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New Fiction 2015-2016

 

THE WALLS AROUND US by Nova Ren Suma

At first glance, Amber and Violet have nothing in common. Amber, imprisoned at Aurora Hills juvenile detention center for her role in the death of her stepfather, spends her days dreaming of the momentary freedom she and the other inmates experienced when a summer storm knocked out power to their cells. Violet, a ballet dancer on her way to Juilliard, has a long, free life ahead of her—were it not for the guilt drawing her toward Aurora Hills. Their connection comes through a third girl, Ori, who became Amber’s new cellmate after the storm, and who was sent to Aurora Hills because of what she did to protect Violet. Suma (17 & Gone) interweaves past and present with a haunting sense of unease, drawing readers onward with well-executed suspense and the compelling voices of her two narrators. The occasional vagaries of the plot are more than redeemed by the strength of the prose, and a startling final twist brings the three girls to a satisfying, if unorthodox, kind of justice.  Publisher’s Weekly

 

UNDERMAJORDOMO MINOR by Patrick DeWitt

In his delightful and dark new novel, Booker nominee deWitt brings his amusingly off-kilter vision to a European folk tale. After nearly dying from an illness that claims his father, Lucy Minor, a bored and pompous young man, leaves his fairy tale–like hamlet of Bury to begin a new life as assistant to the majordomo at Castle Von Aux. Just getting there proves to be an adventure: Lucy is beset by thieves, learns of his predecessor’s awful fate, and is relieved of his last coin by Adolphus, an exceptionally handsome soldier fighting a war in the forest. Once at the castle, Lucy befriends the thieves who robbed him, competes with Adolphus for the love of the beguiling Klara, and attempts to restore the Baron Von Aux to sanity. Lucy’s earnest actions only create more trouble when a dinner party descends into grotesque bacchanalia, a lecherous guest loses his teeth, and Adolphus makes a final play for Klara’s heart, driving Lucy to the edge of the Very Large Hole, where he vacillates between killing himself and someone else. DeWitt (The Sisters Brothers) uses familiar tropes to lull the reader into a false sense of grounding, delivering with abundant good humor a fully realized, consistently surprising, and thoroughly amusing tale of longing, love, madness, and mirth.  Publisher’s Weekly


I SERVED THE KING by Bohumil Hrabal, translated from Czech by Paul Wilson

Sparkling with comic genius and narrative exuberance, this excellently translated novel by a major Czech writer brings into sharp focus the grotesque absurdities of recent Czech history. Dittie, a busboy with an inferiority complex and a driving ambition to become a millionaire, quickly rises to become a head waiter, but the respect he craves continues to allude him. When he marries a Nazi gym teacher, the Czechs despise him even more, while the Germans barely tolerate him. Rare stamps taken from wealthy Jews make his dream come true after the war, but his first-class hotel is soon nationalized by the Communists and he ends his life in poverty and isolation writing his memoirs. As is typical of Hrabal’s work (e.g., Closely Watched Trains , LJ 2/1/69), the novel is full of zany characters whose antics range from supremely entertaining to bizarrely tragic.  Library Journal


IN THE UNLIKELY EVENT by Judy Blume

In the winter of 1951–52, three separate airplanes crashed into Elizabeth, NJ, near Newark Airport. Blume was a young teen at the time, and she revisits the events of those months in her latest novel told in the third person from multiple points of view. The main character, 15-year-old Miri Ammerman, lives in Elizabeth with her single mother, Rusty. Miri’s Uncle Henry is a small-town journalist who makes a name for himself writing about the crashes for the local paper. Miri’s grandmother Irene keeps the family fed and befriends a man who was widowed in the first crash. These and other protagonists’ viewpoints help to build a picture of life in New Jersey in the early 1950s. Although there are many voices, Blume skillfully weaves their stories together so that it is always clear who each character is and what their connections are to one another. Miri experiences first love (with a non-Jewish boy) and begins to learn the truth about her father and his family. Her best friend Natalie, whose family and life Miri has always envied, begins a downward spiral into anorexia and believes that she is hearing messages from a dancer named Ruby who died on the first plane. This is a wonderful picture of a community living their lives while responding to not just one catastrophe but three. VERDICT Fans of Blume will clamor for this, but so, too, will any teen who enjoys a well-written coming-of-age novel that strongly evokes a specific time and place. School Library Journal

ELEANOR & PARK by Rainbow Rowell

Half-Korean sophomore Park Sheridan is getting through high school by lying low, listening to the Smiths (it’s 1986), reading Alan Moore’s Watchmen comics, never raising his hand in class, and avoiding the kids he grew up with. Then new girl Eleanor gets on the bus. Tall, with bright red hair and a dress code all her own, she’s an instant target. Too nice not to let her sit next to him, Park is alternately resentful and guilty for not being kinder to her. When he realizes she’s reading his comics over his shoulder, a silent friendship is born. And slowly, tantalizingly, something more. Adult author Rowell (Attachments), making her YA debut, has a gift for showing what Eleanor and Park, who tell the story in alternating segments, like and admire about each other. Their love is believable and thrilling, but it isn’t simple: Eleanor’s family is broke, and her stepfather abuses her mother. When the situation turns dangerous, Rowell keeps things surprising, and the solution—imperfect but believable—maintains the novel’s delicate balance of light and dark.   Publisher’s Weekly


SON OF THE MOB by Gordon Korman

Vince Luca is a recognizable modern teenager-fast-talking, unmotivated, and down on what his father does for a living. When one’s dad is the leader of organized crime in New York, living an independent life is a challenge. Although Vince is determined to stay completely separate from the family business, it somehow interferes with every aspect of his senior year, from playing football to homework projects. When Vince falls for Kendra, the daughter of the FBI agent gathering evidence against his father, their relationship seems doomed from the start. Several questions keep the reader hooked. Will Kendra find out why Vince avoids meeting her parents? Will their parents catch them together? What happens if her father succeeds? Is there an FBI mole in the Luca operations? Who ordered the shooting of Mr. Luca’s rival? What makes the story work is the hip, young voice of the protagonist. Vince is well aware of the absurdity of his situation and has a wonderfully dry sense of humor. His genuine struggle to find his own way in the face of family influences is appealing and grounds the story. Although this book will be most popular with the junior high crowd, older students who appreciate humorous writing will enjoy the clever twist on a Romeo-and-Juliet relationship. The popularity of HBO’s The Sopranos should also serve to increase its audience. VOYA


CARRY ON by Rainbow Rowell

Readers of Rowell’s Fangirl (St. Martin’s Griffin, 2013) have already had a glimpse at the world of Simon Snow, but now Rowell turns the full force of her imagination on the Watford School of Magic and those connected to it. Magic is disappearing all over England, leaving pockets of dead air that disable any magician in the vicinity. Somehow, everyone knows that the Insidious Humdrum is responsible, but who—or what?—is the Humdrum, and why does he look exactly like 11-year-old Simon? That’s not the only mystery at hand, however. Simon’s roommate and nemesis, the vampire Baz, disappears for weeks, and while he’s gone, the Veil opens and Baz’s late mother shows up at their room with a message for her son: her killer, Nicodemus, is still out there. When Baz returns, he’s barely more than skin and bones. What has he been doing? And why can’t Simon stop thinking about him? Simon and Baz reluctantly declare a truce and join forces, along with the intrepid Penelope Bunce, to find the mysterious Nicodemus. With rock-solid worldbuilding, a sweet and believable romance subplot, and satisfying ending, Rowell’s latest is a monumentally enjoyable reading experience. VERDICT Hand this to fans of Rowell, Harry Potter, love stories, and magic.  School Library Journal


THE LIFE WE BURY by Allen Eskens

Joe Talbert, the hero of Eskens’s masterful debut, has worked hard to earn the money to leave home and pursue an education at the University of Minnesota, but his alcoholic mother, who’s unable to provide proper care for his autistic brother, keeps demanding his money and time. Joe’s life takes a harrowing turn when he visits a nursing home in Richfield, Minn., in search of a subject for a class assignment—to write a person’s biography. Joe chooses one of the only patients not affected with dementia, Carl Iverson, who, he soon discovers, was convicted decades earlier of the murder and rape of a 14-year-old girl. Recently paroled after serving 30 years of a life sentence because he’s dying of pancreatic cancer, Carl agrees to tell Joe his story. Prodded by Lila Nash, his attractive college student neighbor, Joe immerses himself in the crime and Carl’s trial. As Joe learns more about the events of the murder, he is faced with several threats to his own safety, yet refuses to give up his pursuit of the truth. More complications ensue, until the novel’s satisfying resolution.   Publisher’s Weekly

 


THE WIND-UP BIRD CHRONICLE by Haruki Murakami

Not merely a big book from the broadly respected Murakami (Dance Dance Dance, 1994), but a major work bringing signature themes of alienation, dislocation, and nameless fears through the saga of a gentle man forced to trade the familiar for the utterly unknown.

