Fever Crumb by Philip Reeve

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Bald, orphaned Apprentice Engineer Fever Crumb (whose alternative cover pic makes her look like a cross between Rumur Willis and Natalie Portman) is nothing if not ruthlessly, relentlessly rational. After all, that’s how she was raised, as the only female member of the scientific Order of Engineers in a post apocalyptic London. She knows that sentiments always get in the way of problem solving and it’s best to get rid of the troublesome things altogether if possible. That’s why she’s disturbed when on a routine mission to help a minor archaeologist who’s made a major find, she begins feeling shadowy emotions and seeing memories that she knows for certain are not her own. Could they be tied to the hidden tunnel and secret vault found by the easygoing archeologist Kit Solent? Why did he pick her out of all the Engineers to help him crack the vault? And why has the ancient information he needs suddenly popped into her fourteen-year-old head? What Fever discovers in that underground cavern is a secret about her background that will not only rock her own little bald brain, but bring the entire city of London to it’s knees—or rather, tracks. Because this little gem of a dystopian novel is actually the prequel to Philip Reeve’s beyond brilliant Mortal Engines quartet, about a future Europe where giant cities move about on huge traction wheels, fighting each other for resources and dominance in a way of life known as Municipal Darwinism. If you’ve not heard of the series, then by all means, start here! (Even though author Frank Cotrell Boyce disagrees) But if you’ve read all four books and are simply starving for more cut throat politics, edge of your seat action and juicy mysteries, then you’ll want to get your hands on this smokin’ hot tome asap. Reeve is at the top of his game here, poking gentle fun at current fantasy, “…celebrants in robes and pointed hats whirling and clapping and chanting the name of some old-world prophet, ‘Hari, Hari! Hari Potter!’” while also revealing the origin of one of his most beloved characters in a scene that made me gasp aloud. If your thirst for post-apocalyptic prose is anything like mine, this is one Fever you won’t mind catching.

I Kill Giants by Joe Kelly and illustrated by JM Ken Niimura

Barbara Thorson is not your average fifth grader. Oh, she may look like just another bespectacled, funny-hatted munchkin, but don’t get her mad because she just might smite you with her mighty hammer, Coveleski (named for an obscure left handed Phillies pitcher who single handedly defeated the New York Giants in a 1908 playoff race). Because Barbara, master D & D player and middle school bully buster, is also a secret giant slayer. Few people know about the spells she works in her room or the offerings she leaves on the beach near her Long Island home that keep her home and small town giant-free. But when a nosy school counselor, a well-meaning classmate and a preternaturally large stone cold bully named Taylor start poking around in Barbara’s business, all hell breaks loose and Barbara is forced to face a giant she’s been ignoring for a long time: her mother’s cancer. This b&w GN may be ABOUT a fifth grader, but it’s so not FOR a fifth grade reader. It’s for my middle and high school peeps who struggle against the giants of loneliness, fear, insecurity and pain everyday and don’t feel like they have anyone who will stand by their side and raise a sword. I loved Niimura’s scrappy, rough-hewn style and the ease in which he flips between Barbara’s real and imagined life. Bold, angry and surprisingly sweet, I Kill Giants is the perfect antidote for those days when you feel like the bad guys may be winning and you need a little lift by first lunch.

The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson

Seventeen-year-old Lennie has felt completely lost since her older sister Bailey, aspiring actress and all around amazing gal, died suddenly from a heart arrhythmia right in the middle of play practice. Always in Bailey’s shadow, now shy Lennie doesn’t know how to be in the sun without her big sis. Further complicating matters is the fact that the sisters were raised by Gram and hippie Uncle Big because their mom left town when they were tots and hasn’t been heard from since. Gram is convinced that one day she’ll return, but Bailey dreads ever seeing her now and having to tell her she is abruptly, horribly one daughter short. Then there’s Lennie’s love life, which shouldn’t matter like a time like this, but is absurdly taking center stage. For a girl who’s barely kissed a boy, she suddenly has two ardent beaus on her hands: French songwriter Joe Fontaine whose long eyelashes and composing skills make her heart sing, and skater boy Toby, whose passionate kisses ease the pain of Bailey’s passing because he also happens to have been Bailey’s boyfriend. “I kiss him back and don’t want to stop because in that moment I feel like Toby and I together have somehow…reached across time, and pulled Bailey back.” Yeah. As you can clearly see, it’s a mess. What do you say to a heartbroken boy who whispers, “I just want to be near you. It’s the only time I don’t die missing her.” ? Full of shame, guilt, lust and fear, Lennie juggles both boys, while trying to discover who she really loves and who she really is without Bailey to lead the way. “How can something this momentous be happening to me without her? And what about all the momentous things to come? How will I go through each and every one of them without her?”

