The Alex Crow

The Alex Crow

by Andrew Smith

Dutton Books, 2015, 317 pp., $18.99

Science Fiction, Cultural Fiction

ISBN: 978-0-525-42653-0

 

Three strange stories proceed at once, one an historical account of an Arctic expedition, one the account of a crazy bomber driving cross country, and one a skewed summer camp narrative of the near future involving three teen boys—all of which connect finally. Much of the novel is absurd satire and laugh-aloud funny, requiring reflection about technology, the military, and the will to power through. Yet, as the boys overcome the insanity of their camp, as narrated by the 15-year-old war refugee protagonist, themes of friendship and compassion emerge. This is a creative and disturbing book, perhaps most appropriate for college freshmen. The story of the crazed bomber begins laughable but ends in a sad, nauseating way, and the rape scene in the refugee camp is deeply distressing. A book that captures both the emotions and thinking is valuable, but younger readers will need to discuss this with adults.

 

Gretchen Schwarz

Baylor University

Waco, TX

The Bargaining

The Bargaining

by Carly Anne West

Simon Pulse, 2015, 403 pp., $17.99

Supernatural Fiction/Horror

ISBN: 978-1-4424-4184-2

 

The Bargaining is a thrilling story with an unexpected conclusion. This book does an excellent job of building up just enough suspense then letting off, giving the reader a breather, and building it back up again until the climax when pandemonium breaks loose. This story will certainly keep the pages turning, but be sure to leave the lights on. The main character, Penny, has been having a hard time coping with the death of her best friend, Rae, and we come to understand that she still sees and talks to Rea. We can’t be sure if it is all in her head, or if Rea is really there, until Penny and her stepmom move into a house in the woods, and life gets a whole lot stranger for Penny. An exciting story of self-examination and understanding, the book provides chilling imagery to take you to the conclusion.

 

Josie Jackson

Student of Gretchen Schwarz

Baylor University

Waco, TX

The Game of Love and Death

The Game of Love and Death

Martha Brockenbrough

Arthur A Levine Books,  2015, 329 pp.,  $17.99

Love, Romance, Fantasy, Magic, Dating, Sex

ISBN:  978-0-545-66834-7

 

The Game of Love and Death begins on Feb. 13, 1920 when Love and Death pick their two players in their game.  Love chooses a white baby boy who has material things, while Death chooses an African-American baby girl from the poor side of town.  And so the relationship between Henry & Flora begins.  Death and Love manipulate their lives to see if they will have the courage to choose each other. While the book cover recommends this for grades 7 and above, it does deal with mature themes such as homosexuality and racial issues.  I feel it would be more appropriate for older readers.

 

Kaylyn Keating

Fort Riley Middle School Library

Fort Riley, KS

Illusionarium

Illusionarium

by Heather Dixon

Greenwillow, 2015, 361 pp., $17.99

Fantasy, Steampunk, Adventure

ISBN: 978-0-06-200105-4

 

Dixon’s steampunk fantasy throws its reader into two worlds—worlds that schismed apart due to the actions of one person. Arthurise is plagued by a mysterious virus called Venen, which kills infected women in six days. The 16-year-old protagonist, Jonathan Gouden, learns that the antidote is housed in another world, Nod’ol, and must use the amazing, but dangerous drug fantillium to portal between worlds. The protagonist is bright, but ordinary looking. He grapples with the concept of morality—should he commit wrongs as a means to an end? His sidekick, Lockwood, is rakishly handsome and physically adept. The bromance between these two very different characters is fun and engaging to read. Furthermore, it was refreshing that the main relationship in the novel was one of friendship, not about an angsty love triangle. Dixon explores what happens to a culture whose people no longer look to their “inner compass.”

 

Reviewed by Nicole Clawson

Brigham Young University

Provo, UT

Listen, Slowly

Listen, Slowly

by Thanhha Lai

Harper (HarperCollins), 2015, 260 pp., $16.99

Realistic Fiction, Family, Vietnam

ISBN: 978-0-06-222918-2

 

Mai (at home)/Mia (at school) is a California-born, ocean-loving, American daughter of parents born in Vietnam who escaped April 30, 1975.  Now Ba, Mai’s grandmother, has news of her husband lost during the war.  The only person free to accompany Ba to Vietnam is Mai.  How can she leave her friends for the summer to travel across the world?  Life is unfair, until Mai learns to listen slowly and learn about the glue that keeps families together. Lai provides a wonderful, beautifully told story that describes life in modern Vietnam, spiced with tales of life during the Vietnam Conflict.  It’s a great addition to history lessons.

