The Way We Fall (Fallen World, 1) -Megan Crewe

Climate Fiction, death, diversity in YA, families, Series

Kaelyn narrates a virus outbreak through her journal entries intended for her former best friend.  Little did she realize beginning a journal-apology would act as a first hand account to an illness that soon begins killing off her friends and neighbors.

What starts with an itch and a cough leads to a hyper-hallucinating fever, with the end result being death.  Soon school is cancelled, and Kaelyn remains in her house with her family.  While her dad is one of the island’s doctors, he cannot explain what is happening.  When the government and the World Health Organization comes to town searching for answers, Kaelyn and her neighbors are left in the dark.  Things go from odd to worse with eventual Quarantine status for those left on the island.

Even though her current circumstances seem out of the ordinary, her friendship struggles are quite ordinary for teenagers.  Kaelyn’s family moved away years ago and only recently returned.  She tries to make new friendships, but is haunted by one from the past.  Her friend Leo who after being best friends for a decade, had a falling out, and now Kaelyn wants to make amends – only, this virus is keeping her on the island and him off.

Soon it’s been months, the island is still under quarantine, and more have gotten sick.  The Mainland isn’t helping other than drop offs by helicopter, but with a recent rogue gang taking things by force, the humanity of Kaelyn’s neighbors begins to disappear as would happen as fear and death increase while supplies decrease.  There’s also a light romance, but the overall focus is the disease and the island.

Being the beginning of a series, I grew tired of it expecting more action and story line progression. I’m a bit curious how the series moves forward once our characters get off of the island (which is the plot of the second), so I may finish this series eventually.


A great science/virus – apocalyptic plot like Life As We Knew It, The Living, Sweet, and H2O and other ClyFi or science conspiracy books.


Series Continues:

Scarlett Undercover – Jennifer Lathiam

Award Nominee, diversity in YA, Female Leads, Young Readers

Scarlett is a Muslim-American, private detective.  Not much past teenage years, she seems to have either insanely good luck or an unprecedented ability of street smarts, an unrealistic ability in observational tendencies (more than the local police), and is very smart and able to defend herself.  In summary – this is a bit far fetched (and that’s before we get to the mystery of a suicide with secrets, relics which hold special power, and the murder of her own father.)

I understand and appreciate the diversity Lathiam offers with a Muslim narrator and her community, but it’s not enough for this book to have my vote for the Arkansas Teen Book Award, which is why I read it.  I enjoyed some of the mystery when we first learned a suicide isn’t all it appears to be and the scrappy little siblings of a pair of friends who have more depth to them then the detective, even though she is older and is the main character.  It’s a light mystery, but mostly far fetched, even if the effort is to bring about minorities in a young adult novel, the plot isn’t enough.  Well done on diversity and a little creativity, but it doesn’t totally deliver.  Or maybe it does for the pre-teen crowd, I was just expecting more.

Although, before you hand it to the preteen crowd, there are deaths within this story besides the suicide or Scarlett’s dad.  Also, there is a strong focus on the Muslim community and Arabic appears throughout – in greetings and mention of prayers – but for such a focus on a devout Muslim family, and a sister named Reem who wears a hijab, I don’t find the name Scarlett fitting with the family.

Daughter of Deep Silence – Carrie Ryan

Female Leads

Frances and Libby are rescued from being lost at sea for seven days, only Libby is dead and Frances’ parents are dead, and hundreds of others are dead after the cruise ship was attacked by gunmen.  This begins so dark and heavy and instantly addictive due to the detailed, clear writing.  Within a few pages – you will be hooked to learn more of France’s story and why the cruise liner was attacked.  As she is looked over by a medic, she finds out two other passengers survived: Senator Wells and his son Grey, the boy she fell in love with on board the cruise ship Persephone.  However, they are telling a lie about what happened to the cruise. 

As you read the story, you learn through flashbacks the events of that night.  You also learn of the great, detailed writing, such as

The bodies “And the blood and the screams and the smell of it all, like overripe peaches stuffed with pennies”

Frances finds news coverage of the Persephone and of the senator and his son being interviewed, but instead of telling the truth they have a different story.  Frances tells Libby’s dad, Cecil, the truth.   In an effort to protect her and investigate why the cruise was attacked, Cecil convinces Frances to pretend to be Libby so that they can stay together.

4 Years Later —– wait, what? 

This is a great revenge mystery like the Embassy Row series and the empowerment Frances feels at finally confronting the past at age 18 is exciting even if a little unrealistic in the timing of inheriting a trust fund, which allows her both the financial freedom and the freedom of being an adult, at the convenient age of 18.  Flashbacks to the night on board reappear throughout the story offering surreal and vivid images, descriptions of fear and witness of death, and detailed imagery that gets pretty dark. (This reminded me a lot of the show “Revenge” which is also a story of a young female planning a revenge for years and having unrealistic training, finances, and luck to achieve her ultimate revenge.

