394 posts categorized "Young Adult" Feed

The Bodyguard Series: Chris Bradford

Books: The Bodyguard #1: Recruit, The Bodyguard #2: Hostage, The Bodyguard #3: Hijack, and The Bodyguard #4: Ransom
Author: Chris Bradford
Pages: 272, 224, 272, 224
Age Range: 10 and up

BodyguardBooks1to4Over the past couple of weekends I binge-read the first four books in Chris Bradford's Bodyguard series (helpfully released all together by the publisher for just such a purpose). The Bodyguard series is about a British teen named Connor Reeves who is recruited into a secret organization called Guardian. Guardian trains teens to act as stealthy bodyguards, especially for teenagers, providing a last line of defense that bad guys will never suspect.

The first four books actually consist of two separate adventures, each broken up across two books and marked by, of course, a cliffhanger in between. In both cases I found the first book, involving descriptions of training, as well as introduction of Principals (protectees), to be a little slow. The conclusions, however (books 2 and 4) were fast-paced and suspenseful. I read each of those in a single sitting. They have short chapters, and occasional surprising twists, making them a good fit for reluctant YA readers. 

In the first book, Connor learns that his father, who died when Connor was eight, was a military bodyguard who died in the line of duty. This understanding, combined with the Guardian program's offer of help for Connor's ailing mother and aging grandmother, pulls the boy in. He is, of course, a natural, though he makes mistakes, and has rivalries with the others from his team of Guardian trainees. He also struggles once or twice with flirtatious interest from his Principals (who are attractive teenage girls in both stories), though he also is interested in Charley, a wheelchair-bound slightly girl from his Guardian team.   

The books offer a fair bit of luxury, with descriptions of the trappings of rich, beautiful, powerful people. These are set against dangerous elements, including terrorists and pirates (the two primary types of organizations that kidnap the children of rich, powerful people, of course). While I personally found the descriptions of Connor's training less than enthralling, young readers who have read fewer adult thrillers than I have will likely find them more interesting, with tidbits about alert levels and self defense. And certainly young readers will be on the edge of their seats at the dramatic climaxes of both storylines.

The Bodyguard series is aimed squarely at fans of the Young Bond series and other relatively PG thrillers. It's timely, with a focus on terrorists and other dangers. There are deaths, but none of them (besides that of Connor's dad) are heartbreaking. There are plenty of guns and other weapons, as well as miraculous tech tools (bulletproof t-shirt anyone?). In short, these books are pure summer reading fun for kids age 10 and up. Recommended, and well worth a look for libraries serving middle schoolers.  

Publisher:  Philomel Books
Publication Date: May 9, 2017
Source of Book: Review copies from the publisher

© 2017 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through affiliate links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

Into the Hurricane: Neil Connelly

Book: Into the Hurricane
Author: Neil Connelly
Pages: 240
Age Range: 12 and up

IntoTheHurricaneInto the Hurricane by Neil Connelly is the story of two troubled teenagers who meet  in a lighthouse on Shackles Island, Louisiana as a major hurricane looms. Green-haired Max has absconded from New Jersey with her father's ashes, planning to release them at the lighthouse. Local boy Eli is haunted and berated by the ghost of his dead sister, Celeste, and is considering killing himself to end the visions. Things don't go as planned for either teen when they encounter first a violent backwoods family/borderline religious cult and second, Hurricane Celeste. 

Into the Hurricane is a survival story, full of perils and twists. But it's also a character study into two damaged kids, and a look at the redemptive power of second chances. Into the Hurricane is told in alternating chapters from Eli's first-person viewpoint and Max's limited third-person viewpoint. I suspect that this format would work well as an audiobook with two narrators, especially given the different regional accents of the two characters. 

It's not clear whether Eli's sister's ghost actually appears to him, or whether (as seems more likely), her presence is a manifestation of his guilt over his role in her death. The circumstances of this death are a mystery revealed only slowly through the course of the book. Max's relationship with her stepmother, though less dramatic, is also revealed gradually. Both teens are working on understanding themselves, even as they seek to understand each other. 

