With changing colors of fall, we’ve got a bushel of new reviews of recently published young adult titles.
Nyxia by Scott Reintgen
Crown Books for Young Readers, 2017, 384 pp, $ 17.99
Science Fiction/Adventure/Mystery/Social and Family Issues/Relationships
Emmett Atwater is leaving Detroit. He and ten other troubled, desperate teens are also leaving the planet Earth. They have been recruited by the Babel Corporation to participate in a three-year mission that will take them to the planet Eden. All have been promised a great deal of money for their trouble, money that their families need to survive. The trip to and from Eden will take a year. The other year will be spent on Eden mining Nyxia, a substance that has become extremely valuable to humans, because with the proper training, it can be shaped into just about anything. Initially, the ten travelers are not given much information, but they soon discover that they will spend each day of the first year engaged in grueling physical and mental training. In addition, to create a sense of competition, they are told that only eight of them will earn the privilege of landing on Eden and mining the Nyxia. The other two will be given a much smaller sum of money and be immediately transported back to Earth. Many more secrets are revealed throughout this extremely engaging story, and each adds another layer of suspense and intrigue.
Reintgen brings to life more than a dozen diverse and complex characters in Nyxia. As new character secrets and motivations are revealed, readers will find themselves wondering who to root for. The story also develops several themes that teachers and students will find engaging topical discussion. Greed, compromise, corporate versus individual values, and definitions of success and failure are all addressed in thoughtful ways. Certain parallels can be drawn to The Hunger Games trilogy and Lord of the Flies, but Nyxia stands on its own as both a plot and character driven commentary on where our world may be headed if we don’t pay attention.
Reviewed by Bryan Gillis, Kennesaw Georgia
Reign the Earth: The Elementae Series by A.C. Gaughen
Bloomsbury Publishing, 2018, 438pp, $17.99
Family and Culture/War and Power/Romance/Magic
With her clan at war against the Trifectate, seventeen-year-old Shalia agrees to marry Calix, the King of the Trifectate, in the hopes of bringing peace to both lands. A peace agreement through marriage comes with complications. Shalia’s family is a part of the Resistance, and her best friend is an Elementae (someone who controls water, air, fire or earth). As Queen, Shalia has to subdue her husbands’ plot for Elementae extinction, while protecting her family. However, when strange occurrences have Shalia questioning her identity, she wonders if she has the strength to carry her secrets while reigning as Queen.
Gaughen’s gripping plot reveals Shalia’s internal growth as she faces adversity. Gaughen has crafted an action-packed novel with themes of true love, morality, the importance of family, and inner resilience. Follow Shalia, a spectacular protagonist, through the first book of the series as she shows what it means to be a true leader.
Reviewed by Kristen Martinelli, Pompton Lakes, New Jersey
Count All Her Bones by April Henry
Christy Ottaviano Books, Henry Holt and Company, 2017, 227 pp, $17.99
Mystery/Blindness/Family and Peer Relations/Self Defense/Dysfunctional Family Roles
Cheyenne is far from a normal sixteen, “almost seventeen” year old. She was blinded at thirteen by an accident which took her mother’s life, then kidnapped three years later by a psychopath, who from his prison cell masterminds a second kidnapping of her. Further complicating her life is the fact that she is enamored with her kidnapper’s only son. Cheyenne is also not without her own personal flaws. She lies, steals, and starts a minor kitchen fire to escape her protection and protectors in the pursuit of freedom and love. As Cheyenne prepares to testify in court against her captor, she practices self-defense with her female bodyguard, learns to control a self-driving car, and tries to avoid the paparazzi.
Author April Henry refers to this story as a sequel to her 2008 book, Girl, Stolen. Readers who have not read that first incarnation of Cheyenne Wilder are provided with sufficient summary details throughout this book. The minor characters are well developed- Griffin, the love interest, who is also preparing to testify, Jaydra, the bodyguard, who struggles with her own memories of adolescence, and Roy, the psychopathic father of Griffin, who has flawed concepts of loyalty and family. Henry even manages to include two canine characters, Phantom and Duke, who provide companionship to the protagonist when her wealthy family attempts to shield her entirely from the curious in the world.
