YA Fiction

LIKE A LOVE SONG by Gabriela Martins

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I received an Advance Reader Copy of this book from the publisher in order to write this review.

It took Natalie years of hard work to win Female Artist of the Year at the People’s Choice Awards. Not just work on her songs, all of which she writes herself, but work on her image. You don’t get the privilege of making art in LA without first cultivating your fame. Natalie hates all of it–from straightening her hair to eliminating every trace of her Brazilian accent–but she understands that it’s necessary.

Unfortunately, Natalie’s People’s Choice experience goes wrong almost immediately. First, an obscure British actor tries to make small talk and ends up implying that Natalie is a shallow diva. Then (and much more disastrously) her boyfriend dumps her–in front of the paparazzi. In the viral Internet firestorm that follows, Natalie realizes there’s only one way to fix this PR nightmare: she needs to distract the press with a new boyfriend. Her PR team draws up the paperwork for a contractual fake-boyfriend–a media stunt to help both their careers. But the sap they choose is the same British actor who insulted her at the People’s Choice Awards. As Natalie and William get to know each other, the initial awkwardness of their arrangement falls away, and Natalie finds herself feeling something more than annoyance toward him. Maybe even something more than friendship. And even more disturbing than the realization that this fake relationship might result in very real heartache, is the realization that William might be right to criticize her PR-focused choices. Is it possible there is another way–a better way–for Natalie to get her songs heard?

The jacket summary of this novel did not prepare me for how grounded, principled, relatable, and frankly inspiring this teen pop star would be. I picked it up thinking I’d just be reading it in order to recommend it to the teens I work with, but I couldn’t put it down because I was personally enthralled by the characters and their love story. Though it is very much within the YA sphere, LIKE A LOVE SONG has crossover appeal for the New Adult audience. I highly recommend this one to fans of RomComs, especially with the fake-dating trope!

Like a Love Song by Gabriela Martins

GEARBREAKERS by Zoe Hana Mikuta

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Sona let the military carve out nearly every human part of her body, replacing them with gears and wires that will allow her to pilot the elite Valkyrie weapons, the mechanized gods that support Godolia’s repressive government regime. But Sona had a reason for joining. Because the only way to bring down a god is from the inside.

Eris knows the only way to bring down a Valkyrie is by getting inside it, taking it apart one gear at a time. But when one of the pilots approaches her, offers to help her bring down Godolia, she hesitates. After all, these mecha pilots are the reason the tyrannical government has been able to persecute and murder her people. And the only thing more dangerous than forming an alliance would be if the elite mecha warrior and the renegade scavenger fall in love…

An inventive, fast-paced YA sci-fi that felt to me like an LGBTQIA+ Pacific Rim x The Force Awakens. This will be a winner with sci-fi fans!

A LESSON IN VENGEANCE by Victoria Lee

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I received an Advance Reader Copy of this book from the publisher in order to write this review.

Dalloway is much the same as Felicity left it nearly a year ago. The floors of the old dorm still creak, and there’s still an aura of mystery from the ancient bones on which the boarding school was built, the witch who was buried alive and the other four witches who perished in equally gruesome but less explicable ways. But this year there’s a new ghost haunting the halls: Felicity’s girlfriend Alex.

In the year that Felicity was away, the doctors at the psychiatric hospital tried to convince her that Alex’s accidental death wasn’t her fault and that magic isn’t real. There is no way that the rituals she and Alex performed could have released the ghost of a witch. She promised the doctors and her mother that if they let her go back to school this year, she wouldn’t dabble in magic and she would choose a new topic for her senior thesis, one that wouldn’t require more research in to the history of the Dalloway witches. But one of her new dorm-mates is Ellis Haley, the eccentric, Pulitzer-winning teen novelist, and Ellis believes that Felicity’s doctors are wrong. The only way for Felicity to come to terms with the past is to face it–to return to the rituals and the study of the witches and to act out their murders–proving once and for all that humans and not evil spirits were the culprits. As Felicity gets sucked back into the dark world she swore she’d left behind, she is forced to face the darkness in the girls around her–and in herself.

This novel walks the line between psychological thriller and horror. (For me, most of the suspense came from the atmosphere and the questionable sanity of the narrator, so it felt more like Kingian horror than a thriller.) Character drives the novel, and though the key reveals weren’t particularly surprising, the suspense and tension are so high throughout that I had trouble putting it down. I’d recommend it to fans of the genre(s), especially readers who enjoyed books like WHEN ALL THE GIRLS ARE SLEEPING by Emily Arsenault.

A Lesson in Vengeance

DEAD WEDNESDAY by Jerry Spinelli

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I received an Advance Reader Copy of this book from the publisher in order to write this review.

Perfect Day.

