Author: Katherine Howe
When girls at an elite Boston-area private school start falling victim to a wide range of physical and mental ailments, senior Colleen Rowley doesn’t pay much attention at first. It quickly becomes apparent that school administrators and local health officials are at a loss for what is causing the crisis, and when the media catches wind of the situation, chaos descends on the suburban town of Danvers, Massachusetts. Colleen and her friends are busy obsessing over college admissions, last-minute interviews, and so on, but when she gets anonymous texts urging her to look closer, she does.
Conversion was published a couple of years ago. I had heard lots of buzz at the time, but didn’t get around to reading it until now, and I’m glad I finally did. It’s smart and sophisticated. Howe tells two stories simultaneously. The main story is told from Colleen’s point of view, which lends itself to a certain sense of claustrophobia and confusion. After all, as a teen she’s not privvy to official meetings, reports, etc. Interspersed throughout the book are sections of a story narrated by Ann Putnam in 1706, recounting her role in the events that led to the Salem Witch Trials years earlier.
As people speculate about the mystery disease – environmental? reaction to a vaccine? academics-induced hysteria? – Colleen begins to notice parallels between the present and the events of 300 years earlier. After all, Danvers used to be called Salem Village. About halfway through, I wasn’t sure if I was reading a horror novel, a medical mystery, or an indictment of the contemporary college arms-race. It’s all of the above and more, deliciously creepy and compulsive reading at its best.
–Lisa, teen librarian
Title: Once Was a Time
Author: Leila Sales
It’s 1940 in Britain, and ten-year-old Kitty and Lottie are best friends. Kitty is somewhat smothered by her protective parents, and Lottie is left to her own devices after her mother leaves. Her scientist father is consumed by his work for the government, and he pays no attention to his children at home – not that he’s ever home in the first place. So the girls have each other, and as far as they’re concerned, that’s perfect. But the Germans are after Lottie’s father’s project, which has to do with time travel, and through a terrible twist of fate Lottie winds up in Wisconsin in 2013 – leaving Kitty behind.
Lottie is stranded and alone, and over the next several years she manages to make a new life with her foster family in small-town America, but her one goal in life is to return to Kitty.
The book is roughly divided into three sections: Before, in 1940s England, where the stage is set. Then there’s Lottie’s immediate arrival in Wisconsin and getting her settled. And finally, the story picks up again as she is finishing up high school.
I was a little confused when I started reading and the girls were ten because I know (and love) Leila Sales as a YA author. I suppose this is technically a middle grade novel; however, there’s nothing to say older kids wouldn’t enjoy the story, particularly since Lottie grows up over the course of the book.
There’s an old-fashioned feel to the story – time travel! orphans having adventures! – but there are contemporary issues too, most notably Lottie’s detour into Mean Girl land and a potential romance. The main theme, though, is love and the power of friendship. Lottie never stops looking for a way back to her best friend, and if someone was crying by the end of the book, well, I guess my allergies were just terrible that day…..
–Lisa, Teen Librarian
Title: I Am Princess X
Author: Cherie Priest
Libby and May met in fifth grade and soon became best friends, bonding over a comic they created together. May wrote the stories and Libby drew the pictures for Princess X, a sword-carrying, Chucks-wearing, crime-fighting princess. They were best friends right up to the moment when Libby died. In a terrible accident, Libby’s mom drove off a bridge, and Libby’s body washed up down the river days later.
Years pass, and May is shocked to stumble upon Princess X once again. There’s an online comic, merchandise, a whole fan base. The thing is, she and Libby were the only two people who knew about Princess X. Did somebody somehow discover their old creations? Can Libby possibly be alive?
May looks a little closer and realizes there are clues hidden within the comics. With the help of her computer-geek neighbor Patrick, she starts investigating online and irl. They quickly discover that they aren’t the only ones looking for Princess X – and that the other person will stop at nothing to unravel the mystery.
This is Cherie Priest’s first YA novel, but she’s probably a familiar name to older teen readers of speculative fiction. There’s no science fiction or fantasy going on here except within the Princess X comic. What we have is a great story about friendship, and the lengths someone will go to in order to help a friend. There’s plenty of suspense, and watching May untangle the clues within the comic is very cool. Pages of the comic itself are interspersed within the novel, so the reader can see exactly what May sees. Finally, a case could be made for considering Seattle as another character in the book. I was not surprised to learn that Priest had lived there because the city is presented in great and loving detail.