Reviewed by Rick Williams, Hubbard, Ohio
What Goes Up by Katie Kennedy
Bloomsbury USA Children’s, 2017, 336 pp, $17.99
Science Fiction and Adventure/Survival and Humor
High school juniors Rosa Hayashi and Eddie Toivonen could not have endured more polar opposite upbringings. Rosa’s brilliant parents have set the bar high for her accomplishments while Eddie’s father’s violent transgressions and current jail sentence have created a life of hardship for Eddie. Despite the vastly different worlds Rosa and Eddie call home, their intellect affords them the opportunity to compete for NASA’s Interworlds Agency training program. Following multiple rounds of rigorous testing, both Rosa and Eddie make the cut to be part of IA Team 3, which will prepare them for interactions with other world’s intelligent life.
Team 3 soon learns that gravity flutters, and they begin training to expect the unexpected. Eddie sets out to prove himself in the NASA world after an unannounced appearance from Eddie’s dad nearly jeopardizes Eddie’s credibility in the program. Rosa, Eddie, a backup trainee and their straight-shooter mentor, Reg, are quickly immersed in the chaos that surrounds a gravitational anomaly and unforeseen visitors. They set out into another world to battle something neither NASA scientists, nor Team 3, ever could have anticipated. Action-packed plot twists reveal that what goes up, inevitably, must come down.
Kennedy has crafted a second novel with endearing, witty protagonists both of whom elicit chortle-worthy moments for readers. Fans will find themselves smiling at Rosa’s quips and frustrating experiences as a female in a male dominated science world and laughing out loud at Eddie’s corny attempts to overcome obstacles and lighten the mood. Eddie’s dynamic flaws and Rosa’s savvy and academically on-point observations complement each other well and make this a duo readers will root for.
Reviewed by Megan McCormick, Rochester, New York
Paper Butterflies by Lisa Heathfield
Carolrhoda Lab, 2016, 262pp, $18.99
June’s life is a series of struggles. After her mom dies tragically in a drowning accident, June’s dad remarries and she is forced to live with her dad, stepmother, and stepsister. To the outside world, her stepmother, Kathleen, seems like the caring, doting stepmom, but Kathleen has a dark side that only June and her stepsister, Megan know about. June, whose biological mother was Black, is targeted by Kathleen, whose blond hair and White skin hide something sinister. Forcing June to overeat, holding her head under water, or calling her names are just a few of the abuses that Kathleen inflicts on her stepdaughter. June is not brave enough to tell anybody. She wants to tell, but convinces herself that nobody will believe her.
As June keeps her life at home a secret, she cannot escape the misery. At school, she also encounters bullying. Constantly hassled by classmates, June cannot trust her teachers or the school administrators to help her. When she lashes out at Ryan or Cherry, the ringleaders of the bullying, June is the one to get in trouble. And when she gets in trouble at school, things get even worse at home. She cannot even turn to her dad, who thinks Kathleen is a wonderful person and mother.
Eventually, June finds a friend in a boy named Blister. He and his family become June’s one consolation. Yet, even with Blister, June does not reveal the extent of the abuse she experiences from Kathleen. In Blister, June finally begins to hope for an escape from Kathleen. Keeping Blister secret is one way of keeping this hope hidden so that Kathleen cannot destroy that, too. But what will happen when Kathleen finally discovers June’s secret?
In her beautiful and tragic second novel, Lisa Heathfield captures the hearts of readers with the story of June’s life. Reader’s hearts will break as they read of June’s struggles and inability to seek help. Heathfield’s work explores the emotional pain of child abuse and bullying while allowing readers to experience the loneliness and hopelessness felt by June. As June attempts to create a life outside of the pain, she continues to struggle with finding herself, grieving the loss of her mom (and dad), and being able to forgive.