As Frances/Libby returns home for the first time in 4 years, she must pull off appearing as Libby for a fundraiser she hosts for her enemy, Senator Wells.  This provides a pupblic reunion of the only survivors from the disaster years before.   Frances/Libby can bounce from fully trained Libby traits and smile on the surface to full on rage bottled up for the last four years.  She must plan her revenge while playing the part.  And of course, others fall in her wake of revenge and truth seeking.

Besides the mystery, throw in the mix two young, dashing possible as love interests and whether Frances tells them the truth, and it’s a devious plan of revenge and a detailed plot.  Oh, did I mention one of the love interests is Grey – who Frances both wants to be the sweet boy that she knew on the cruise, but also wants to punish as the lying Senator’s son who helped hill her parents and friend.   The other love interest is Shep, Libby’s old boyfriend.   Ether way, a guy will be shocked and hurt, and Francis will have to live with how people suffer due to her plan of revenge. 

This book shows not everything is wrapped up in a bow.  Yet, teenage years are difficult for any young adult and especially for Frances who faced loss, fear, and survival, but must face her quest for revenge and truth while learning if she can ever trust anyone again and let people into her life.  The conspiracy is a good one too.   5 Stars! 

The Naturals – Jennifer Lynn Barnes

Award Nominee, death, families, Female Leads, Series

Cassie is viewed as trouble.  Her dad is across the world and her mother is missing, presumed dead.  Cassie lives with her extended Italian family while her dad is away and one day when a young stranger leaves a business card for the FBI, her usual mundane life has an element of mystery.  This card attracts her interest in that she may finally gain some answers about her mother’s disappearance 5 years ago.

The chapters alternate between Cassie’s life and the narration of a serial killer [be warned, 14 and older].  Cassie is a “natural” a personality type the FBI is searching for of young teenagers with natural abilities – profiler, mind-reader, statistician, emotion-reader.  Now Cassie’s ability, trained by her mother’s influence seems to have a real purpose.  As she goes to D.C. under the ruse of a specialty government school, her FBI training begins, but for Cassie there is always the haunting reminder of her mother’s absence.  Her desire to learn the truth about her mom leads her to join this special group of the FBI, trained by real FBI agents.

Cassie and the four other “naturals” she is being trained alongside focus on their specialties also while trying to deal with typical teenage relationships, crushes, grudges, and confusion. Soon, of course, Cassie’s past and her mother’s death become key elements to a current serial killer’s traits and murders.  When Cassie begins receiving anonymous “gifts” from the killer, the FBI and The Naturals must all hone their abilities and work together to protect Cassie and catch the killer – before the killer gets Cassie.

It ends up being a good mystery and the “Naturals” are all interesting characters with good backstories.  I’m interested in if the series remains as dark as this first one with the plot of a serial killer or if there will be a variety of types of cases.  Also, will Cassie ever get the real answers surrounding her mother’s disappearance?

On a side (and fascination note) Jennifer Barnes is a professor of psychology, has a PhD from Yale, and has advanced degrees in psychology, psychiatry, and cognitive science.  This definitely adds a level of respect to the series and her darker characters.


 

series

Everything Everything – Nicola Yoon

diversity in YA, Favorites, Read-a-Likes

I feel I should apologize for judging a book based on the description – I was sucked into this story so fast I was shocked.  While a ‘bubble girl’ is a bit far fetched, the writing, family, and witty banter between teens is quick and enjoyable.  You can tell it will probably be a fatal romance, but it didn’t keep me from rooting for those early bunt cake jokes between windows between Madeline and Olly: two oddballs, but for different reasons who find a connection.  Maddy is a deep character for many reasons – fatal illness, highly witty and intelligent, biracial, forgiving, and funny.  As she realizes living her life to the fullest, even if it’s a short one, is worth it.  Towards the end she reflects on how her life has been affected by love.

Love.

Love makes people crazy.

Loss of love makes people crazy.

These two are cute.  Not quite so put together as Hazel and Augustus (The Fault in Our Stars) who even though they have hardships with their health, they seem overly self assured at flirting and building a relationship.  Madeline and Olly are awkward.  Madeline questions her outfit to meet him, even though she only owns white shirts and jeans, and Olly, with his parkour, uses the control over his body when he can’t control him home life or Madeline’s illness.

One Madeline’s mom learns that her nurse has let Olly into the house (after decontamination of course), she is livid and fires the nurse, and Madeline is heartbroken.  This leads her to do something drastic and try to live life to the fullest.

