verse novel about truth, lies and relationships is the perfect way to end your summer reading. It has been six long years since we’ve seen a sassy title from the singularly talented Sonya Sones, and this one will not disappoint her masses of fans.
There are two sides to every story, and stupendously talented author/artist Gene Luen Yang elevates that saying to a whole new level with Boxers & Saints. In this double volume, graphic novel masterpiece, two teenagers become caught up in the Chinese Boxer Rebellion of 1898 on opposite sides, fighting to retain their identity and hold on to their hard won religious values.
Boxers tells the story of Little Bao, the youngest son in a motherless family of farmers from a poor village. When a Catholic missionary priest smashes the statue of one of his village’s gods in front of him, he is devastated, especially since the opera stories he sees during the spring fairs make him feel as though the ancient gods are his close friends and allies. As he grows into adulthood, he begins training with a kung fu master in order to join the rebellion against these foreigners who have their own army and refuse to respect the native Chinese ways. Soon he is heading up his own small army, each member fueled by the angry spirits of the old gods. But as the “Society of Righteous and Harmonious Fist” marches closer and closer to the capital of Peking to “eradicate the foreign devils” once and for all, Little Bao begins to question his rock solid faith as the number of bodies of innocent people build in his violent wake.
Saints tells the story of Four-Girl, a lonely child who is considered a bad luck devil by her family no matter how much she tries to win their approval. The only person who shows her kindness is the village acupuncturist, who is also a Christian. He tells her Bible stories that fire up her imagination, and she begins having recurring visions of Joan of Arc. Soon she decides to become baptized and join the church. She gets a new name, Vibiana, and leaves home to work at a Catholic orphanage, followed by her visions of Joan. When Little Bao’s army comes to her village’s doorstep, Vibiana decides that God is calling on her to be His warrior maiden like Joan of Arc. The tragic, unpredictable result of Little Bao and Vibiana’s final meeting will haunt you long after you close the covers on Saints.
The earthy/monotone palate of both volumes perfectly conveys the rural landscape and hardscrabble life of the peasants, only exploding into vibrant color when Little Bao’s pantheon of Chinese gods arrive on the scene, with their rainbow robes and elaborate masks, or Four-Girl’s golden vision of Joan of Arc shimmers between the trees outside her home. While this exceptional work will no doubt help gazillions of readers understand the complexity behind religious wars and personal freedoms, it can also be appreciated as a swiftly paced adventure peopled with men, women and gods who bring this fascinating period of Chinese history to bloody life. I was blown away by both the richly illustrated package and the timeless message. Read them in the order the title suggests, (first Boxers, then Saints) and then pass them along to everyone you know.
Revenge of the Nerds meets Mean Girls in this high-sterically funny GN drawn by the author of The Adventures of Superhero Girl and Friends with Boys. Charlie is a basketball jock. Nate is a robotics nerd. But somehow they manage to be best friends–until Charlie’s ex-girlfriend Holly proposes using school funds earmarked for the robotics team to instead finance her cheerleading squad’s new uniforms. Furious, Nate decides to try and take over the student council by any means necessary so he can have some say in how the funds are allocated. This incites an all out war between the nerds and the cheerleaders that involves everything from a hijacked scoreboard to copious amounts of weed killer and places Charlie unhappily in the middle. And while it’s not fun being pulled between the two factions, at least it helps distract Charlie from the fact that his divorced parents are making him miserable. But when Nate discovers an original way to solve both funding problems (two words: Robot Rumble) Charlie finds himself in the unlikely role of peacemaker between his best friend and his ex-best girl. Can he find a way to broker peace between his parents as well? This story of high school high jinks crackles with energy fueled by Faith Erin Hicks‘ bold, blocky artwork and Prudence Shen’s chuckle making dialogue. The trash-talking alone at the Robot Rumble had me snorting in my subway seat. You’ll want to throw this in your beach bag pronto. (Want a sneak peek at the panels? Read the webcomic version here.)
