Chaos Walking, Book One: The Knife of Never Letting God by Patrick Ness

knife of never
On Todd’s planet, there is Noise, and nothing but Noise. Infected by the Noise germ since birth, he and all the other males around him are subjected to the unending bedlam of each other’s thoughts. The same virus that caused this mental chaos proved fatal to women, leaving Todd without a mother in a violent village of men, some teetering on the brink of insanity due to the constant Noise. As Todd nears his thirteenth birthday and the secret ceremony that will usher him into their mysterious adult world, he comes across a pocket of blessed silence in the swamps near his home. Astonished, he tries to uncover the meaning of this unnatural quiet. But as Todd delves deeper into the silence, he realizes that its presence heralds a terrible danger to himself and everyone he holds dear. So he embarks on an arduous quest to find the source of the silence, constantly hounded by enemies that can hear his every thought, only to discover that everything he knows about his own origin is a lie. Armed with only a knife and aided by loyal Manchee, the sweetest, stupidest dog known to man (“The first thing you find out when yer dog learns to talk is that dogs don’t got nothing much to say. About anything.”), Todd finally becomes a man when he faces down both an army and his single greatest fear. Though this intense and monstrously entertaining novel is just shy of 500 pages, it flies by at rocket speed. With an excellent sense of pacing and action, author Patrick Ness uses short, cliff-hanging chapters to slowly reveal the ugly truth that forms the basis of Todd’s world. Exquisite world building and well-rendered characterizations round out this stellar sci-fi offering. My only gripe? The abrupt ending, which left Todd in peril and several plot questions still unanswered. Luckily, this is only the first book in a trilogy, but oh, what sweet agony waiting for the next one! Though Knife is available now, you might want to wait until you have Book 2 in hand before starting down the path with Todd and sweetly muddled Manchee.

The Ghosts of Kerfol by Deborah Noyes

A classic haunted house story is given a gentle face-lift by mistress of modern horror Deborah Noyes, who, with just a few tugs and some careful reconstruction, has created a glowing new work that does tremendous tribute to the original.  Turn-of-the-century American novelist Edith Wharton wrote “Kerfol” in 1916, a short story about a controlling French lord who kept his young wife practically imprisoned within Kerfol, his forbidding Baroque mansion. He refused to allow Milady even the comfort of a pet, and because of his suspicions that she was having an affair, ruthlessly murdered each dog she tried to keep in secret. Then the lord turns up dead, seemingly mauled by a pack of dogs. Except, there are no dogs at Kerfol…none left alive, that is…First Noyes took Wharton’s story and re-imagined it from the point of view of a young maid who worked in Milady’s service, interweaving her own writing with some of Wharton’s original phrases and dialogue. Then she moves forward in time to show how future generations continue to be haunted by the ghosts of Kerfol. Right after the French Revolution, a young artist who inherits Kerfol is tormented by the beautiful image of a woman he can’t stop painting, and the pack of sad-eyed dogs who follow him everywhere yet refuse to be touched. In 1926, a spoiled flapper meets her doom when she dons Milady’s cursed sapphire necklace. In 1982, a college-aged couple on a European tour awaken the vengeful spirit of the jealous lord when they engage in an illicit tryst in his former bedchamber. Finally, in 2006, the spirits seem to settle into an uneasy rest after a deaf young gardener finds and removes the cursed necklace from the manor grounds. Or, will the restless ghosts just follow the jewels to their new home and continue to haunt the young man? Like the linked sparkling gems in Milady’s necklace, each of Noyes’s stories is a small masterpiece, gracefully strung together by interwoven themes of bitter betrayal, sweet revenge and tempting madness. This gorgeously Gothy title is a just-right read for a blustery November night—or anytime you want to give yourself a delicious shiver!

If I Stay by Gayle Forman

if i stay
Seventeen-year-old Mia has everything: a promising career as a cellist, awesome former-punk parents that really get her and her music, and best of all, an understanding alterna-rock boyfriend who is the yang to her yin. Then one day on a routine drive near their home, her family is involved in a terrible car accident. Mia’s life is nearly lost. Now treading a fuzzy comatose line between life and death, Mia has to decide whether she wants to give up and let go or stay and fight. As the minutes tick by during the the longest day of Mia’s life, she mentally contemplates the consequences of either choice. Friends and relatives move in and out of her hospital room and her memory, each one weighing in on Mia’s decision, whether they know it or not. As the dawn breaks the day after her accident, Mia finally decides what she wants to do. Then one last person speaks, and everything changes once again…you may think you’ve read this story before, but you haven’t. Not the way Gayle Forman tells it, in an unsentimental and sincere way that may remind you of certain other well-crafted weep-tastic reads on this list, but which has a unique style all its own. Best of all are Forman’s characterizations, especially of Mia’s punk rock parents, who remain realistically cool for adults, despite their suburban trappings. You won’t want to miss this evocative tearjerker, which will soon be a movie directed by former Twilight director Catherine Hardwicke. (2 weepies)