Narrator Toru Okada quit his law-office job in Tokyo. Then he and his wife Kumiko lost their cat. Then Kumiko goes to work one day, and he never sees her again. The loss is overwhelming, but when two psychic sisters take an interest in Okada, to the point of entering his dreams, and a teenage neighbor shares with him her obsession with death, to the point of almost killing him, Okada realizes he’s into something over his head. Of course, if he hadn’t climbed into the dry well of a nearby vacant house, the teenager wouldn’t have had a chance to get at him—and neither would he have had an out-of-body experience that left him with a bluish mark the size of a baby’s palm on his cheek. And if he hadn’t heard the chilling reminiscence of an old soldier who’d been thrown by his captors into a well in the Mongolian desert at the start of WW II, he never would have wanted to see for himself what a well-bottom was like. And if he hadn’t married Kumiko, he wouldn’t have the ire of her powerful, venomous brother now turned on him. And yet even so, suddenly, subtly, Okada’s fortunes change: Brought through the mark on his cheek into an alliance with another team of psychics, this one mother and son, he acquires the vacant house and its well—and moves deliberately toward a confrontation with the evil that took Kumiko away and all but destroyed him.

On a canvas stretched from Manchuria to Malta, and with sound effectsfrom strange birdcalls to sleigh bells in cyberspace, this is a fully mature, engrossing tale of individual and national destinies entwined. It will be hard to surpass.  Kirkus Reviews

 

THE LITTLE PARIS BOOKSHOP by Nina George

This newly translated German bestseller is a warmhearted, occasionally sentimental account of letting go of the old loves to make room for new. Parisian bookseller Jean Perdu has lived in a time capsule of his own grief. Twenty-one years ago, his lover, Manon, left, leaving behind only a letter to explain herself—which Jean never opened. Ever since, Jean has devoted his life to his floating bookstore, the Literary Apothecary, a barge docked on the Seine. He can diagnose a shopper’s ills (ennui, disappointment, a range of fears) and select the correct literary remedy. When heartbroken Catherine moves into his building, Jean brings her an old table and a stack of books to cure her crying. In the table Catherine finds Manon’s unopened letter and demands Jean read it, or she will. The two fall into kissing, and Jean, buoyed by Catherine, finally reads Manon’s letter, but the truth is heartbreaking. Manon returned to her home in Provence (and her husband—it was complicated) to succumb to the cancer she had been hiding. Her last request was for Jean to visit before she died. Jean, overwhelmed by news of her death, his tragic error, his wasted life pining for a dead woman, lifts the Literary Apothecary’s anchor to finally make the journey to Manon. Stowed away is his neighbor Max, a young novelist running away from his fame. The two navigate the canals of France selling books for food, engaging in adventures small and large, all against the backdrop of quaint villages and bittersweet memories. They take on some passengers: a roguish Italian who has been searching the waterways for his long-lost sweetheart; and a renowned novelist. As Jean makes his way to Manon’s home (all the while writing love letters to Catherine), he prepares to ask for forgiveness—from the memory of Manon, from her husband, and from himself. A charming novel that believes in the healing properties of fiction, romance, and a summer in the south of France. Kirkus Reviews

NEVER ALWAYS SOMETIMES by Adi Alsaid

Upon entering high school, best friends Julia and Dave wanted, more than anything, to avoid becoming cliché. To ensure that they have an “original high school experience,” they created a list of things they must never do, like skinny dipping or going on a “life-changing” road trip. But now it’s senior year, and they wonder what they might have missed out on. Julia and Dave decide that it’s time to break their own rules and try, if only once, all the things they vowed not to do. Much to their surprise, they have some fun drinking at parties and dying their hair, and they discover that some classmates they had previously dismissed as stereotypes are worth knowing. Complications arise when David starts falling for a very conventional girl, and Julia simultaneously discovers that her feelings for David go deeper than friendship. Exploring universal feelings of friendship and love, Alsaid (Let’s Get Lost) offers a colorful depiction of two teens discovering what they have in common with others. Their escapades and realizations will evoke laughter and empathy. Publisher’s Weekly

DUMPLIN’ by Julie Murphy

About the only thing Clover City has going for it is its beauty pageant, the oldest in Texas. It’s run by Willowdean Dickson’s mother—a former winner—who has a hard time with the reality that Willowdean, a self-described “fat girl,” will never be a beauty queen. Willowdean is okay with her size, mostly, but with 10th grade ending and her best friend considering having sex with her boyfriend, Willowdean feels like she is being left on the wrong side of the experience divide. An unexpected kiss with Bo, her handsome fast-food restaurant coworker, is thrilling, but she’s also horrified at the idea of him touching her anywhere there is extra flesh. And that very reaction horrifies her, too; she thought she was at peace with herself. Murphy (Side Effects May Vary) successfully makes every piece of the story—Dolly Parton superfans, first love, best-friend problems, an unlikely group of pageant entrants, female solidarity, self-acceptance, and Willowdean’s complicated relationship with the mother who nicknamed her “Dumplin’ ”—count, weaving them together to create a harmonious, humorous, and thought-provoking whole.  Publisher’s Weekly

 

 

TROUBLE IS A FRIEND OF MINE by Stephanie Tromly

In what reads like a combination of Veronica Mars and The Breakfast Club, debut author Tromly creates a screwball mystery with powerful crossover appeal. Sixteen-year-old Zoe Webster, a newly minted child of divorce from Brooklyn, is biding her time with her mother in the suburbs of upstate New York until she can move back to the city and attend boarding school. When she meets Digby, a loner who “treats you like a book he’s already read,” she agrees to help him discover what happened to a missing classmate, Marina Miller, as well as Digby’s sister, who was abducted eight years ago. Joined by high school quarterback Henry, preppy cheerleader Sloane, and science genius Felix, Zoe and Digby uncover a gynecological drug ring, stop a shady pseudo-religious cult, and even make time for homecoming photos. Tromly enlivens scenes with breakneck pop-culture-dosed dialogue (“Don’t be a Squidward”) and slapstick comedy. After risking her life, Zoe finally figures out what she wants from her parents and from Digby, but Tromly leaves enough loose ends to suggest a possible sequel—a very welcome prospect. Publisher’s Weekly

THE GIRL IN THE SPIDER’S WEB by David Lagercrantz

Lagercrantz’s worthy, crowd-pleasing fourth installment in the late Stieg Larsson’s Millennium saga opens in Sweden, where some intellectual property developed by artificial intelligence genius Frans Balder has been stolen by a video game company with ties to Russian mobsters. Crusading journalist Mikael Blomkvist, who’s casting about for a new investigative project, is about to meet with Balder when an intruder kills the scientist and puts Balder’s autistic eight-year-old son in danger. Meanwhile in the U.S., the National Security Agency is hacked, and its chief of security, Edwin Needham, vows revenge. Lisbeth Salander plays a central role in both plot lines, and the pleasure resides in watching Lagercrantz (Fall of Man in Wilmslow) corral an enormous cast of characters into an intricate story revolving around the larger-than-life hacker and her desire to right wrongs, including corporate espionage, a government spying on its own citizens, and violence against the defenseless. Two new characters make strong impressions: Jan Bublanski, a Stockholm detective with a humanistic bent, and Camilla Salander, Lisbeth’s twin, who sets the stage for further Millennium novels. Lagercrantz, his prose more assured than Larsson’s, keeps Salander’s fiery rage at the white-hot level her fans will want.  Publisher’s Weekly

