399 posts categorized "Young Adult" Feed

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).

Code of Honor: Alan Gratz

Book: Code of Honor
Author: Alan Gratz
Pages: 288
Age Range: 12 and up

Code of Honor by Alan Gratz is about a 17-year-old boy whose life falls apart when his beloved older brother is accused of terrorism. Kamran Smith's father is caucasian, but his mother is Iranian. Kamran is living a charmed life in Phoenix as a homecoming king, football star, boyfriend, and soon-to-be cadet at West Point (his longtime dream). All of that changes when CNN starts showing video of his Ranger brother Darius working with, and speaking for, middle eastern terrorists.

People at school (even his friends) are suspicious of Kamran, as is the Department of Homeland Security. Before he knows it, Kamran is locked in a detention facility, trying to escape so that he can save his brother. 

Code of Honor covers a lot of ground, from friendship and loyalty to what it feels like to be discriminated against to the bond of brotherhood. There is also, particularly in the second half of the book, plenty of high stakes action. While it might be a tad implausible for Kamran to be directly involved in preventing a terrorist attack, Gratz pulls it off. There was one scene in which I was skeptical, but then he mitigated my concerns, and made things make sense. 

I read Code of Honor in a single sitting, eager to know what would happen to Kamran and Darius. I didn't even stop to place post-it flags, so I don't have any quotes for you. I like that while Gratz addresses what it feels like to be treated differently because you look Middle Eastern, he also makes Kamran broadly relatable, and includes enough action to keep teens (and adults) turning the pages. 

Code of Honor has a ripped from the headlines theme, a fast-paced plot, a diverse protagonist, and a focus on loyalty and honor. It belongs in high school and public libraries everywhere. Recommended, and going on my keep shelf. 

Publisher: Scholastic (@Scholastic
Publication Date: August 25, 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).

Damage Done: Amanda Panitch

Book: Damage Done
Author: Amanda Panitch
Pages: 304
Age Range: 14 and up

Damage Done is a brand new young adult thriller by Amanda Panitch. It's told from the first person viewpoint of Lucy Black, who used to be known as Julia Vann. Julia's life changed forever when her twin brother Ryan killed 11 people in their school's band room. Due to intense media scrutiny (and very unhappy neighbors), Julia and her parents changed their names and moved from northern to southern California. As Lucy, Julia is managing pretty well, with a best friend and a possible love interest. But everything threatens to unravel when a figure from her past appears outside of her new high school. Danger ensues.

Damage Done is both fascinating and disturbing. I couldn't put it down, reading it over a day or so, and staying up late to finish (something I hardly ever do these days). Lucy reveals details about her brother through her memories, indicating that his tendencies as a sociopath were apparent from a very early age. She expresses guilt at having defended him for earlier incidents (one involving the death of a puppy), but her love for Ryan is also clear. Less clear, but endlessly intriguing, are hints about Lucy herself, and about their rather dysfunctional parents. Panitch also intersperses sections from the unofficial journal of Ryan's psychologist (dating back to the puppy incident). These are revealing in a different way, particularly of Dr. Spence's gross incompetence.

I did find some of the details of Damage Done implausible or ill-defined. What does her father do for a job after he changes his own identity? What about school and immunization records? The family is not in an official witness protection program - just trying to stay under the radar. And ... some other details that I won't share, in the interest of not spoiling the story for anyone. 

Still, Panitch does a nice job of balancing retrospective analysis of the events leading up to the school shooting against current action, as Lucy faces new threats. There is even a rather sweet love interest to lighten the tone a bit. 

Damage Done is compelling, but because of violent and disturbing content, I would only recommend it for high school and adult readers, and not for younger teens. [And I'm not sure if I would personally put a book about a school shooting in a school library, but luckily I don't have to make such decisions.] People who enjoy puzzling out events from clues, and enjoy suspense, will want to give Damage Done a look. It won't leave you with an upbeat feeling, but it is certainly not a book that you'll forget in a hurry. 

Publisher: Random House Books for Young Readers (@RandomHouseKids
Publication Date: July 21, 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).