Reviewed by Shelly Shaffer, Cheney, Washington
On her prom night, Lucy Esther Hansson, preacher’s kid, YouTube makeup star, former competitive pianist, and swim team star, learns that her mother’s cancer has returned and that she is having a double mastectomy. Lucy looks forward to spending the summer with her parents in Holyoke, a Christian summer camp, but her mother tells her that she wants her to work as a counselor at the neighboring camp, Daybreak. At the same time, her supposedly perfect boyfriend tells her that he feels the need to pause their relationship. Lucy agrees to go to Camp Daybreak, but she doesn’t tell her parents about her paused relationship.
When Lucy begins her summer at Daybreak, she is still struggling with leaving her mother, missing the familiarity of Holyoke, being angry with God about her mother’s illness, and feeling uncertain about her newly defined relationship with her boyfriend. She has no idea how much she will learn and love about Daybreak and the people she meets there. Daybreak reveals both secrets and promises to Lucy. Every experience there takes her closer to a better understanding of her family, others. and self.
Emery Lord’s fourth novel is more than a coming-of-age story. Readers will gain insight into how to handle illness, teenage pregnancy, relationships, secrets, and faith. Lord artfully weaves the many threads of Lucy’s discovery of the name they gave us in an engaging and poignant way.
Reviewed by Susan K. Brown, Statesboro, Georgia
Crossing Ebenezer Creek by Tonya Bolden
Bloomsbury, 2017, 227pp, $17.99
Historical Fiction/Emotions and Feelings/Family Relationships
When Mariah is emancipated from her life as a slave on the Chaney place in Georgia, she finds that freedom comes with its own challenges. She dreams of owning and farming her own acre of land as she cares for her younger brother Zeke. In order to obtain her dream, she must march with Union troops to Savannah. On the march, she meets and falls in love with Caleb, and as they get to know each other, they learn the secrets and hurts that the other carries. The most perilous crossing on their route to Savannah is at Ebenezer Creek where anything can happen to colored people on the march.
In this engaging work of historical fiction, Bolden presents the true story of the crossing and betrayal at Ebenezer Creek- a little known piece of Civil War history. Bolden tells both Mariah and Caleb’s story with just enough detail to share the challenges they have faced without being overly graphic. The manner in which the author shares details mirrors both characters’ struggle to give voice to and share their experiences, making it an eloquently written book. Mariah and Caleb’s dreams are those of any contemporary young adult, which will make the story very relatable to today’s readers.
Reviewed by Jennifer S. Dail, Kennesaw, Georgia
Sparrow by Sarah Moon
Arthur A. Levine Books, 2017, 272 pp, $12.91
Realistic Fiction/Emotions and Feelings
Sparrows are not meant to be grounded. They are meant to fly. Sparrow is a 14-year-old girl whose life on the ground is filled with cups of tea, books and her mother. These things provide Sparrow comfort and keep her grounded, but it’s the other challenges of life that cause her to take flight. As a socially reclusive 8th grader, Sparrow spends her lunch periods in the bathroom or on the school roof to avoid the stress of having to navigate kids who she believes will never understand her and really don’t care to get to know the girl with the unkempt ponytail and book who has been weird since kindergarten. Every time Sparrow finds a place to land (aka finds a friend), they leave her. In order to cope, Sparrow becomes a bird to escape her reality choosing instead to soar across New York City with the other birds. When school officials find Sparrow on the school roof close to the edge, everyone including her mother believes Sparrow is preparing to jump. Her secret life as a bird must come out, but how does Sparrow convince everyone, but most importantly her mother, that she is not suicidal and definitely not crazy? Her journey of truth is slow, but steady thanks to her therapist, Dr. Katz, whose patience and use of music allow Sparrow to face the issues causing her to grow wings.
Sarah Moon’s lyrical prose invites readers into Sparrow’s vulnerability and grief by painting a beautiful picture of the introvert and socially maligned teen often shunned in literature. Sparrow and her mother are honest characters and offer a refreshing glimpse into relationships and character types absent from young adult literature.
Reviewed by Keisha Rembert, Plainfield, Illinois
ALAN Picks is a regular book review column compiled and edited by Dr. Bryan Gillis of Kennesaw State University. It features the newest YA titles, reviewed by teachers and librarians. A complete archive of all ALAN picks is available on this page.
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