Worm murmurs it on the bus–not loudly; he’s shy, after all–but soon it’s picked up by the rest of the eighth graders as their mantra and their cheer. It’s the second Wednesday in June, “Dead Wed” in Worm’s small Pennsylvania town, a day that school administrators designed to scare the eighth graders out of future reckless behavior but that every eighth grader knows as the day they can get away with anything. In homeroom, they will each receive a black shirt and a card with the name and picture of a teenager who died in PA last year as a result of preventable car accidents or dangerous stunts–and from that moment, every eighth grader will be “dead.” No teacher can acknowledge their presence, not even to stop them from walking out of school if they feel like it. Perfect Day.

But Worm’s perfect day veers off course almost immediately when the dead girl from his card, Rebecca Finch, starts showing up in real life. He’s the only one who seems to be able to see her or speak to her, although she’s 100% real and tangible. Becca doesn’t know how she ended up back on Earth, but she’s positive it has something to do with Worm. She’s here to save him–because let’s face it, Worm hasn’t really been living. As Mean Monica once announced, he needs to get a life. As Becca drags Worm on an impulsive jaunt around his hometown, Worm starts to realize that there is more than one way to “be bold” and that maybe Becca needs some saving of her own.

This novel is exquisite. It exists somewhere between middle grade and YA, between fantasy and realistic fiction, but the book is full of betweens. Becca is caught between life and death, Worm between middle school and high school, childhood and adulthood, responsibility to his parents and individuality, a desire to be noticed and a desire to fade into the background. The narrative is masterfully woven, sending readers on an undulating emotional journey that builds to its climax so subtly that it is both unexpected and grounded. There is humor, realistically cringe-worthy teen interactions, and true heartache (warning to parents: this may upset you more than it will your kids), and Worm’s personal journey is authentic and meaningful. This book is a must-read for middle schoolers and an excellent pick for M.S. book clubs.

Dead Wednesday: Spinelli, Jerry: 9780593306673: Amazon.com: Books

SUNNY SONG WILL NEVER BE FAMOUS by Suzanne Park

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Sunny doesn’t get why all the adults in her life are so hung up on get social media accounts. After all, it was her mom who got her into posting videos in the first place, after turning toddler-Sunny into a viral, Gangnam Style-singing sensation. And Sunny has enough followers of her own now that she’s been able to monetize her sites and earn some money for college (and, okay, vintage clothes).

But when Sunny takes her top off, not realizing she’s still live-casting a cooking video (#brownieporn), she finds herself shipped off to “digital detox” camp in Iowa. On a farm in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by other so-called social media addicts who are as reluctant to be there as she is, Sunny is desperate to get back online. But when she starts connecting with the cutest boy in camp, she starts to wonder if maybe there is something to be said for being social without the media.

A cute, light rom-com featuring a Korean American protagonist, SUNNY SONG WILL NEVER BE FAMOUS invites readers to think about the “why” behind their social media usage. Are we online for the fame or attention of follows and views? Or are we there for the connections and relationships we can form? I’d recommend this one to YA contemporary readers, especially those looking for a fun beach-read type book.

Amazon.com: Sunny Song Will Never Be Famous (0760789293962): Park, Suzanne:  Books

THE SILVER BLONDE by Elizabeth Ross

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Clara is ecstatic when the studio execs promote her to the film editing staff. After putting in her time in the film studio vault, she will now be a real member of the crew. It is her dream come true–a dream that would have been difficult enough for any woman to attain, let alone a German immigrant in 1946. But her triumph turns to horror when she stumbles on the body of film star Babe Bannon’s stand-in.

Everyone has a theory as to who killed poor Connie. After all, Babe has a slew of enemies in the studio and beyond, and it would be easy enough for someone to mistake the stand-in for the star. Same build, same costumes, same silver-blonde hair. But Clara isn’t convinced that Babe was the intended victim. When the cops let her return Connie’s belongings, Clara finds herself swept up in an investigation that endangers her job and brings her back in contact with the Nazi threat her family worked so hard to leave in the past.

I loved this atmospheric noir mystery! Though WWII historical fiction is ubiquitous, this novel takes a fresh look at the War (and post-War) in Hollywood and the subtle, insidious ways that ordinary people get swept up in hateful movements. There are frequent reminders of the many American Nazi sympathizers before Pearl Harbor (including famous figures like Walt Disney and Henry Ford) and the way microaggressions create a culture of discrimination. Though it is set in the past, this novel is (sadly) timely.

Adult fans of historical mysteries: do not let the YA label turn you off to this book! It is for you. Teen fans of historical fiction, noir fiction, and/or Old Hollywood will certainly enjoy the book as well, but THE SILVER BLONDE really exists in the mythical “New Adult” niche. All of the characters are 18+, some of them war veterans, struggling to advance their careers in misogynistic, antisemitic workplaces and reevaluating priorities when good career moves will take them away from family. While these themes aren’t inaccessible to teens, they will resonate most with college-age adults and 20- and 30-somethings. College book clubs will definitely want to check this one out!

I received an Advance Reader Copy of this book from the publisher in order to write this review.