Here Lies Arthur by Philip Reeve

ArthurThere’s nothing I love more than a good Arthurian legend. And Philip Reeve has written a slammin’ one! In this realistic revamp, Myrddin (Merlin) is a smooth-talking two-bit politician, a slight-of-hand bard who knows there’s no such thing as magic, only human gullibility and greed. He takes a promising young warrior named Arthur and attempts to use his savage talent to unite the squabbling tribes of Britain, who have fractured into a million warring pieces after the fall of the Roman Empire. But despite all of Myrddin’s efforts to groom the brutish Arthur into something resembling a king, the man known as “The Bear” refuses to be tamed. Arthur continues to loot and terrorize neighboring communities just like the barbarian Saxons he has sworn to protect them from, even as Myrddin grows his legend as a fair and just leader throughout the land. Myrddin’s masterful manipulations and Arthur’s violent exploits are seen through the eyes of Myrddin’s young assistant Gwyna, an orphan girl who becomes an unwitting accomplice in the creation of the enduring, yet wholly man-made legend of Arthur. The players you know well are all here: Gwenhwyfar (Guinevere) Bedwyr (Lancelot) Peredur (Perceval) and of course, the wily Myrddin. Except in this reimagining, there is no fantasy to blunt the sharp edge of Arthur’s broadsword Caliburn (Excalibur). Reeve removes the gilded edges from the traditional Arthur tales and writes Camelot the way it might have been in a real time and place. The result is bleak, and often bloody, but brilliant. If you are as obsessed with Arthurian myth as I am, you’ll also want to read Kevin Crossley-Holland’s and Jane Yolen’s versions of the legendary king.

Geektastic: Stories from the Nerd Herd, edited by Holly Black and Cecil Castellucci

revenge of the nerds
Geeks of the world, rejoice! Several of the best YA authors around have let their freak flags fly in this nerdalicious collection of dork-shorts, and the result is no less than GEEKTASTIC. Are you an astronomy aficionado? A quiz bowl questioner? A crazy ComicCon-er? Perhaps you’re compulsive online gamer, A Rocky Horror crooner, or just simply a Buffy action-figure collector. Whatever brand of freak you are, you will soon recognize yourself and other members of your nerd herd in this outrageously funny and occasionally tragic collection of stories and comics. Holly Black and Cecil Castellucci imagine the impossible love between a Jedi and a Klingon in the star-crossed “Once You’re a Jedi, You’re a Jedi All the Way,” while David Levithan explores quiz bowl backstabbing in “Quiz Bowl Antichrist.” A couple of nerds outsmart their hazers in John Green’s “Freak the Geek,” Cassandra Clare explains what happens when online gamers meet in real life in “I Never,” and Libba Bray will make you cry in “It’s Just a Jump to the Left,” a gorgeously melancholic ode to the Rocky Horror Picture Show and lost innocence. Plus, there’s Lisa Yee’s story of baton-twirling angst, Tracy Lynn’s tale of a cheerleader who finally sees the geek-light, and some totally awesome comic shorts by Hope Larson and Bryan Lee O’Malley. Additional nerd-words are penned Scott Westerfeld, M.T. Anderson, Garth Nix, Kelly Link, Barry Lyga, Wendy Mass and Sara Zarr.  As a proud former show choir nerd and theater geek, I dug each and every one of these original stories and I’m sure you will, too. Because when it’s all said and done, “geek” is just shorthand for being passionate about what you love, be it karate or Klingon.  And who isn’t passionate about something? Jot this one down for next summer’s reading list, as it won’t be beamed down into a library or bookstore near you until August 2009. May the force be with you until then!

Janes in Love by Cecil Castellucci & Jim Rugg

The Janes are back, and this time love is in the air. It’s nearly Valentine’s Day, and Main Jane Beckless is torn between two boys—Miroslaw, the man she helped save on the day of the Metro City café bombing, and Damon, the cutie McCutester who took the fall for her when the P.L.A.I.N. (People Loving Art in Neighborhoods) Janes were caught at the end of their first adventure. Theater Jane is in love with an actor who doesn’t know she’s alive, science Jane is trying to concoct a pheromone scent that will cause boys to ask her out, while sporty Jane simply takes matters into her own hands by informing the boy she likes that he’s now her boyfriend—and he cheerfully complies. But affairs of the heart aren’t the only troubles plaguing the Janes. The girl-art gang (plus James) is also struggling with low funds and high aspirations when it comes to planning future P.L.A.I.N. projects. To make matters worse, Main Jane’s mom refuses to leave the house after an old friend is killed by an anthrax terrorist attack. Can Main Jane solve her romantic woes, find a way to keep funding P.L.A.I.N., and get her mom to hit the sidewalk, all while dodging the apoplectic Officer Sanchez, who’s determined to shut down P.L.A.I.N. forever? This spirited sequel to The Plain Janes will bliss out any teen crusader of public art, free speech, or love. Have no idea what I’m talking about? Then you better run out to your nearest library or bookstore and snag the first Castellucci & Rugg graphic novel collaboration and get up to date with the Janes!