Category Archives: YA Fiction

The Chaos of Now

Finished The Chaos of Now by Erin Jade Lange. I received a copy for review at ALA.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“Is it real if it happens online?

Life at Eli’s high school hasn’t been the same since his classmate Jordan committed suicide after being tirelessly bullied. Schools now have access to students’ online activities and students have less privacy than ever. Eli just wants to graduate—so he can get out of town, get away from his father’s embarrassingly young fiancée, and get himself a prestigious coding job. But Eli’s hacking skills get him roped into a vigilante website that—while subverting the school’s cybersnoops— seeks justice for Jordan and everyone else being bullied. Suddenly Eli finds himself in way over his head as his keystrokes start to have devastating consequences in the real world . . . This timely story from the author of Butter is a thrilling tale about the power of the internet, the young people who wield it, and the fine lines between bully and victim, justice and vengeance.”

I love Erin Jade Lange’s books. They’re compulsively readable and part of it is because the reader is always curious to see how much the narrator will be able to get away with. There is a cinematic quality to them; it’s so easy to picture everything. I’m hoping movies will be coming soon.

This one may be my favorite yet. We all know how awful cyberbullying can be but at the same time, there’s the question of how long it takes until “justice” or “vengeance” becomes a problem in its own rite. Eli and his friends may have started this with the best of intentions but it doesn’t take long for them to be seen as the villains instead of the heroes.

And that’s the thing, really. We all do great and horrible things; we all use words to heal and to destroy. But what action means most? Is it the best thing you do or the worst? Is it it what you do the most or is it just the most recent action?

Either way, Jordan’s suicide is horrific and it’s all through this novel. But no matter what Eli, Seth and Mouse do and no matter who they punish for it, Jordan’s still dead. They’re just adding to the collateral damage. Is that reckoning or just more carnage? There aren’t any answers to this, and the book doesn’t provide them. We all have to decide where we think things should go.

Highly recommended.

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The Geography of Lost Things

Finished The Geography of Lost Things by Jessica Brody. I received a copy for review at ALA.

Summary (from Goodreads):

In this romantic road trip story perfect for fans of Sarah Dessen and Morgan Matson, a teen girl discovers the value of ordinary objects while learning to forgive her absent father.

After Ali’s father passes away, he leaves his one and only prized possession—a 1968 Firebird convertible—to his daughter. But Ali doesn’t plan on keeping it. Not when it reminds her too much of all her father’s unfulfilled promises. So when she finds a buyer three hundred miles up the Pacific coast willing to pay enough money for the car to save her childhood home, Ali can’t wait to get going. Except Ali has no idea how to drive a stick shift. But guess who does?

Ali’s ex-boyfriend, Nico. And Nico has other plans.

He persuades Ali that instead of selling the car, they should “trade up” the items they collect on their trip to eventually reach the monetary amount Ali needs. Agreeing with Nico’s crazy plan, Ali sets off on a unique adventure that is unlike anything she ever could have expected.

And it’s through Ali’s travels, through the strangers she meets and the things that they value—and why they value them—that Ali eventually comes to understand her father and how his life may not have been as easy and carefree as she previously thought. Because just like the seemingly insignificant objects Ali collects, not everything is exactly as it appears.”

I absolutely loved this book.

One of my favorite themes is grief, and this is a unique approach. We all know what it’s like to miss people we love, but I don’t know what it’s like to lose someone you had a complicated relationship with. And Ali’s relationship with her dad is mostly negative. There are positive aspects and memories, but mostly, she remembers him leaving and gone.

This book is an emotional roller coaster. A lot of that is due to the presence of her ex-boyfriend, but she’s also confronting her relationship with her dad. There are a lot of unmet expectations, and that’s always a hard thing to confront.

Like all of Jessica Brody’s books, this is an incredibly fast, fun read. But it’s also very thought provoking. Highly recommended.

The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy

Finished The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy by Mackenzi Lee. I received a copy for review at ALA.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“Felicity Montague is through with pretending she prefers society parties to books about bone setting—or that she’s not smarter than most people she knows, or that she cares about anything more than her dream of becoming a doctor.