The Hired Girl: Laura Amy Schlitz

Book: The Hired Girl
Author: Laura Amy Schlitz
Pages: 400
Age Range: 12 and up

When I started reading The Hired Girl, by Laura Amy Schlitz I found myself unable to put it down. This was not because the story was suspenseful in the traditional sense. The Hired Girl is realistic historical fiction, not some modern-day thriller. No, my inability to set the book aside was because the narrator's voice was so compelling. I had to know what would happen next to her

The Hired Girl is told in the form of journal entries by 14-year-old Joan, a virtual domestic slave for her taciturn father and three rough older brothers. Joan's story begins in June of 1911, as she learns that she will not be allowed to return to school the following year. Joan is a girl who loves, who lives for, books and writing, but lives in a print-starved, dreary farming household. She only owns three books, gifts from a sympathetic teacher. Joan's life goal, seemingly unachievable now, is to become a teacher, as her deceased mother wished. When her father pushes her too far, with an act of deliberate cruelty, Joan runs away to Philadelphia, where she hopes to become a "hired girl". 

It's not that Joan is perfect, by any means. The reader (particularly the adult reader) can see her making mistakes, even as she makes them. She is impulsive and interfering, and has airs far above her station. She is melodramatic and naive. But she's also bright and determined, and not afraid of hard work. She's religious, seeking to follow her mother's Catholic faith, but struggles realistically with various sins (such as her inability to forgive her father). But above all, she is real. I ached for her, and cringed for her, and shook my head when I saw her doing something she shouldn't. I cared about Joan, and that kept me reading. 

But there is more to The Hired Girl than a great character. Schlitz immerses the reader in upper crust, 1911 Philadelphia, from ladies having bridge parties to the Pratt Library to the price of various clothing items in a department store. The Wizard of Oz is a new book that children are "crazy for" (even if it is considered "trash"). And the Impressionists are "as good as the Old Masters any day, but they aren't much appreciated because some of them are still alive, and the ones that are dead aren't dead enough."

The Hired Girl is also an in-depth exploration of Judaism vs. Catholicism. The family that Joan ends up working for is Jewish - she is their "Shabbos goy, which is a Christian who does the work that Jews aren't supposed to do on Shabbos." Joan learns about Jewish traditions and customs (and about the concept of anti-Semitism), even as she is also taking instruction from a Catholic priest on her afternoons off. There are several philosophical discussions between Joan and the patriarch of the Rosenbach household concerning questions like (paraphrasing) "which is the true religion?" and "do good Christians have an obligation to teach others about Jesus?". 

Because Joan's first-person perspective is flawless, the information conveyed never feels remotely like information-dumping. Rather, the reader is learning with Joan. The religious and philosophical content is lightened by Joan's interactions with the vain but likable daughter of the household, a young nephew, and a cat or two. 

I'm not entirely sure that I find all of the interactions in The Hired Girl realistic (the Rosenbach's are awfully patient with the mistakes and presumptions of a $6 a week hired girl). But I still enjoyed every word. I flagged many passages. Here are a couple of favorites, to give you a feel for Joan's voice:

"Father laughed. It wasn't a natural sound, or a happy one. When most people laugh, it's like water splashing over the lip of a pitcher. The thing happens easily , and it wants to go on. Father's laugh was like coughing up something from the back of his throat." (Monday, June the nineteenth, 1911)

"The truth is, most of the time, I don't of myself as the hired girl. I think of myself as somebody disguised as the hired girl. After all, I'm not going to be a servant all my life. It's temporary. At some point I'm going to get an education and become a schoolteacher, just as Ma planned. (Monday, July the twenty-fourth, 1911)

"The truth is, I think ball games are unfeminine. I believe ladies should vote and be doctors and maybe even be President, but they should stay tidy and not perspire. Most of my life, I've had to get dirty and perspire, but I haven't liked it. If you ask me, it's silly to run after a ball, and that kind of silliness ought to be left to the men." (Tuesday, August the first, 1911)

See what I mean? Isn't she great? I don't think you can tell from these passages, but I was able to see Joan's writing and vocabulary improve as the book progressed, as she read additional books. 

There's always a balancing act when reading young adult books about characters from other time periods, particularly women. You want the author to be true to the time period, but you also want the character to be relatable to modern-day readers. I think that Schlitz manages this nicely. Joan is not as abject as one might expect a hired girl with no prospects to be (which is what makes her interesting). Yet she also has some very old-fashioned (to us) ideas about gender roles and marriage and the like.