Connelly's bio says that he "weathered five hurricanes in Lake Charles, Louisiana" and this authenticity of viewpoint does come across in his representation of the storm. Details about the wind and waves, and the storm's destruction, fill the book. Here's a snippet, from Eli's viewpoint:

"The wind picks up, just a bit, like the storm's decided I'm worth noticing again, a genuine threat to the way she wants things to be. I clutch the metal, press my body and face into the beam. She's pulling at me good now, blowing at me from the front and sucking from behind. I close my eyes and think what Sweeney said before ended that deer's suffering. When a thing has got to be done, it's best to get on and do it." (Page 110-111)

My favorite quote in the book is this one (with an ellipsis to remove spoilers):

"Maybe the Shacks just makes people crazy. Chemicals in the air, some ancient voodoo curse. But when I think about the kind of folks who live out here--the Odenkirks (backwoods family), Sweeney (quirky local veteran), me--there's hardly a sane one in the bunch. So maybe back when she lived in New Jersey, Max was something like normal. Or at least as normal as a girl with green hair can be. Whatever the case may be, this thing she's doing now..., that's certifiably insane. So make no doubt about it. She's one of us now." (Page 172)

I like this quote because it captures the fact that none of the characters in the book are exactly stable. But they all fit together, with the hurricane, to form an intriguing story. Into the Hurricane is a great pick for those who enjoy survival and natural disaster type stories, but it's more than that, too. Max and Eli, facing the storm, undergo a tremendous amount of personal growth in a short period of time, in a plausible manner. I recommend Into the Hurricane for anyone who enjoys suspenseful young adult fiction or books that make readers think. And shouldn't that be just about anyone? Into the Hurricane is well worth a look, and has a great cover.  

Publisher: Scholastic (@Scholastic
Publication Date: June 27, 2017
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2017 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through affiliate links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

And Then There Were Four: Nancy Werlin

Book: And Then There Were Four
Author: Nancy Werlin
Pages: 416
Age Range: 13 and up

ThereWereFOurWow. Nancy Werlin's And Then There Were Four is a suspenseful young adult novel that had me on the edge of my seat. It's about five teens, brought together under misleading circumstances, who are thrust into peril. While I can't say I found all of the details completely plausible, I was nonetheless riveted. And Then There Were Four reminded me a little bit of the Lois Duncan suspense novels that I loved as a young adult, albeit with more detail and with a more modern sensibility (social media plays an important role, a major character is gay, there's some racial and socioeconomic diversity, etc). 

And Then There Were Four is told in alternating viewpoints by Saralinda, who struggles with a couple of physical challenges, and Caleb, who struggles with the apparent presence of a secondary personality that does bad things. Saralinda's chapters are told in a first person viewpoint with an occasional stream of consciousness lack of punctuation, while Caleb's are in an unusual second person viewpoint. This makes it very easy to tell the narrators apart. Here's Caleb:

"I could not have done this, you think. Could I?

Unsteadily, unsure, you get to your feet. Did you maybe rig something? Somehow? On the root? During the daytime? No, that's crazy. Also, you haven't had any intervals of blank time recently. But then again, you've never realized you've had an episode until you're confronted by proof." (Page 31, ARC)

And here's Saralinda:

"I wish she wouldn't criticize my reading about which she knows nothing because she doesn't read novels, my books are excellent and some have romance yes and also they have themes and interesting people in them and so much to learn. And if I were going to die (am I going to die? (I would not care about requesting a last meal, I would request a last book that is how important books are." (Page 332, ARC)

The characters are all interesting and complex, and the relationships that they form are realistically difficult, but made strong by common trauma. I don't want to say more here, because this is a book you should experience knowing as little about it as possible. Just trust  me. And Then There Were Four is book that will make readers think, and certainly keep readers turning the pages. I'm glad that I was able to read it over a 24 hour period, in two sittings, and suggest that other readers try to do the same. Highly recommended, and an excellent YA thriller for summer reading!

Publisher: Dial Books (@PenguinTeen)
Publication Date: June 6, 2017
Source of Book: Advance review copy from the publisher

© 2017 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through affiliate links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

Thirteen Reasons Why: Jay Asher: A Review Reissue

Book: Thirteen Reasons Why
Author: Jay Asher
Pages: 256
Age Range: 13 and up


Nearly 10 years ago I wrote a review from an advance copy of Jay Asher's book, Thirteen Reasons Why. Since then I've followed Jay's journey with the book through his blog and Facebook. [He toured the 50 states to discuss the book with students, for example.] Recently I've heard a fair bit from other parents (who have older children than I do) about the Netflix series based on the book. I thought it might be useful for me to re-post my original review of the book. I have not watched the TV series, though if my daughter was a teenager, I am pretty sure that I would watch it with her.  I have not updated or edited this review, though if I was writing it today as a parent, I would probably have responded a little differently. Anyway, without further ado, here are my 10-year-old thoughts on Thirteen Reasons Why:

Thirteen Reasons Why is an unusual and fascinating book. Author Jay Asher starts with an intriguing premise, then tells his story via a complex dual narrative structure. He juggles a large cast of characters, and maintains near-constant suspense. Although the book isn't due out until mid-October, I've already seen considerable buzz about it. Having read the book, I can understand why. It's one of those rare books that I finish, and then immediately want to turn back to the beginning to read again, to double-check how all of the puzzle pieces fit together.

