American Street – Ibi Zoboi

death, diversity in YA, families, Female Leads, gay characters

Fabiola Toussaint and her mother are traveling from Haiti to America to join her aunt and cousins, but when Fabiola’s mother is held back by customs, Fabiola joins her cousins and aunt alone.  In Detroit, a city much different that Haiti, Fabiola tries to remember her mother’s guidance in a city where everything is different, her cousins act older than they should, and a mysterious stranger seems to be sending Fabiola messages.

She wants to gain her mother’s freedom, but without money or knowing how to find her once she’s been sent to New Jersey, Fabiola must turn to her cousins and friends in this new city.  Among them is Kasim, the cute boy who seems to prefer Fabiola’s natural hair and Haitian accent over the makeover and slang her cousins give and teach.  Only when a detective approaches Fabiola to assist them in a previous crime and offer to help her with the immigration process for her mother must Fabiola decide which family is more important: the life with her mother or the new love and family she has found with her cousins and Kasim.

It is often a difficult balance in trying to portray a group of people without falling into stereotypical traps in language or behavior, but this is a nice balance offered by Zoboi.  Fab’s cousins are mostly American in behavior and pretend to be strong, but when faced with challenges and fear, they fall into each other with the vulnerability that is only protected in the safely of siblings.  Stereotypes and strengths are gone and we see four young females from a different country trying to survive in a cruel world when they get swept up in greed and a new way of survival.

Fabiola’s experience with family, neighborhood criminals, her Haitian culture, and the need of her mother still detained by Immigration officials makes for a unique story of life in America, but be warned – drugs, crime, sex, death, and cussing.  Still, Fabiola (as well as some other finely created female characters) is smart, strong, and brave.  This is a new story, a strong story, and one worth sharing.

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Three Dark Crowns – Kendare Blake (Three Dark Crowns #1)

Action, alternating narration, families, Fantasy, Female Leads, Series

The first of the series with the same title, the story begins with three queen sister (triplets) each facing the ceremony on their 16th birthday in which will not only validate their power, but will begin the time period where they should – and are expected to – kill the other sisters so she may be the true queen.

Each generation produces triplet sisters, all holding different magical abilities.   Mirabella can control the elements, Kat (Katherine) is a poisoner and can ingest any poisons and survive, and Arsinoe is a naturalist who can control all things in nature.  Each sister remembers a time before separated from her sisters, a time in which sister’s love was strong.  Only now, each has advisers who not only prepare their queen  for the fight ahead, but encourage murder for their queen’s survival.

As for the sisters, their ambition is only challenged with the memory of sisterhood.  With suitors approaching all three girls as if the prize is marriage, they learn power is both isolating and, at times, unwanted.  Each sister wants to be Queen, but the only way to become Queen is to eventually kill the other two sisters during the Ascension year.  Each sister also has her strengths and weaknesses whether it is confidence, skill, or beauty. As suitors and servants provide allies and comfort (and many bears play a part), Mirabella, Kat, and Arsinoe also learn that they can be enemies too.

This story has lots of fantasy elements and some action, but at times I found it difficult to remember which sister was friends with other side characters and even how to balance the lives of the side characters when learning of their parentage.  One great aspect is the growth they face by the end of this installment: one who was weak is strong, one who was confident is shaken, and one who felt powerless has a newfound power.  Once I could follow who was supporting which sister, the night of the reunion was soon and the Quickening to begin the year of ‘try to kill your sisters so that you can be Queen’ was happening.  So a bit confusing at first, but with some solid action at the end – and a cliffhanger of course!


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September 2017

Going Rogue (Also Known As #2) – Robin Benway

Action, Best "best friends", families, Female Leads, love, Middle Grade Romance, Safe Bets, Series, spies, Young Readers

In this second novel of the Also Known As series focused on the average family out the outside, super spies on the inside, we find 16-year-old Maggie in a good place.  She still loves living in New York, her best friend Roux, and her boyfriend Jesse.  She has great parents (spies) and a friend-uncle (also a spy) and her skills at opening safes are amazingly honed.

……. and of course that can’t last…….