P.S. How awesome is that cover design? It took me a second to realize it wasn’t just a photo of a sticker.
-Lisa, Teen Librarian
Title: Silver in the Blood
Author: Jessica Day George
Dacia and Lou are cousins and best friends. Dacia is bold and outgoing, while Lou is more cautious and not remotely a thrill-seeker. The two are very close, though, and depend on each other for love and support. The book begins as they are traveling separately from Gilded Age Manhattan to their mothers’ ancestral home in Romania. Dacia and her chaperone arrive in Bucharest under a certain cloud of scandal because of her shenanigans in England, and Lou arrives soon after with her mother, father, and twin brothers.
All sorts of mystery surrounds the family’s plans for introducing the girls to their shared heritage, and the girls quickly realize that All Is Not As It Seems with their Romanian relatives.
The narrative switches perspective between the two young women, and there are letters, diary entries, and telegrams interspersed throughout the text. The girls start out as pawns in a larger story, but wind up taking control of their shared destiny. This is a sprawling story with loads of characters to keep track of, but everything ties together so neatly. Mystery! Magic! Romance! Yum!
I’m pretty sure I’ve read everything Jessica Day George has written. I’d be surprised if there’s a book of hers that has escaped me, whether YA or middle grade. This one steps out of the retold fairytales trope (Twelve Dancing Princesses, Cinderella, etc) that she has used in her previous YA books and shifts sideways into retold fantasy trope. I’m being cagy to avoid spoilers, but All Shall Be Revealed should you choose to read Silver in the Blood.
P.S. I love this cover! It’s a real throwback to the gothic romances of the sixties and early seventies.
–Lisa, Teen Librarian
Title: The Kidney Hypothetical, or How to Ruin Your Life in Seven Days
Author: Lisa Yee
Higgs Boson Bing (yes, he was named for the God particle) has seven days left of his perfect high school career. Debate team captain, prom king, track team, co-valedictorian, early admission to Harvard, and a perfect girlfriend. Well, maybe not perfect because she’s not super-smart, but she’s super-hot and they make the perfect couple. Anyhow, he’s got seven days left. What could go wrong? And then his girlfriend asks a silly question, “Would you donate a kidney to me?” It’s a simple question, but Higgs gets it wrong.
In a cascading series of events, he is soon girlfriendless, then friendless, then the laughingstock of the entire school, and even his acceptance to Harvard comes under fire as someone launches a deliberate campaign to ruin his life.
Higgs is forced to question exactly what all his superficial achievements mean, and who they were really for in the funny, thoughtful Kidney Hypothetical by Lisa Yee.
Title: An Ember in the Ashes
Author: Sabaa Tahir
An Ember in the Ashes is an epic story. It’s Game of Thrones set in the Roman Empire. The story is narrated in turn by Laia and Elias. Laia is a slave and Elias is a soldier, but no one is truly free in the Martial Empire.
When Laia’s brother was taken by soldiers, she went to the Resistance and offered her services in exchange for their help in freeing him. She risks her life daily as a slave, a spy, and a saboteur in Blackcliff Military Academy.
Elias is one of the elite. trained from an early age at the Academy. Elias wants only to be free of the tyranny he’s being trained to enforce, but in the Empire, defiance means death.
An Ember in the Ashes is a first novel that is bold, thought-provoking, and pulse-pounding. Book two, A Torch Against the Night, comes out August 2016.
Title: Most Dangerous: Daniel Ellsberg and the Secret History of the Vietnam War
Author: Steve Sheinkin
Before Edward Snowden and Julian Assange, there was Daniel Ellsberg.
Ellsberg was a Harvard grad, ex-Marine, and staunch cold warrior. He spent seven years as a Washington insider at think tanks and the Pentagon, analyzing the Vietnam War.
Most Dangerous by Steve Sheinkin tells how Ellsberg grew to realize that the U.S. presence in Vietnam was built on a breath-taking series of lies and omissions; how he secretly and illegally copied the Pentagon Papers and gave them to the media; and how this eventually led to Watergate, Richard Nixon’s resignation, and the end of the war.
It’s an action-packed page-turner, and it’s all real!