Thirteen Reasons Why is narrated by Clay Jensen, high school junior. One day Clay receives in the mail a box containing seven audio cassettes (13 sides) narrated by Hannah Baker. Hannah is a girl from Clay's class who he was interested in. She recently committed suicide, and left a significant "what if" in Clay's heart. The remainder of the book follows Clay's progress in listening to the tapes as he walks around town through one very long night.

Hannah's voice is interspersed with Clay's, as he listens and reacts. Hannah's text is in italics. I did occasionally get confused between whether Hannah or Clay was speaking, but as I was reviewing from the ARC, I would imagine that this is easier to distinguish in the final printed text.

Hannah dedicates one side of each cassette tape to a person, and a reason that put her on the path to suicide. Clay knows (because he has received the tapes) that one of the installments will be about him. A large part of the suspense of the book centers on Clay's fears about what he could have done to contribute to Hannah's despair.

Clay's reactions to Hannah's revelations, of cruelties and misunderstandings and missed opportunities, intensify the emotional impact of her words. We feel for Hannah as Clay feels for Hannah, and we feel for Clay having to make his way through the tapes. There's a constant "if only" refrain to the whole thing, too. If only Justin hasn't started everything off on the wrong foot. If only the teacher hadn't let down his student. If only ...

In addition to being a suspenseful and intriguing novel, Thirteen Reasons Why is a laser-focused magnifying glass, through which we examine the microcosm of high school. More specifically, through which we examine the way that kids treat one another, often carelessly, and the sometimes overwhelmingly high emotional cost. This isn't a "message book". The fully drawn characters and their experiences come first. But underpinning their story is a series of warnings about how not to treat people. I think that Thirteen Reasons Why would make an excellent discussion book for high school students. I think that parents should consider reading it alongside their kids.

But the discussion potential is not the reason to read this book. Instead, read it because the characters are so strong that they positively breathe from the page. Read it because by the time you finish, you'll care about Hannah and Clay as though they were your friends. Read it because the narrative structure is utterly engaging (as well as technically impressive). I also confidently predict that once you start this book, you'll read it because you can't not read it. Highly recommended for ages 13 and up. The alternating male/female narration makes this book particularly accessible to both female and male readers.

Publisher: Razorbill
Publication Date: October 18, 2007
Source of Book: ARC from Razorbill and the author
Other Blog Reviews: youngadultARCS, The Loud Librarian, Through the Studio Door, Children's Writer's and Illustrator's Chatboard
Author Interviews: Bildungsroman, Tales from the Rushmore Kid

© 2017 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.

The Possible: Tara Altebrando

Book: The Possible
Author: Tara Altebrando
Pages: 304
Age Range: 12 and up

ThePossibleAs was the case with Tara Altebrando's The Leaving, I picked up The Possible to check it out and then just wanted to keep reading. I read it in one sitting on a sunny Sunday afternoon (when my daughter was, luckily for me, engaged elsewhere). The voice of 17-year-old Kaylee hooked me initially, and then the book's puzzles kept my attention. Kaylee, though being raised by loving adoptive parents, lived with her birth mother, Crystal, until she was four years old. That's when Crystal went to jail for the murder of Kaylee's younger brother, Jack. Crystal has also been infamous as a teenager, when she was the center of a series of odd incidents. When a podcast producer named Liana Fatone decides to do a true crime series about Crystal, Kaylee finds herself swamped by questions. Not least of these is, if Crystal in fact had the psychic power of telekinesis, does Kaylee? 

Kaylee's quest to understand, and possibly visit, Crystal is blended with more typical teen issues, such as a crush on a boy she barely knows, and a possibly shifting relationship with a long-time male close friend. The junior prom looms, as do regional softball championships (Kaylee is a pitcher). The possibility of telekinesis interferes, one way or another, with all of these things. Did Kaylee guide the last pitch of a perfect game with her mind? Could she, just by wishing it, make her rival fall down? Tara Altebrando walks a fine line with this book, keeping such things possible, but unclear.