The Hired Girl is a lovely addition to the ranks of historical fiction, one that I hope is widely read. The fact that Laura Amy Schlitz won the 2008 Newbery Award for Good Masters, Sweet Ladies (also historical fiction) should help. Fans of Schlitz's A Drowned Maiden's Hair: A Melodrama will also enjoy The Hired Girl (though that latter is aimed at a slightly older audience). Bottom line? I expect big things from The Hired Girl. I look forward to re-reading it one day, when my daughter is old enough to appreciate it. Highly recommended. 

Publisher: Candlewick 
Publication Date: September 8, 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).

Finding Audrey: Sophie Kinsella

Book: Finding Audrey
Author: Sophie Kinsella
Pages: 304
Age Range: 12 and up

Finding Audrey is the first young adult title by bestselling novelist Sophie Kinsella (Shopaholic series, etc.). Finding Audrey is about a teenage girl who had a mental breakdown after an episode of bullying at her all-girl school. Audrey spent six weeks in a mental hospital. As the story begins, she is recovering at home, planning to start at a different school in the fall (one grade lower).

Audrey panics easily, wears dark glasses to avoid any eye contact, and takes various medications to fight anxiety and depression. Her only contact is with her family and her therapist, though she eventually lets her older brother's friend, Linus, into her previously closed world. Finding Audrey chronicles the ups and downs of Audrey's progress over several months, as well as her growing relationship with Linus, and the interactions of her quirky family.

I quite liked the fact that Kinsella resists making Finding Audrey an issue book about bullying. We never even learn the details of what happened to Audrey, and that's ok. Instead, we see the impact that the incident has had on her vulnerable mental state, and the impact on her family.

Also, despite being about depression and mental illness, Finding Audrey is not a depressing book. In fact, it's quite funny in parts (helped out by Audrey's quirky Mom and sarcastic older brother). Here's the beginning of the book:

"OMG, Mum's gone insane.

Not normal Mum-insane. Serious insane.

Normal Mum-insane: Mum says, "Let's all do this great gluten-free diet I read about in the Daily Mail!" Mum buys three loaves of gluten-free bread. It's so disgusting our mouths curl up. The family goes on strike and Mum hides her sandwich in the flower bed and next week we're not gluten-free anymore." (Page 1)

And there's this:

"(I've often noticed that people equate "having a sense of humour" with "being an insensitive moron.") (Page 5)

See what I mean? Audrey has an entertaining and engaging voice. Even when she is down, she maintains a certain black humor. Like this:

"Dad says it's totally understandable and I've been through a trauma and now I'm like a small baby who panics as soon as it's handed to someone it doesn't know. I've seen those babies, and they go from happy and gurgling to howling in a heartbeat Well, I don't howl. Not quite.

But I feel like howling." (Page 38)

Yes, Kinsella has a deft touch all around for Audrey's voice. Audrey's little brother Felix is also a source of humor. Like this:

"Mummy is going to throw the computer!" says Felix, running onto the grass and looking up in disbelieving joy. Felix is our little brother. He's four. He greets most life events with disbelieving joy. A lorry in the street! Ketchup! An extra-long chip! Mum throwing a computer out of the window is just another one on the list of daily miracles." (Page 2)

In truth Felix felt like he was included for the sole purpose of entertainment value. But, as the mother of a five year old, I still enjoyed him. The other secondary characters are well-developed. Mum is a bit over-the-top, perhaps, and Linus a bit too good to be true, but these characteristics both work in the context of the story.  

As the earlier quote shows, Finding Audrey is set in England, and does include British vocabulary. I've read enough British books to know that a lorry is a truck and a chip is a french fry, but some readers may have to make a slight mental adjustment. Personally, I stopped noticing any cultural shift early in the book, as my focus honed in on the characters. 

Finding Audrey takes the serious subjects of mental illness and depression and renders them accessible to teen readers. Kinsella accomplishes this through Audrey's unflinching first-person viewpoint. Finding Audrey never feels message-driven (Bullying is bad! Care about your fellow student!). It feels, rather, like an interesting story about a character that the reader will care about. I think that Kinsella did a fine job of finding the right balance here, and I hope that Finding Audrey finds its way into the hands of many teens. Highly recommended!

Publisher: Delacorte Press (@RandomHouseKids
Publication Date: June 9, 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).

