Sea Hearts (Australia) or The Brides of Rollrock Island (UK, US) by Margo Lanagan

sea hearts On Rollrock island, all the mams look alike—tall and slender, with big dark eyes and long dark hair. They sing strange songs and they line their windowsills with shells and sea grass. Their anxious husbands and sons do everything they can to distract them from the melancholy that rises up within them whenever they stand at the edge of the sea, but they can never fully erase the pain that fills their women’s deep dark eyes as they gaze longingly out at the waves. Even as a little girl, Misskaella was never really accepted by the rest of the Rollrock folk with her odd features and power to see behind reality’s thin veil. So when she discovers her ability to convert the seals that gather on Rollrock’s shore into beautiful women, she quickly utilizes it to bring the village men to their knees. Bewitched by the seal maids, the fishermen are powerless to resist their passive charms, and under their enchantment, the men eventually abandon or drive away all the strong-willed, decisive “land” women from the tiny island community. Only mad Misskeella is left, knitting the mams seaweed blankets and perversely enjoying the wretched society she has created where no one who truly understands the sacrifice the mams are making for their families is happy. But one boy can bear the sadness no longer. And his actions cause another quiet revolution on Rollrock that will alter the island yet again in ways that not even the witch Misskaella can control.

Master fantasy author Margo Lanagan takes the legend of the selkie and uses it to adroitly illuminate the darkest corners of the human heart. Rich themes of loyalty, acceptance, betrayal and revenge emerge from her exquisite prose that is itself a dazzling wonder. Each section is voiced by a different player in this tragedy, and uncovers another layer in a story that is less a romance and more about mother love. The sons of Rollrock broke my heart. When you are born with one foot on land and one in the sea, how do you decide your destiny? Which parent do you stand by when to help one will destroy the other? Once the boys know the secret sorrow of their mams’ cast-off seal skins, they can’t unknow it, and it kills them: “They were not costumes; they were peeled-off parts of our mothers; without them, how could our mams be themselves, their real selves, their under-sea selves, the selves they were born into? They walked about on land with no protection, from the cold or from our dads falling in love with them, or from us boys needing them morning and night.” Like Misskaella’s magic, Lanagan’s elegant prose is transformative–I promise you will be a different person after having experienced it. When I look back at her body of work, the consistency of her genius is stunning, and each title that comes out is my new favorite. Sea Hearts is no exception. Put this sublimely sad tome on your must-read list NOW. Coming to a library, bookstore or e-reader near you September 2012. (But if you simply can’t wait, this book has already been published in Australia and the UK.)

Starters by Lissa Price

“It had been a long time since I’d  been happy. A long time since life was just lip gloss and music and silly girlfriends. A long time since my biggest concerns were whether there would be a test or if I’d forgotten my homework. I was aiming for more like safe, free and alive.” Since the Spore Wars killed her parents and all the other healthiest members of the population, leaving only teens (Starters) and elderly people with extended life spans (Enders) to form an uneasy alliance, Callie is trying to keep herself and her little brother Tyler alive. The new world is hostile to Starters without family.  They fight each other for food, live illegally in abandoned buildings, and are thrown into forced work camps if they are unlucky enough to run into Marshals on the street. Without an Ender sponsor, most Starters die of starvation or disease. The only way Starters can escape this wretched existence is to loan themselves to Prime Destinations, a shady technology company that allows wealthy Enders to “rent” the nubile young bodies of Starters. After being forced out of her squat and losing the few possessions she has left, Callie decides she has no choice but to rent her body in order to make enough money to get her and Tyler off the streets.  Though she’s assured that her body will be unharmed and there is no S-E-X allowed during her rental, Callie is still worried about the chip that must be implanted in her head in order for the procedure to take place. Callie goes to sleep as planned, and all seems to be well. But when she wakes up on the sticky floor of a dance club several days before her rental is supposed to end, it is clear something has gone terribly wrong. What has happened to her renter? And why is suddenly able to hear voices in her head? This dystopian thriller is a page turner of the highest level that once you start, you won’t be able to put down. The premise feels frighteningly real, and debut author author Lissa Price keeps you guessing at the end of every cliffhanging chapter. You won’t be able to help looking down at your own bod and wondering what it would feel like if someone else was driving!

Jersey Angel by Beth Ann Bauman

Knockout Angel is a laid back Jersey girl who lives in the moment and isn’t ashamed of the number of guys she’s hooked up with: “From where I stand I count three guys in the bleachers I slept with, another leaning on the fence. Then I count Joey and…two more guys on the field…Then I lose count.” She enjoys the attention she gets from boys for her killer curves and long dark hair. Her mother is a flirtatious serial dater, while her divorced dad is “…basically a nice guy but he’s remarried, with two little girls, and the truth is I don’t quite fit in.” She has a hard time staying in a relationship with her on-again, off-again boyfriend Joey because there are always so many other temptations: “I guess I like my freedom too much…I like possibilities. But after a time-out, I’m always ready to come back.” This time, Joey tells Angel there will be no more time-outs, they’re done for good. Alone and restless during the hot summer months, Angel falls into a dangerous relationship with a boy who is off limits. “Am I bad person? It doesn’t feel bad. Not really. It’s separate…And it doesn’t mean anything.” Now Angel is coasting into senior year. Everyone else is getting ready for college, while she’s trying to keep her increasingly complicated love life under wraps and figure out a plan for her future. Angel just wants to hang out and have fun. But life can’t always be one long summer at the Jersey Shore. I thought this book was divinely different, with a unlikely heroine who owns her sexuality and is frank with herself about her strengths and weaknesses. Not everyone has to or will go to college, and it’s refreshing to have an author acknowledge that through a character who knows she could have done better in school but was too busy enjoying herself to care, and now must honestly assess the other options open to her. Whether you’re a Snookie or a Carrie, I think you’ll enjoy meeting Angel Cassonetti.