Here are a couple of early snippets to give you a feel for Kaylee's voice:

"Aiden's smile was crooked, but the rest of him was all right angles. It was seriously like he'd been built with flesh on LEGOs and not bones." (Page 4, ARC)

"Ordinary was driving around, newly licensed, with Aiden and Chiara in a town like Rockland County, New York, where the men had long commutes to the city that they complained about and the women mostly stayed home to raise the kids even after the kids were already raised.

Ordinary was softball and homework and test prep and violin lessons and yearbook committee and college visits and GPA freak-outs and everything-you-do-from-now-on-affects-where-you'll-go-to-college and daydreaming about Bennett Laurie and waiting for life to become something real and not something that parents and teachers and admissions boards and coaches were in charge of." (Page 7, ARC)

Kaylee is definitely not perfect, particularly in how she stereotypes other students, and unabashedly goes after a guy who is dating someone else. But she is three-dimensional and sympathetic. Her unusual situation is intriguing. Readers will keep turning pages both to understand what's going on and to  make sure that things work out ok for Kaylee. The Possible is, in short, a perfect blend of realistic and suspenseful YA, suitable for both reluctant and more avid readers.High school librarians will definitely want to give this one a look. Recommended, and one that I really enjoyed!

Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Children's Books (@BloomsburyKids)
Publication Date: June 6, 2017
Source of Book: Advance review copy from the publisher

© 2017 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through affiliate links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

Bionic: Suzanne Weyn

Book: Bionic
Author: Suzanne Weyn
Pages: 240
Age Range: 12 and up

BionicBionic is a fast-paced YA title with an intriguing premise. Mira is a high school junior who has a promising future ahead. She's a top lacrosse player, sings in a band, and is thinking about college. When a horrific car accident leaves Mira severely injured, her plans seem to be derailed. Then the opportunity to become a research subject for a government project involving bionic limbs run via a chip in the brain changes everything for Mira again. But will she change too much to feel human anymore? 

I found that Weyn's spare text kept this book bearable, even when I was reading about Mira's first person suffering. Mira is in and out of consciousness at first, and this gives the reader a break, too. Mira's entire accident and initial hospital stay takes place over only two chapters - the surgery and physical therapy are covered, but not in much detail, and with the tedious bits skipped over. Like this:

"I have a new respect for toddlers. This is work! Frustrating, exhausting work. It's demoralizing and humiliating not to be able to do the  most basic of activities. I can't stand, walk, or even control my new arm. By the end of the day, I'm once more in tears." (end of Chapter 2)

"I thought the day would never come, but today Carol pushes me to the front door in my wheelchair. Mom is right behind me, loaded down with all my suitcases.

When Carol stops inside the front door, I lean heavily on my crutch and pull myself to standing. The weeks of exercises I've done with Raelene have built up my back and abdominal muscles to the point where I can hold steady and not tumble forward." (start of Chapter 3)

The rest of the book is about Mira's recovery and increasing level of bionic capabilities. There's a bit about her frustration with the recovery and her changed situation (no more lacrosse team, etc.). There's some understandable depression on Mira's part, but also introspection. Like this:

"Sitting by the living room window, I notice the patterns in everyone's days. The same people come and go at the same times. Old Jim next door walks his dog, Rusty, every morning at eight, then again at five. A day-camp bus drops the same two small kids off at four every afternoon. The mail carrier drops the mail in our box at two every day. In just two days I've got their routines nailed. Even the birds and squirrels show up at more of less the same time. I've never realized before how much of life is lived from habit." (Chapter 6)

Shown slowly over the course of the book, we see how the chip in her brain affects Mira's emotions and self-perception. And how her changes affect the people around her (best friend, boyfriend, bandmates, family). I liked the fact that Mira had a single mother, dedicated but struggling, and a younger brother with autism. As a mother, I can't even imagine how Mira's mother managed, but as a reader with an eye out for diverse family situations, I appreciated this one. I particularly liked the fact that Mira's brother, though clearly different, was able to do things to help her as the book progressed. 

Bionic is a quick read with a premise and writing style that will keep readers turning the pages. It would make a good choice for reluctant teen readers, particularly those with a yen for speculative fiction. Recommended for libraries serving high schoolers. [There's nothing that I think would make it objectionable for middle schoolers, but it feels more like a high school book to me.] The theme of reinvention (and then further reinvention) should resonate with teens. 

