The Drowned Cities by Paolo Bacigalupi

Mahalia and Mouse are “war maggots,” children orphaned by the violent and ever changing civil war that has ravaged the bleak futuristic landscape of the United States eastern coast, and caused the Chinese peacekeepers to cut their losses and flee. They find temporary safety and shelter with Doctor Mahfouz, a kind physician who works hard helping their small village of civilian survivors stay alive. But when the United Patriot Front, a ragged gang of young men and child soldiers, invade Banyan Town while on the hunt for an escaped genetically engineered canine soldier named Tool (one of my all-time favorite characters), Mahalia and Mouse are dragged back into the danger and chaos of the civil war that destroyed their families and took Mahalia’s hand. In this dark companion novel to the Printz award- winning Ship Breaker, Paolo Bacigalupi paints a terrifying picture of a future that looks frighteningly similar to recent conflicts involving child soldiers in countries like Sierra Leone, Somalia, Sudan and Uganda. Though Bacigalupi’s precise, crisp prose and masterful plotting was as excellent as expected, I had a very hard time finishing this book because Mahalia and Mouse’s situation is so grim, the violence they endure is so pervasive, and any hope they find is brutally snatched away. But I know my reaction is no doubt what the author intended. Because if the readers of this book, and others that chronicle the real lives of child soldiers, are inspired to take action as a result of what they have read, then maybe someday the global epidemic of war and violence against children will end.  A piercing, powerful book that will sear itself on your heart and soul.

Supergirl Mixtapes by Meagan Brothers

Maria was born in New York City, but she hasn’t been back since her parents split and she ended up living with her dad in Georgia. Her family has always warned her that her mom Victoria, a free spirited artist living in Greenwich Village, is not exactly parent material. But now that she’s practically an adult, Maria is ready to find out for herself, and convinces her grandmother and dad to let her live with her mom and go to school in NYC for her junior year. Armed with the Supergirl Mixtapes of bad ass female singers that her best friend Dory made for her, Maria feels prepared to take on the creativity and chaos of New York and her downtown artist mom. Except that from the minute she sets foot in the Big Apple, Maria is beset with problems. First of all, she hates her new school, where mean girls quickly label her a Southern hick. Then there’s the issue of her mother’s live-in boyfriend Travis, who’s hot, rides a motorcycle, and is only six years older than Maria. Finally there’s unreliable Victoria herself, who is constantly racing off to rock shows with her friends and acts and dresses like she’s still sixteen years old. What makes matters worse is when Maria finds a baggie of suspicious white powder in her mom’s bathroom. Who do the drugs belong to? Maria begins to wonder if she can trust her mom to tell her the truth. Will Maria end up back in Georgia listening to her dad say, “I told you so” after all? Or will she find it in herself to conquer the city that never sleeps while forcing her mom to act like a grown-up? This heartfelt novel is a bit of a love note to a New York of not-so-long-ago, one where you could still catch a show at CBGBs, or look up and figure out where you were by your proximity to the World Trade Towers. Meagan Brothers does a lovely job of capturing that moment in time by referencing bands and artists from both the 90’s and New York’s historically rich downtown music scene. The music of Nirvana, Jeff Buckley, Sonic Youth, Patti Smith and Joni Mitchell all flow through the pages of Brothers’ novel, and will no doubt have you pulling up Pandora or Spotify to take a listen as you read. And can we agree this is the Best. Cover. Ever? Enjoy–

Chopsticks: a novel by Jessica Anthony and Rodrigo Corral

Seventeen-year-old Gloria Fleming is a beautiful young piano prodigy who’s still mourning the death of her mother when she was ten and chafes under her widowed father’s strict rules. Frank Mendoza is the impetuous young artist who moves in next door and sweeps Gloria off her feet with his sensuous drawings, paintings of flowers and romantic mix discs. When Gloria’s father forces her to go on a European concert tour, the two are devastated, and Gloria rebels the only one she knows how–by turning each classic composition into a version of Chopsticks. Gloria and Frank correspond throughout the disastarous tour with IM and postcards, while Gloria’s performances continue to deteriorate. Finally Gloria’s frustrated father is forced to bring her home, and the star crossed pair can’t wait to be reunited. But Gloria’s homecoming isn’t at all what she imagined. Teetering on the edge of madness, Gloria must finally face the fact she hasn’t been entirely truthful to herself about the role Frank has played in her life and his fate in her uncertain future. A romantic mystery told entirely in objects, photos, IM’s and handwritten notes, CHOPSTICKS will remind readers of a certain generation (that would be X) of an awesome little book called Griffin & Sabine, which also chronicles the meandering journey of  pair of misbegotten lovers who are kept apart by strange circumstances beyond their control. The gut-wrenching ending will have you flipping back to the front to comb the pages for clues and understanding, and be prepared to argue about what actually happened with your best friend, who you will be giving it to as soon as you’ve finished. Although CHOPSTICKS has an accompanying tumblr & app, this provocative and hugely entertaining mixed media (book? collection? picture narrative?) stands strongly on it’s own four piano legs. (I’m VERY interested in what you teen people think of this one–leave me your thoughts in the comments)