What’s so unusual and super interesting about this debut tearjerker is Jandy Nelson‘s fearless acknowledgment and exploration of the presence of sexual feelings in the midst of grief, and how these feelings can come on strong as a reaction against death. Lustful longings during a time of mourning are inconvenient and embarrassing to say the least, and Nelson captures that beautifully in Lennie’s shamefaced voice: “I am totally out of control. I do not think this is how normal people mourn.” These feelings, which come up at the most inappropriate times, also show how Lennie is developing as a person separate from her sister. In many ways, grief and her subsequent sexual awakening are making her over into a whole new being: “..what if somewhere inside I prefer this? What if as much as I fear having death as a shadow, I’m beginning to like how it quickens the pulse, not only mine, but the pulse of the whole world.” While I don’t think Sky has knocked Before I Fall out of the top weepy chick lit spot in my heart, it came pretty darn close. There’s some trailing plot threads that didn’t get tied up to my satisfaction, and some characters I would have liked to have seen more of (like mean Rachel, who I imagined looking like a blonde Lea Michele from Glee) But Nelson has a way with words, and certain phrases caught my attention and tugged at my heart, like this poignant expression about why Lennie has to stop hanging out with Toby, no matter how comfortable it is: “We can’t keep wrapping our arms around a ghost.” If you liked the weeptastic Broken Soup or Would You, you’ll definitely want to laugh and sob your way through Sky.

Scarlett Fever by Maureen Johnson

Scarlett Martin is back, and this time she’s…still hopelessly in love with charming rogue wanna-be actor Eric, who broke her heart in Maureen Johnson’s utterly enchanting New York story, Suite Scarlett. In this captivating sequel, the summer has ended, the set of the Hamlet production that took place in the dining room of her parents’ broken down NYC Art Deco hotel has been struck, and Scarlett still can’t manage to delete the library of pictures she has of Eric on her cell phone. The start of her sophomore year at school and the ongoing demands of her boss, the take-no-prisoners talent agent Mrs. Amy Amberson, help distract Scarlett from her romantic woes, but not by much. Then her older brother Spencer scores an ongoing role in a New York crime drama that sounds remarkably like this one, her older sister Lola commits an unthinkable act that throws the whole family into turmoil, and her usually snide, sarcastic younger sister Marlene is being suddenly, suspiciously nice. What the heck is going on with the Martin sibs? To make matters worse, Scarlett is in charge of convincing a young Broadway star into signing with Mrs. Amberson by way of her sullen, angry older brother Max, a classmate who is making Scarlett’s biology class hell with his refusal to do anything but be annoying. And did I mention Eric keeps dropping by unannounced to ask Scarlett for acting tips? You can read this laugh out loud sequel alone, but you will enjoy the saga of Scarlett so much more if you go back and read about her humble beginnings. As Scarlett Fever ends on an ambiguous note, it’s clear Johnson is going to regale readers with even more of Scarlett’s sojourns through life, love and NYC, and I for one cannot wait. For a guaranteed perfect beach reading experience, pack both Scarletts in your spring break suitcase.