Publisher: Scholastic (@Scholastic)
Publication Date: October 25, 2016
Source of Book: Advance review copy from the publisher

© 2016 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through affiliate links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

With Malice: Eileen Cook

Book: With Malice
Author: Eileen Cook
Pages: 320
Age Range: 12 and up

I picked up With Malice one afternoon, when I needed a little break from work, and simply could not put it down. With Malice begins when 18-year-old Jill wakes up in a hospital. She's been seriously injured in a car accident, and has no memory of the previous six weeks, including what was supposed to have been a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Italy. She soon learns that she is not the only one who has questions about what happened in Italy, and particularly what led to the car accident. A media frenzy and legal case ensues. 

What follows is a deconstruction of the events as revealed through police interviews, news stories, blog and Facebook posts, interspersed with the experiences (mainly from before the accident) that Jill does remember.  Every piece of information, every revelation about personality or intentions, feels like a tiny clue, as the reader (and Jill) tries to figure out what happened. I read With Malice over about 24 hours, because I simply could not stop until I knew what had happened. 

Eileen Cook's characterization is masterful, particularly of Jill and her best friend, Simone. Jill's roommate from rehab is a delight. Even some of the tertiary characters, revealed mainly through interviews with the policy, come through clearly. But of course it is Jill's experience that is at the heart of the story. She suffered brain damage in the accident, and struggles with aphasia (not being able to come up with the right word when she is talking). Like this (as she is thinking to herself):

"I'd never been in the hospital before. Well, once in second grade. I fell off the -- Dammit. Now I can't think of what they're called. The ladder thing, suspended above the playground. Lion bars? No. Elephant bars. That's not it either, but that's like it. You swing across them. I'd had to get stitches, but I'd never stayed in the hospital before." (Page 6)

Impossible not to empathize with Jill - her perspective is so immediate. I'd like to talk about her more, but I don't want to give anything important away. With Malice is a book about which the less you know ahead of time, the better. Just read it. With Malice is a compelling mystery and a fascinating character study, with a ripped from the headlines subject. It is a pitch perfect summer reading delight! Recommended for teens and adults. 

Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers (@HMHKids)
Publication Date: June 7, 2016
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2016 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through affiliate links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

The Leaving: Tara Altebrando

Book: The Leaving
Author: Tara Altebrando
Pages: 432
Age Range: 12 and up

I was initially a bit unsure about whether or not I wanted to read Tara Altebrando's The Leaving. It begins with the kidnapping of six five-year-olds on their first day of kindergarten. As the parent of a five year old, I feared that it might strike a bit too close to home. But I've been really struggling lately to find books that can hold my attention. The cover blurb on The Leaving, by E. Lockhart called it "a top-speed page-turner", adding "I promise, you will not even look up from the page." So I decided to give it a try. And I'm glad that I did.

The Leaving did succeed in holding my attention. I read most of it in a single sitting, after my husband and daughter left on a father-daughter camping weekend. I found it more intriguing than emotionally wrenching, so the core subject matter of kidnapped kids wasn't a problem. Nearly all of the story takes place eleven years after the kidnapping, when five out of six kids return home with  no memory of their lost time.

The Leaving is told in alternating chapters from the limited third person perspective of three teens: two of the kidnapped children and the younger sister of the one who does not return. The narrative styles of the three are quite different. Scarlett's thoughts include poetic fragments, shared via visual effects like circular words. Lucas's thoughts are darker, and include white on black snippets, like signs: "CAROUSEL OCEAN GOLDEN HORSE TEETH". Avery, the one was was not kidnapped, is the most ordinary, wrestling as much with her doubts about her boyfriend as with worries about the brother that she doesn't even remember anyway. Even Avery wrestles with questions about the nature of memory. 

The Leaving is filled with tiny clues about what might have happened to the kids, set against a backdrop of media frenzy and local suspicion. The reader is not sure who to trust, or whether the outcome might include something supernatural (aliens?). There are also ordinary teen attractions, socioeconomic differences, and conflicts with friends and parents. Altebrando balances it all smoothly, keeping the reader most of all interested in turning the pages. 

Here are a couple of quotes to give a feel for Altebrando's writing:

"Back at home around dinnertime, there were no signs of dinner. Mom was in bed, surrounded by still more tissues. The woman had become a movable flowering tissue tree, dropping fruit wherever she went." (Avery, Pag 110, ARC)


"Normal people don't remember everything.

Normal people forget.

Do normal people ever have just one memory that is so ...

Very ...

