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Not Your Average Teenage Experience

May/June YA

Just before you hit adulthood, you have to go through one huge task; survive in the apocalypse, fight paranormal creatures, or deal with high school mean girls. It just depends on your genre. Wait, not everyone goes through that? Whoops. Maybe not everyone does, but these teens sure have obstacles to overcome. Their stories are reviewed in our May/June 2017 issue and shown below.

City of Grit and Gold

Book Cover
Maud Macrory Powell
Allium Press of Chicago
Softcover $16.99 (164pp)
978-0-9967558-5-6
Buy: IndieBound, Amazon

Maud Macrory Powell’s *City of Grit and Gold *is a historical novel that places a family conflict at the center of a political battle, raising questions about privilege, duty, and assimilation.

Twelve-year-old Addie lives with her family in a Jewish neighborhood of Chicago in 1886. The city is tense, with striking workers demanding rights that include an eight-hour workday. While Addie’s father, the owner of a hat shop, disapproves of the strikes, Addie’s charming Uncle Chaim is a vocal supporter and participant. To make matters even more complicated, many of protests are divided along immigrant lines: while many immigrants, including members of Addie’s own family, support the strikes, others reject them, especially in the aftermath of what would come to be known as the Haymarket Affair.

Addie is just on the cusp of adulthood, so she is trying to feel out her own moral judgments about the events that are unfolding. Much of that is colored by her familial loyalty, though the conflict between her beloved Uncle Chaim and hardworking father help open her mind to different perspectives. The novel takes a significant historical event and, through Addie and her family, presents the subtleties of a difficult argument while never losing sight of right and wrong.

City of Grit and Gold is an ideal pick for teachers and librarians who may want to use the work to supplement lessons on American history or have meaningful discussions about rights, immigration, and protesting.

STEPHANIE BUCKLIN (May 9, 2017)

Crossing Ebenezer Creek

Book Cover
Tonya Bolden
Bloomsbury
Hardcover $17.99 (240pp)
978-1-59990-319-4
Buy: IndieBound, Amazon

Crossing Ebenezer Creek is a poignant historical novel about the meaning of freedom and the heartache of dreams. In it, Tonya Bolden has woven a haunting Civil War tale.

The novel starts with an eerie reference to ghosts, ghosts that haunt Ebenezer Creek with strange sounds that howl through the cypress trees. After this ominous opening, the tale moves quickly into the freeing of Mariah and her brother, Zeke—though the moment is far from the black-and-white, momentous celebration that one might expect. Instead, Mariah and Zeke join Sherman’s march through Georgia as Mariah dreams of starting a new life, a life that perhaps might include the mysterious young black man, named Caleb, who accompanies them.

The novel maintains a rhythmic prose throughout, with a steady beat to paragraphs and sentences that can at times be choppy, but which is always part of a unique, understated style in which Bolden chose to tell the story. The climax of the story, drawn from historical events, is terrible and riveting, somehow feeling both surprising and inevitable. At stake is Mariah’s dream for a family and an acre of land, a dream that at times seems hauntingly attainable, and at times desperately far out of reach.

Crossing Ebenezer Creek is a poetic, lyrical novel that delivers its message through a heart-wrenching story; it is not for readers looking for neatly packaged justice or perfect happy endings. Instead, it’s ideal for readers looking for the grit of a historical novel, readers who are also looking to feel the maximum emotions of that age.

STEPHANIE BUCKLIN (May 9, 2017)

Gold

Book Cover
Geraldine Mills
Little Island Books
Softcover $11.99 (256pp)
978-1-910411-55-1
Buy: IndieBound, Amazon

For middle-grade readers, Geraldine Mills’s Gold is an adventurous postapocalyptic novel about two brothers discovering the world around them—and by extension, their own past.

Twin brothers Starn and Esper live in a world covered with volcanic ash. Their father leaves them by day to work, while an illness has claimed their mother and sister. Left alone by day, the boys amuse themselves in the house, knowing they cannot go outside in the cold, sunless world that surrounds them. But one day, the boys break into a forbidden room and there find secrets about their family and their past that set them on an adventure to forbidden lands and impossible promises.

The world in Gold is rich and complex, and the boys discover its complicated history over the course of the story, learning more about a time they refer to as “before the Ash.” As they do, they learn more about their own family as well, and about what it takes to rebuild the lives and land around them. The riddle at the heart of the novel is the treasure that the boys seek, the promise of which set them off on an adventure that would lead to surprising consequences about what to value in their postapocalyptic world.

Gold is a fast-paced middle-grade adventure novel set in a world that is still picking up its pieces—leaving plenty of room for Starn and Esper to make a difference. The simple, present-tense prose belies a stark, well-drawn-out land that would be perfect for younger readers intrigued by quest novels.

