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!
Title: Carry On
Author: Rainbow Rowell
In 2013, Rainbow Rowell published Fangirl, a book about Cath, a young woman who is deeply immersed in the Simon Snow book series she’s grown up with. In fact, Cath is famous for the vast quantities of fan fiction she has written about her 2 favorite characters, Simon and Baz. Simon, by the way, shares many similarities with Harry Potter, and Baz might remind many people of Draco Malfoy.
Anyhow, Fangirl was about a girl writing about a book series that didn’t really exist, but Rowell kept thinking about that fictional world within her fictional world, and about all the Chosen One stories – from Lord of the Rings to Star Wars and Harry Potter – and she decided to write her own. Carry On is the result, and it’s about Simon Snow, the worst Chosen One who’s ever been chosen.
Title: The Boy in the Black Suit
Author: Jason Reynolds
According to NPR, The Boy in the Black Suit is a beautifully real approach to grief.*
Seventeen-year-old Matt is trying to figure out how to go on living after his mother dies of cancer. It’s a small, slice-of-life kind of book and it’s not a unique story, but the writing is terrific. This is only Jason Reynolds’s second book, and he effortlessly captures Matt’s voice and all the little details that illustrate Matt’s home and life in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn.
As Matt’s father falls apart, Matt gets an after-school job at the local funeral parlor. It might seem like a strange choice for someone whose mother just died, but seeing the rituals of death and the expressions of emotion from all the mourners allows Matt to figure out his own feelings.
This is a short, powerful, and ultimately uplifting story.
*I would never reference NPR when booktalking to teens! Clearly this was booktalked to an adult audience.