Unrelenting/unavoidable/unfathomable?" (Scarlett, Page 146, ARC)

Anyone who enjoys suspenseful books that also make the reader think will enjoy The Leaving. It is well constructed and intriguing, with flawed but likable characters and surprises throughout. Highly recommended.

Publisher:  Bloomsbury USA Children's Books (@BWKids)
Publication Date: June 7, 2016
Source of Book: Advance review copy from the publisher

© 2016 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through affiliate links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

The Way Back from Broken: Amber J. Keyser

Book: The Way Back from Broken
Author: Amber J. Keyser
Pages: 216
Age Range: 13 and up

The Way Back from Broken by Amber J. Keyser is a young adult novel about recovering from grief, with generous helpings of interpersonal relationships, diversity, and outdoor adventure. 15-year-old Rakmen, a city kid from North Portland (OR) is struggling 10 months after the death of his baby sister. He's not doing well in school, doesn't care about playing basketball with his friends anymore, and fears that his parents' marriage is breaking up. As things deteriorate further, Rakmen's parents end up sending him to the Canadian wilderness for the summer with Leah, who has recently lost a baby, and her 9-year-old daughter Jacey. There, the three mis-matched lost souls have an adventure, and also start to form a new sort of family. 

The Way Back from Broken is most suitable to young adults (and adults), with a bit of language and references to suicide. The grief of the characters is often searing, and I think it would be a bit much for younger kids. At the start of the book I wondered "why would I put myself through reading this?". But Rakmen's voice (limited third person perspective) pulled me in. And I'm glad that it did. The Way Back from Broken is powerful and unflinching but ultimately hopeful. 

Keyser does a nice job of incorporating diversity organically in The Way Back from Broken. Rakmen's dad is (apparently) black, his mother is Mexican. The grief counseling center that Rakmen and his mom visit groups them together with black and white families from a range of socioeconomic backgrounds, their shared grief building bridges that would otherwise be unlikely. The tentatively developing friendship between Rakmen and a white girl named Molly is handled in a way that felt realistic to me. There's awkwardness when Rakmen's friend teases him about Molly, and even more awkwardness when she and her parents attend a cookout at Rakmen's home. None of this diversity is what the book is about - but it renders the interpersonal relationships more layered and interesting. 

Keyser's prose is descriptive, using all of the senses, yet without slowing the pace of the book. Here are a couple of the passages that I flagged:

"Rakmen breathed in the summer evening--the bite of diesel in the air, garden dirt, and burgers cooking next door. This was what he knew, but it no longer felt like home. He was a runaway truck with burned out brakes. The ache that filled Rakmen pulsed in his bones, white-cold and penetratingly deep. With leaden arms, he hoisted his duffel into the trunk." (Page 60)

"As he picked up the paddle and thrust the canoe into deeper water, his open blister burned against the wooden shaft, and every muscle in his arms and torso screamed in protest. Au large was the perfect torture, he though. When you can't walk anymore, you paddle. When your hands are about to fall off, you hike. And every single part of your body ends up hurting." (Page 123)

The later part of the book is suspenseful. I read The Way Back from Broken in just about one sitting, engaged because of the action that takes place, but also because I cared about the characters. The relationship between Rakmen and Jacey is particularly well-done, built slowly and steadily over the course of the book. The Way Back from Broken is a book that will stay with me. Highly recommended for teen and adult readers. 

Publisher: Carolrhoda Lab 
Publication Date: October 1, 2015
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2015 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through affiliate links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

Orbiting Jupiter: Gary D. Schmidt

Book: Orbiting Jupiter
Author: Gary D. Schmidt
Pages: 192
Age Range: 12 and up

Gary D. Schmidt's Okay for Now is one of my favorite YA novels. I've also read and enjoyed several of his other books. So I was pleased to get my hands on an advance copy of Schmidt's upcoming YA novel, Orbiting Jupiter. It's a slim book with (in the ARC anyway) plenty of white space - a very quick read. But wow, does Orbiting Jupiter pack a punch. 

Orbiting Jupiter is told from the perspective of 12-year-old Jack, who lives with his parents on a small dairy farm in Maine, during the winter that Jack's family fosters a youth named Joseph. Joseph has an intimidating history. He took some sort of drug in school and, not in his right mind, tried to kill a teacher. He was sent to a juvenile facility called Stone Mountain. And, at 14 years old, he has a three month old daughter. All of this is revealed in the first chapter of Orbiting Jupiter, though Jack and the reader don't come to understand the details of Joseph's story until much later. 

