YA Fiction

YOU DON’T KNOW MY NAME by Kristen Orlando 

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Reagan Elizabeth Hillis has been known by many names.  The type of work her parents do for the Black Angels, a secret branch of the CIA, has required them to change homes and identities more times than she can keep track of.  Reagan is being groomed to join the Black Angels as soon as she graduates from high school, which will at this point be in only a few months, but Reagan isn’t sure she wants to go to the Academy.  Even though she’s been training all her life, and her martial arts skills do come in handy for taking out bullies, she kind of just wants to go to college.  With Luke.  She can’t bear the thought of leaving Luke.  And she fears she might have to even sooner than graduation.  A mysterious new janitor is following her around at school. If she tells her parents, they’ll have moved before the end of the day.  But Reagan soon learns the consequences of keeping a dangerous secret and must fight to save her parents’ lives–and her own.

Fast-paced with engaging characters and a storyline that comes to a thrilling, impossible-to-put-down climax, I highly recommend this novel to teen thriller fans.

A TRAGIC KIND OF WONDERFUL by Eric Lindstrom

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None of Mel’s friends know about what happened to her brother.  They don’t even know why she missed so much school last year or why she had to break off her friendship with Zumi, Connor, and Annie.  But as managing her bipolar disorder becomes more of a challenge, Mel worries that they might start to guess her secrets.  Especially as her new friendship with David seems like it could become more than just a friendship.  In order for that to happen, though, she will have to let him in.

I had trouble putting this book down!  Lindstrom masterfully builds suspense as readers yearn to uncover Mel’s hinted-at secrets while at the same time developing his rich and interesting characters.  I highly recommend this novel to teen realistic fiction fans!

THE RADIUS OF US by Marie Marquardt 

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It took less than two minutes for Gretchen’s life to change.  She was hit from behind, crushed into the asphalt, and robbed.  And then she witnessed something even worse.  Six months later she’s still having panic attacks.  Phoenix has them, too.  After what he experienced of gang violence in El Salvador, and his harrowing journey through Mexico, he is now being treated as a criminal for seeking asylum in the United States.  His brother Ari, in his group home in Texas, is worse:not speaking a word to anyone.  A legal adult at 18, Phoenix is grateful to have a place to live in Atlanta, even though he knows he will soon be sent back and killed. Almost no one from El Salvador is allowed to stay, even when deportation is a death sentence. But when he meets Gretchen, things begin to change.  He begins to enjoy his life in the U.S.  And Gretchen begins to venture out of her shell.  Together, they begin to heal from the traumas gang violence brought to their lives.

A horrifying glimpse into the realities of gang warfare and the Central American refugee journey, The Radius of Us does not shy away from graphic violence.   As disturbing as some scenes are, the novel helps teen (and adult) readers understand how gangs can take hold of the lives of children and teens and what the experience of fleeing to the U.S can mean for these children, including being abducted up by drug cartels and trafficked as slaves.  And memories and flashbacks aside, the story is busting with kindness and hope.  It does have the fairly trite plot where the girl kicks the boy out, but once he’s gone suddenly learns from his friends all these wonderful things about him and must therefore go on a road trip to get him back.  But still a worthwhile read.

WAIT FOR ME by Caroline Leech 

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Lorna can’t believe that her father has hired a German POW to help on the farm.  Germany is Scotland’s enemy.  Her older brothers are out there now, fighting against them.  It is dangerous and unpatriotic to have one in their home.  But when Lorna sees the German boy’s face, burned and scarred from an Allied grenade, her anger melts into pity.  As her friendship with Paul grows, Lorna gains a new understanding of war and of the soldiers who fight for her enemy.  Soon their friendship becomes something deeper, and Lorna must overcome the prejudices of her town to keep her love alive. 

Based on the true story of German POWs working on Scottish farms (and often marrying farmers’ daughters), this novel immerses readers in WWII Scotland with both charm and suspense.  Despite the rural setting, Lorna and Paul are not isolated from  the war that rages around them, and their relationship propels Lorna (and readers) toward a more nuanced understanding of WWII and war in general.  The subplot of Lorna’s friendship with Iris and her snobby, stock-character of a boyfriend was heavy-handed at times.  But overall, this new historical fiction is a thoroughly engaging and thought-provoking read.

FROGKISSER by Garth Nix

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When Princess Anna of Trallonia hears her older sister Morven scream, she isn’t sure whether it is a big deal or not.  After all, screaming is one of Morven’s favorite pastimes.  It turns out to be sort of a big deal.  Anna’s step-step-father, the Evil Duke Rikard, has turned Morven’s latest suitor into a frog.  After swearing an oath to change him back, Anna learns that the task may be more complicated than she thought, as it will require a magic lip balm with ingredients such as the blood of a retired druid and freshly plucked cockatrice feathers.  More troubling is the news that Duke Rikard plans to have her killed.  So Anna and Ardent, the royal dog, set off on their quest for the magic lip balm, collecting a gaggle of transformed creatures along the way.

Hilarious, quirky, yet grounded by relevant social commentary, this fairytale is delightful from beginning to end.  I highly recommend it to teen and tween fantasy readers!  

A GOOD IDEA by Cristina Moracho

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Fin had been excitedly awaiting the day she and her best friend, Betty, would graduate and reunite as college roommates.  Only seeing Betty in the summers when Fin visited her Dad was just not enough.  But then, Calder Miller killed her–drowned her in the cold Maine ocean–and now Fin will never see her friend again.  She attends her old high school’s graduation and is sickened that the principal doesn’t even mention Betty.  Worse still, Calder just accepts his diploma like nothing ever happened.  Released from jail on a technicality, thanks to his powerful father, and now his life is back to normal.  Everyone seems to have forgotten Betty except Serena, who loved her from afar.  Fin and Serena begin exacting revenge not just on Calder but the whole town, and in the process find themselves in a whirlwind investigation that plunges them into the underbelly of the small town’s drug trade and put themselves and their fledgling relationship in danger.  

A thrilling “rural-noir” mystery that mimics the style of Fin and Betty’s favorite classic films like Bunny Lake is Missing. The plot is gritty, and every character has both good and evil aspects.  This novel will be most engaging for older teens and twenty-somethings who like dark realistic fiction.

THE HUNDRED LIES OF LIZZIE LOVETT by Chelsea Sedoti 

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When Hawthorn learns that popular, perfect Lizzie Lovett disappeared during a camping trip, she isn’t exactly sad.  But she is curious.  Lizzie was the most popular cheerleader in Hawthorn’s older brother’s grade.  Camping?  The Lizzie Hawthorn knew was way too concerned with designer clothes and make-up to spend the night in the woods.  Not that Hawthorn knew Lizzie well.  Like everyone else, Lizzie treated Hawthorn as a social outcast. But for some reason, Hawthorn is drawn to the mystery of Lizzie’s disappearance, and it isn’t long before she comes up with a crazy theory of her own–a theory so nuts that she becomes the school laughingstock.  Only Lizzie’s boyfriend, Enzo, seems to believe that Hawthorn’s theory might be true.  And as they begin to investigate, she winds up closer to Lizzie–and Enzo–than she ever would have imagined.

This realistic fiction novel pits a unique narrator with an unconventional family background against the common conflicts of friendships, family relationships, first love, high school social strata, and finding one’s identity.  The story is engaging not only due to the mystery of Lizzie’s but also thanks to compelling characters and relationships.  An enjoyable read from a new YA author!