A year after an accidentally whirlwind tour of Europe, which she spent evading highwaymen and pirates with her brother Monty, Felicity has returned to England with two goals in mind—avoid the marriage proposal of Callum Doyle, a lovestruck suitor from Edinburgh; and enroll in medical school. However, her intellect and passion will never be enough in the eyes of the administrators, who see men as the sole guardians of science.

But then a small window of hope opens. Doctor Alexander Platt, an eccentric physician that Felicity idolizes, is looking for research assistants, and Felicity is sure that someone as forward thinking as her hero would be willing to take her on. However, Platt is in Germany, preparing to wed Felicity’s estranged childhood friend Johanna. Not only is Felicity reluctant to opening old wounds, she also has no money to make the trip.

Luckily, a mysterious young woman is willing to pay Felicity’s way, so long as she’s allowed to travel with Felicity disguised as her maid. In spite of her suspicions, Felicity agrees, but once the girl’s true motives are revealed, Felicity becomes part of a perilous quest that will lead her from the German countryside to the promenades of Zurich to secrets lurking beneath the Atlantic.”

This is the book we need right now. This is especially the book I need right now. I’m hoping this is only the start of a long chronicle of Felicity Montague’s adventures.

Felicity is brilliant and funny and perfect. (OK, maybe not—she’s very prickly and she has no patience for things and people that are beneath her and frankly, that’s a lot of things and people.) I am in love with her, which is very unfortunate. She’s (a) long dead, (b) far too young for me—and also, I guess, too old, because again, LONG DEAD and (c) fictional.

And this is the story of her quest to become a doctor…which is incredibly difficult because she is (a) a woman and (b) living in a time where women were expected to be pretty and dumb. Things are better now but they’re not where they should be. I wonder if Felicity would be happy or discouraged. (Probably both.)

Highly recommended.

 

The War Outside

Finished The War Outside by Monica Hesse. I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

A novel of conviction, friendship, and betrayal.

It’s 1944, and World War II is raging across Europe and the Pacific. The war seemed far away from Margot in Iowa and Haruko in Colorado–until they were uprooted to dusty Texas, all because of the places their parents once called home: Germany and Japan.

Haruko and Margot meet at the high school in Crystal City, a “family internment camp” for those accused of colluding with the enemy. The teens discover that they are polar opposites in so many ways, except for one that seems to override all the others: the camp is changing them, day by day, and piece by piece. Haruko finds herself consumed by fear for her soldier brother and distrust of her father, who she knows is keeping something from her. And Margot is doing everything she can to keep her family whole as her mother’s health deteriorates and her rational, patriotic father becomes a man who distrusts America and fraternizes with Nazis.

With everything around them falling apart, Margot and Haruko find solace in their growing, secret friendship. But in a prison the government has deemed full of spies, can they trust anyone–even each other?”

This is an incredibly powerful book about a part of the country’s history that is generally glossed over. As most of us know, there were internment camps during World War II for Japanese-American residents. What you may not know (I didn’t) is that some citizens of German descent were also there. And “camps” is a nice way of saying “prisons.” (They weren’t starved and at this particular camp, people were treated fairly well. But it’s still not great and it’s still not something we should be proud of.

Meanwhile, Margot and Haruko. They shouldn’t be friends (each side of the camp distrusts the other) and Margot’s dad is especially awful. (He’s somewhat anti-America, which is understandable seeing as how his adopted country has imprisoned him and his family, but he’s also fairly pro-Nazi.) They also are developing feelings for each other. It’d be dangerous now but is especially bad in the 1940s. And they don’t have any words for what they’re feeling.

Monica Hesse is proving that she’s an author to watch for and I can’t wait for her next book. Recommended.

 

The Good Demon

Finished The Good Demon by Jimmy Cajoleas. I received a copy for review at ALA.

Summary (from Goodreads):

True Detective meets The Exorcist in this gripping YA mystery debut about one girl’s exorcism—and her desperate quest to reunite with her demon

Clare has been miserable since her exorcism. The preacher that rid her of evil didn’t understand that her demon—simply known as Her—was like a sister to Clare. Now, Clare will do almost anything to get Her back. After a chance encounter with the son of the preacher who exorcised her, Clare goes on an adventure through the dark underbelly of her small Southern town, discovering its deep-seated occult roots. As she searches for Her, she must question the fine lines between good and evil, love and hate, and religion and free will. Vivid and sharp, The Good Demon tells the unusual story of friendship amid dark Gothic horror.”