Joseph is a damaged, complex character. But the cows like him, so Jack and his parents are more than ready to give him the benefit of the doubt. So are a couple of teachers at Jack's middle school, though most shun Joseph and/or consider him a trouble-maker. Personally, I was reeled in by the first chapter, unable to put Orbiting Jupiter down until I had finished it. I had to know what would happen to Joseph. My heart ached for him, and broke for him. 

Schmidt's writing style is spare - not every detail is captured. For example, we never learn why Jack's family decided to take in a foster child. Schmidt just launches into the specifics about Joseph. But this makes the 12 year old narrator more convincing, I think. Jack tells us about what he thinks is important, at the level that he's able to understand and talk things. Like this (a confrontation between Jack's father and Joseph's father):

"My father put his glasses back on and they looked at each other for a while. Then Joseph's father said a few words I'm not allowed to say, and he looked at me. When my father took a step toward him, he said a few more words I'm not allowed to say, and left.

Dahlia was watching the whole time. If Joseph's father had come within range, you know he'd have limped out of that barn.

Like I said, you can tell a whole lot about someone from the way cows are around him." (Chapter 2)

Other things to like about Orbiting Jupiter:

  • Jack's parents are great. Supportive but taking no nonsense, expecting both boys to work, and teaching them how, but also encouraging fun. They're the kind of people who, in the least didactic way possible, make you just want to be a better person. 
  • The small town setting is convincing. The suspicion that people display towards Joseph feels realistic. The Maine weather plays a significant role. 
  • There's a completely timeless quality to Orbiting Jupiter. No cell phones. No instant messages. Nothing like that. Just pure story. 

There is some mature content in Orbiting Jupiter. We know that Joseph has had sex, and it's clear pretty early on that he has been physically and possibly sexually abused. But these things (particularly the sexual abuse) are alluded to, rather than being directly addressed. Kids who aren't ready for them could, I think, gloss over them to some extent. Still, it's clearly YA and not middle grade, despite the middle school setting.  

I think that Orbiting Jupiter would make a wonderful pick for reluctant teen readers. High school libraries simply must stock it. But the combination of compelling characters, realistic suspense, and taut writing makes Orbiting Jupiter a book that should please any discerning reader (12 and up). Highly recommended, and a book that I will not forget. 

Publisher: Clarion Books (@HMHKids) 
Publication Date: October 6, 2015
Source of Book: Advance review copy from the publisher

© 2015 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through affiliate links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

The Dead Girls of Hysteria Hall: Katie Alender

Book: The Dead Girls of Hysteria Hall
Author: Katie Alender
Pages: 336
Age Range: 12 and up

I was not initially taken by the cover of The Dead Girls of Hysteria Hall, by Katie Alender. However, Ms. Yingling reviewed The Dead Girls of Hysteria Hall, comparing the book favorably to Lois Duncan's Down a Dark Hall. This piqued my interest, and after reading the first chapter I was hooked. The Dead Girls of Hysteria Hall is a young adult horror novel set in a former "institute for the care and correction of troubled females." The main character, Delia, inherits the property, known by locals as Hysteria Hall, from her great aunt. From just about the first moment Delia enters the house, she observes strange phenomena. As things get worse, Delia learns that leaving Hysteria Hall is more difficult than she could ever have imagined.

The Dead Girls of Hysteria Hall is an excellent ghost story, full of chills and suspense. In the first section of the book, brief sections labeled "Observations Made After the Fact" add foreshadowing. Like this:

"As I crossed the threshold into the house, my father called to me. "Delia," he said.

I turned, one foot in, one foot out, to look back at him.

"Don't get too attached to this place, okay?" he said. "it's not like you can stay here forever." (End of Chapter 2)

Observations Made After the Fact (next page)

Can't stay forever, eh?

Wanna bet?" (Page 15-16,ARC)

One thing that I think makes Dead Girls of Hysteria Hall work is that Delia has a pretty good understanding of the nature of the other characters (living and otherwise). Like this:

"For some reason, my mother assumes strangers are interested in our lives. Maybe because her students spend all their free time kissing up to her and pretending to care about insignificant details of her existence. Mom never met a situation couldn't kablooey into an awkward overshare." (Page 7, ARC)

"Dad, for his part, had a way of making authoritative pronouncements as if we were all his royal subjects. Probably from being treated like a minor god-figure by his eager-beaver students. (Sadly, when your parents are professors, college loses a bit of its mystique.) (Page 9, ARC)

The interpersonal dynamics between Delia and the other characters, particularly her family members, are realistically flawed, and provide a good contrast with the spectral events taking place in the story. Another small thing that the author did that added a layer of realism to the story was having ghosts who lived 100 years earlier who didn't understand modern-day colloquialisms. This lent a faint dose of humor to an otherwise rather dark story.

