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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Edgewater by Courtney Sheinmel
Amulet Books, 2015, 317 pp., $17.95
Non-Traditional Families/Fiction/ Self Discovery/Family
Seventeen-year-old Lorrie and her sister Suzanne are living the high life courtesy of a trust fund set up by their mother, who left them in the care of their “flaky” Aunt Gigi to run off to Europe with a new boyfriend. But the truth of Lorrie’s life–the dilapidated mansion, the unpaid utility bills, the hidden shame–comes crashing down when she is sent home from her summer equestrian camp due to her account not being paid. Humiliated, Lorrie is determined to confront her Aunt Gigi and take control of her trust fund, but in doing so she unearths more than she bargained for. As the summer reveals past stories, untold love and deceit, Lorrie explores what it means when you let people in and find your own truth.
Sheinmel has created an elegantly written tale of the stories we are told as children, and the truths that we hide from ourselves. Edgewater will pull the reader into Lorrie’s confusion, shame and ultimate “rebirth” as she rewrites the life she has known, and the future she has imagined.
Reviewed by Laura Renzi, West Chester, Pennsylvania
The Fixer by Jennifer Lynn Barnes
Bloomsbury, 2015, 370 pp., $17.99
Politics/Alzheimer’s disease/Teen pregnancy/Mystery/Political thriller
Sixteen-year-old Tess Kendrick lives on a ranch in Montana with her grandfather who has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. When the school finds out that Tess has been skipping school to care for her grandfather, they contact her sister Ivy who forces Tess to move to D.C. with her. Even though Ivy is mysteriously vague about her life in D.C., Tess finds out from the kids at her new school that Ivy is “The Fixer.” When people in D.C. have a problem, Ivy makes the problem go away. When Chief Justice Theodore Marquette suddenly and mysteriously dies, Tess discovers that that her best friend Vivvie’s father may have been involved. Vivvie turns to Tess for help, but when Tess and her school friends uncover secret information, they suddenly find themselves in the middle of a political conspiracy.
Jennifer Lynn Barnes has written a fast-paced political thriller that focuses on friendship, family, and the behind-the-scenes political drama that occurs on “the Hill.” Readers will find themselves on the edge of their seats and staying up late to find out how the twists and turns of this story are resolved.
Reviewed by Kimberly A. Richard, West Hartford, Connecticut
The Rig by Joe Ducie
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015, 320 pp., $16.99
Will Drake is an escape artist. Sentenced to prison for the “crime” of trying to help his dying mother, he’s already escaped from several of the best prisons the world has to offer. That’s why he’s sent to “the Rig,” a maximum-security juvenile prison set on an old oil rig in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, miles from land. But Drake is determined. Though everybody tells him this is one prison he can’t escape from, he knows better. There is always a way out.
Drake tries to keep to himself. From past experience, he knows that his friends end up getting hurt. But he finds himself increasingly drawn to the loyalty, laughter, and bravery of two fellow prisoners, Irene and Tristan. Together, the trio discovers the Rig’s true purpose. The warden and a select group of prison officers are conducting experiments on prisoners, using a specialized substance located on the ocean floor to transform them from ordinary humans to individuals with superhuman powers. But the transformation comes with a horrifying price.
The Rig explores multi-faceted meanings of power, strength, heroism, and friendship. Ducie has written a fast-paced thriller that will keep readers on the edge of their seats, rooting not only for Drake’s willingness to risk his life for freedom but for his fragile faith in friendship as he learns to open his heart to others once again.
Reviewed by Jessica Powers, Livermore, California
Nil Unlocked by Lynne Matson Henry Holt and Company, 2015, 421 pp., $17.99
Random teenagers disappear from their homes only to awaken naked on an island named Nil. They have 365 days to catch a gate and escape the island or die. Seventeen-year-old Skye and her father are searching for the island to prove its existence and her uncle’s stories true. Rives is the current leader on the island. He’s been there for more than 250 days searching for a way off. When Skye finds herself on the island, She and Rives must search for answers to save not only each other but also all of the teens on the island.
With elements that will remind readers of The Maze Runner series, Matson has created an exciting story with a strong female lead, a good mystery, and an excellent science fiction basis. Told from the alternating perspectives of Rives and Skye, Nil Unlocked is an entertaining sci-fi mystery.