NOT AFTER EVERYTHING by Michelle Levy

Tyler is drowning in a sea of helplessness and it doesn’t seem to be worth the effort to swim up for air. Right before the start of senior year, his mother committed suicide—and Tyler was the one who found her. He was supposed to go to Stanford on a football scholarship. He was supposed to stay interested in his hot girlfriend. All he can manage to do is avoid his dad’s growing emotional and physical abuse and keep earning a paycheck after school. The teen’s new job brings him back in contact with Jordyn, an old friend turned goth girl. While everyone else at school has been giving him a pass, Jordyn doesn’t cut him any slack. Tyler actually starts to let himself feel again as things with Jordyn and his father escalate. Levy has delivered a dramatic narrative that manages to be tragic and intense, but ultimately hopeful. The protagonists are fully developed and three-dimensional teens and their story is captivating. Fans of Robyn Schneider’s The Beginning of Everything (HarperCollins, 2013) should add this to their must-read lists. School Library Journal

A WELL-TEMPERED HEART by Jan-Philipp Sendker

In the German novelist Sendker’s sequel to The Art of Hearing Heartbeats (2012), a Manhattan attorney returns to Burma 10 years after her first visit for further lessons in love. When she was 28, lawyer Julia traveled to Burma, where she learned of her Burmese father’s early life and his reunion with the love of his life, whom he’d left behind before moving to America and marrying Julia’s American mother. While there, she became close to the saintly half brother, U Ba, she never knew existed. Since her return to New York, she has meant to return to Burma but never got around to it. Now, shortly after breaking up with her boyfriend and receiving a letter from U Ba, Julia begins to hear a voice asking her questions. A psychiatrist prescribes drugs to quell the voice. Instead, she visits a Buddhist center, where a Burmese monk clarifies that another woman’s soul is trapped inside Julia’s body. Soon, Julia is winging her way to Burma, where she quickly finds U Ba, who takes her to visit Khin Khin, an elderly woman who tells the story of her dead half sister, Nu Nu, whose voice haunts Julia. (In his first novel, Sendker used the similar technique of framing one story inside another.) Nu Nu’s crisis was that she loved her first son more than her second. The second son, Thar Thar, grew up aware he was unwanted by his mother. Nevertheless, after his loving father’s early death, Thar Thar cared well for his mother and brother, but when Burmese soldiers forced Nu Nu to make a “Sophie’s choice,” she didn’t hesitate in deciding to save her favorite. So, 12-year-old Thar Thar was forced into the army. As Julia and U Bar discover what became of Thar Thar, Julia learns about the power of love and realizes where her own heart truly belongs. Sendker can be a mesmerizing storyteller, but his high quotient of romantic spiritualism is hard for even the mildly skeptical to take seriously.

THE RED GARDEN by Alice Hoffman

Set in a mythical town tucked deep in the Berkshire Mountains, Hoffman’s collection of interrelated stories imagines the 300-year history of rural Blackwell, MA, reflecting on the growth of western Massachusetts and the legacy of a resident family. Originally called Bearsville by its settlers, who ended up on the wrong side of a mountain in the snow, Blackwell carries the spirit and mystery of one of its founders, Hallie Brady. Each chapter moves the story through another generation, with the narrative literally grounded by the garden, where only red plants can grow. Hoffman’s usual charm and skill at character development are in full force as she pulls off the historical progression. Some chapters are more touching than others, but the plot’s logic works well.  Library Journal

ANNE & HENRY by Dawn Ius

Ius’s steamy modern version of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn’s tragic love affair creatively translates the wealth, power, and court intrigue of 16th-century England to the affluent Seattle suburb of Medina, Wash. Anne, an audacious new student at Medina Academy, doesn’t fit into Henry Tudor’s privileged world. She’s the outsider with a secret past, but he doesn’t care. He’s willing to risk losing his influential friends; family-approved girlfriend, Catherine; Ivy League future; and inheritance if it means he gets to be with Anne. She gives him “something to be passionate about,” and this obsession is mutual, as revealed through their angst-filled alternating perspectives. Ius (coauthor of Killer’s Instinct, writing as Dawn Dalton) does a better job presenting Henry’s side, but while the story’s setting may have changed, its trajectory does not, painting one of the star-crossed lovers as an unfortunate victim and the other as an incorrigible cad. There are plenty of wild parties, sexual tension, and schoolroom drama in this novel to entice readers who enjoy a good scandal. Publisher’s Weekly

 

ARMADA by Ernest Cline

Living in the shadow of the father he never knew, Zachary Lightman is devoted to all things sf, especially video games such as Armada, in which he can pilot drones and fight an alien enemy attacking Earth. One afternoon as he sits in class during the final days of his senior year of high school, Zach sees a flying saucer outside the window. And not just any flying saucer: a Glaive Fighter, just like the enemy ships from the game. Zach fears that he’s going crazy, but he soon discovers that the skills he has been honing on video games might be the key to saving the world. VERDICT With another winning teen protagonist in Zach, Cline mines the nostalgia and geek spheres just as successfully as he did in his acclaimed debut, Ready Player One. The works that obviously influenced the story line, such as Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game and the films The Last Starfighter and Star Wars, feel like homages rather than borrowings—a rap artist sampling the best beats out there to create an irresistible jam.  Library Journal

 

ORYX AND CRAKE by Margaret Atwood

The doyenne of Canadian literature (she’s won both a Booker and a Giller Prize), the versatile Atwood has an uncanny ability to write in a number of literary genres. Like The Handmaid’s Tale, her latest work is set in a near future that is all too realistic and almost too terrifying to contemplate. Having once led a life of comfort and self-indulgence, Jimmy, now known as Snowman, has survived an ecological disaster that has destroyed the world as we know it. As he struggles to function without everything he once knew, including time, Snowman reflects on the past, on his relationships with two characters named Oryx and Crake, and on the role of each individual in the destruction of the natural world. From its opening scene, in which the children of Crake scavenge through debris, to its horrifying conclusion, this novel challenges the reader, cleverly pairing familiar aspects of the world with parts that have been irrevocably changed. A powerful and perturbing glimpse into a dark future, this is Atwood’s impassioned plea for responsible management of our human, scientific, and natural resources and a novel that will cast long and lingering shadows in the reader’s mind, well after the book is closed. Library Journal


WHO DO YOU LOVE by Jennifer Weiner

Andy and Rachel fall in love and fall apart, over and over, in this emotional outing from Weiner. Eight-year-old Rachel Blum and Andy Landis meet in a hospital ER—she’s there because of a congenital heart deformity while he’s suffering from a broken arm caused by lack of parental supervision, having fallen off a balcony while doing circus tricks on the railing. They tell each other about the challenges in their young lives—for Rachel, it’s that her surgery makes everyone think she’s fragile, and for Andy, it’s being biracial, which makes him feel like he doesn’t fit in with white or black kids. When they meet again as teenagers, they almost instantly fall in love. But their relationship isn’t without its obstacles—while Rachel is a Jewish upper-middle-class girl, Andy lives in poverty with his single mother. Andy and Rachel break off and rekindle their romance multiple times as he sets his sights on becoming an Olympic runner and she finds her way in her own career in social work. Through marriages, deaths, scandals, and successes, they keep finding their ways back to each other. Does their connection mean they’re meant to be together—or are their differences simply too big to overcome? It’s hard not to get invested in Weiner’s characters, particularly Andy, who struggles to deal with his father’s absence, his biracial identity, and feelings of being left out of Rachel’s privileged world. Although some side characters are painted with broad strokes, Andy and Rachel feel fully realized and easy to root for, even when they’re behaving badly and making mistakes. There are plenty of twists and turns (both predictable and surprising) in their relationship, and it’s satisfying to watch them wend their ways toward the novel’s perfectly realized conclusion. This moving story of love that spans a lifetime is Weiner at her heartstring-tugging best.  Kirkus Reviews