Soon her parents are facing false accusations of stealing and Maggie must face her next challenge without them.  Don’t worry for our girl though, she’s a quick thinker and has a new team to help her.  This tale takes us to Paris, a new twist with the Collective, and also the typical high school challenges that Maggie, Roux, and Jesse face – as well as the secret world that awaits our favorite spy family.  Maggie is a little more experienced than the first novel and faces more grown up issues once she is on her own.  However, she is still a character with heart who puts the protection of her friends and family above her own.

It’s a safe series that keeps the reader’s attention.  Roux is, thankfully, a voice of realism and sarcasm and even she finds some happiness and acceptance in this sequel.  The intrigue continues not only throughout this book, but enough that I will continue with the series (as soon as there is word on Book #3, which there isn’t as of today).  It’s funny, smart, loyal, and adds adventure and mystery.

Spontaneous – Aaron Starmer

Best "best friends", Books Worth Crying Over, death, families, Female Leads, gay characters, love

Right when I think, “Where can YA books go next?  What will make a dystopia or a realistic fiction different?” I find my answer in Spontaneous: spontaneous combustion.

Yep, it’s just a normal day at high school when a student explodes in pre-calculus.  At first what seems an odd, freak accident causes everyone to pause and grieve for their loss when *kapow* (my words, not Starmer’s) another student explodes, splattering himself and blood all over classmates.  The FBI comes to investigate, but for Mara, she’d rather not try and figure out why this is happening, but wants to deny it – first with drugs, later with a boy named Dylan.  Through the year, an FBI investigation, a hashtag led night of vandalism, someone exploding in front of the [female] president, a brief reprise from spontaneous combustion, the senior class seems to survive with only the occasional explosion.  Mara’s focus on survival is set more on her best friend, Tess, and a new boyfriend, Dylan, who has a dangerous past. I’m not sure how teenagers exploding can still have a humorous tone, but this story does.  It also has a much deeper message behind the obvious plot.  From a recovering PTSD war verteran teacher to misfit teenagers finding common ground in their situation.  In the end differences are not what matter, but their common humanity does.

In a vulgar, ludicrous (often over-the-top with language or descriptions) storytelling, the heart of the story is exposed at the very end, on a prom night when the surviving senior class members all feel, and admit, they are to blame for the Covington Curse.  In reality, they are not, but isn’t that how teenagers internalize a problem?  By trying to explain both their role in an unfortunate experience and the reason why, they are lost and hurting. So while the premise is a bit over-the-top, the deep message of the story is as simple as it can be: love, loss, friendship, healing.  I’m not alone in praise, it’s in the works to be made into a movie.

In the end, I loved this for creativity and honesty with loss and coping mechanisms, even the unhealthy ones.  Self importance, grief, and anger are explained in a perfect teenage mind (Mara sometimes tries to trick the reader or asks us, taking a pause from the storyline, what we believe).  There are unanswered questions by the end, but Mara’s coping, growth, and hope at the end makes me happier than any answer.

Life is rough and we love, learn, grow.  People who like to read about a heartbreak and coping along the lines of Untwine, The Fault in Our Stars, and All the Bright Places, will find a sweet love story among best friends even among the bloody explosions.

“I am the same.  Through all this shit, I haven’t changed.  Not really. I love my parents.  I love my best friend.  I am capable of so much love.  Even if I am capable of so many other dark and strange feelings.  Maybe because of that fact.  I have thoughts.  I have opinions.  I have emotions that run the gamut.  They come on all of a sudden, and I will feel guilty about some of them, sure.  I will try to be better, of course.  But I can’t will it all away.  These things are me.” (page 347)

“I will do  more with the time I have but not because I’m afraid that the time I have is limited.  It may be a lot longer than I could ever expect, and I sure as hell don’t want to waste it brooding and worrying about my every little thought.” (page 351)

Final thoughts which leave me struggling about the book as whole for knowing your audience before recommending:

I’d be hesitant to recommend it to younger YA readers*.

The ending and last paragraph about sitting out the sunset made me cry.