 

Kathleen Sanders

Fort Hays State University

Fort Hays, KS

Rx

Rx

by Tracy Lynn

Simon Pulse/Simon & Schuster, 2015, 262 pp., $10.99

Realistic Fiction, Prescription Drugs, College Admissions Pressure

ISBN: 978-1-4814-2950-4

 

Thyme, during her junior and senior years of high school, is under constant pressure to do the right things, get the right grades and SAT scores, and be involved in the right clubs to be accepted into a college with high selectivity requirements.  She takes advantage of a discarded bottle of Ritalin and finds her focus improves dramatically.  This realization leads her slowly into taking more and different prescription medications, and finally into dealing to classmates. But there are consequences. This book is a “hard truth” book intended for mature student readers.  It highlights how expectations from adults (parents and school officials) and the entrance requirements of selective colleges, provides real and imagined pressure high school students face and how easy it is to fall into the lure of medication.  Parents should read this book.

 

Kathleen Sanders

Fort Hays State University

Fort Hays, KS

Silent Alarm

Silent Alarm

by Jennifer Banash

Penguin Group, 2015, 293 pp., $17.99

Realistic Fiction, Problem Novel

ISBN: 978-0-399-25789-6

 

Alys Aronson is a normal freshman; she has loyal friends, a boyfriend, and a seemingly stable family. However, Alys’ life changes in an instant when her brother is the perpetrator of a school shooting. Silent Alarm is the emotional tale of a young girl confronting her anger and reservations after her brother viciously murdered 15 people and then committed suicide. Alys must now piece together her life and find a beacon of hope despite a grave tragedy.

 

This novel is not meant for the fast-paced and thrill-seeking reader. Rather, Silent Alarm will have readers questioning what it means to love and how to cope in the face of disaster. The story is told from a first-person point of view, as Alys describes her personal conflict and the blame she receives from others. Little dialogue is provided throughout the story and, instead, readers are called to place themselves in Alys’ difficult shoes.

 

Branda Greening

Student of Gretchen Schwarz

Baylor University

Waco, TX

Ten True Tales: Heroes of 9/11

Ten True Tales: Heroes of 9/11

by Allan Zullo

Scholastic, 2015, 192 pp., $5.99

Non-Fiction

ISBN: 978-0-545-81813-1

 

For readers who remember Sept. 11th, these 10 personal stories bring back the horror, compassion, empathy, and full tragedy of the event. For those who were not alive during that time, readers get a real sense of the actions and emotions that resulted from the horrific circumstances of the day and the days following the tragedy. Zullo interviewed 10 first responders and brings their courageous stories to life on the pages of this riveting book. Readers will find themselves unable to put the book down. Indeed, they will finish one true story and hurry to read the next one. Zullo has truly honored these courageous heroes by telling their stories so vividly that the reader lives the experience right along with them. Zullo’s book is guaranteed to engage reluctant middle and high school readers , while teaching vital history at the same time.

 

Melinda S. Butler

Sam Houston State University

Huntsville, TX

The Way We Bared Our Souls

The Way We Bared Our Souls

by Willa Strayhorn

Penguin, 2015, 277 pp., $17.99

Historical/Cultural Fiction, Magical Realism

ISBN: 978-1-59514-735-6

 