The Hunted (The Enemy, Book 6): Charlie Higson

Book: The Hunted (The Enemy, Book 6)
Author: Charlie Higson
Pages: 464
Age Range: 12 and up

I am fascinated by Charlie Higson's The Enemy series, unable to resist reading these books. I've purchased most of the series in hardcover, and just read Book 6 (received as a review copy) within a week of the publication date. This is true despite the fact that the books are gorier than I generally prefer, and the fact that Higson has no problem killing off protagonists. In fact, he seems to rather enjoy it. I had actually considered dropping this series after the bleak ending of Book 5, but I'm glad that I didn't. Because Book 6, The Hunted, is the best of the series so far. 

The Enemy series is set in and around a near-term post-apocalyptic London. A mysterious virus has infected everyone over the age of 16 - killing many adults outright, and turning the others into nearly mindless, kid-hunting, zombie-like creatures. Various pockets of children and young teens have survived, remaining in peril from the grown-ups and (sometimes) from one another. There are frequent, bloody battles with said grown-ups. No one is safe, and it's best not to get too attached to any of the characters. This is actually not that hard, because Higson doesn't go very deep with most of the characters, instead juggling a large, shifting cast.

The primary things that make this series work for me (and, I would imagine, for teens) are:

  • Fast-paced suspenseful plotting. Higson clearly planned out the whole series prior to writing the books. There are flash forwards and flashbacks, and kids whose paths intersect in unexpected (but clearly long-planned) ways. Higson shifts viewpoint between characters at times, to ratchet up the suspense. These books are difficult to put down once you start reading. [I kind of want to go back someday and read all of the books in a short time, to really see how the plot threads weave together. But I'll have to wait a while, until I forget more of the details.] 
  • The socio-political dynamics between the kids. Different groups establish different types of communities. Some leaders are strong - others are smart. There is conflict between the groups, but also, sometimes, partnership. The world-building is fascinating. 
  • The underlying puzzle of where the virus came from, and how it is continuing to affect the monstrous grown-ups. These questions are addressed relatively slowly, from book to book, adding interest as well as an underlying menace. 

I have previously reviewed the first two books of this series, The Enemy and The Dead. I believe that Book 7, The End, will conclude the series next year, making this a good time to start in with the series, if it sounds intriguing to you. Stop reading now if you haven't read books 1 to 5. 

The Hunted primarily follows two related plot threads. A young girl named Ella has survived a grown-up attack thanks to the rescue of a mysterious, misshapen man. He takes her to a barricaded farm out in the country. Meanwhile, a small group of kids has set out from the Natural History Museum to try to find Ella, and reunite her with Sam, the brother she believes is dead. Opportunities for danger and heroism follow. While maintaining the suspense level of the earlier books, two things made The Hunted even better for me:

  1. More of a focus on a small group of the characters whom the reader starts to hope will specifically survive. Ed, the leader of the rescue mission, is worth rooting for, as is Ella. There's also an intriguing new character.
  2. More hints about and study of what caused the virus in the first place, and where things might be going in the bigger picture. 

So, for fans of the series who were put off by the super-depressing ending of Book 5, don't give up. Give The Hunted a try. I think you'll enjoy it. And really, anyone who has made it this far in the series - don't you want to know what's going to happen? Who will survive, and how? I know I do. I can't wait for Book 7. 

For readers with a fairly high tolerance for gore, violence, and suspense, The Enemy series is a solid pick. Book 6, The Hunted, is my favorite yet of this "can't put it down" series.

Publisher: Disney-Hyperion
Publication Date: June 2, 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).

I Am the Traitor (The Unknown Assassin): Allen Zadoff

Book: I Am the Traitor (The Unknown Assassin Trilogy, Book 3)
Author: Allen Zadoff
Pages: 304
Age Range: 13 and up

I Am the Traitor is the conclusion to Allen Zadoff's The Unknown Assassin trilogy, following I Am the Weapon (originally published as Boy Nobody) and I Am the Mission. The Unknown Assassin is a teenage boy who works for / belongs to an organization called The Program. In the earlier books, the boy (who we now know is really named Zach) is sent out by The Program to assassinate certain individuals. His method involves using an assumed identify and befriending a teen close to the target, so that he can get close enough to do his work in subtle fashion.