A great book and a lesson how how to shape your overall outlook on life.


*I’m not a prude, but be wary of this one for language and a page and 1/2 sex scene.  Though I appreciate Starmer’s writing about safe sex with birth control and condom use, words typically avoided in YA books.

The Midnight Star (The Young Elites #3) – Marie Lu

Action, alternating narration, death, diversity in YA, Fantasy, Favorites, Female Leads, gay characters, Series

Three different groups of people continue to fight for power and their desire to be the one ruler in the final installment following  The Young Elites and The Rose Society.

Adelina is where she wants to be after the first two installments of this trilogy and that is as the White Wolf ruler.  She has reversed all prejudice and killings of the marked (those with powers) and has reversed the hatred she and her people faced and now in pure revenge fashion, aims it towards her former perpetrators.  She, along with her Rose Society of warriors, ensures that all marked (those formerly dubbed the ‘malfettos’) are respected in society. Her anger, and the voices in her head, make her self-conscious, paranoid, and cruel.

A few countries away her sister Violetta’s health is failing and a  prediction given earlier that the Elites will lose their powers and die seems to be coming true.  Violetta is protected by a powerful group of Elites – the same group that used to work with Adelina.  The Daggers know Adelina has gone off the deep end with her quest for revenge. They are another group vying for power.

Then there is Queen Maeve, one of the best female characters since Lady Macbeth, who harbors the two men that she brought back from death – and not with their former humanity.  Enzo, the former Malfetto Prince is still as powerful, but will kill more easily and Maeve must realize that her youngest brother, the one she always protected, is now more harmful than she realized.  Better think twice before bringing people back from the Underworld.  So Maeve, her soldiers, and her half-dead violent men are the third group.

Soon all sides collide in a battle of skill, power, and death.  People are captured by the other side and no one seems safe from each other or from the new threat they all face as marked malfettos, but a larger issue faces the powerful marked leaders: they are losing their powers.  A prophecy that was shared in the second book of the series seems to be coming true and now these strong leaders and enemies must come together for their own survival.  As battles continue, more people die (seriously – it’s like a Game of Thrones season), we wonder who will survive, who will retain power, and who will be the last leader standing. As the Elites travel to find the Gods and into the Underworld in order to learn why their powers lessen, more die on their journey.  This is a conclusion to the series that was focused on power and ruling an empire, but resolves in characters finding forgiveness, peace, love, and loyalty.

All in all after a violent, power hungry series, the Elites all finish mostly happily – if they were lucky enough to survive – and it’s a sweet ending, full circle all the way.

Faceless – Alyssa B. Sheinmel

Books Worth Crying Over, families, Favorites, Female Leads

Maisie, on a morning jog, becomes the victim of a freak accident.  Lightening strikes a tree causing a large branch to fall on electrical wires and Maisie is severely burned.  She does not remember the event, but wakes in the hospital after being in a medically induced coma.  Before the accident she was looking forward to Junior Prom, her jogs, and trying to ignore her fighting parents.  Now, waking months after the accident her injuries are worse than 3rd degree burns.  With half of her face gone, bones missing, and bandages along the left side of her body, Maisie’s life is altered forever.

With the possibility of a partial face transplant, Maisie must face (no pun intended) if moving on means moving on without the face she has known.  Can she return to her old life, but with a new face?  The transplant would possibly allow her to smell, taste, and feel the skin on her face, which is what she wants, but the thought of someone else’s face staring back in a reflection might be more difficult than healing physically.

As Maisie struggles to adjust both in the new flesh and immerse herself back into the high school setting, she begins a dangerous self-medication, or rather not-medicating.  On top of her own thoughts, she also overhears the opinions of her classmates and boyfriend Chirag who are struggling with the “new” Maisie as well.  As physical therapy continues, Maisie also goes to a support group with people coping with their physical ailments.  There she meets Adam who never knew the “old” Maisie.  And in Group, Maisie finally finds people who can understand what she is going through.

“You have to learn to love yourself before you can love someone else. Because it’s only when we love ourselves that we feel worthy of someone else’s love.”