Five teenagers, each with a burden that could break them, come together in a mystical ceremony in which they trade afflictions and the totems that signify them. Consuelo (Lo) has symptoms of multiple sclerosis; Thomas is a boy soldier from Liberia with recurring memories of the violence of war; Kaya, always in danger because she cannot feel pain, has a rare condition; Ellen is destroying herself with drugs; and Kit, whose girlfriend died in a car accident, has become terrified of death. They bond and suffer a tragedy that changes them. Perhaps Kaya, a Native American, has the most difficult time. Having taken on Thomas’ war traumas, she suffers from memories of historical atrocities against her ancestors. Magical realism is a literary construct that portrays magical or unreal elements as a natural part in an otherwise realistic or mundane environment. A coyote who can cause this exchange of afflictions, appears in several scenes to blend the two realities. Because Thomas’ story of being kidnapped and forced into being a soldier is an important aspect of African history that could be studied in social studies. Equally, the atrocities committed on the Native American peoples by the U.S. government in the 1800s should definitely be discussed in social studies classes. Other than these historical/cultural aspects of the novel, readers can also enjoy the book as a story of survival and the endurance of the human spirit.

 

Reviewed by Patricia P. Kelly

Virginia Tech

Blacksburg, VA

A Wicked Thing

A Wicked Thing

by Rhiannon Thomas

Harper Teen, 2015, 337 pp., $17.99

Fantasy, Magic

ISBN: 978-0-06-230353-0

 

Life, passion, deceit, and revenge—all common traits of a typical fairy tale. In her spinoff of Sleeping Beauty, Thomas is able to create a new story line of the aftermath of the true lovers’ kiss. What if Aurora wasn’t awakened by the man of her dreams? What if it was a young boy and it happened hundreds of years later when all the family and legacy of the majestic kingdom has been destroyed? Aurora, along with her soon-to-be husband, embarks on the trip of reality; dreams aren’t the same as life. The idea of a “bad” ending in which Aurora must find answers is intriguing. This story allows the reader to view a different, perhaps more real ending. The story continuously has plot fluctuations, keeping you on your toes. You develop strong feelings against and for characters. A Wicked Thing is a well-planned modern fairy tale.

 

Julio Ramirez

Student of Dr. Gretchen Schwarz

Baylor University

Waco, TX

The Boy in the Black Suit

The Boy in the Black Suit

Jason Reynolds

HB: Antheneum Books for Young Readers 2015

255 pp.   $17.99

Fiction: Grieving/Relationships

ISBN 978-1-4424-5950-2

 

The summer before Matthew Miller’s senior year of high school brings permanent changes to this first-person narrator and title character. Mixing scenes of love and humor with sadness and grief, author Jason Reynolds portrays a hard-working young man from New York who has just lost his mother to cancer and is struggling with coping.

 

After his mother’s death, Matt finds an odd solace in working for Mr. Willie Ray at the local funeral home. He doesn’t have to touch dead people—a question his best friend Chris Hayes asks right away—but he does like to sit in the back row wearing the black suit he got for his mother’s funeral and watch the grieving of others, which is how he meets Lovey. Through texts and a few odd dates, the two find they share a very important memory. Some language and content may make this text better suited for middle and upper adolescents.

 

Reviewed by Amanda Lickteig

Kansas State University

Manhattan, KS

City 1: A Revolution 19 Novel

City 1: A Revolution 19 Novel

Gregg Rosenblum

HarperTeen, an imprint of HarperCollins 2015

279 pp.   $17.99

Dystopia/Science Fiction/Futuristic/Relationships

ISBN 978-0-06-212601-6

 

“Bots” control the world in the 2040s; people in the cities rely on the protection/safety of non-feeling. Rebel groups attempt to take back humanity, to fight the re-education that makes people “Bot-reliant.”  Kevin, Nick, Cass, and Lexie, siblings though they have different birth parents, reunite in a rebel camp. Each charged with different assignments in the fight to regain the cities, they all struggle to rescue their parents amid the dangers of technological warfare and the paralyzing propaganda of the Bots.

Rosenblum skillfully alternates the four teens’ stories in relatively brief chapters, heightening the multiple conflicts they face.  City 1 is a gripping tale that demands one to keep reading. In the sterile world of robots and automation, the teens’ quest to save their parents and other family members poignantly emphasizes the importance of humanity/humanness, giving the novel universality that surpasses that of typical science fiction/apocalyptic, technological world war stories.