Amazon.com: The Silver Blonde eBook: Ross, Elizabeth: Kindle Store

SMALL FAVORS by Erin A. Craig

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Ellerie’s small, isolated community survives by following rules. They diligently tend their farms. They help their neighbors. And they never go into the deep forest where the monsters live.

Not that the townsfolk believe in monsters, really. Those are just legends from the time of the town’s founding. The dangers of the forest are the wolves and bears and the possibility of getting lost. But when the men on a supply run are slaughtered by a creature bigger than a bear, suddenly the monsters seem like a reality. Ellerie tries to keep calm like her father and to focus on tending their bees. But fear and jealousies have begun to tear her town apart. Worst of all, her twin brother Samuel is becoming increasingly distant. When a tragedy forces both of Ellerie’s parents to rush off to the city, Ellerie will have to fight to keep her siblings safe. And to do that, she will have to rely on a beguiling stranger–who won’t even tell her his true name.

Another chilling, grounded, folklore-infused horror novel from Erin A. Craig! She masterfully keeps us turning pages while keeping the narrative focused on family, community, and the protagonist’s self-discovery. Fans of character-driven, suspense-laden horror will not want to miss this one. I highly recommend it!

I received an Advance Reader Copy of this book from the publisher in order to write this review.

Amazon.com: Small Favors (9780593306741): Craig, Erin A.: Books

AN EMOTION OF GREAT DELIGHT by Tahereh Mafi

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In just a year, Shadi’s life has been upended. Since her brother died, her mother has unraveled. Her father is in the hospital, likely to die, and Shadi can’t even pretend to be sad about it. Her sister only speaks to her to pick a fight. Her best friend hates her. And worst of all, her country has gone to war with Iraq, and though her family doesn’t come from Iraq, because Shadi wears hijab, her entire community seems to blame her for the tragedies and consequences of 9/11. As Shadi shuffles through her life, trying to keep her head down and to keep her grief at bay, her ex-best friend’s brother suddenly reappears in her life, and her delicate balance collapses. She will finally have to confront the traumas in her life and process the heartbreak that preceded it all.

A story of love, family, heartbreak, and forgiveness, this recent-historical novel will appeal to readers of YA contemporary fiction and difficult, gut-wrenching romances. The poetic prose elevates what would already have been a beautiful narrative into something truly exquisite. I highly recommend it to YA readers and book clubs.

RADHA AND JAI’S RECIPE FOR ROMANCE by Nisha Sharma

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Radha was one dance away from winning the international kathak dance championship when her world turned upside down. Her mother was having an affair with one of the judges. Not only did that call all of Radha’s dance achievements into question, but it meant that her family was breaking up. Life as she knew it was over.

After a difficult semester dealing with her parents divorce, Radha and her mother move from Chicago to New Jersey. Radha’s mother agrees to pay for her college tuition next year, under one condition: that Radha enroll and complete all of the requirements for a dance track at a prestigious performing arts high school. Radha agrees, but secretly plans to find a way out of the performance requirement. She lost all her dance joy last winter when everything fell apart. But Radha didn’t count on meeting Jai, a skilled Bollywood dancer with a heap of his own family drama. As Radha and Jai’s friendship deepens, they each realize that the decisions they each thought were best for themselves and their families might put their relationship in jeopardy. Can they overcome the obstacles to connect with their inner joy–and each other?

A sweet, fun romance with a healthy dose of drama and heart. Relationships are key as Radha learns to relate to both of her parents individually while Jai learns to accept his family’s support and let go of his need to take care of everyone around him whether they want it or not. A great pick for fans of contemporary YA romance.

Amazon.com: Radha & Jai's Recipe for Romance (9780553523294): Sharma,  Nisha: Books

WHEN ALL THE GIRLS ARE SLEEPING by Emily Arsenault

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It’s almost a full year after Taylor died when the video comes to Hayley’s inbox. Hayley assumes it’s The Video, the one Taylor took of Jocelyn and Charlie making out and subsequently posted to social media, causing Jocelyn to change schools. But when she clicks the file, it’s something very different: Taylor in her room at the boarding school, eyes wide in terror as whispers come out of the darkness around her.

Hayley never fully accepted the official explanation of Taylor’s death (marijuana-induced suicide) but the video makes her wonder if one of the many people she hurt was targeting her. Or… Hayley never believed the stories of the ghost that supposedly haunts the senior dorm each winter, but there are some things in the video that are difficult to explain. As she digs deeper into the history of the school and its ghost, patterns begin to emerge, leading Hayley to the alarming conclusion that not only might the ghost be real, but another senior girl might be this winter’s target.

I read this book in one day–could not wait to find out what happened! There were so many red herrings that complicated the mystery, plus the horror-like ghost story atmosphere added a lot of suspense. I thoroughly enjoyed the ride. Highly recommend to YA mystery and psychological thriller fans!

I received an Advance Reader Copy of this book from the publisher in order to write this review.

When All the Girls Are Sleeping by Emily Arsenault: 9780593180792 |  PenguinRandomHouse.com: Books