LAIR OF DREAMS by Libba Bray

Since Evie O’Neill revealed her powers as a Diviner, she has lived the high life as “America’s Sweetheart Seer.” As she drowns her nightmares about fighting John Hobbes in gin, dazzling parties, and the adoration of fans, a sleeping sickness is spreading through Chinatown and no one knows how to stop it. Dreamwalkers Ling Chan and Henry Dubois are thrown together when dreams start to collide. Henry is searching dreams for his lost love, and Ling is desperate for friendship in a world that can only see her as broken. Soon they discover that a malevolent force is at work in both the dream and real world. People are going missing, sleep is no longer safe, and a woman in a veil screaming “Murder!” haunts the edges of people’s dreams. It will take all the Diviners to solve this mystery and bring another harrowing adventure to a close. In the second book in The Diviners series, Bray tantalizes the reader, unraveling plot twists and secrets until the final hair-raising conclusion. As the plot develops, ties appear among John Hobbes, the sleeping sickness, and a darker problem, which promises to surface more in future books. The story is written in flowing phrases with detailed descriptions that add depth and clarity to both the book’s setting and characters. Bray weaves connections between her numerous characters and explores friendships, dark secrets, and dramatic love interests.  VOYA

THE MARTIAN by Andy Weir

Weir combines the heart-stopping with the humorous in this brilliant debut novel about an astronaut stranded on Mars. When its mission is scrubbed as a result of a powerful windstorm, the team of Ares 3 move from their habitat to the ascent vehicle. In transit, Mark Watney’s spacesuit is punctured by debris, knocking him unconscious and disabling the suit’s biosign monitor so that he appears to be dead. When he regains consciousness, Mark realizes that his crew has left him: “I’m pretty much fucked.” Now all he has to do is survive, reestablish communications, find a source of food, and last until the next mission to Mars. Like TV’s MacGyver, Mark does have a few potatoes, lots of duct tape, and plenty of resourcefulness. If only Mars would stop trying to kill him and the crew had left behind something other than disco music and 1970s sitcoms for entertainment. VERDICT By placing a nail-biting life-and-death situation on Mars and adding a snarky and wise-cracking nerdy hero, Weir has created the perfect mix of action and space adventure. Mark is hilarious, which makes the terror of marooned death on Mars not just bearable but downright fun.

ALL THE BRIGHT PLACES                         by Jennifer Niven

Seniors Theodore Finch and Violet Markey run into each other on their school bell tower, contemplating what it would be like to jump. It’s more dark-cute than meet-cute, which also describes the book. Finch thinks about suicide every day; Violet was happy until her sister died in a car crash. While Finch, aka “Theodore Freak,” is a marginal presence in their high school, he’s smart and handsome—a musician who, readers gradually realize, suffers from undiagnosed manic depression. Violet is equally smart, and as they traverse Indiana for a geography project, looking for “wonders,” they flirt, argue, admit dark secrets, and fall in love. In her YA debut, adult author Niven (Velva Jean Learns to Drive) creates a romance so fresh and funny that it seems like it could save Finch; she also makes something she foreshadows from the first line surprising. The journey to, through, and past tragedy is romantic and heartbreaking, as characters and readers confront darkness, joy, and the possibilities—and limits—of love in the face of mental illness.

 

BREAKFAST SERVED ANYTIME by Sarah Combs

Combs’s debut introduces a vivid, self-aware protagonist at a significant juncture in her life. A sensitive introvert with a penchant for believing in signs, Gloria spends the summer before her senior year on a college campus at a four-week camp for gifted students. There, she enrolls in “Secrets of the Written Word,” offered by eccentric Professor X, who challenges his students to leave all “technoparaphernalia” at home, resulting in a very small class of willing participants. Gloria surrenders herself to the immediacy of her surroundings, untethered from social media, immersed in literature, and experiencing independence for the first time. She quickly bonds with fellow students who cause her to question her political, social, and philosophical values, as well as her desires for the future. Infused with romance and intellectual energy, Combs’s story eloquently captures the euphoria and transformation that can arise from an intense period of personal introspection. Gloria’s Whitmanesque quest for visceral experience is exciting and inspiring, as is her ability to recognize the significance of quiet moments as they unfold.

OH! YOU PRETTY THINGS

by Shanna Mahin

There’s an authentic nose-pressed-against-the-glass feel to Mahin’s smart and funny debut, a spot-on poke at Hollywood celebrity and the longing that plays out in the fame factory. Jess, born and raised in Tinseltown, is the smart-aleck narrator who has a jaded view of the strivers who flock into Hollywood, yet she confesses her own vulnerability. “Maybe I’m not famous, but I’m famous-adjacent, and the glow from the heavy klieg lights is good enough for me,” she says of her employment as an assistant to actress Eva Carlton. Her fame-centric stage-mom from hell, Donna, however, triggers all Jess’s insecurities and anger at a childhood pushed toward careers she had no talent for—and toward people who abused her. “She lost ‘Mom’ when I was fourteen,” Jess explains to Eva about why she won’t call Donna Mom. When best friend and actress Megan faces her own crisis of love, outsider Jess learns to embrace and forgive the people who really matter. There are numerous places in which this heartfelt tale of acceptance could have careened into schmaltz, but Mahin expertly steers clear, gently guiding Jess from “square zero” to home.  Publisher’s Weekly

A MAD WICKED FOLLY

by Sharon Biggs Waller

In 1870, Queen Victoria made the astonishing declaration that women’s rights were a “mad, wicked folly.” This statement was the inspiration for Waller’s impeccable debut novel about a young English woman who is talented, beautiful, passionate, and wealthy. Despite these advantages, Victoria Darling struggles with the harsh limitations imposed upon women prior to and during the Edwardian era of 1901-1910, which curtail her attempts to attend art school. While Victoria does not initially associate with the Suffragette Movement, she ultimately discovers that her fate is intertwined with the cause. The first-person narrative in her earnest voice helps readers to more intimately understand the rampant frustration felt by thousands of women during that time. Waller vividly describes the unbearably restrictive corsets for women, the force-feeding implemented to undermine protesters during hunger strikes, and notable individuals who helped in the movement. At equal turns humorous and heartbreaking, readers will chuckle at Victoria’s exploits (climbing out a bedroom window, being stuck mid-curtsey before King Edward in court) and admire the brave sacrifices she makes to pursue her dreams. There is enough detailed information throughout to make this a useful and fascinating book to pair with nonfiction resources about women’s history. A must-have first purchase. School Library Journal

THE ART OF HEARING 

HEARTBEATS by Jan-Philipp Sendker

Four years before the start of the novel, Julia Win’s father, Tin Win, vanished. After receiving a copy of an old love letter written by him to a woman named Mi Mi, Julia travels to a remote village in Burma to find him. While at a teahouse in Burma, Julia meets U Ba, who claims to know what happened to her father. But the Tin Win of whom U Ba speaks is nothing like the father Julia remembers. She doubts at first that the story is true. But the more she listens and the more time she spends in Burma, the more she believes. Julia is moved by the tragic love story involving Tin Win, a blind boy in rural Burma, and Mi Mi, whose misshapen feet made it impossible for her to walk. VERDICT The heart of this sentimental novel is the romance between the teenagers Tin Win and Mi Mi in pre-World War II Burma. Recommended for readers who enjoy sweetly tragic romances.


THE DEAD LANDS by Benjamin Percy

A century and a half after a deadly pandemic and nuclear exchange, what remains of St. Louis has become Sanctuary, a walled city surrounded by the desert known as the Dead Lands. The government is growing more oppressive as conditions worsen, and then a strange, black-eyed young woman rides out of the west claiming there is a green land where the rain falls and everything grows. The rulers of Sanctuary can’t afford to allow hope into the metropolis, but a small group, including museum curator Lewis Meriwether and city guard Mina Clark, break out and head up the Missouri River to find this land of Oregon. Pursued by hunters from the city and surrounded by deadly dangers, both human and not, this small band of explorers must keep heading west until they discover just what is waiting for them on the shores of the Pacific. VERDICT Percy’s sophomore outing (after the acclaimed Red Moon) is not only a compelling postapocalyptic adventure populated by fascinating characters but a clever riff on the Lewis and Clark expedition. Fans of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, Paolo Bacigalupi’s Ship Breaker, and Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven will embrace this literary vision of humanity’s first steps back up the ladder of civilization after near-extinction disasters.  Library Journal

GIRL AT WAR by Sara Novic’