This book. It’s not scary, per se, but it’s very disconcerting. Picture the world’s creepiest town (everything seems fine until you look closer…so Twin Peaks, I guess?) and you have a good idea of the setting here.

We also don’t know who to believe or who’s good and who’s bad. (Although, to be fair, it seems like almost everyone in this book is bad to one degree or another; there’s maybe one character who is legitimately good.

This is even BEFORE the demons come into play.

It’s also very deliberately paced, so come with patience. But it’s worth the effort. (And go in knowing as little as possible.)

Analee, in Real Life

Finished Analee, in Real Life by Janelle Milanes. I received a copy for review at ALA.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“Ever since her mom died three years ago, Analee Echevarria has had trouble saying out loud the weird thoughts that sit in her head. With a best friend who hates her and a dad who’s marrying a yogi she can’t stand, Analee spends most of her time avoiding reality and role-playing as Kiri, the night elf hunter at the center of her favorite online game.

Through Kiri, Analee is able to express everything real-life Analee cannot: her bravery, her strength, her inner warrior. The one thing both Kiri and Analee can’t do, though, is work up the nerve to confess her romantic feelings for Kiri’s partner-in-crime, Xolkar—aka a teen boy named Harris whom Analee has never actually met in person.

So when high school heartthrob Seb Matias asks Analee to pose as his girlfriend in an attempt to make his ex jealous, Analee agrees. Sure, Seb seems kind of obnoxious, but Analee could use some practice connecting with people in real life. In fact, it’d maybe even help her with Harris.

But the more Seb tries to coax Analee out of her comfort zone, the more she starts to wonder if her anxious, invisible self is even ready for the real world. Can Analee figure it all out without losing herself in the process?”

I loved everything about this book. Analee is someone that I couldn’t possibly like more. She’s sarcastic and awesome, but she’s also incredibly shy. If you know her, you know how fantastic she is, but very few people actually know her. (Beyond “that super quiet girl in science” or whatever.)

She’s got a thing for her best guy friend (who she’s never actually met; they talk online) and her real life friendships are…basically non-existent. Her ex-best friend Lily stopped talking to her after she started dating a guy and it also happened to be not too long after Analee’s mom died. This brings us to Analee’s next problem: her dad is about to get married again. Harlow seems nice enough, but that’s me as an adult talking, not someone who still very much misses her mom and cannot understand why her dad fell for someone who’s the exact opposite.

This book is fun but also really thought-provoking. I enjoyed every second. Recommended.

Unclaimed Baggage

Finished Unclaimed Baggage by Jen Doll. I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“Doris—a lone liberal in a conservative small town—has mostly kept to herself since the terrible waterslide incident a few years ago. Nell had to leave behind her best friends, perfect life, and too-good-to-be-true boyfriend in Chicago to move to Alabama. Grant was the star quarterback and epitome of “Mr. Popular” whose drinking problem has all but destroyed his life. What do these three have in common? A summer job working in a store called Unclaimed Baggage cataloging and selling other people’s lost luggage. Together they find that through friendship, they can unpack some of their own emotional baggage and move on into the future.”

This is an incredibly fun read. I think most of us can relate to feeling like an outsider, and if that’s also you, you will love Doris.

All three of them are struggling, though. Nell is in a new town, Grant may well be an alcoholic (those online quizzes indicate yes, but he’s not so sure) but either way, his life is falling apart and again, Doris is a liberal in a conservative, religion-is-the-best-thing-except-maybe-football town.

I love stories about friendship and stories where people are very much out of their element but then they adjust and end up loving where they are. This book has both of those elements (also personal growth). It’s sweet and laugh out loud funny, but there are also heavy topics. It’s a delicate balance but it works very well.

And while you will correctly call a lot of the plot, you’ll still very much enjoy the ride. (Also, at least one thing will catch you very off guard.)

Recommended.