As the series has progressed, however, Zach has come to have his doubts about The Program. He now believes that his father might be alive, a captive to The Program. He's also pretty sure that his only friend, Howard, has been captured. Zach finds himself in the position of being a traitor to the shadowy, powerful organization that trained him. But it's dangerous to put oneself in the crosshairs of an organization that trains assassins. Zach soon finds himself on the run, not sure who to trust, and in grave danger. 

I Am the Traitor, like the other books in the series, is a fast-paced read. Looking back, I find that only flagged one passage (in which Howard lends some mild humor to Zach's more somber outlook). The very definition of a page-turner, complete with twists and turns. I Am the Traitor is a bit like a lower-key a James Bond movie, complete with a sex scene and several murders (though largely committed in self-defense). Zadoff does give readers some opportunity to analyze Zach's character, particularly through his interactions with his nemesis, Mike. But his actions generally speak louder than his words. 

People who have enjoyed the previous two books will definitely want to read I Am the Traitor. Zadoff provides a satisfying ending to The Unknown Assassin trilogy, one that stays true to the darkness of the earlier books. (Don't expect hugs and roses.) For those who have not read the previous two books, you really must read them before reading I Am the Traitor - I don't think it will even make sense otherwise. I recommend this series to thriller fans who can handle a moderate body count, and find the idea of a teenage assassin intriguing (some, clearly, will find this idea disturbing instead). Personally, I enjoyed this series, and look forward to seeing what Zadoff will write next.  

Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers (@LBKids)
Publication Date: June 9, 2015
Source of Book: Advance digital 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 Edge of Forever: Melissa E. Hurst

Book: The Edge of Forever
Author: Melissa E. Hurst
Pages: 256
Age Range: 12 and up

The Edge of Forever by Melissa E. Hurst is a young adult novel told in the alternating viewpoints of a boy from 2146 "New Denver", Colorado and a girl from 2013 small town Georgia.

Bridger is a cadet for the Department of Temporal Affairs, an organization that uses time travel to visit and videotape historical events, creating immersion videos for the general population (only a select few are genetically able to perform the time travel). When Bridger receives a message left by his recently deceased father, he sets out on a quest to find a girl named Alora, from 2013.

Alora has lived in Georgia with her aunt since she was six, and has only a few fragmented memories of her parents. She's newly attending public high school, after being homeschooled, and is having difficulty adjusting, as well as difficulty with a stalker-ish boy. There are mysteries around Alora's parentage (which Alora and Bridger are both trying to solve) as well as suspense around the fact that Bridger, in the future, has seen Alora's July, 2013 obituary. 

I found the mysteries about Alora intriguing, and I also found her to be an engaging character. She ends up telling her aunt quite a few lies, but she regrets it every time. Her interpersonal struggles at school felt mainly realistic (though I found her nemesis, Trevor, to be a bit over the top). And I found her weakness for sweets charming.

I was a bit less taken with Bridger, who regularly has to take "Calmer" to keep himself from "wilding out", and who hates his admittedly not very nice mother. Here's a scene in which Bridger encounters some "Purists", people who don't approve of the genetic modifications that allow time travel (and other things):

"Like I said, the Purists are a bunch of idiots.

I stand in front of the museum for a few moments... A group of tourists are standing on the rear porch listening to a lecture given by a pudgy, balding man. I don't understand how they're staying awake."

He has better moments, of course, but I preferred Alora. Still, the alternating viewpoints add to the suspense of the story - we can leave one narrator at a cliffhanger, and return to the other. We know from Bridger that Alora is due to die soon, but Alora, of course, doesn't know that. Each chapter lists the narrator and the date at the top, to help readers keep things straight. I sometimes have trouble keeping track of who is speaking in books with alternating narrators, but I had no problem like that here. Bridger and Alora, and their voices, are quite distinct. 

Ultimately, it was figuring out what was going on with Alora that kept me reading, and will bring me back for what must be (at least) a Book 2. Hurst answers the main questions about Alora in The Edge of Forever, but opens up new ones in the book's final scenes. Although there are some scenes set in 2146, this first book, at least, takes place mainly in 2013, and is more about relationships than technology. Still, I think that fans of time travel stories will enjoy this one. Recommended for ages 12 and up. 

Publisher:  Sky Pony Press
Publication Date: June 2, 2015
Source of Book: Advanced digital review copy 

© 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).