Novic’s debut novel centers on the civil war in Croatia between Croats and Serbs in the 1990s. We first meet her protagonist, Ana, as an ordinary, happy girl, living with her parents and baby sister in a small apartment and riding bikes with her friend Luka through the city. Soon enough, however, people begin to disappear, bombs begin to fall, and the children are plotting their bike routes around traumatized refugees and homemade explosives. The climax of the book comes early, when Ana’s family takes a fateful journey to Sarajevo to bring Ana’s little sister, Rahela, who is suffering from kidney failure, into the hands of an organization that will send her to the United States for treatment. The story swings back and forth from past to present, tracking young Ana’s survival in a war zone that defies comprehension. Dreamy sequences of her time in a safe house reloading guns and of desperate escapes with friends and strangers alike alternate with more recent scenes of Ana in New York City, sleepwalking through her existence in a place she does not feel she really belongs. This is a fine, sensitive novel, though the later scenes in Manhattan never reach the soaring heights of the sections set in wartime Croatia. Novic displays her talent, heightening the anticipation of what she will do next. Publisher’s Weekly

THE DEAD I KNOW by Scot Gardner

Australian author Gardner delves powerfully into the psychology of loss and the complexities of memory. Aaron Rowe has attended five schools in five years when his school counselor suggests that he take a job with funeral director John Barton. John leads Aaron through all of the aspects of the mortuary business, from attending funerals to assembling coffins and preparing the corpses, which is often shockingly gory. While Aaron excels in his work and finds comfort in providing a person with “a final grace,” at his trailer-park home he’s dealing with his unpredictable Mam: “Sometimes she was lucid and practical; other times she was a stormy two-year-old.” On top of everything, Aaron has recurring nightmares and sleepwalks, which puts him in increasingly dangerous situations. Gardner’s rich novel combines flashes of dark humor, an elusive narrator, and a carefully rendered supporting cast to create profound moments that will linger in readers’ minds. “What is life without a memory? Is it death?” Aaron wonders, as he makes peace with his past and finds a place in the future. Publisher’s Weekly

 

HOW TO WIN AT HIGH SCHOOL

by Owen Matthews

Starting his junior year at new school, Adam Higgs is a loser, and he knows it. He barely has any friends, has never been kissed, and has started working at Pizza Hut. After Adam devises a lucrative homework-selling scheme, suddenly he has an adorable girlfriend and is getting invited to the best parties, but this taste of fame and wealth leads him down a path of escalating risk, selling fake IDs and drugs. In chapters often no longer than a few paragraphs, Matthews (who writes adult thrillers as Owen Laukkanen) employs an irreverent narrative that makes it seem as though readers are seeing Adam through the shrewd perspective of a slacker sitting in the back of class (“You probably figured this out already, but, our boy doesn’t get to many parties”). Witnessing Adam’s descent into delinquency is both painful to watch and addictive. Straddling poetry and prose, the funny, unforgiving narration will have readers glued to this story about the rise and fall of an unlikely high school kingpin. Publisher’s Weekly

 

EVIL LIBRARIAN by Michelle Knudsen

Everyone is falling for the new high school librarian, including—make that especially—Cynthia (Cyn) Rothschild’s best friend Annie. Unfortunately, not only is Mr. Gabriel too old, he is not even human, but rather a demon with plans to make Annie his eternal companion and to suck the life out of the entire student body. Cyn and her crush Ryan are the only two who know the truth, but how do they convince all the adults about the true nature of the school’s newest employee? Cyn is funny, creative, and loyal, with a slightly annoying habit of constantly swooning over her crush. She is as focused on rescuing her best friend and fellow classmates as she is on designing the perfect barber chair for the set of the school musical, Sweeny Todd—which coincidentally happens to be the all time favorite show of demons. Best of all, Knudsen leaves the rescuing squarely on the shoulders of her determined hero. Parents are virtually absent, and every other adult—from their formidable Italian teacher to a rather knowledgeable occult bookstore clerk—utterly fails to safeguard the kids in any way. Even Cyn’s dreamy potential boyfriend, though supportive, is unable to stop the demons’ (it turns out there are quite a few of them, actually) nasty plot. Give to teen horror fans who like their scary reads with a little humor and romance.  Children’s Literature

NONE OF THE ABOVE by I.W. Gregorio

A painful first sexual experience and a visit to the gynecologist confirm high-school senior Kristin’s fears that she is different from other girls. Although she appears to be female on the outside, she is actually intersex. In this provocative and enlightening first novel, physician Gregorio creates a heart-wrenching story of self-discovery inspired by one of her patients. Overwhelmed by embarrassment, Kristen (who continues to identify as female) confides in only one person outside her family, but word gets out, and she soon becomes the target of cruel taunts from many students, including her enraged boyfriend. Once a confident homecoming queen and track star, Kristin no longer knows who she is or what the future will bring. It takes a courage and support from a therapist and an intersex college student for Kristen to accept that the perception of others does not define her identity. Kristin’s harrowing quest to come to terms with the insensitivity of strangers and acquaintances will strike a familiar chord with any reader who has felt estranged.

STILL WATERS by Ash Parsons

Jason is a high school student who has grown up to be a fighter. The abuse he’s suffered at his father’s hands toughened him up so much that he solves more problems with his fists than with his words. Then Michael, one of the most popular boys in school, offers to pay him to hang out with his group of friends every day. Jason doesn’t understand why Michael wants this, but he does know that the money can help him and his sister achieve their dream of running away to start a new life. The more Jason learns about Michael’s twisted motivations, the more he realizes that he’s stuck between a rock and a hard place. This is a provocative and suspenseful book, centering on a boy who’s difficult to like at first. But as readers get to know him and understand how and why he has that tough exterior, they will find themselves worrying about him more and more. Still Waters features well-drawn characters, realistic dialogue, and ethical dilemmas that many readers have already faced or might have to face in the future. A great choice for reluctant readers, fans of books with male protagonists, and lovers of survivor stories. School Library Journal

100 SIDEWAYS MILES

by Andrew Smith

At first glance, Finn Easton is an average sixteen-year-old guy: he lives with his father, step-mother, and little sister in California; he plays baseball; he has a crazy best friend named Cade, a trusty dog, and a new girlfriend, Julia. But Finn’s dad is a world-famous author, and Finn is an epileptic. These two factors make Finn’s life a bit otherworldly at times, when fact and fiction combine in disconcerting ways. Though realistic fiction, Finn’s story is one of the humbling, and sometimes dangerous, situations that come from both his frequent and unexpected seizures and being friends with Cade. Making things even more interesting are the dedicated fans of Finn’s dad’s most famous novel, in which there is an alien character named Finn who bears a striking resemblance to the real Finn, and those fans often treat Finn like the character in the book. Smith’s boner-humor is in full force here, but it is too charming to find offensive. Even Finn’s f-bombs make sense in context (they are mostly post-seizure when Finn feels angry and disorganized, but even when they are not, they do not feel gratuitous). While Finn is a bit bland—he mentions more than once that he keeps his feelings inside, though he does have an interesting quirk in that he measures time in miles the earth travels per second—he is balanced by his over-the-top best friend, who is rumored to have bugged his history teacher—literally—to death. What results are the engaging adventures of two best friends on the verge of adulthood. John Green fans will enjoy Smith’s newest novel. VOYA

GABI A Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero

Quintero’s first novel quickly establishes a strong voice and Mexican-American cultural perspective through the journal of intelligent, self-deprecating, and funny Gabi. The 17-year-old is navigating considerable conflict both at home and in her social life: her father is addicted to meth, while Gabi’s strict mother pressures her to conform to her own views of their heritage and values. Gabi, who seeks comfort through binge eating, wants to grow up on her own terms, and she explores her awakening romantic and sexual feelings by writing poetry. Quintero unsentimentally confronts a gay teenager’s coming out, teen pregnancy, date rape, abortion, addiction, and other topics while sketching the contradictory pressures facing Gabi, who feels caught between two worlds (“Being Mexican-American is tough sometimes. Your allegiance is always questioned”). Gabi’s letters to her father are particularly moving, and her narration is fresh, self-aware, and reflective. The intimate journal structure of the novel is especially revealing as Gabi gains confidence in her own integrity and complexity: “I guess there is more to this fat girl than even this fat girl ever knew.”  Publisher’s Weekly

