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.

Happyface by Stephen Emond

He’s just a regular dude. Sure, his parents fight sometimes, and his older brother is a pain in the ass. And yes, occasionally he’s lonely and his best friend and secret crush Chloe seems to have no idea how he really feels about her. But for the most part, his life is just fine. After all, he’s “got my art and my journal to write in, and I’ve got Ol’ Trusty, the Internet to keep me company. If the apocalypse strikes tomorrow, that’s still a pretty good survival kit.” Then life comes to a screeching halt (for reasons our narrator slowly reveals that I won’t be spoiler-y and tell here) and our dude finds himself starting over at a new school, with a new crush and a new crowd to navigate. What happened to Chloe? What’s up with his parents? And where has his big bro gone? Our hero isn’t telling—yet. All we know is that he’s in so much pain he’s turned himself into Happyface—an alter-ego that always smiles and has sworn to never be hurt again. But how long can Happyface hold that grin before his past comes crashing down on him?

Some of you will find Happyface a little TOO typical. He’s not fighting vampires or turning into a werewolf, he’s not wasting away from a terminal disease or being secretly abused by his parents. He’s just living and recording the story of his (somewhat) normal life in words, drawings and comic strips the year after something terrible happens. Something terrible enough to make him want to start his life over as someone else. Someone who’s happy. Someone who’s popular. Someone who knows all the answers. For some of you, this story will be too close to your own experiences, and you’d rather go to a different head space when you read. But for those of you who read to know you’re not alone, or who always hang around the art room after school and put all your most secret thoughts in your sketchpads, this personal and incredibly honest story is YOURS.

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.

Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green & David Levithan

will grayson
Meet Will Grayson. He’s the guy at school who tries to blend in with the scenery. He doesn’t like to rock the boat and he doesn’t like to get too emotional. “I don’t really understand the point of crying. Also, I feel that crying is almost…totally avoidable if you follow two very simple rules: 1. Don’t care too much. 2. Shut up.” Unfortunately, Will’s best friend Tiny Cooper is his exact opposite: big, loud and flamboyantly gay. And Tiny keeps making Will care—about him, about the musical he’s writing based on his life called “Tiny Dancer,” and about Jane, the uber-smart girl in the Gay-Straight Alliance who likes the band Neutral Milk Hotel as much as Will does and drives an orange Volvo. Will could probably care about Jane if he tried. In fact, he could probably fall in love with her—if he wasn’t so terrified by the idea that she might find out the truth about him: “Not that smart. Not that hot. Not that nice. Not that funny. That’s me: I’m not that.”

Now, meet will grayson. He’s the guy at school who hates everything. “i am constantly torn between killing myself and killing everyone around me.” He feels one emotion—rage, and makes sure everyone knows it. Unfortunately for will, despite his obvious dissing of her, this girl Maura seems to like him although he can’t understand why. “it’s like those people who become friends in prison even though they would never really talk to each other if they weren’t in prison. that’s what maura and i are like, i think.” will’s only solace is chatting online with isaac, a guy he’s never met face to face but who feels like his soulmate. He could probably fall in love with isaac if he let himself. And that’s exactly what he intends to do when makes plans to meet up with isaac in Chicago in, of all ironic places, a porn shop.

…the same porn shop Will Grayson finds himself wandering around after his fake i.d. gets him thrown out of the club he tried to get into with Tiny and Jane. Will Grayson, meet will grayson. Two very different dudes with the same name and the same problems when it comes to matters of the heart. But now that they’ve actually met? Their lives will never be the same…

This epic and utterly unforgettable book brings together two of the biggest and brightest names in YA lit: John Green and David Levithan, both writing as, well, will Grayson. As a result, the levels of smart and funny are off the charts. My advance review copy is chock full of scribbles, giggles, highlights and underlines. And stealing every scene is the irrepressible Tiny, whose sheer exuberance at being alive and being in love helps both Will graysons get their acts together. (The amazing thing about Tiny is that he’s written by both Green and Levithan, who manage to keep him consistently fabulous through the whole book.) Who’s writing who? Well, you’ll just have to read it to find out!

Mercury by Hope Larson

In 1859 Nova Scotia, shy pioneer teen Josey is thrilled when a handsome stranger named Asa Curry claims he can find gold on her family’s farm, and partners with her father to form a business. Josey is of marrying age, and what better beau could she have than her father’s attractive new associate? But Josey’s mother sees nothing but a flimflam man, and tries to steer both her husband and daughter clear of the silver-tongued prospector. But her efforts are ignored, and Josey’s family ends up suffering a great loss as a result of their tragic brush with Mr. Curry. Fast forward 150 years to fifteen-year-old Tara, who is mourning the loss of her burned down house when her aunt gifts her with a necklace that’s been in the family for years. After wearing the piece of jewelry for a few days, Tara quickly discovers its ability to locate lost objects, especially those of the precious metal kind. Using the necklace, can Tara make things right by recovering a treasure that was buried by evil 150 years ago? Combining fantasy, history, first love and revenge, Mercury is a one-of-a-kind story that you can’t afford to miss. This unique graphic novel about two girls connected through time and space by their shared DNA and a necklace containing a drop of mercury is sure to be a standout of the new year!

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 LaCour)  here.