Foreword Reviews

Who Are You?


As Alice is famously asked while traipsing through Wonderland; Who are you? As she makes her way through everything that Wonderland throws at her, the question becomes more important, and the answer more obscure. In young adult books, the protagonists deal with the same question of self. And while battling every obstacle under the sun, they slowly discover who they are. So read these six books from our July/August 2018 issue and ask yourself: Who are you?

Dreaming Dangerous

Book Cover
Lauren DeStefano
Bloomsbury
Hardcover $16.99 (208pp)
978-1-68119-447-9
Buy: Local Bookstore (IndieBound), Amazon

Dreaming Dangerous is a darkly thrilling story of magic and suspense. Plum, Vien, Artem, and Gwendle are four extraordinary friends who dream in tandem. They are some of the oldest students at Brassmere Academy, a school full of orphans who possess extraordinary abilities.

Brassmere seems like a happy place; on the surface, its students are content. But the children have no privacy and are studied too closely, visitors aren’t allowed, leaving is forbidden, and the adults are secretive and mysterious.

And the friends’ dreams are becoming dark and scary, full of monsters they must defeat; they are starting to feel unsafe in the waking world too. One night, Plum receives a warning from a sleepwalking student outside of their small circle; it echoes a warning Artem issued while dreaming. The next day, Artem goes missing. It is up to Plum to learn what form the danger will take and to rescue herself and her friends from its clutches.

The four main characters are intriguing, with very different personalities and temperaments. The intimacy of their shared dreams keeps them close to one another. There is a good balance of emotional intensity and physical action in the book, and the mystery of the friends’ situation, combined with the fear of what may be coming, makes the narrative compelling. It is difficult to put the book down.

Not every question is answered by the last page. The ultimate goal of the school’s creator is never disclosed, nor is the fate of most of the students. Still, the story is enjoyably sinister and comes to a satisfying conclusion for the main characters. The book is, simply put, a great deal of fun.

CATHERINE THURESON (June 27, 2018)

Posthumous

Book Cover
Paul Aertker
Flying Solo Press
Softcover $9.95 (200pp)
978-1-940137-99-5
Buy: Local Bookstore (IndieBound), Amazon

Beautiful and emotional, Posthumous is about Ellie, a twelve-year-old girl trying to deal with her mother’s death.

Life in Paris is pretty great for Ellie and her parents. Ellie’s father, Calvert, works for the man who would have been the king of France. Ellie’s mother, Etta, writes travel stories for children, though she has never been published. Then one day Etta complains of bad back pain, and life changes very quickly.

In the first half of the story Ellie describes the process of her mother dying, how Etta tried to stay positive, and of the friends and neighbors who rallied around her family. Tears are guaranteed as the story tracks the family’s enormous grief.

After Etta passes, Ellie and her father move back to the United States. Ellie wants to get her mother’s manuscripts published. She enlists the help of new friends in this endeavor, as well as in making a new home.

The novel is both sad and lovely. Ellie’s reactions to the loss of her mother are authentic, as are her expressed feelings of powerlessness. Her bravery and tenacity when it comes to Etta’s manuscripts serve as a powerful tribute to a daughter’s love. Children who have lost a parent will relate to Ellie and find comfort in sharing her story, but empathy is ensured for all.

Posthumous is about love and hope and finding joy, even through incredible loss. It is a deeply moving story that belongs on any juvenile bookshelf.

CATHERINE THURESON (June 27, 2018)

The Acadia Files

Book One: Summer Science

Book Cover
Katie Coppens
Holly Hatam, illustrator
Tilbury House Publishers
Hardcover $13.95 (88pp)
978-0-88448-601-5
Buy: Local Bookstore (IndieBound), Amazon

The Acadia Files introduces kids to science via the readily observable principles and easy-to-reproduce experiments of its precocious and endlessly curious lead character, Acadia, who’s enjoying the summer before she enters fifth grade. Both of her parents are science teachers, so learning is naturally encouraged.

The book introduces important scientific information in a clear and enjoyable fashion. Each chapter highlights a new topic based on Acadia’s summer activities and what she observes. Acadia uses the scientific method to discover who is stealing her blueberries from the bushes. She learns about genetic inheritance of traits like height and curly hair. She learns how sand is formed and what creates seasons and tides. Her summer adventures will open young minds to science and how it helps to make sense of the world.

Illustrations from Acadia’s scientific notebook include amusing images, notes from experiments, and summaries of what she learned. Lists of vocabulary terms and further questions are also included. Notebook pages beautifully reflect the perspective of a ten-year-old girl. They are fun and entertaining, supporting and clarifying scientific concepts.

The science in the book is wonderfully presented, but there is also another layer of lessons: Acadia learns not to accuse someone without proof; she learns to treat others with kindness; and she learns to accept and even celebrate things that might otherwise irritate her, such as the early morning sun and the temporary nature of a sandcastle. These age-appropriate lessons are clearly conveyed, without taking attention away from the book’s science.