Do you remember the first time you realized you were no longer a kid? Maybe it was when your best friend started “going out” with someone and never had time for you anymore. Maybe it was at your middle school “moving up” ceremony when your principal shook your hand instead of hugging you and your parents asked if you would rather get a job instead of going to camp this summer. It’s tricky, that moment. One foot is still on the playground, while the other hovers uncertainly over adulthood. For twelve year old Zach, that moment comes when his father decides the time has come for Zach to retire his “action figures” and throws them away while Zach is at school. Devastated but determined not to show it, Zach tells his two best friends Poppy and Alice that he simply doesn’t have time anymore for the elaborate fantasy game they’ve played for years using dolls and their imaginations. But Poppy can’t let go. She insists that the creepy doll locked in her mom’s china cabinet that has loomed large in their imaginations as the evil Queen of their fantasy land is possessed by the ghost of a girl who needs them to return her to her grave site. Zach and Alice are skeptical until Poppy tells them, “Did you know that bone china has real bones in it?…She’s made from human bones. Little-girl bones.” And the doll does seem to have sack of what looks like ashes inside her. So the three friends go on a quest to return the Queen to her grave, encountering spooky circumstances that may or may not be the result of the dead girl’s ghost. Is there really a ghost, or is this just Poppy’s attempt to keep them believing in magic just a little longer? And what are these new feelings brewing between Alice and Zach? Secrets are revealed between the three that begin to tip the balance from believing that everything is possible to understanding that life isn’t always fair. “I hate that everyone calls it growing up but it feels like dying.” says Poppy passionately, sounding exactly like you, me and any other person who’s been twelve, thirteen, thirty, sixty five or eighty. The feeling that sometimes growing up sucks is universal, and it doesn’t necessarily get any easier as you start hitting the numbers that stop ending in “teen.” Holly Black so gets that in this beautifully melancholy book about endings and beginnings that will speak to readers of all ages. Without a doubt, one of the best books of the year.
The teenage veteran of a million crash diets, Ann has always been overweight. It’s hard not to feed her insecurity with more Mondo Burgers when her mom is a size 6 and her ex-best friend is a sculpted tennis pro. But when her Aunt Jackie announces that she wants Ann to be a bridesmaid in her upcoming wedding, Ann decides that she needs to lose 45 pounds (more or less) in the next few months to fit into a halfway decent dress. Deciding is one thing, doing is another. At first Ann tries another infomercial diet plan, but the prepackaged food is foul and expensive. And when she hears her four year old sister mimicking her slender mother’s refrain, “I’m too fat, I can’t eat another bite,” Ann knows that she needs to model better eating habits. So she ditches the diet and goes the way of good old portion control and exercise. But will it be enough to get her weight down to where she wants it to be for the wedding? And what about that cute boy who flirted with her at the mall? Does he like like her for herself or would his flirting go a little further if she was thinner? Will losing weight really stop her divorced dad from taking her granted or make her distant older brother pay attention to her again? Ann very much seems like an updated version of Marcy Lewis from one of my favorite middle school reads, The Cat Ate My Gymsuit, as she also eats to deal with complicated family matters that have nothing to do with food. Funny and frank, 45 Pounds is a good reminder that body weight that is either too high or too low is often a symptom of a more serious problem, and that if we address those problems, weight suddenly becomes more of a manageable issue. Want more books that deal honestly and realistically with issues of body weight/image and/or family problems? Try Fat Cat by Robin Brande or The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things by Carolyn Mackler.
Imagine waking up after a party to discover that all your friends are dead—except your jerky ex-boyfriend. Tana can’t believe that somehow a pack of illegal vampires not only wiped out most of her social circle, but that they then left her sleazy ex-boyfriend Aiden tied to a bed as snack for one of their own named Gavriel. Tana ends up escaping the awakening vampire hoard with both Aiden and the weakened vampire Gavriel, but in the process is scraped by an errant vamp fang. Worried that she and bitten Aiden are now Cold (a state of blood-hungry limbo between humanity and full on vampirism) Tana has no choice but to drive them all to the nearest Coldtown–walled cities that legally contain vampires and the humans who feed them. There she becomes drawn into a dark plot to destroy one of the most powerful vampires of all time, while becoming dangerously attracted to the moody, broody, and quite possibly insane Gavriel. This complex, richly characterized horror show is no Twilight, people. The near future setting is a chillingly real amalgamation of high Victorian camp and social media mania where I could see the imaginary Coldtowns all too clearly. Holly Black takes the tired blood sucker genre and pumps it up to a new level with atmospheric writing like the following platelet passage that, well, if you’ll allow me, makes your blood sing. “The scent of it was iron and basements and losing baby teeth so her big-girl teeth could come in. It was skinned knees and Gavriel’s mouth on hers. It was smeared walls and staring eyes.” You’ll want to make this one your first back to school read when it comes to a library, bookstore or e-reader near you!