EVERYTHING LEADS TO YOU          by Nina LaCour

Eighteen-year-old production design intern Emi is getting over her first love and trying to establish her place in the Los Angeles film industry. Set primarily during the summer before her freshman year of college, Emi spends days designing sets for a blockbuster, and, later, a low-budget indie film (complicated by the presence of her ex, also working on both films). When she and her best friend Charlotte find a letter hidden in the possessions of a recently deceased Hollywood film legend at an estate sale, they begin searching for its intended recipient. Eventually that leads to Ava, a beautiful teen to whom Emi is immediately attracted. As Emi and Charlotte discover more about Ava’s mysterious background and prop-hunt in thrift stores, Emi and Ava grow closer. Their relationship proves to be a slow build, but teens will root for its success and relate to the novel’s universal themes of love and loss. Readers interested in film production will likely enjoy this one, and though set in L.A., it provides a more realistic depiction of the gap between the city’s rich and poor—Emi’s parents are college professors; Ava and her best friend live in a shelter for homeless teens—rather than focusing on the extravagant glamour of Hollywood. This one is highly enjoyable and highly recommended.  School Library Journal

THE PORCUPINE OF TRUTH               by Bill Konigsberg

Konigsberg (Openly Straight) eloquently explores matters of family, faith, and sexuality through the story of 17-year-old Carson Smith, whose therapist mother has dragged him from New York City to Billings, Mont., where his alcoholic father is dying. After Carson meets Aisha, whose conservative Christian father threw her out of the house when he discovered she is a lesbian, the teens embark on a multistate road trip, chasing down fragmentary clues that might lead them to find Carson’s long-absent grandfather. Strained parent-child relationships are laced throughout this story—on top of Carson and Aisha’s anger toward their respective fathers, Carson’s mother only talks to him in detached therapyspeak (“I truly hear underneath the sarcasm that you’re feeling pain, Carson”), and Carson’s father hasn’t put his own paternal abandonment behind him. Bouts of humor leaven the characters’ intense anguish in a story that will leave readers thinking about inherited traits (whether an oddball sense of humor or a tendency to overdrink), the fuzzy lines between youth and adulthood, and the individual nature of faith. Publisher’s Weekly

FAT BOY VS. THE CHEERLEADERS

by Geoff Herbach

Gabe “Chunk” Johnson is an overweight band geek who has been funneling money into the soda pop machine at his high school for years, thinking that the funds were going straight to the band program. He finds out that his beloved band director is getting fired for drunken behavior and the funds his school band desperately needs are going to a new dance team, part of the cheerleader squad. Gabe begins a total transformation. He starts working out with his ex-bodybuilder grandfather and takes a leadership role in a rebellion against the school board. Along the way, he completely defies his father and builds new friendships with unlikely peers, but can the makeshift rebellion save the band program? Told from the perspective of a transcribed interview with a lawyer, the reader gets to hear Gabe’s word-for-word description of the Spunk River War and how a soda pop machine was broken into for the right reasons. Gabe encapsulates the perfect outsider teenage boy voice with just the right amount of vulgarity and sarcasm. The transcription part gets a little messy and forced in parts, but it helps keep a clear storytelling feel to the story. Gabe is a totally believable character with sincerity and realness to his voice which maintains a high-school hilarity. This would make a great addition to a library serving teen guys. VOYA

GIRLS LIKE US by Gail Giles

Following graduation from their high school’s special education track, two girls become wards of the state and are placed in an apartment where they live independently and cook and clean for their neighbor/employer, an older woman named Elizabeth. Sharp-tongued and aggressive, Quincy is defensive about her learning difficulties and the physical scars left by the source of her brain damage, “when my mama’s boyfriend hit my head with a brick.” Sensitive Biddy, who describes herself as having “moderate retardation,” overeats to mask past traumas, which include having given up her baby. Giles’s (Dark Song) background teaching special education students informs this blunt, honest, and absorbing story about two young women overcoming challenges that have less to do with their abilities to read or write than with how society views and treats them. In short, alternating chapters, the girls narrate in raw and distinct voices that capture their day-to-day hurdles, agony, and triumphs. The “found family” that builds slowly for Quincy, Biddy, and Elizabeth—with no shortage of misunderstandings, mistrust, or tears—is rewarding and powerful. Publisher’s Weekly

THE CARNIVAL AT BRAY

by Jessie Ann Foley

In 1993, 16 year-old Maggie and her family move from Chicago to small-town Ireland with the latest of her mother’s romantic partners. Moving to Bray, Maggie leaves behind warm, practical Nanny Ei and beloved Uncle Kevin, a 26-year-old who plays in a band, sneaks her into grunge rock concerts and makes himself responsible for Maggie’s musical education. Arriving in Ireland, Maggie finds that she’s no better at fitting in with the girls of St. Brigid’s than she had been at her old school. Instead, she forms a loose web of connections with local figures: Dan Sean, a Bray legend at 99, whose home becomes a refuge for Maggie in times of family conflict; Aíne, the bookish classmate with whom Maggie reluctantly goes on double dates; and Eoin, the gentle boy with whom Maggie falls in love. The narrative subtly and carefully interweaves peer and family drama—much of it involving troubled Uncle Kevin—with the highs and lows of the grunge music scene, from the transformative glory of a Nirvana concert to the outpouring of grief around the death of Kurt Cobain. Every character, every place comes alive with crisp, precise detail: Maggie’s heartbroken mother “howling along in an off-key soprano” to Joni Mitchell’s Blue, Dan Sean welcoming Maggie with a Cossack’s hat and a hefty glass of port. Powerfully evocative. Kirkus Reviews

HOW IT WENT DOWN by Kekla Magoon

Structured similarly to Avi’s Nothing But the Truth, this provocative novel set in a neighborhood ruled by gangs offers multiple, contradictory perspectives on the shooting of an African-American youth. No one disputes that 16-year-old Tariq Johnson was shot on the street by Jack Franklin, a white gang member, but the motives of both killer and victim remain fuzzy, as do the circumstances surrounding the shooting. The nationally renowned Reverend Alabaster Sloan claims that racial bias was involved and criticizes the police for releasing Jack. Locals have differing opinions, which spur more questions. Was the killing a matter of self-defense? Did Tariq have a weapon? Was he a gang member? Even eyewitnesses disagree on many points. Expressing the thoughts of Tariq’s family, neighbors, friends, and enemies, Magoon (37 Things I Love ) creates a montage of impressions for readers to digest before drawing conclusions about the tragedy. Through this resonant chorus of voices, Magoon masterfully captures the cycle of urban violence and the raw emotions of the young people who can’t escape its impact. Publisher’s Weekly

THE BOSTON GIRL by Anita Diamant

Eighty-five-year-old Addie Baum reminisces about her life in Diamant’s (The Red Tent; Day After Night) step back in time. Addie’s been asked by her 22-year-old granddaughter, Ava, to explain how she became the woman she is. Born to Jewish immigrant parents in 1900 in Boston’s heavily populated North End, Addie and her two older sisters lived in a tenement with their unhappy parents who did not acclimate to this new world. But Addie’s caring and loyal sisters are there for her. In 1915 she is a young teen, interested in her activities at a library group held at a neighborhood settlement house. Recalling situations with her compassionate eye and remarkable sense of humor, Addie observes upheavals large and small: changing women’s roles, movies, celebrity culture, short skirts, and the horrible flu pandemic of 1918. She explores feminism, family, and love as well. VERDICT Diamant offers impeccable descriptions of Boston life during these early years of the 20th century and creates a loving, caring lead character who grows in front of our eyes from a naïve young girl to a warm, wise elder. Readers interested in historical fiction will certainly enjoy this look at the era, with all its complications and wonders. Library Journal

THE MOUNTAIN STORY by Lori Lansens

Lansens (The Girls) has written a colorful, adventurous wilderness survival novel. Wilfred “Wolf” Truly decides on his 18th birthday during the late 1970s to commit suicide by leaping off the cliffs of the California batholith known as Angel’s Peak. The decision comes after a series of personal setbacks, including a serious injury to his best friend Byrd Diaz, the early violent death of his mother, Glory, and the imprisonment of his ne’er-do-well father, Frankie. When the depressed Wolf rides the tram to ascend Angel’s Peak, his fellow passengers are three generations of the Devine family: granddaughter Vonn, mother Bridget, and grandmother Nola. He discovers the often sick Vonn has a party-girl streak, the clairvoyant Bridget has trained for a triathlon, and the newly widowed Nola carries her husband Pip’s cremated remains to sprinkle atop Angel’s Peak. On their trek to reach the summit, with the November darkness falling, the ill-equipped hikers get lost. As they begin a harrowing five-day ordeal in the remote alpine outback, Wolf forgets his suicidal intentions. The realistic details, such as the traditional herbal medicine used to fight Nola’s broken-bone infection and the threatening coyotes and vultures, provide the narrative’s raw edge. Genre readers will also be swept along as the suspense builds in this first-rate character-driven thriller. Publisher’s Weekly