————————- Page 264 —————————

From Everything, Everything, we go to “Holy Crap, Holy Crap”  A shocking realization a ‘al We Were Liars (but not for the same reason, obviously) this story begins nearly a new plot right at the end.  Fabulous.

There’s a continued questioning of the infinite and how life moments are connected to lead to our identies, our experiences, and how we become who we are.  As Maddy loses her once held beliefs of other people and must adapt to new truths, she does a perfect amount of teen questioning.  There are a couple of serious downers to this book, but some are realistic enough that it makes for a great story that one’s reality may not always be how it’s perceived, from a mother’s relationship to the lives of neighbors.  Still the little escapism Maddie and Olly find first online and then …….. (avoiding a spoiler)……. are both nicely timed and a happier distraction from the more serious plots of this story.


Read-a-likes: The Fault in Our Stars, All the Bright Places, and any teen love story where someone faces loss.

Deadweather and Sunrise (The Chronicles of Egg) – Geoff Rodkey

Action, Fantasy, Series

Adventure, pirates, mystery, and a girl…… This is an exciting story, the first of the series, about 13 year old Egg (Egbert) who lives with his father and two older, crass and cruel, siblings.  Their father is a fruit plantation owner who employees pirates on a miserably hot island where rude behavior is the norm.  Only when the family goes to Sunrise island (a more civilized city) and Egg meets Millicent does he feel he has found someone to talk to who treats him kindly.

After a freak hot air balloon accident, Egg finds himself without his uncaring and crass family.  For the next few weeks he stays with Millicent and Mr. Pembroke and thinks his life has changed for the better.  Sadly, that is not the case and in a similar feel as the Lemony Snicket series things continue to go from bad to worse for our friend Egg.  From nearly being murdered in a ruse for his land to being a prisoner aboard a pirate ship, Egg finds he is truly alone and must think quickly, act alone, and not trust the various gangs of pirates he’s grown up among.  Once he realizes Pembroke was behind his family’s death, he returns to Sunrise with a new sidekick, the quest to rejoin Millicent and tell her the truth, and to claim his family’s plantation.

This is juvenile adventure and certainly safe for most readers – other than the dead family bit – and the pirate adventure, hidden treasure, and sailing the sea is more adventure than a lost love story (be the lost love from his family or Millicent).  A good time, and probably an entertaining conclusion to the series.

egg.jpg

Defy – Sara B. Larson

Uncategorized

It’s Aria Stark!

Well not really, but Alexa is disguised as a boy after her parents are killed by a sorcerer, village burned, and the army approaches the survivors. Marcel is her twin who quickly cuts off her curls and helps her create her new persona: Alex. (And can I mention how if the army had found Alexa as a girl she would have been sent to the “breeding house” – this book hits upon all of this within the first few pages)

Years later, Alex and Marcel are training as soldiers for Prince Damian. As rebels attack the palace, Alex(a) becomes Prince Damian’s nightly guard – an inconvenience for the female used to being able to dress less confining during the night.  Soon sorcerers return, our trio of main characters are kidnapped, and Alexa’s secret is out.  Sorcerers, secrets, and histories come out a little over half way through the book which left me wondering where this would go – so much so soon!  And the answer is: It went in a WONDERFUL direction.  This plot is more of an adult book so it’s definitely for the older teen (note: breeding houses, death, romance, and the fact that rape occurs in the breeding houses is mentioned numerous times).  Still, very brave and heroic characters, mysteries, and both good and bad sorcerers make characters rethink their belief of good and bad people in their society.

Definitely a “Girl Power” book.

Read more about the series from Sara B. Larson’s blog.


Series Continues: Ignite, Endure

H2O – Virginia Bergin

Uncategorized

h2o

It begins outside of London with a bunch of friends drinking at a party and many in the hot tub.  That’s the most “YA” upper age thing – besides all the blood and death, but know it begins with making out in a hot tub.

An outbreak overseas has made its way to Europe and by the time they realize the disease is in the rain, it is too late.  In a matter of days, Ruby has gone from making out with her crush in a hot tub to traveling alone and no longer remembering how many dead bodies she has seen.  As she begins living fearful of rain, neighbors, and all water those first few days after the first deadly rain, it becomes clear that her village outside of London is alone.  And soon Ruby is alone.

Lots of action, very gory and descriptive.  A great story, but probably best for the older readers of YA due to the violent, bloody, flesh scratching way people die…. and the smell and decay that is mentioned throughout the story.   There are some comical parts – when Ruby uses self tanner by candlelight and her rescue of neighborhood dogs, but there are passages that are borderline science fiction end-of-days and lonely passages of Ruby’s personal thoughts or memories of her mom and baby brother.