Zeus: King of the Gods by George O’Connor

Ever wonder how we got here? How the Earth was formed, how we human beans popped into existence? There are several versions of the creation myth–you can take your pick when it comes to explaining how we emerged from the Great Black Void: Christian, Hindu, Egyptian, Norse, the list could go on and on. But my favorite has got to be that wacky Greek version, so recently made popular by former middle school teacher Rick Riordan. But forget Percy Jackson, he’s just some johnny-come-lately compared to the dude who made the lightning in the first place, the very first international playboy and rebellious teenager, Zeus. Artist and author George O’Connor provides readers with a crash course in the Greek creation myth, which basically consists of Mother Earth and Father Sky giving birth to some big nasty gods, including Kronos, who wants to keep all the temporal goodies for himself. So every time his wife has a baby, he swallows it so it can’t grow up to challenge him. Eventually his wife gets sick of giving up her babies for dinner, so she hides one. Zeus is raised in secret by hot nymphs (which will explain his later lady-killer ways) and tricks his father into swallowing a poison plant which makes him vomit up all Zeus’s sibs, now fully grown and totally pissed off! What happens next is the story of how Zeus claims his father’s throne with the help of his super sibs (more about them later) and gets the lightning that Percy’s gotta find in couple thousand years. O’Connor’s hyper-kinetic art is old school comic book illustration, full of action, energy and bursts of color. For those of you also interested in more than just a good celestial butt-kicking, there’s also a helpful Greek god family tree in the front and some fun extras in the back, including minor god and goddess profiles and some cool websites you might want to visit. For more Greek superhero action, pair this GN with the new and improved Clash of the Titans.

The Red Umbrella by Christina Diaz Gonzalez

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In 1961, fourteen-year-old Lucia Alvarez lives a charmed life on the beautiful island country of Cuba. She loves reading the latest fashion magazines, daydreaming about her crush Manuel and planning her up-coming quincenara with her best friend Ivette. But storm clouds are gathering. President Fidel Castro has ordered factories to be shut down and churches closed. Lucia has noticed that many of her friends, included Ivette, have started attending the Jovenes Rebeldes youth political meetings sponsored by Castro’s government. There are soldiers on every corner. And her father’s boss at the bank has suddenly been arrested and taken away. At first, Lucia doesn’t understand why her parents don’t support the government revolution that promises to make everything better for everyone. “I couldn’t believe how judgmental Papa was being…Castro had no choice but to have the government take over many of the businesses so that there wouldn’t be so much corruption. It was all for the benefit of the country, and everyone was expected to pitch in and help. What harm was there in that?” But when her father is arrested for “hoarding” their family valuables instead of turning them over to the government and Lucia witnesses an unspeakable act of violence in the local park, she realizes her parents are right not to trust Castro’s Revolution. “Before, I didn’t want to think about people being jailed, killed or forced to leave their homes. I thought those people must have done something wrong or just didn’t love Cuba enough. But now I knew better…Castro was, in one way or another, eliminating those who didn’t agree with him.” And now Lucia has to accept an even harder truth—her parents are sending her and her little brother Francisco to the United States to keep them safe from the forced “youth brigades” that separate children from their parents. The last thing Lucia sees as her plane takes off for a foreign place called “Nebraska” is her mother’s bright red umbrella, the only speck of color in a sea of parents frantically waving goodbye to their children. Will she ever see her parents or Cuba again? “It was no use pretending this was an ordinary trip. We weren’t choosing to come here, and we had no idea when we’d be going back home.”

Good historical fiction introduces you to some intriguing tidbit of the past that somehow didn’t make it into your history textbook. That’s what Christina Diaz Gonzalez does with this oh-so-interesting debut novel. I had never heard of Operation Pedro Pan, the underground organization that helped over 14,000 children and teens get out of Cuba and into the United States in the early 1960’s. I was completely fascinated by the true aspects of Lucia’s story and immediately started looking up more information about Cuba during that time period (another hallmark of good hist. fic—it makes you want to dig up more facts on the topic!) In addition to her top notch research, Gonzalez’s depiction of Lucia and Francisco’s culture shock when they join their Nebraska foster family left me laughing and cringing at the same time. Like the scene where Mrs. Baxter, their Nebraska sponsor, has Lucia to put Tabasco sauce on her eggs: “ ‘Oh my, you don’t like it? Mrs. Baxter’s eyebrows were scrunched together. “I thought you liked spicy food. I read that in Mexico they put it on everything…’ ‘Ughmm.’ I cleared my throat. ‘In Cuba, we no eat spicy food. Mexico yes, Cuba no.’ Even my ears felt hot.” You can easily see why this hip hist. fic. needs to be put on your TBR list ASAP.