STEPHANIE BUCKLIN (May 9, 2017)

Seeking Mansfield

Book Cover
Kate Watson
Flux
Softcover $14.99 (300pp)
978-1-63583-002-6
Buy: IndieBound, Amazon

In this sweet romance, author Kate Watson explores family, obligations, and the weight of the past. Seeking Mansfield is about one young girl’s journey to discover her own desires after suppressing them for so long.

Sixteen-year-old Finley Price lives with the Bertrams, a well-off family that took her in after both her father’s death and a shocking incident with her mother. Her best friend, and the Bertram’s second son, Oliver, is her protector, encouraging Finley to come out of her shell and to finally do things for herself for once—like apply to the Mansfield Theater program. But when two young movie stars move in across the street, Finley’s compass becomes confused once more. Oliver seems taken in by the beautiful Emma, while Emma’s brother Harlan might just be pursuing Finley. With new romances and new responsibilities, Finley has to sort through, once and for all, where her obligations end and her own desires begin.

The strength of Seeking Mansfield, which has plot points in common with Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park, is its portrayal of Finley’s conflicted desires and believable struggle to sort through what she really wants, and what others want for her. Watson’s characters have complex and conflicted motivations, which adds to the authenticity of Finley’s struggles. For instance, when Harlan is frustrated with Finley about one of her choices, it’s unclear whether it’s because he misses her, cares about her, or selfishly wants her to accept that his choice for her is best—perhaps all three. The numerous actors and references to theater and movies add another layer to the book, as all the characters are trying to sort truth from reality, authenticity from affectation.

Though the start of Seeking Mansfield can feel a bit overwhelming with the quick introduction of the main cast of characters, the novel is refreshing and sweet, and Watson delivers a protagonist whose struggles feel both believable and real.

STEPHANIE BUCKLIN (May 9, 2017)

What Girls Are Made Of

Book Cover
Elana K. Arnold
Carolrhoda Lab
Hardcover $18.99 (208pp)
978-1-5124-1024-2
Buy: IndieBound, Amazon

Elana K. Arnold’s What Girls Are Made Of is realistic fiction at its most touching, following one young girl’s struggles to make her way through the world using a broken frame. Her attempts to free herself from that limitation, and to discover the truth beyond, make for a compelling and heart-wrenching journey.

What Girls Are Made Of begins with a chilling scene in which teenager Nina Faye’s mother tells her that all love—even mother-daughter and husband-wife relationships—comes with conditions. She coldly tells her daughter that sex and attraction are just two of the reasons that her father has for loving her mother, thereby lending to Nina the broken worldview that she will then use to navigate the world. A few years later, when Nina is sixteen, she uses such ideas to understand her relationship to her boyfriend—but when he dumps her, she grows lost and confused, and she struggles to understand the meaning of love.

The novel alternates chapters with brief, dreamlike descriptions that touch at Nina’s inner turmoil. The chapters that she narrates, by contrast, are hard and sometimes methodical, with Nina presenting a mask of indifference to shield her inner pain. The imprint of her mother’s conversation is on almost everything she does and everything she thinks about, affecting how she approaches the world.

What Girls Are Made Of doesn’t flinch away from stark presentations of a struggling teen, from her sexual activity to her mother’s unflinching coldness and struggles. The novel is stark, but relatable, and Nina’s final confrontation with her mother leads to both a frustrating—and perfectly fitting—end.

STEPHANIE BUCKLIN (May 9, 2017)

Bent Not Broken

Book Cover
Lorna Schultz Nicholson
Clockwise Press
Softcover $12.95 (197pp)
978-1-988347-03-5
Buy: IndieBound, Amazon

In this touching and heartbreaking novel, a young girl struggles to fit together parts of her life while dealing with a traumatic brain injury, navigating the mazes of family, friendship, and personal identity. Lorna Schultz Nicholson’s Bent Not Broken is a powerful look into tragedy and new beginnings.

When Madeline was just eight years old, a bike accident left her with a traumatic brain injury that has slowed her speech and affected her gait. That injury changed not only Madeline’s life, but the life of her entire family, including her twin sister Becky. Now, the two no longer seem to have the inseparable bond they once had—Becky is more interested in hanging out with her new, cigarette-smoking friends, and Madeline has become a burden and a chore. Madeline’s one respite is visiting miniature therapy horses, something that she becomes eager to share with a boy named Justin when Becky expresses her disinterest. Justin, Madeline’s assigned Best Buddy (a volunteer program) at school, is at first reluctant—his deceased, autistic sister Faith used to visit horses, and they bring up difficult memories for him. But together, Madeline and Justin help each other work through their family relationships and find peace and solace in their lives.

Bent Not Broken gives a voice to Madeline in a strong, believable way: through her narration, it’s easy to understand the girl whose words, actions, and even emotions can’t always keep up with her thoughts, as well as sympathize with the way the world has changed in its treatment of her after her accident. In a way, Madeline seems trapped in her own body, but her spirit comes through clearly over the course of the novel, and it’s Madeline’s own agency that ends up shaping the lives of those around her.

STEPHANIE BUCKLIN (May 9, 2017)

Stephanie Bucklin

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