BETWEEN US AND THE MOON      by Rebecca Maizel

Sarah has always been fine with living in the shadow of her sister, Scarlett, who has a larger-than-life persona. Between tracking the Comet Jolie and her boyfriend, Tucker, Sarah hardly notices that it is not exactly normal to be over-obsessed with science and to make handy lists for everything in one’s life. She didn’t even realize that Tucker has been spending less time with her. When he breaks up with her for one of the most popular girls in school, life seems unbearable. Sarah welcomes the opportunity to go with her family to Cape Cod and spend the summer with her Aunt Nancy. Here, she is determined to finally grow up, be more like her sister, and make her own choices. At the beach, while Sarah is channeling her “inner Scarlett,” she meets Andrew, a gorgeous college boy. Soon, one little lie grows into a cacophony of problems. By the end of the summer, the protagonist is teetering between finding herself and falling in love. Maizel’s writing is clear and concise, and has enough witty humor to keep pages turning. Readers will relate to Sarah and how her bad decisions lead to consequences that keep piling up around her. VERDICT With its themes of confidence and discovering one’s true self, this summer romance is a great choice for teens. School Library Journal

OUR SOULS AT NIGHT by Kent Haruf

Within the first three pages of this gripping and tender novel, Addie Moore, a 70-year-old widow, invites her neighbor, Louis Waters, to sleep over. “No, not sex,” she clarifies. “I’m talking about getting through the night. And lying warm in bed, companionably.” Although Louis is taken off guard, the urgency of Addie’s loneliness does not come across as desperate, and her logic will soon persuade him. She reasons that they’re both alone (Louis’s wife has also been dead for a number of years) and that, simply, “nights are the worst.” What follows is a sweet love story, a deep friendship, and a delightful revival of a life neither of them was expecting, all against the backdrop of a gossiping (and at times disapproving) small town. When Addie’s six-year-old grandson arrives for the summer, Addie and Louis’s relationship is tested but ultimately strengthened. Addie’s adult son’s judgment, however, is not so easily overcome. In this book, Haruf, who died in 2014, returns to the landscape and daily life of Holt County, Colo., where his previous novels (Plainsong, Eventide, The Tie That Binds) have also been set, this time with a stunning sense of all that’s passed and the precious importance of the days that remain. Publisher’s Weekly

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New Non-Fiction 2015-2016

 

SOUS CHEF by Michael Gibney

An experienced sous chef and first-time author skillfully deconstructs a 24-hour work cycle of a sous chef in a New York kitchen. Gibney builds his narrative around the intimate, intense and demanding dance occurring within the kitchen of a busy NYC restaurant, and his intent is clear from the beginning: He wants readers right beside him during the entire journey. The author includes a floor plan of the kitchen with its 17 zones and a diagram of the kitchen chain of command, from executive chef to busboy and food runner. For readers unfamiliar with a Honesuki (“a triangular Japanese poultry boning knife”) or which part of the pig a guanciale comes from (“unsmoked Umbrian salumi made from salted and spiced pig jowl”), the author’s inclusion of kitchen terms makes following along all the more fun. Gibney began working in restaurants at age 16, more than 13 years ago. When he was 22, he landed his first sous chef gig. “In that time,” he writes, “I’ve seen all manner of operation—big, small, beautiful and ugly. I’ve climbed the ladder from dishwasher to chef and cooked at all the stations in between.” In addition to the author’s skill in the kitchen, Gibney displays solid storytelling ability. He breathes life into the mix of outsized personalities inhabiting the confined, hot, noisy space of the kitchen and illuminates the range of knowledge and skills required by his profession. Following a few pages enumerating the answers to possible questions wait staff might pose about a new dish, he writes, “You need to know everything about everything that’s in every dish, and you must be able to identify which items may conflict with which dietary guidelines.” Gibney ably relays mountains of information in this remarkable trek through his storehouse of knowledge. Sumptuously entertaining fare.  Kirkus Reviews

$2.00 A DAY by Kathryn J. Edin & H. Luke Shaefer

This slim, searing look at extreme poverty deftly mixes policy research and heartrending narratives from a swath of the 1.5 million American households eking out an existence on cash incomes of $2 per person per day. Edin and Shaefer, respectively professors at Johns Hopkins University and the University of Michigan, trace the history of welfare in the U.S. up to the cuts enacted by President Clinton. They also explore the worlds of the desperately impoverished, profiling people who are able to find, at best, low-wage jobs with no bargaining power. Their subjects’ wrenching stories demonstrate the huge obstacles created by unstable housing and prevalent racial discrimination. Edin and Shaefer examine the many survival strategies used by the very poor to generate cash, including selling plasma, trading food stamps for discounted cash payments, and even selling their children’s Social Security numbers to people with fixed addresses, which the poorest lack. The strain of “the work of survival” has not defeated every person depicted in this book, but when a Mississippi teen is quoted saying that constant hunger can make you “feel like you want to be dead,” it’s impossible to ignore the high costs of abject poverty. Mixing academic seriousness and deft journalistic storytelling, this work may well move readers to positive action.  Publisher’s Weekly

WE SHOULD HANG OUT SOMETIME by Josh Sundquist

In an autobiographical account that’s equal parts hilarious and cringe-inducing, Sundquist—a Paralympic ski racer, cancer survivor, and motivational speaker—uses scientific methodology, complete with hypotheses and graphs, to analyze his not-so-successful history with women. Having an amputated leg never stopped Josh from attempting to date girls while he was growing up, but his insecurities and misinterpretations led to some awkward (and funny) moments. For example, there was the time he fell down on a golf date and ended up with his artificial foot pointing the wrong way (“You can’t imagine the horror on the faces of the other golfers as they stared at a leg apparently so severely fractured that the foot was now capable of rotating 180 degrees”). From Josh’s first “relationship” in middle school (which lasted 23 hours) to later ones in college, romance never had time to blossom. While his recent interviews and meetings with the girls from his past are often just as uncomfortable as their dates were, they also lead to answers as genuine as his narrative.  Publisher’s Weekly


SICK IN THE HEAD by Judd Apatow

In this hilarious, insightful, and deeply personal look into what makes comedians tick, writer-director-producer Apatow (Freaks and Geeks, The 40-Year-Old Virgin, etc.) gives his fellow comedy nerds a generations-spanning backstage peek at some of America’s greatest humorists. Apatow includes his interviews with a veritable Who’s Who of the comedy world, from old-school stalwarts Mel Brooks and Steve Martin to Apatow’s contemporaries, including Ben Stiller, Adam Sandler, Amy Schumer, and Lena Dunham. Each talk is quirky and personable in its own way; what makes them resonate even more is the fact that Apatow undertook several of them while still in high school and working for the student radio station, lugging a tape recorder around to interview comedians and asking them “How do you write a joke?” One of the best interviews, which he did in 1983 at age 15, is with Jerry Seinfeld, a scenario the two repeated in 2014. Apatow’s undeniable respect for his comedy idol is clear, and so is Seinfeld’s genuine interest in discussing his craft, even with a teenager. Apatow’s breadth of experience is not nearly as impressive as the sheer pleasure he so obviously derives from talking about the craft he loves with people who love it too. This exploration of what it really means to be funny, day in and day out, is for the comedian in everyone. Publisher’s Weekly

