Foreword Reviews

Adulting We Will Go

YA

Young adult novels grapple with some of the most difficult issues in life, including romance, identity, friendship, and destiny. On the cusp of adulthood, characters are trying to figure out the world and their place in it. In these eight young adult novels, which range from light and humorous to serious and thought-provoking, protagonists navigate new friendship, relationships, and responsibilities as they come of age in strange and sometimes hostile worlds. These young adult novels all come highly recommended, each offering a fresh perspective on the themes that make young adult works especially powerful.

That Burning Summer

Book Cover
Lydia Syson
Sky Pony Press
Hardcover $17.99 (336pp)
978-1-5107-1172-3
Buy: Local Bookstore (IndieBound), Amazon

In July 1940, sixteen-year-old Peggy finds a crashed plane and its injured pilot, Henryk, in the marsh off the south coast of England. The Polish airman expresses fear of the war, telling Peggy he cannot go back to the Royal Air Force. Taking pity on the soldier, Peggy hides him in a nearby church, though neither has any idea of what the future might hold or how they might save Henryk from going back to the RAF in the long term. Complicating their plans is Peggy’s rule-following eleven-year-old brother, Ernest, who discovers Henryk’s parachute and soon catches on to the mystery—and who may unintentionally destroy the temporary sanctuary that Peggy was able to offer.

The novel, told from alternating points of view, addresses the complicated moral grounds of desertion, cowardice, and compassion. Peggy, Ernest, and Henryk all have layered emotions about the war and each other that they must work through in the aftermath of Henryk’s accident. Trust at times runs thin, and shifting loyalties complicate their relationships. Despite the characters’ obvious sincerity, the culture of the war leads to an aura of suspicion that further disturbs the precarious peace. And while the novel starts off slowly, it soon picks up the pace, rapidly moving toward a final, explosive conclusion.

That Burning Summer is a surprisingly sweet read, ideal for fans of historical fiction. The story takes a serious tone, but will pay off for those willing to take the thoughtful journey with Peggy, Henryk, and Ernest.

STEPHANIE BUCKLIN (December 12, 2016)

The Bone Witch

Book Cover
Rin Chupeco
Sourcebooks
Hardcover $17.99 (432pp)
978-1-4926-3582-6
Buy: Local Bookstore (IndieBound), Amazon

Tea is a bone witch, a witch with a gift for necromancy—which is how she accidentally raised her brother Fox from his grave. Ostracized from her community, Tea trains under another bone witch, who teaches her how to wield her powers. But the danger for Tea comes not only from within: dark forces and new enemies threaten her homeland, and she must find her place and role in a world that has rejected her.

The world of The Bone Witch is as enchanting as its title. It is both wild and immersive, leaving deep impressions of evocative images—including, early on, an image of the young and exiled protagonist surrounded by monsters’ corpses. The narrator’s voice is similarly heavy, charged with the weight of her powers and the challenges they bring, so that the setting of the novel feels at once dark and expansive.

The novel surprises as well; Fox, far from being a malevolent corpse or a violent caricature, is still himself, though oddly off, making Tea’s relationship with her undead brother complicated. Lady Mykaela, the older bone witch training Tea, is a beautiful but complex woman, both a protector and a fearsome opponent. The tight core cast helps ground a rich setting with its own language, magic, and politics.

The Bone Witch is a fantasy lover’s fantasy, with a rich history and hierarchy of its own. The secrets and workings of its magic are revealed slowly in a suspenseful novel that is sure to appeal to those with a love of serious, dark fairytales.

STEPHANIE BUCKLIN (December 12, 2016)

The Luckiest Scar on Earth

Book Cover
Ana Maria Spagna
Torrey House Press
Softcover $14.95 (200pp)
978-1-937226-66-4
Buy: Local Bookstore (IndieBound), Amazon

Fourteen-year-old Charlotte starts over with her mother in a new town in Washington’s Cascade Mountains—the same town where her estranged father, Larry, lives. While Charlotte attempts to train for the national snowboarding championships, she also has to navigate the complicated relationships around her, from her parents, to her new friends, to her mother’s boyfriend, Steve.

After her father’s fateful decision to take environmental action, Charlotte must move from Timberbowl, her local ski area, to the dangerous backcountry in order to snowboard. Her father’s decision resulted in the loss of not only his job but also Charlotte’s spot on the snowboarding team, and her welcome at Timberbowl. Going rogue to practice on her own, Charlotte soon is part of a terrible accident and must come to terms with a tragedy she never expected in a place that she never thought she’d call home.

Charlotte’s father, Larry, has a scar that he calls the “luckiest scar on earth” because he could have just as easily been killed, and because the accident led him to meeting Charlotte’s mom—and by extension, having Charlotte. The Luckiest Scar on Earth centers around both physical pain and emotional pain, and how those experiences can be channeled into strengthening our bonds with the people around us.