Reviewed by Mary Warner

San José State University

San Jose, CA

Double Vision: The Alias Men

Double Vision: The Alias Men

F.T. Bradley

HarperCollins 2014

256 pp.   $16.99

Teen Action

ISBN 987-0-06-2104434

 

Linc Baker is back in this fun, action-packed adventure when secret government agency Pandora asks Linc to recover a very important Dangerous Double—a Charlie Chaplain hat that makes the wearer invisible! In the wrong hands, this hat could be deadly, and it’s up to Linc to find it before the bad guys do. While trying to recover the hat at a Hollywood production studio, Linc catches the eye of a famous director and gets cast to be the star in his movie! Linc has to juggle camera calls and competing with his nemesis, pseudo-twin Ben Green, who is also involved in the mission. With lots of twists and turns, this book will keep young readers entertained and on the edge of their seats. Linc’s voice is distinctly unique, and his clever commentary and laugh-out-loud mishaps and triumphs are highly entertaining.

 

Reviewed by Kelly Rogers

Brigham Young University

Provo, UT

Killing Time in Crystal City

Killing Time in Crystal City

Chris Lynch

HB: Simon & Schuster 2015

230 pp.  $17.99

Identity

ISBN 978-1-4424-4011-1

 

Whether he’s running from somewhere or to somewhere he isn’t sure, Kevin feels called to Crystal City.  He finds his way to his estranged uncle’s house and creates a new identity. Now known as “Kiki,” he makes friends with a group of homeless beach bums and two girls who are as lost and searching as he is.  But is it Kevin or “Kiki” they really like? Will new and dangerous adventures allow him to escape his miserable former life or propel him into new horrors worse than the reasons he left home? When he finds himself in desperate circumstances, he takes a hard look at who he is and who he wants to be.  With the help a new friend, he realizes there’s no shame in having a place to belong.  This story brings to the surface complicated issues of identity, family, and home.

 

Reviewed by Vicki Sherbert

Kansas State University

Manhattan, KS

 

The Last Changeling

The Last Changeling

Jane Yolen and Adam Stemple

Viking 2015

225 pp.    $16.99

Fantasy

ISBN 978-0-670-01435-4

 

The Last Changeling begins where The Hostage Prince left off, with Snail and Aspen, the Hostage Prince, on the run. As they travel through unfamiliar lands with new aliases, they must think on their feet to survive. To hide from the two armies tracking them, they join a troupe of traveling actors led by Professor Odds.

 

As they continue their journey with this entertaining troupe, they discover the magic within the group comprised of dwarves, unicorns, Maggie Light, and whatever the Professor might be. Their journey brings them up against friends and foes, new and old, as they come to learn more about themselves and that their journey has only just begun.

 

Both Snail and Aspen must draw on their wits and rely on each other if they wish to survive. Who can they trust? Who is Professor Odds?  Will they ever find a place that is truly safe?

 

Kimberlee Osenga

Fort Riley Middle School

Fort Riley, KS

Legends: The Best Players, Games, and Teams in Baseball

Legends: The Best Players, Games, and Teams in Baseball

Howard Bryant

Philomel 2015

228 pp.    $16.99

Nonfiction-Baseball

ISBN 978-0-399-16903-8

 

This nonfiction book introduces contemporary young people to the legends of baseball from previous generations.  Organized into three sections—Spring, Summer, and Fall—the text brings to life notable individuals, teams, situations, and triumphs in highly readable prose.

 

The Spring section focuses on individuals, most of whom will probably not be well known to young people learning about the history and traditions of the game.  This section offers brief but thorough portraits of Babe Ruth, Jackie Robinson, Willie Mays, Sandie Koufax, Henry Aaron, and Rickey Henderson.  Obviously, this section could be much longer and could include any number of other notable figures from the rich history of baseball in America, but it is hard to argue with the players chosen for inclusion.

 

The Summer section is devoted primarily to special teams such as the Oakland A’s from the early 1970s and the 1993 San Francisco Giants.  One brief chapter is devoted to the home run race between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, and this discussion walks the line between the ever-present need to idolize home run hitters and the steroid scandal that has irrevocably tarnished the McGwire-Sosa drama that seemed so special at the time. 

 

Finally, the Fall section is devoted to memorable World Series, including one section devoted to Mr. October, Reggie Jackson.  Sandwiched between chapters are high-interest top ten lists related to the content of the narrative.