THROWN by Kerry Howley

A philosophical examination of the maligned subculture of mixed martial arts “cage” fighting. As an unhappy graduate student, Howley wandered from a Des Moines academic conference into a cage match and became entranced, meeting one of two fighters she would follow as a “spacetaker.” As she notes of MMA’s roots in Brazil, “[f]ighting had to be born in the one place where ecstasy remained the organizing principle.” As the narrative progresses, the author becomes strangely possessive of both fighters, documenting their lives in minute detail. Her underdog, Sean, is a journeyman with a deep tolerance for injury and a stolid, sentimental attitude about MMA: “I just like to feel things.” Howley prefers the glitzy dreams of Erik, an insecure, self-indulgent fighter being groomed for nationwide success: “[I]n coming to Milwaukee, [Erik] signaled some readiness to belong in the world of the Big Shows.” The author spent two years pursuing both fighters, describing their tumultuous yet stagnant lives in alternating chapters, and fretting over her tenuous role: “It is not unheard of for a fighter to drop a spacetaker just as brutally as Nietzsche turned on Schopenhauer.” The book’s strongest aspect is Howley’s keen observation of every part of the fighters’ hardscrabble milieu—from their complex interpersonal relationships to the sleazy finances that keep the scene going—yet she ultimately views them as vessels for her own ideas. An ambitious writer, Howley’s prose can be perceptive and precisely detailed but also pretentious. Though she strives to present herself as uncondescending in this working-class milieu (unlike her caricatured fellow academics), her constant first-person reveries feel self-congratulatory: “I had by this time filled three notebooks with my observations, and had begun to consider the tradition in which my work of phenomenology would fall. Too bold for conventional academic minds and the nonsmoking, healthy-minded, hidebound thinkers therein.” An original fusion of topic and stance that will appeal to fans of NPR-style social investigations.  Kirkus Reviews

SOLDIER GIRLS by Helen Thorpe

Journalist Thorpe (Just Like Us) tells the moving story of three women in the Indiana National Guard who served in Afghanistan and Iraq. Following her subjects from 2001 to 2013, Thorpe draws on interviews, personal correspondence, emails, diaries, medical records, and even therapists’ notes to portray their lives before, during, and after deployments. Michelle Fisher, a “music-loving… left-leaning” college student; Desma Brooks, a single mom with three children and three jobs; and Debbie Helton, a grandmother in her 50s and one of the longest-serving females in the National Guard, had different reasons for enlisting before 9/11. Not expecting to go to war, the three women bonded during their service in Afghanistan as part of the 113th Support Battalion at Camp Phoenix in Kabul. Through the years—in Afghanistan, where they diligently fulfilled their duties and struggle to adapt to military culture; in their return to civilian life; in the redeployment of two of them to Iraq—their support for each another never wavers. They speak openly about their drinking, illicit affairs, and struggles to fit in among a civilian population that seems oblivious to either war. Highlighting how profoundly military service changed their lives—and the lives of their families—this visceral narrative illuminates the role of women in the military, the burdens placed on the National Guard, and the disproportionate burden of these wars borne by the poor. Publisher’s Weekly

The Boys Who Challenged Hitler: Knud Pedersen and the Churchill Club by Phillip Hoose

Hoose (Moonbird) vividly recounts the true story of the courageous and brazen teens who inspired the Danish resistance movement in WWII. Angered and embarrassed by his nation’s lack of opposition to the German invasion, 15-year-old Knud Pedersen, his older brother, and a few classmates formed the secret Churchill Club (named for the British prime minister they admired). For five months in 1942, club members committed daring acts of sabotage, often from their bikes and mostly in broad daylight (“Arson became our game. We took to carrying a small quantity of petrol with us… stuffing the canister in a school bag ”). Hoose’s narrative alternates with Pedersen’s verbatim recollections (taken from a weeklong interview with him in 2012). Though readers initially may have trouble knowing when Pedersen’s quotations end and the author’s segues begin, this gripping story quickly gathers momentum, and the shifts between narrators flow smoothly. Archival photos break up the text, while an epilogue details what happened to each young resister after his imprisonment and the war’s end. A bibliography and source notes conclude this inspiring account. Publisher’s Weekly


THE SHORT AND TRAGIC LIFE OF ROBERT PEACE by Jeff Hobbs

A man with seemingly every opportunity loses his way in this compelling biographical saga. Novelist Hobbs (The Tourists) chronicles the life of Peace, who was born in a Newark, N.J., ghetto to an impoverished single mom and a father who went to prison for murder. Thanks to his mother’s sacrifices and his extraordinary intellect he went to Yale and got a biology degree but when he returned to Newark after college, he became a drug dealer and was eventually shot to death by rivals. Writing with novelistic detail and deep insight, Hobbs, who was Peace’s roommate at Yale, registers the disadvantages his friend faced while avoiding hackneyed fatalism and sociology. Hobbs reveals a man whose singular experience and charisma made him simultaneously an outsider and a leader in both New Haven and Newark, Peace was a pillar of his family and community, superbly capable in both settings, but he could not reconcile their conflicting demands. (The author’s indelible portrait of Peace’s inner-city neighborhood shows how it could draw him back from the world his talent and education had opened.) This is a classic tragedy of a man who, with the best intentions, chooses an ineluctable path to disaster.

 

DON’T TRUST DON’T FEAR DON’T BEG: The extraordinary story of the arctic 30 by Ben Stewart

Greenpeace activist Stewart uses the recollections and diaries of the “Arctic 30,” as well as his involvement in the struggle to free them, to piece together a stirring narrative of protest and government oppression. In September 2013, Greenpeace carried out a protest against Russian oil drilling in the Arctic. The action was peaceful in nature but disruptive to Russian oil conglomerate Gazprom, which has close ties to president Vladimir Putin. As a result, the 30 protesters involved were arrested by Spetnaz (Russian commandos), taken to the high-security prison Murmansk SIZO-1, and charged with piracy. While incarcerated, they developed an intricate understanding of the ways fellow prisoners circumvent the system. Meanwhile, an international movement arose demanding their release and calling attention to the problems of climate change. Readers will quickly empathize with both the dedicated Greenpeace veterans and the less experienced activists who did not realize what they were getting into. Anyone curious about the contemporary state of environmental resistance or the Russian state will feel amply rewarded by this tale, as well as chastened about where we’re taking the planet. Publisher’s Weekly

HEADSTRONG 52 Women Who Changed

Science – and the World by Rachel Swaby

Journalist Swaby spotlights the accomplishments of 52 female scientists throughout history with pithy biographies organized by their areas of expertise. Inspired by the tone-deaf New York Times obituary for Yvonne Brill, which honored the rocket scientist’s beef stroganoff before her professional accomplishments, Swaby celebrates barrier-breaking titans such as Helen Taussig, the first female president of the American Heart Association; astronaut Sally Ride; and biochemist Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin, who inspired the newspaper headline “Nobel Prize for British Wife.” Ada Lovelace and Grace Hopper receive praise for their contributions to computer programming, while Jeanne Villepreux-Power and Stephanie Kwolek are praised for inventing the aquarium and Kevlar, respectively. Swaby shows her subjects toiling in secret bedroom labs, damp basements, and janitor’s closets as they faced gender-based discrimination: Mary Putnam Jacobi was admitted to France’s École de Médecine on the condition she “maintain a buffer of empty seats around her at all times”; Rosalind Franklin had her research on DNA structure stolen by male colleagues; and Émilie du Chatelet frantically translated Newton’s Principia into French before the birth of her fourth child. Jewish female scientists faced further adversity during WWII, with several forced to flee their homelands. Swaby has collected an inspirational master list of women in science with accessible explanations of their work. Publisher’s Weekly

THE TYRANNY OF SILENCE by Fleming Rose

Rose (editor, Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten) may be best remembered as the instigator (or mastermind, depending on one’s point of view) of the cartoon crisis of 2005. The author ignited a firestorm when he sanctioned the printing of 12 cartoons representing various artists’ views of the Muslim prophet Muhammad. It’s not reproduced in this book, but the most memorable, and vilified, sketch depicted the prophet with a bomb wrapped in his turban. Muslims were outraged; they believed the depictions to be an insult to Muhammad and to their religion. Rose and the cartoon’s artist, Kurt Westergaard, received numerous death threats and people, including non-Muslims, attacked Jyllands-Posten for its portrayal of Islam and its followers. The UN proclaimed the cartoons to be a human-rights violation. In support of his decision to publish the images, Rose raises here provocative questions: Can speech be truly free if people self-censor? Why is it permissible to poke fun at Christians but not Muslims? VERDICT This book is best suited for public and academic libraries where there is a demand for material on politics and current affairs. Library Journal

 

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