Charlotte is a surly and often angst-ridden narrator, rebellious against her father and slow to warm up—and warm up to. But her slowly building reconciliation with her father is understated and poignant, and, as Charlotte realizes, Larry knows how to bring out the best in his gruff and strong-willed daughter.

The Luckiest Scar on Earth is a thoughtful novel that centers around the maturation of both a girl and her family, and which intimates that sometimes the most difficult periods can also be the most beautiful.

STEPHANIE BUCKLIN (December 12, 2016)

Loving vs. Virginia

A Documentary Novel of the Landmark Civil Rights Case

Book Cover
Patricia Hruby Powell
Shadra Strickland, illustrator
Chronicle Books
Hardcover $21.99 (260pp)
978-1-4521-2590-9
Buy: Local Bookstore (IndieBound), Amazon

Can love conquer all? That is the question addressed in Loving vs. Virginia, a novel told in alternating perspectives. Two lovers of different races struggle to achieve the right to wed in a society that may not be ready to accept them.

Mildred Jeter attends an all-African-American school in Central Point, Virginia, in the year 1952. The one-classroom school consists of all grades seated together, taught by the firm Miss Green, who calls all of her students “scholars.” Richard is a Caucasian boy who hangs around with Ray, a young African-American man, to the dismay of the local sheriff and others in the area. Richard’s father works for P. E. Boyd Byrd, a large, jolly, rich “colored” farmer in the area—further ammunition for the sheriff against Richard and his family.

The novel, written in blank verse, switches between Mildred’s and Richard’s perspectives, occasionally jumping ahead in time, with each section framed by a different court case or relevant historical document. The novel then shows how each historical document has impacted the lives of Mildred and Richard. For instance, after one section entitled “Brown vs. Board of Education,” we find Mildred attending Union High School, a great change from her one-room schoolroom. Richard soon after makes known his affection for Mildred, and the two commence a courtship that is slow and sweet, and complicated by the political climate around them.

Loving vs. Virginia is a challenging, poignant read about an important civil rights case. The book includes excerpts of actual documents related to the case, along with powerful pictures and historical quotes. Highly recommended to readers who are looking for a title that brings emotional weight and historical power, all wrapped in a difficult, endearing love story.

STEPHANIE BUCKLIN (December 12, 2016)

Snowbirds

Book Cover
Crissa Chappell
Merit Press
Hardcover $17.99 (272pp)
978-1-5072-0069-8
Buy: Local Bookstore (IndieBound), Amazon

Lucy and her best friend, Alice, grew up in strict Mennonite and Amish religious groups with their own sets of rules. But when Alice rebels and tells Lucy she is running away with her boyfriend, Tobias, Lucy is stunned. She goes with Alice, Tobias, and another “Rumspringa” boy, Faron, to a party, in the aftermath of which her relationships with Alice and her old world will never be the same.

Lucy and Alice have a long, rich history. While Alice is rebellious and wild, Lucy is more controlled, though each is unsettled in her own way. Alice pushes Lucy outside her comfort zone, encouraging her to think through her beliefs and not settle for a way of life that feels comfortable. But Lucy also pushes Alice to a depth that all of Alice’s rebellion has not yet reached, forcing her to think beyond the fun and flirting that have thus far consumed her acts of defiance. While Alice rebels in a seemingly senseless and risky way, Lucy’s rebellion is more measured and calculated: Lucy wishes to go to college and study the ocean, despite her strict father’s disapproval.

Snowbirds focuses on two very different girls trying to find their places in a world where they don’t quite seem to fit. The novel offers a rich and complicated look at Lucy’s struggles: the choice between family, familiarity, and faith and an outside world of excitement and education is not a simple one, and Chappell does not portray it as such. Even more devastating are Lucy’s own struggles with guilt and fear as she deals with the aftermath of that fateful party, and what ensues is a gripping mystery as Lucy struggles to piece together exactly what happened on that terrible night.

Snowbirds is a pensive young-adult novel about friendship, rebellion, and the consequences of all the little choices we make. An ideal read for those looking for a nuanced look at the difficulties of growing up and breaking free from a world that has been so instrumental in shaping one’s identity.

STEPHANIE BUCKLIN (December 12, 2016)

Painless

Book Cover
Jamie Mayer
Rare Bird Books
Softcover $12.95 (304pp)
978-1-942600-85-5
Buy: Local Bookstore (IndieBound), Amazon

On the day that seventeen-year old Quinn’s father dies, Quinn is hit by a car. The accident is minor, but Quinn feels no pain—he never does.

Quinn feels no physical pain because he was born with a neurological condition. Because of this, he interacts with the world differently: he has no aversion to hurting himself, which fascinates and worries those around him. Of course, Quinn doesn’t actively court danger or pain, but that doesn’t stop it from finding him. Most kids with his condition, he notes, don’t reach adulthood, because they don’t even realize the danger they’re putting themselves in. Quinn is a rebellious, smoking, drinking youth, reckless to a degree that is at odds with his dangerous condition.