The Acadia Files is an excellent book that will help its audience look at the worId in a new way.

CATHERINE THURESON (June 27, 2018)

Brave Enough

Book Cover
Kati Gardner
Flux
Softcover $11.99 (320pp)
978-1-63583-020-0
Buy: Local Bookstore (IndieBound), Amazon

Davis has been through a great deal in his young life. He is a drug addict and, after being convicted of possession with intent to distribute, he has been sentenced to community service in the children’s cancer ward where he was once a patient.

Cason is a ballerina. She works professionally for the Atlanta Ballet Conservatory and dreams of moving to New York. She has been dancing through the pain of what she thinks is a strained thigh, but at an important audition, a snap and searing pain tell her that the injury is far more serious.

In Brave Enough by Kati Gardner, Davis and Cason are brought together at an incredibly difficult time in their lives. Davis is fighting to stay sober; Cason is fighting a new and horrifying illness and is terrified that she may never dance again. Though they are virtual strangers in the beginning of the book, it is the connection and support that they find in one another and in their shared community that allow them to face the most difficult realities of their lives.

The story is heartbreaking, beautiful, and ultimately hopeful. Many of the supporting characters are young cancer patients and survivors. These characters offer insight into what it is like to live with cancer, to be objectified by it, to be labeled as victim or survivor. Throughout the book, the hope of a summer camp for kids with cancer gives them something to look forward to; only there are they allowed to just be kids.

Though the story centers on illness and addiction, the lesson that it has to teach is applicable to each and every life. It is about possessing the will and the courage to face whatever challenges life offers—to be brave enough to hope, dream, and truly live.

CATHERINE THURESON (June 27, 2018)

The Letting Go

Book Cover
Deborah Markus
Sky Pony Press
Hardcover $16.99 (320pp)
978-1-5107-3405-0
Buy: Local Bookstore (IndieBound), Amazon

Deborah Markus’s The Letting Go is a fascinating story about a young woman trying to create a life for herself without the comfort of human connection.

At seventeen and with just one year left in school, Emily is a damaged girl, though she has a sharp tongue and a bright mind. When she was just four years old, her mother was murdered—followed by her father, her best friend, and even her dog.

Now she lives under an assumed name in a small boarding school. Her life is quiet, if not happy. A new girl wants to be her friend, but Emily, remembering the losses of her past, knows that it is far too dangerous to let the connection form. She immerses herself in the work of Emily Dickinson; she keeps the people in her life safe by holding them at a distance with cold treatment and cruel words. But then the headmistress finds a dead body in front of the school. Emily knows that the fresh death cannot be coincidental.

The plot is tense and riveting. The unseen murderer lurks behind every moment of the unconventionally formatted story, which is presented via Emily’s journal—or, one of them; she keeps two notebooks. One starts just when the dead body is found; the second notebook is far shorter and encompasses the murders’ resolution.

The first, linear notebook is the easier to follow; the second is disjointed and occasionally confusing as Emily sorts through what was, what is, and what might be. Though this notebook requires a bit more effort to decipher, it is a wonderfully effective vehicle for Emily’s trauma.

The Letting Go is many things: wonderful, unique, sad, intelligent, creepy, and fun—and, most of all, impossible to put down.

CATHERINE THURESON (June 27, 2018)

Wired

Book Cover
Caytlyn Brooke
BHC Press
Softcover $15.95 (336pp)
978-1-947727-53-3
Buy: Local Bookstore (IndieBound), Amazon

In Wired, a frighteningly believable story set in the not-too-distant future, technology has achieved its darkest promise, replacing human interactions and genuine experiences with virtual reality.

Independent, hardworking Maggie has just been promoted to her dream job as an editor. She has a full life and appreciates technology but prefers the joys of the real world—until the new Vertix H2 is released. The small device connects directly to the brain stem, creating virtual experiences that are only limited by the collective imagination of social media.

Maggie’s addiction is nearly instantaneous. Despite two near-death experiences with the Vertix, she cannot resist the rush of dopamine and the instant gratification that it provides. Soon she is getting sick when not wearing it; her work and relationships suffer.

Her brother Andy experiences similar effects; research reveals that Vertix addiction is happening to a lot of people. But no matter how dark her life gets, Maggie cannot accept that she is an addict.

Author Caytlyn Brooke has captured the devastating effects of addiction in a fast-paced, imaginative, and compelling story. Maggie is likeable and relatable; she does not fit any stereotype of an addictive personality, yet she is powerless against the pull of the Vertix.

Most of the technological advances that the story postulates are not wild or implausible. This makes the Vertix, which does stretch the boundaries of technological possibilities, easier to accept. The world Maggie inhabits feels like it could exist very soon; the horror that her life descends into is easy to believe.

Wired is a scary story about the dangers of addiction, delivering a powerful lesson without feeling didactic. It is a great book for any teen or young adult.

CATHERINE THURESON (June 27, 2018)

Catherine Reed Thureson

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