YA Fiction

GRIT by Gillian French

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Rhiannon’s disappearance is still leaving its mark this summer.  There’s an air of suspicion, especially around Darcy.  It makes sense.  Everyone’s always suspicious of the town “slut,” whatever that means.  And Darcy does have a secret–one she’s keeping for someone else.  But when someone nominates both Darcy and her cousin Nell for Bay Festival Princess, Darcy can’t help but wonder who is out to get her.  Is it a joke meant to humiliate her?  Does someone know Darcy’s secret?  Or does it all come back to Rhiannon and the town’s darkest secret of all?

I thoroughly loved the voice of this novel.  Darcy is an authentic, flawed character who really gripped me from the opening pages.  And the suspenseful plot made it difficult to put down.  I highly recommend this book to teen fans of realistic fiction and suspense.

If you liked E.  Lockhart’s We Were Liarsdefinitely check this one out.

THE SANDCASTLE EMPIRE by Kayla Olson

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Eden’s world didn’t completely fall apart on Zero Day when she and all of the other kids at her private school were rounded up by the Wolves and sent to prison camp.  The final blow came when they gave her a vial of her father’s blood and teeth.   That was the moment that every whisper of of her old life vanished.  She was alone.  But when Eden and three strangers take the opportunity to flee their island prison, Eden knows exactly where she is going.  She will follow the course set out in her father’s old notebook and find Sanctuary Island–the place free from the tyranny  of the Wolves.  As long as he completed his life’s work before he was murdered, they will find safety there.  Unfortunately, “safe” is not the right word to describe the island they discover, and the unknown threats the travelers must survive may be just as treacherous as the prison they left behind.

I wasn’t overwhelmed by this new dystopia.  It took me a little while to get into it and then lost me again by the end.  Alternating chapters tell large chunks of backstory and the protagonist’s feelings, which I found off-putting.  But for readers who aren’t as turned off by explication as I am, the actual real-time plot had plenty of action and mystery which will likely hook many sci-fi fans.  It may appeal to Maze Runner readers.

CHARM AND STRANGE by Stephanie Kuehn

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Andrew has felt dead inside for a long time.  He couldn’t explain exactly why he smashed that kid in the face with a tennis racket when he was nine, and he can’t explain why he would rather be alone in the forest than talking to the new girl at his boarding school.  But something about Jordan draws him out in a way that his other classmates have not.  He finds himself at a party with Jordan and his former roommate, Lex, on the night of the full moon.  Which is a bad idea because he is certain that tonight will be the night that he changes.  He has known it would happen, ever since that summer in New Hampshire when his older brother, Keith, told him that the wolf lived inside all of them.  As he waits for the change, memories of Keith and their sister, Siobhan, intertwine with Jordan and Lex’s attempts to break through his shell.

This book is intense.  Suspenseful, horrifying, and beautifully written.  Did I mention intense?  Kuehn weaves hints of fantasy through the novel, enough to make a reader hope that maybe it is a fantasy.  Maybe the wolf is real.  All the while, the fantasy echoes heighten the horror of the real story and help the reader find herself in the mindset of a traumatized child.  If you like dark realistic fiction, this book is excellent.  But be forewarned:  intense.

MWD by Brian David Johnson and Jan Egleson

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Liz left high school and went straight to Iraq.  Her town was a dead end, her mother in prison, her grandmother as selfish as ever, and the military was an escape.  There was good and bad, but through it all, she had Ender, a Military Working Dog that she trained and worked alongside.  When a bomb abruptly ends her tour of duty, however, she finds herself back in her miserable hometown where even the few friends she used to have can no longer relate to her, no matter how hard they try.  But when she has a run-in with an aggressive stray dog, Liz finds a new sense of purpose.  She knows that Brutus could learn to be a great companion if only he were given a chance and the right kind of training.  Unfortunately, he is on doggy death row.  Desperate to save Brutus, Liz takes a job at the animal shelter and begins building her relationship with him–and with the people in her life.

A powerful story of a young woman whose connection to animals helps her rebuild her life after the trauma of war.  The characters and relationships are complex and the subject matter heavy.  Some of the more complicated action sequences were difficult to follow without any accompanying text due to the chaotic, dark and occasionally unclear black and white illustrations.  But the story overall still came across powerfully in the text and artwork.  I highly recommend it to mature teen fans of graphic novels and realistic 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.