Forge by Laurie Halse Anderson

Fifteen-year-old Curzon Smith, freed slave and former traveling companion of the stubborn Miss Isabel Finch, gets himself in quite a fix when he saves the life of a Patriot boy soldier during the fall of 1777. The result of that one selfless act causes him to become a member of the 16th Massachusetts regiment of the Continental Army on the eve of what is to be one of the most grueling experiences of the Revolutionary War: Valley Forge. But what his stalwart companions don’t know is that the terms of Curzon’s freedom aren’t as cut and dried as they seem. And when his former master turns up at Valley Forge, Curzon will need his lost angel Isabel to give him the courage to take back his freedom and once again make it his own. (If I sound a bit cagey, I don’t want to give too much away, as this wonderfully twisty-turny tale is full of juicy surprises of both the good and bad variety.) This stand-alone sequel to Chains can be read either before or after Isabel’s story, but I strongly suggest reading both. Teen peeps, let me be clear: I really like Chains. But I LOVE Forge. I don’t know if it’s Curzon’s perfectly executed teen voice, or Anderson’s easy prose that makes the history go down like buttah, or a magical combination of both, but Curzon has my heart as much as Isabel has his.

Confessions of the Sullivan Sisters by Natalie Standiford

sullivan sisters
The Sullivan sisters are in big trouble. It seems that one of them has gravely offended their wealthy, fire-breathing  grandmother (helpfully nicknamed “The Almighty”) and until the guilty party confesses, Grandma has threatened to take that person’s share of the family inheritance and donate it to Puppy Ponchos for needy dogs. So responsible eldest sister Norrie, bad girl middle sister Jane and earnest baby sister Sassy sit down and begin to pen their confessions, not knowing which one of them has committed the act that put Almighty over the edge. Was it Norrie, by having a secret romance with a gorgeous but entirely unsuitable boy? Was it Jane with her unrepentant blog titled “My Evil Family”? Or was it Sassy, who thinks it’s possible she might have accidentally killed Almighty’s fifth husband by scaring him to death? Each one of the girls has a secret to share that reveals not only something about herself but also essential truths about their quirky upper crust family that, despite their fancy trappings, have just as many issues as everyone else. It soon becomes apparent that the confessions themselves aren’t nearly as important as what each sister discovers about herself as she writes one. This smart character-driven novel, by the author of my favorite book last year and reminiscent of the equally wonderful Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, humorously explores the burdens of family expectations and how sometimes you hurt the people you love the most on your way to finding out who you are.  A lovely ease-back-into-school read.

Picture the Dead by Adele Griffin and Lisa Brown

picture the dead
Jennie Lovell is one sad little spinster. Her parents are dead and the Civil War has taken both her brother Toby and her betrothed Will, leaving her at the mercy of her stuffy aunt and uncle’s reluctant charity. Now she has nothing to look forward to except a slow slide into servitude in her cold relatives’ dark house, which feels filled with ghosts. Then Will’s brother Quinn returns from the horrific Andersonville prison camp wounded in more ways than one. He has lost both an eye and the ability to feel anything but anger and contempt. Jennie tries to break through his sullen silence because she can sense he’s hiding a secret about her lost love, but Quinn refuses to speak. When the grieving family poses for a photograph at a spiritualist’s studio to try and commune with Will, Jennie is struck by a feeling so strong it could only be the ghost of her fiancée trying to beak through from the other side. With Will’s spirit as her guide, Jennie unearth clues like a broken locket, a lost letter and a ruined photograph that begin to tell the awful story of Will’s demise. There’s only one piece missing, and that’s Quinn himself. Can Jennie convince Quinn to tell her the truth of what actually happened to his brother? And does she really want to know if it means the memory of her beloved Will is tainted forever? Hugely under the radar author Adele Griffin (whose fab literary fiction I adore) skillfully bakes the brutal history of the Civil War, the creepy Spiritualism movement and America’s fascination with the new science of photography into a tasty gothic treat that is guaranteed to give you welcome chills in the middle of the August heat! Sumptuously illustrated by Lisa Brown, this eerie little ghost story just begs to be read up in your favorite tree or the top of your summer camp bunk.