Hysteria Hall, itself something of a character in the story, is delightfully creepy and fully realized. The ghosts that live there are complex beings. The mystery about how the Hall became haunted will keep readers guessing, and the action will keep them turning the pages. I found the ending satisfying, both in terms of plot and in heart. I would recommend The Dead Girls of Hysteria Hall to anyone who enjoys reading about ghosts, creepy old buildings, or teenage struggles for identify. This would pair well with Dan Poblocki's The Ghost of Graylock, and would be a good addition to any library's YA horror collection. 

Publisher: Point (@Scholastic
Publication Date: August 25, 2015
Source of Book: Advance review copy from the publisher

© 2015 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through affiliate links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

The Ghost in the Glass House: Carey Wallace

Book: The Ghost in the Glass House
Author: Carey Wallace
Pages: 240
Age Range: 12 and up

The Ghost in the Glass House by Carey Wallace is set in a seaside resort town in the 1920's. 12-year-old Clare and her mother rent a summer house that has an octagonal glass house on the grounds. In the glass house dwells, as promised by the title, a ghost. The Ghost in the Glass House explores Clare's growing friendship with the ghost (a boy who doesn't remember his real name), as well as her interactions with her widowed mother and four friends (all of whose families travel the resort circuit of the idle wealthy, and rent houses near to one another from season to season).

I had thought, based on the title and the relatively brief length, that The Ghost in the Glass House was a middle grade novel. But it does contain some relatively mature content. Clare's friend's father is a known adulterer. There are tense crushes between the various teens (Clare is the youngest, others range up to 15), some implied, offscreen sexual behavior, and a bit of underage drinking by the older kids. I still think it would be ok for a mature middle schooler. And it's certainly tame compared to much of today's YA. But it wasn't quite what I had expected. 

Still, The Ghost in the Glass House is creepy and atmospheric. There's a mystery about the boy. Who he is. Why he's stuck as a ghost in the glass house. Why the housekeeper of the rental house wants Clare to stay away from the glass house. There's also tension around the developing relationships between the kids/teens. And emotional depth tied to the fact that Clare just wants to go home to her own house, which her mother has been avoiding since her father died. 

The Ghost in the Glass House provides a bit of a window into the life of privileged families in the 1920's, though it's not all that detailed. I'm not sure how much modern readers will relate to the boredom and complaints of Clare and her friends. But Wallace includes some subtle substance. The housekeeper is a complex character, never fully revealed. There's a hint that one of the boys has feelings for another boy, though Clare doesn't recognize this as anything comprehensible (as she wouldn't). 

Here's the description of the glass house:

"At first glance, the glass house was a riot of reflections: sky and cloud, white brick, the pale underbellies of leaves. Then it resolved into a simple dome held together by copper beams gone green from exposure to wine and rain. It sat about fifty paces from the big white brick house she and her mother were moving into that day. A stand of young maples shades the glass walls, which were further screened by climbing roses that crept all the way up to the slanted panes of the roof." (Page 2)

And here's Clare's friend Bridget:

""The ocean never stops," Bridget complained, staring out at the dark surf beyond he circle of light from the fire they'd build on the beach. "Not even when the sun goes down. It's like some awful machine that works all night and doesn't make anything."

"You've suffered so much," Teddy (her brother) said. "I don't know how you bear it."" (Page 62)

And finally, here's a bit of insight into Clare, who is occasionally profound:

"Clare had the same sensation she got when she heard people rattle off travelers' rumors about a place Clare had actually been: the realization that she already knew more than the adult who was pretending to educate her. She didn't like the feeling, but she was getting used to it. It bothered her most in moments like this, when she didn't know the answer herself and needed one." (Page 85)

The Ghost in the Glass House will appeal to anyone who enjoys ghost stories, as well as to fans of historical fiction. It would make a good step-up book for kids who have read Mary Downing Hahn's books, but aren't quite ready for graphic YA. The Ghost in the Glass House is a subtle ghost story with a strong protagonist and a relatively uncommon historical setting. I think that my own 11-12 year old self would have enjoyed it very much. As I did today. 

Publisher: Clarion Books (@HMHKids)
Publication Date: September 3, 2015
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2015 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through affiliate links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).