Sequel (UK title) – The Storm

All Fall Down: Book One of Embassy Row -Ally Carter

Action, families, Female Leads, revenge, Series

all fall down

Grace is the grand daughter of the American ambassador and has returned to live with her Grandfather 3 years after her mother’s death – a death that only Grace knows the real cause: Murder.  As the only witness, Grace is haunted by her mother’s death, which other’s believe was an accident.  No one believes her – not her grandfather, not the police, not anyone who can help her on Embassy Row.

That is, until she meets some new friends and reunites with another child of Embassy Row. Besides mystery concerning Grace’s mother’s death, is the mystery of the tunnels beneath the city and the men who Grace accidentally comes across and hear’s plan for another killing.  As Grace and her new cohorts, the few who do believe her, explore the city, hack into computers, and follow the man with the scar, one can assume that soon this secret surrounding Grace’s mother’s death will of course include the politicians.  The book, after all, is the beginning of a series called “Embassy Row” so I think our curious international characters will become quite the spy team.

What’s nice about this mystery is the group of friends that comes together, from different countries, of different races, and of different ages.  They speak of Embassies, and of their homes, as the country their parents or grandparents represent, which means we get comical passages like [paraphrasing here] “I look up and I’m in Iran” or ‘I crossed the wall from Canada to Germany’.

There were some twists with who the good guys were verses who the bad guys were and it ends with a little mystery.  This would interest those who like mysteries or conspiracies.

Sequel:  See How They Run

Breathe – Sarah Crossan

Uncategorized

breathe

“Breathing is a right, not a privilege, so I’m stealing it back” –  a great first line.   Oxygen in the atmosphere gone.  Great way to begin!

Our trio of narrators have different experiences living in the Pod where air is available to its citizens- at a cost.  While Alina is a pretty kick-awesome, strong, independent, lead character trying to find a better future out of the Pod, Bea and Quinn are more typical High School students focused on family and friends.  In a world where only Premiums have oxygen on a needed bases, Bea and Alina and their families (Auxiliaries) pay for Oxygen with their taxes, or extra fees when needed.  As you can imagine, life is not easy when the most necessary thing costs money and you are poor and concerned for every breath – such is the life for Bea and her family.  On the other end of this society are the Premiums, the elite, and those who can afford additional oxygen tanks not merely for survival, but for extracurricular activities: jogging, making out, even jubilant laughter – such is the life for Quinn, Bea’s best friend.  Soon Alina, Bea, and Quinn are out of the Pod of society and in the Outlands and the story of how man destroyed trees, the ocean, and led to the lack of oxygen is explained.

Years ago, when the levels of oxygen decreased and the planet nearly died, the population grew desperate as they died off.  As chaos grew, the company Breathe created a lottery for those allowed into Pod to try and survive.  Life is stuck, decades later, still in the Pod under the dome, using Oxygen tanks bought from Breathe and everything – and everyone – outside of it died.  Oxygen is created by those in charge but necessarily bought by everyone.  There are no trees or oceans, or fairness in deciding who gets the tanks.

Of course the struggle for power between Breathe (the company making people dependent on oxygen) and the Resistance (Alina and the rebels who are not only fighting against Breathe, but secretly growing trees in the Outlands) affects our trio quiet personally and they must accept new truths as well as changed relationships. This is another story of a government deciding the restraints and freedoms for its citizens based on a class system [not a big surprise for YA whose readership are mostly teenagers who constantly struggle for more power].  However, an additional power struggle, not focused on in many YA books is mentioned by a fierce, filthy, strong, old woman (a drifter living in the Outlands) who teaches our young female characters a thing or two about courage and love – and equality. Perhaps more YA doesn’t focus on sexism and inequality for fear of being deemed a “girl book”, but Sarah Crossan sneaks in a truth most books, even with the strongest female characters don’t showcase to its underage readers.  (It also doesn’t go unnoticed that two of the narrators are female and there are strong female characters throughout (I’m holding out hope that Quinn’s mom becomes one in the end)).   When Bea comments how nice the freedom must have been back then  – when air was free – Maude Blue takes this moment to school Bea on the reality of life:

 It weren’t that way.  It ain’t never that way.  People is people and greed is greed.  There weren’t never a time of true equality. Women didn’t play in that stadium and get the same crowds as the men…. Freedom and equality is myths, girls.  You should learn that now” (194)

Once the battle between the soldiers and the Resistance is underway, and the aftermath of it, this story – which already has a great pace – really gets exciting.  It reminded me, though not as bold or as heartbreaking, of the action packed chapters of Mockingjay or the final battle in Harry Potter, and since Breathe has a sequel I am sure the future action will only increase…. one can hope it’s as bold in action as it is in taking on climate issues and equality.

Sequel – Resist