Imposters

Finished Imposters by Scott Westerfeld. I received a copy for review. This is a continuation of his Uglies series, but can also function as a standalone.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“Frey and Rafi are inseparable . . . but very few people have ever seen them together. This is because Frey is Rafi’s double, raised in the shadows of their rich father’s fortress. While Rafi has been taught to charm, Frey has been taught to kill. Frey only exists to protect her sister. There is no other part of her life. Frey has never been out in the world on her own – until her father sends her in Rafi’s place to act as collateral for a dangerous deal. Everyone thinks she’s her sister – but Col, the son of a rival leader, is starting to get close enough to tell the difference. As the stakes grow higher and higher, Frey must decide whether she can trust him – or anyone in her life.”

I haven’t read the Uglies series (although I want to) but I couldn’t possibly love this one any more.

Frey and Rafi are basically two sides of the same coin. Rafi is the ruler’s daughter. She is charming and well-polished and basically whatever you would call a debutante in this world. Frey is a soldier and is there to protect her sister. No one even knows she exists, and she actually handles that dissonance pretty well.

But then she’s sent as collateral. And then things get out of control. And so maybe sending Frey away from home wasn’t her father’s best idea.

This is amazing, and it works as a standalone/start of a new series. There are references to the Uglies series, but it doesn’t make this one hard to read or understand. I think the experience would’ve been a little richer if I caught the references, but it didn’t make Impostors hard to follow.

Highly recommended.

A Room Away From the Wolves

Finished A Room Away From the Wolves by Nova Ren Suma. I received a copy for review at ALA.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“Bina has never forgotten the time she and her mother ran away from home. Her mother promised they would hitchhike to the city to escape Bina’s cruel father and start over. But before they could even leave town, Bina had a new stepfather and two new stepsisters, and a humming sense of betrayal pulling apart the bond with her mother—a bond Bina thought was unbreakable.

Eight years later, after too many lies and with trouble on her heels, Bina finds herself on the side of the road again, the city of her dreams calling for her. She has an old suitcase, a fresh black eye, and a room waiting for her at Catherine House, a young women’s residence in Greenwich Village with a tragic history, a vow of confidentiality, and dark, magical secrets. There, Bina is drawn to her enigmatic downstairs neighbor Monet, a girl who is equal parts intriguing and dangerous. As Bina’s lease begins to run out, and nightmare and memory get tangled, she will be forced to face the terrible truth of why she’s come to Catherine House and what it will take for her to leave…”

Oh, this book. This gorgeous, heartbreaking book. It becomes increasingly obvious what’s going on (and it starts fairly early in), but I kept hoping I was misinterpreting it.

I haven’t read most of Nova Ren Suma’s books (only this one and The Walls Around Us) and I am again angry at myself for not reading her backlist now.

This is a hard book to recommend because it’s a lot more character-driven than it is plot-driven and I know that this is a book that most people won’t appreciate. But if you enjoy creepy stories (and this is the season for it!) and sad girls, this is for you. It was definitely for me.

Highly recommended.

All the Things That Could Go Wrong

Finished All the Things That Could Go Wrong by Stewart Foster. I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

There are two sides to every story. 

Alex’s OCD is so severe that some days it is difficult for him to even leave his house. His classmate Dan is so angry that he lashes out at the easiest target he can find at school-Alex. When their moms arrange for the two classmates to spend time together over winter break, it seems like a recipe for certain disaster…until it isn’t.

Once forced together these two sworn enemies discover that there is much more to each of them than they ever knew. Alex is so much more than his condition, and Dan is more than just an angry bully.”

This is such an important story. It’s easy to have compassion for Alex, but this also helps the reader have compassion for Dan. Yes, he’s a jerk. But there’s so much going on with his life that it’s easy to understand why he’s so awful. (Also, he gets better and I’m a huge fan of personal growth.)

But Alex’s story is still the better (and more heartbreaking) one. I can’t imagine having OCD and just seeing how Alex knew how disordered his thoughts were and he knew things weren’t the way he perceived them. Even so, he was still powerless to stop obsessing about things.

This book would be a great tool to help young readers cultivate empathy. It could help people understand exactly why Alex is so unusual and also why Dan is so mean a lot of the time.

Recommended.