“If nothing changed, I wouldn’t be writing this down because this is a book about the time when everything changed. And isn’t that what every book is about? No, seriously, isn’t it? I don’t know. I don’t read books.” Astrid Krieger may not read books, but that’s not going to stop her from writing one in which she tells her side of the story–about how it all went wrong. How her life of power and fear-mongering at her fancy boarding school was going great…until she was expelled for cheating. Until she had to move back home and live in her dad’s rocket ship proto-type in the backyard. Until her parents made her go to (ugh) public school. Now Astrid’s on a mission to discover who fingered her for cheating (which she freely admits to doing, but that’s not the point, is it?) and get her bad ass self back into private school. There’s only one problem, and his name is Dean Rein. The Dean of Students at Bristol Academy thinks Astrid needs to learn to help someone other than herself. So he makes a deal with her that if she can do three good, no GREAT deeds, he’ll consider letting her back in. Being kind to others isn’t something that comes naturally to Astrid, but with the help of new boy Noah and the memory of her little brother Fritz (the last person she really loved) she’ll try. But probably not too hard. While this sardonic, subversive novel was occasionally too clever by half and I didn’t quite believe Astrid’s teenage voice (which often sounded more like cynical, thirty-five-year old, college-educated black jack dealer–which, don’t get me wrong, is still funny, just not as realistic) Astrid’s misanthropic observations about life and relationships did give me a case of the knowing chuckles.
On friendship: “Accomplices are like friends, only they don’t care about you…No one is ever trying to take your friends away, so that’s how you know they’re less important.”
On her mother: “Vivi spends four weeks every year going “skiing,” and she returns at least four years younger. If she is not getting plastic surgery, she is surely a vampire.”
On public school fashion: “I had never owned a pair of jeans, and I didn’t plan on it. I am not a cowboy, a farmer or a 1950′s greaser. I just really don’t get it.”
On birthday parties: “I’d never been invited to a birthday party before, at least never to one that didn’t end with a Brunei prince shooting an endangered condor with a gold revolver off the side of a 450-foot-yacht.”
A perfect book for those times when you feel like you’d like to give the world a wedgie. Or when you feel like the world has given YOU a wedgie.
In the future, the superrich are able to buy their way out of punishment by sponsoring a “proxy,” a impoverished individual who, in exchange for education and basic medical care, agrees to face the consequences of his or her rich patron’s actions. If your patron is a law-abiding citizen, your punishments are few and far between. Unfortunately for Syd, his bad boy patron Knox is always in trouble. Syd has been tasered, beat, worked nearly to death and placed in solitary confinement more times than he can count. But now Knox has committed the ultimate crime. While joyriding in his father’s fancy car, Knox got in an accident and his passenger, a girl named Marie, died. And Syd will have to pay the price: seventeen years in a forced labor camp that few have ever left other than in a body bag. But Syd is a wily “swamprat,” a scavenger child who grew up in the dumps of the Valve. He’s not taking Knox’s knocks this time. Instead, he plans to escape the system or die trying—even if it means taking his patron down with him. But what Syd doesn’t know is that he carries a secret weapon that could change everything… and he’s just unintentionally passed it to Knox. Whew! I dare you to try and put this novel down before turning the last page (and let me tell you, that LAST page is a doozy!) and I guarantee you will find it darn near impossible. Not only is this sci-fi suspense thriller highly entertaining, it is also chock-full of thought provoking ideas about socio-economic class, race, environmental concerns and morality development. That’s a lot to pack in between car chases, hovercraft explosions, escaped zoo animals and the end of the world as we know it, but somehow London manages it with ease. Want to start your summer off right? Nab this book when it comes to a library, bookstore or e-reader near you, then follow it up with this one.
Dear Teen Peeps,
Reading Rants will be off the air for the month of May while I keep chipping away at my super sekrit writing project and work on some other big review assignments. When we return, I hope to have some fabulous suggestions of hot summer reads that will set your beach bags and e-readers on FIRE. (Only in the metaphorical sense. No one wants bag smelling of scorched canvas or a melted Kindle.) And maybe, just maybe a redesigned RR logo as well. Until then, check out these other great writing sites where you can share what you’re creating and let me know what fantastic titles you’re reading right now or looking forward to reading this summer in the comments. I’m always looking for the next good book, please feel free to steer me in the right direction!