Quinn’s first-person narration alternates with his sister, Caitlin’s, third-person story. While Quinn at turns seems self-pitying and self-destructive, Caitlin is trying her best to keep her family’s life together, even as she unravels along with it. The switching perspectives help ground the story, providing some relief from the dark exploits and darker attitude of Quinn. There isn’t much brightness in either: Quinn and Caitlin’s cancer-ridden father dies early on, and the family struggles to deal with the aftermath.

The main escape for Quinn is his art: early on, his art teacher, Ms. Barnett, told him that all mentally healthy people create art, which was how people interpreted the world or communicated to other people their visions for it. Quinn creates great amounts of art, though it isn’t clear, as the story unfolds, whether he would fall into the category of “mentally healthy.”

Painless is a dark and harrowing read about a broken family and its broken son struggling to find some sort of relief. A serious and sometimes ominous tale, it offers glimpses of hope to its tortured, twisted characters, who have to find their own sort of solace in the midst of their tragedies.

STEPHANIE BUCKLIN (December 12, 2016)

Nowhere Near You

Book Cover
Leah Thomas
Bloomsbury Children’s Books
Hardcover $17.99 (400pp)
978-1-68119-178-2
Buy: Local Bookstore (IndieBound), Amazon

In this epistolary novel, the sequel to Because You’ll Never Meet Me, Ollie and Moritz take up their correspondence once again. Each is going through major changes in this alternative world: Ollie is going on his first road trip away from the woods, complicated by his allergy to electricity, and Moritz—a boy who is eyeless and wears a pacemaker—is choosing a new school and navigating adolescent relationships. Both meet other strange “experimental kids” like them, products of mysterious science experiments.

The novel launches into the strange and unsettling at once, as Ollie details his road trip away from his cabin in northern Michigan, during which he dons a gas mask and rides with a mysterious gentleman who mutters that he is glad he packed tranquilizers. Ollie is off to meet other kids like him, though the trip gets off to a nauseous and unpleasant start.

The world of Ollie and Moritz rarely feels safe; both narrators are witty and amusing at times, even in the darkness of their surroundings, but despair seems to stretch just beneath the surface of their words. Their affection for each other is strong but sometimes needy, made all the more tragic by their distance. Ollie and Moritz’s universe feels terrible at times, but Nowhere Near You avoids lapsing into complete hopelessness by virtue of the quirky, upbeat nature of the two narrators.

The potential romance between the two characters also at times feels uncomfortable, in large part because it is not reciprocated on one side—though it’s not entirely possible to determine the reliability of each narrator. What results is an ambitious look at the emotions and changing affections of two young boys in a peculiar, dark world that remains fascinating even when it feels perturbing.

Nowhere Near You is narrated by two eloquent and intelligent protagonists who are just as odd and complicated as the world they inhabit. The book is an ideal read for science-fiction fans who don’t mind journeys into the unknown, led by meandering characters full of their own complications.

STEPHANIE BUCKLIN (December 12, 2016)

Revenge of the Evil Librarian

Book Cover
Michelle Knudsen
Candlewick Press
Softcover $17.99 (320pp)
978-0-7636-8828-8
Buy: Local Bookstore (IndieBound), Amazon

In the sequel to Evil Librarian, Michelle Knudsen delivers a story filled with romance, drama, and, of course, demons. Last year, Cynthia “Cyn” Rothschild saved her best friend, Annie, from becoming the child bride of an evil demon librarian, Mr. Gabriel. This year, Cyn is off to theater camp with her new boyfriend, Ryan Halsey, to enjoy a summer free of demons and secrets (never mind the one she’s still keeping from Ryan).

But summer camp isn’t quite as relaxing as Cyn thought it would be—not only is her boyfriend’s best friend a very attractive, tall, beautiful blonde named Jules, but the student writer working on Jules’s show is a devilishly charming demon. Worse, Cyn’s secret comes back to haunt her, and soon she fears she might not have seen the last of Mr. Gabriel.

The first-person narrative takes an irreverent, playful tone perfect for the genre. Knudsen also does a superb job of summarizing the first book in the first chapter of Revenge of the Evil Librarian, making it easy to keep track of the expansive cast of characters and follow along with the plot. Peter, the charming demon, is a nice addition, giving Cyn something to worry about other than Jules. Knudsen also does a good job presenting multidimensional characters and evolving relationships. For instance, Cyn and her boyfriend tackle jealousy and deceit, and while both make mistakes, it’s obvious that no character is wholly good or wholly evil—demons excluded.

Revenge of the Evil Librarian deftly weaves multiple plots about relationships, plays, and demons into a charming tale with a likeable and charismatic narrator. The book hits all the right young-adult notes, and the fantasy elements are intriguing and often humorous, but not overpowering.

STEPHANIE BUCKLIN (December 12, 2016)

Stephanie Bucklin

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