Reviewed by Robert Prickett, Winthrop University
Joyride by Anna Banks
Feiwel & Friends, 2015, 278 pp., $17.99
Carly Vega is a studious, hardworking teenager. She lives with her brother because her parents were deported back to Mexico. She craves anonymity. The less people know her, the less people know how desperately she and her brother are working to get their parents back into the United States by any means possible. Arden Moss is a popular teen who loves to cause problems for his dad. He and his father have been at odds ever since a family tragedy. On the surface, their family seems perfect, but their secrets are tearing them apart.
Arden wants Carly’s friendship, but she wants nothing to do with him. Together, can they learn how to find balance between what their families want for them and what they secretly desire for themselves?
Banks has written a fun, surprising novel filled with chemistry, pranks, and secrets. Her writing demonstrates a firm grasp of the realities that families in America face today. Readers will experience how issues like deportation, racism, deceit and lack of communication affect families. Joyride will grab readers’ attention and they will find themselves rooting for Carly and Arden’s relationship.
Reviewed by Kay Lynne Quinones, Plant City, Florida
The Dead Girls of Hysteria Hall by Katie Alender
Point, 2015, 328 pp., $18.99
Horror and Ghost Stories/Suspense/Social Issues/Friendship/Family
Delia Piven has inherited a house from her namesake, her late Aunt Cordelia. After a rough spring with her friends at school, Delia takes a road trip with her family to visit the house. It seems that Aunt Cordelia had many secrets, and so does her house. Readers soon discover that Delia’s new house used to be the Piven Institute for the Care and Correction of Troubled Females, otherwise known as “Hysteria Hall.” Hysteria Hall is haunted, and women from many generations are trapped inside. After a strange late night incident, Delia gets trapped at Hysteria Hall and has to help the ghosts escape the house’s dark spirits before her family and friends end up getting hurt.
Katie Alender has created a witty, engaging, and suspenseful modern-day ghost story with a sharp and strong female protagonist. This book is appropriate for middle and high school students, yet enjoyable for readers of all ages. The relationship conflicts are realistic, and the plot is well paced. Fans of such paranormal stories will be especially excited about this fine addition to young adult literature.
Reviewed by Margaret Ann Robbins, Athens, Georgia
Last Night at the Circle Cinema by Emily Franklin
Carolrhoda Lab, 2015, 193 pp., $18.99
Fiction/Friendship/Social and family issues
Soon to be graduates Livvy, Codman, and Bertucci have forged an impenetrable triangle of friendship. They return to the Circle Cinema–the soon to be condemned movie theater of their adolescence–to spend a final night together before graduation, reminisce on their relationships and mourn the loss of this stage of their lives. Each chapter is narrated by one of the three characters, and as they wander through the dark and mysterious theater, each finds clues that Bertucci has left them. Each clue is designed to drench them in their memories. The eeriness of the Circle, the transition between characters, and the characters’ clever antics create a well-paced mystery. The uniqueness of the characters’ relationships with each other creates a tension that plays a significant role in this, their last night together. As each character’s idiosyncrasies are revealed, readers see the ways in which each handles loss and the avoidance of the true feelings each has toward the others.
This is a nostalgic look at high school friendships and how they can shape our lives. There is an urgency to keep reading because there is always a piece of the puzzle missing from the plot. Readers will feel as though they know the characters but the author expertly withholds information to keep us guessing. In Last Night at the Circle Cinema, Emily Franklin invites readers into the lives of three very close friends. The knowledge gained by the conclusion of this tale is worth the effort.
Reviewed by Kimberly Powers, Hudson, Wisconsin
This Raging Light by Estelle Laure
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015, 277 pp., $17.99
Social and Family Issues/Parental Abandonment/Sibling Care/Friendship/Love/Fiction
Seventeen-year-old Lucille’s mom needs a break after she is attacked by Lucille’s dad, who is then taken away from the family. When her mom fails to return home, Lucille is left alone to care for her nine-year-old sister. Aided by her best friend, Lucille hangs on by a thread as she takes on the responsibilities of running a home and raising a child, as well as finding a job to pay the mounting bills. What she doesn’t need is the distraction of falling in love with her best friend’s brother. But love has its own timetable, and it can’t be ignored, even when it shows up at the most inconvenient times.
Laure delivers a believable story full of heartbreak and hope. The characters are fully formed with all the foibles and flaws of real people. readers will root for Lucille even as they worry over her increasingly failed attempts to balance all of the challenges that constantly threatened to overwhelm her. Laure is not afraid of confronting dark truths, and any reader who has ever experienced a significant traumatic family event will recognize the truth of Lucille’s observations.
Reviewed by Lisa Patrick, Columbus, Ohio