 

Reviewed by Todd Goodson

Kansas State University

Manhattan, KS

Love and Other Theories

Love & Other Theories

Alexis Bass

HarperTeen, imprint of HarperCollins 2015

376 pp.     $17.99

Love/Friendship, Relationships/High School Culture

ISBN 978-0-06-227532-5

 

Aubrey, Shelby, Danica, and Melissa—last-semester seniors—survive high school relationships unscathed because they create the “theories.”  They understand how to leave, not be left; not to demand or expect; to give less if they want more. They hold the power, feeling superior to female peers and to high school guys of no depth or commitment.  Until this semester, Aubrey focused on school over relationships and having a “life.” Holding an acceptance to Barron University frees her to join the party scene with her best friends.  Enter newcomer Nathan Diggs; will the “theories” protect Aubrey and her friendships?

 

On the surface, Love & Other Theories presents self-centered, arrogant, and risky young women.  Are the “theories” solely for their benefit?  Is their cruelty to others who don’t “get” the theories justified? Bass creates in Aubrey a complex narrator who raises valid questions, but often fails to see beyond her needs. 

 

Reviewed by Mary Warner

San José State University

San Jose, CA

The Mermaid's Sister

The Mermaid’s Sister

Carrie Anne Noble

Skyscape 2015   

252 pp.   $9.99

Fiction

ISBN 9781477820889

 

Sixteen-year-old Clara has lived her life dreading the day her sister, Maren, completes her mermaid transition. Maren has always felt an overwhelming interest in the ocean, while Clara wishes for a cure. Both adopted, Clara wonders what her heritage could force her to become. Carrie Anne Noble’s The Mermaid’s Sister begins with the caution that “wishing gets you nothing.” Clara constantly reminds herself of this as she wishes for things out of her reach. As Maren’s transition begins to accelerate, Clara and their lifetime family friend, O’Neill, realize Maren must be returned to the ocean or face death. As they set out on an adventure of a lifetime with their pet dragon and a slowly shrinking Maren, they must not only overcome love-struck mermaid followers and those who would abuse Maren’s condition but also come to the realization that wishing–and hope–give you far more than nothing.

 

Reviewed by Allanah Osborn

Brigham Young University

Provo, UT

On the Edge

On the Edge

Allison Van Diepen

HarperTeen, imprint of HarperCollins Publishers 2014

294 pp.   $17.99

Teen Romance

ISBN 987-0-06-230344-8

 

Maddie Diaz can’t wait to graduate high school and leave her lower-class neighborhood to attend college. But one night everything changes when Maddie witnesses two members of the local gang, Los Reyes, beating up a homeless man, and she calls the cops. With a fresh target on her back, Maddie is scared for her safety, until she meets Lobo, the head of a rival gang, who promises to protect her. As Maddie spends time with Lobo and his gang, the Destinos, she learns their goal is to rescue girls who are victims of human trafficking at the hands of Los Reyes, and she can’t help falling for Lobo. This novel is moving, with a message that penetrates the heart of the reader, plus the Latino flavor throughout is incredibly refreshing. Teens will relate to the characters in this book who make the most out of the situations life throws their way.

 

Reviewed by Kelly Rogers

Brigham Young University

Provo, UT

The Only Game

The Only Game

Mike Lupica

Simon & Schuster 2015

310 pp.  $16.99

Fiction-Baseball-Middle Grades

ISBN 978-1-4814-0995-7

 

Well-known sports writer Mike Lupica ventures again into young adult literature with this middle-grades book about an exceptional player who is sidelined by personal tragedy.  Lupica brings the character of Jack Callahan to life as the “best seventh grader in town, the best pitcher, and the best shortstop when he wasn’t pitching.”

 

Faced with the death of his brother, Jack quits the team, and the novel traces his steps through the healing process and toward returning to his life and moving forward.  Key to his maturation and development are his friendships with Cassie, a star softball player, and Teddy, an overweight boy who is the subject of harassment by the other students.

 

The novel wraps the issue of grief in the comfortable cloak of baseball and presents a highly readable and engaging story that will certainly benefit students who are in similar situations or need to support others who are dealing with loss.

 

Reviewed by Todd Goodson

Kansas State University

Manhattan, KS