The struggles, insecurities, and anger are truthful and beautifully written.  Maisie’s inner thoughts are honest and real, even once she has finished mourning her loss.  She has a few moments when she is able to joke and laugh again.  The process of healing (or even not healing) is long and different for everyone (as shown by people in her support group) and Sheinmel covers it with care, respect, and realistically.  With the whole last section focused on processing information, it being OK to be angry, resentfulness, jealous, and mad at the world, there is precious time given to the process of understanding and the psychological aspects of healing.  Maisie constantly refers to her current life as “Maisie 2.0” since she is no longer who she was. But, as the character Adam says, (paraphrasing), life continues to move and experiences shape you, whether old Maisie or 2.0 Maisie were here.  The fact is YOU are here and what will YOU do?

This is a beautiful story.  A top favorite like All The Bright Places.

 

A Mad Wicked Folly – Sharon Biggs Waller

Female Leads, period pieces, Uncategorized

1909, high society London, women only being seen as wives and mothers with their only purpose of keeping house and children in high society….. and then there’s Victoria (Vicky), the independent 17 year old attending art school in Paris who one day poses nude for the men in her class.  Yep, she’s ahead of her time.

After being expelled from school she is shipped back to London in shameful disgrace (from society, not her own) to parents who not only don’t appreciate her artistic talent, but do not appreciate her independence.  Vicky’s struggle to convince her parents to let her go to art school with men quickly connects her to the struggles of the time with suffragettes in Europe wanting the vote.  Will Vicky realize her own dreams for equality to attend art school is the same struggle these women face with voting rights?

“This is why we all fight so hard.  Not just for the vote, but for an equal opportunity in the world.  A vote is a voice.”

Apparently Queen Victoria is quoted as saying the struggle for women’s equality was a ‘mad, wicked folly’.  As for our Vicky, she struggles with choosing a life of freedom and one that is financial stable.  She isn’t vain, but realistic and with the promise of the fiance to allow (I know right, “allow” irks me too) but at the time, the husband or father must allow freedom of the female…. so in allowing her to attend art school, Vicky is in agreement to marry.  When she works with the suffragettes and meets people around town she doesn’t want to be the kept upper crust, society event driven female.  She applies to art school with the help of a new, unpredictable stranger turned friend.

There are so many strong females in this novel.  From Cumberbrunch, the ladies maid who secretly works for the suffragettes, to Lucy (the brazen American), to the wonderful Sylvia Pankhurst and even Vicky’s mom.  Regardless of position or circumstance, these ladies provide many strong characters who fight for equality.

As many do, Vicky must decide which life she wants to live – the one in which life seems easy and laid out for her or the one that is worth fighting for.  This is the story of females fighting for equality.


An added bonus to this novel is there are Author’s Notes about the time period, hunger strikes, Edwardian clothing, and Votes for Women information, but a legitimate bibliography.

Historical Fiction at its finest.

The Incident on the Bridge – Laura McNeal

alternating narration, families, Female Leads

Thisbe was once a studious, if a little shy, high school student.  Not until a summer romance ended did she retreat into herself.  It wasn’t just that the relationship with Clay ended, but how it ended. Then as isolating as first heartbreak often is, Thisbe doesn’t realize the distraction and danger it puts her in as we learn it does on one night on the bridge.  As days go by into Thisbe’s disappearance, her little sister Ted and a new friend in town trying to recover from his own grief pair up to seek the truth concerning Thisbe’s disappearance.

Learning the backstory of Thisbe and Clay’s relationship alternating between the present days that occur after the night Thisbe disappeared, readers are privy to the inside thoughts of many characters, family members who fight for the truth they hope for, school friends who saw Thisbe’s demise, and the police who are trying to piece together different images of the  missing Thisbe.  Then as Thisbe picks up the narration herself, we realize this tale is far more sinister than high school relationships and that her broken heart led to a distracted moment which will change her life forever.

And what about all the people who either passed Thisbe on the bridge or the security officer who looked at her phone to check on her sick baby and missed the incident on the bridge?  This is a great telling of how we all interact and how people affect one another sort of like Gone Girl with a mystery to unwind.  As characters revisit conversations they had with Thisbe, everyone reflects on how people affect one another.  Thisbe herself realizes that her fixation on Clay and her own downward spiraling isolation wasn’t just an inward sulking, but a distraction which led to her not thinking clearly and over all abduction.

This is a shared narrative that is full of action, but more importantly it shows how we all connect and how, in a state of emergency, people can come together despite their guilt, innocence, or confusion.  There is a common goal and in this case it is to find Thisbe.

Inherit Midnight -Kate Kae Myers

Award Nominee, families, Female Leads, Young Readers

Depending on your take – Avery VanDemere either has a privileged life or an unfortunate one.  Being raised by her incredibly wealthy grandmother in her mansion sounds great, but her alcoholic father has been gone for years, her mother is dead, and her extended family resents her presence.  Seeking a little freedom from the confines of mansion walls, Avery begins sneaking out and is soon shipped off to a boarding school, which is more of a prison.

Avery is picked up by the son of her Grandmother’s lawyer with no explanation as to why and taken back to the law firm where all of her extended family awaits.  Avery is not eager to see them and they make no attempt to hide their disdain for her.  After all, they view Avery as the illegitimate daughter of the drunken brother and nanny.  What they all soon learn is that they will begin an adventure of traveling focused on inheritance and legacy.  Their matriarch is not pleased with the selfishness, laziness, unruly behavior of her descendants and now they must compete against one another in order to receive their inheritance.  Among the players are two power hungry uncles, a bully of a cousin, a half brother who she has never had a relationship with, and two self-important female cousins – and Avery.  Her only ally is Riley, the son of the lawyer who picked her up.

As the competitors travel the world, they must remember family stories and histories Grandmother VanDemere has shared over Christmas dinners and brunches.  This is both a test of family heritage and wit, but also a test of strength and resourcefulness.  Besides this new challenge which can keep Avery from returning to a violet boarding school, Avery has also learned that her mother did not die – but was bought off and sent back to Croatia.  With each new challenge she successfully completes, she is rewarded with letters her mother has sent each year on her birthday.  Finding  more about her mother is more important to Avery than and amount of inheritance.  Determined to win the challenge only to escape this  hateful, selfish family and find her mother, Avery plays the game.

Add to the plot – a romance, violence, a secret message, and world travel and it’s worth sharing.  The challenges take the family through such important events in their family’s history as the Civil War, mining for diamonds, and the American Revolution.  The mix of a current, adventurous challenge and a mysterious, personal past is a plot so detailed with secrets and depth, it makes for an entertaining and surprising plot.

Wither – Lauren DeStefano

Dystopian, Fantasy, Female Leads

In a future where science has resulted in men dying at the age of 25 and women at the age of 20, life rules have changed and what is legal has certainly changed. Previous generations tried to create a super-race, but instead have given early death sentences to future generations.

The Gatherers, a group of men who kidnap women to be young brides only to procreate before their deaths and help the human race survive, have captured Rhine.  She now faces a future away from her brother and as a new bride in a house that feels more prison than “starter home.”  Along with her are two other teenagers.  These are her future sister wives.  This is part dystopian and part Mormon family lifestyle.  While their groom Linden seems to actually be considerate, Rhine soon realizes he is in the dark on how the girls were captured and sent to his mansion.  At the patriarchal lead is Linden’s dad Vaughn, who even though he is one of the first generation doctors, there is a sinister side to him and what goes on in the basement of the mansion.  Is he really working on a cure that will let people live past their 20’s?

Rhine must deal with her spoiled captivity and fights against it the full time she’s in the mansion.  Her sister wives are opposites and while young Cecily is eager for the marriage, Jenna approaches this kidnapping as a place to die.  Friendships among the ladies occur, but their differences are always apparent in how much they give in to the marriage and inner resistance.    Rhine wants to escape and must find a way to escape, under the noses of Vaughn and Linden, but also find her way back to her brother.

There’s mystery, love, relationships, and enough questions left unanswered that the series is worth a read.


The Chemical Garder series continues with Fever and Sever