Saving Hamlet by Molly Booth, Hyperion, 2016. ISBN: 9781484752746. Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS.
Sophomore year should be great. At least that’s Emma Allen’s expectation. She’s going to be assistant stage manager for the drama club’s production of Hamlet, she has a new hairdo that makes her feel cool, and her crush, Brandon, is directing. All should be well, but we know how that goes. In short order, her best friend, snubbed for the part she wants, stops talking to her, she’s bumped up to stage manager, and Josh, the soccer player who got the lead, can’t remember his lines.
If all that weren’t enough, the guy in charge of the stage crew defies the club’s adviser and cuts a hole in the stage to serve as a trap door. When Emma falls through it, she finds herself in a very different theater—one in London and in the year 1601. Her new hairdo has the people behind the curtain thinking she’s a boy. That is all but one very sharp and attractive young man.
As Emma tries to navigate between everyone’s egos and feelings as well as through the intricacies of two theaters several hundred years apart, it’s a miracle she doesn’t have the mother of all meltdowns. Instead, she discovers inner strength and wisdom that allows her to do the impossible while meeting the original Bard himself.
This is a finely crafted, often funny story that will grab theater loving teens as well as those who like romance, strong heroines and complex plots. It’s a definite add for school and public libraries.
Poison’s Kiss by Breeana Shields, Random House, 2017. ISBN: 9781101937822. Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS.
Imagine being tossed away by your parents, living in an orphanage as a very small child. How would you feel? Wouldn’t you attach yourself to someone, anyone who showed you the slightest bit of attention? This is what happened to Marinda. Her life became immensely complicated not long after. She was subjected to endless snake bites on her wrists and ankles, each one heightening her own poisonous, to a point where she become a Visha Kanya, lethal servant of the Raj, able to kill with a kiss.
By the time she realizes the web of control around her, it’s too late because her controller, Gopal, has brought her baby brother to her and every time she tries to rebel, Gopal threatens little Mani. His control only strengthens the one time she tries to run away and now Mani pays a daily price that forces Marinda to kill even though she’s seen things that start her down the path of doubt.
When she’s ordered to kill Deven, a boy she knows through his friendship with the owner of a bookshop she works in part time, that ramps up her questioning of the whole ‘I’m killing bad guys for good causes’ ethos because she knows he’s a very kind and caring boy.
Her doubt sets in motion a series of events that put her in serious peril, Mani in equal peril, costs the life of a friend and land her in prison. Teen lovers of myth-related fiction will follow Marinda, Mani and Deven as their paths cross on the way to solving the mystery of who she’s really been working for as an assassin and how she can free herself and her brother from such a scary and cruel life. The book ends in a satisfying ambivalence…Readers can imagine what happens next, or wait for what I hope is a sequel. In either case they won’t feel cheated. It’s an excellent choice for school and public library collections. The author’s notes at the end explaining where the idea for this story came from and how she developed it are enlightening.
A Madness So Discreet by Mindy McGinnis, Katherine Tegen Books, 2015. ISBN: 9780062320865. Reviewed by John R, Clark, MLIS.
If ever there was an innocent victim, Grace Mae would fit the description. Older daughter of a wealthy and prominent Boston family, she finds herself pregnant (by her own father)and locked away in an insane asylum. She’s to remain until after the child is born, then return home where she’ll be expected to act as though nothing happened. The experience has left her so shocked, she’s ceased speaking.
When her voice returns during a violent outburst, she’s banished to the dark cellar where she befriends a brilliant but insane doctor. It’s that friendship that saves her as he convinces another doctor to spirit her from the asylum after her death has been faked instead of performing a chilling operation.
They flee to a far more humane asylum in Ohio, where she settles in as a mostly mute inmate and the doctor treats the patients. However, he has a fascination with criminal psychology and solving murders. Grace’s sharp mind and observation skills make her the perfect assistant.
How a young woman who has experienced such treatment with literally no recourse, given the times, could find some sense of peace and meaning makes the story very compelling. To go into more detail might spoil what is a riveting and intense tale. Yes, it’s dark and there is violence, but both are integral to the story. Teens and adults who like mystery and historical fiction with riveting characters will enjoy this book a lot.
Don’t Kiss the Messenger by Katie Ray, Entangled Publishing, 2017. ISBN: 9781544236797. Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS.
What happens when a traumatic accident creates an emotional prison you believe will hold you forever? That’s CeCe Edmonds’ reality. She and her mom were hit by a drunk driver when she was little and the resulting scar that runs from her forehead to the corner of her mouth is what she believes everyone sees first. Maybe, but someone completely unexpected is able to see the amazing person behind it, although neither realizes it at first. Football quarterback Emmett Brady has his own locked away pain, in his case, the death the previous year of his dad.
When they meet, as literature critique partners, neither can imagine where that meeting will lead them. CeCe’s a star volleyball player and when her new transfer teammate Bryn DeNeuville, catches Emmett’s eye, Bryn panics. She’s never had to talk intelligently to a guy she likes. After coercing CeCe into texting and emailing Emmett while pretending to be her, things become an awkward mess. The more CeCe and Emmett go back and forth, the more they realize how they spark each others passions, but only one knows who the players are.
Emmett loves music as much as football and is struggling to create an original song for his performance class. Guess where the inspiration comes from? Watching the whole convoluted situation unravel, in part thanks to some wise and quirky secondary characters, makes for a very enjoyable read. This sits on the edge between YA and NA romantic fiction and is equally appropriate for either collection in a library.
Stealing Kevin’s Heart by M. Scott Carter, Roadrunner Press, (November 13, 2012). ISBN: 9781937054069. Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS.
Alex and Kevin were the unlikeliest of best friends, one nerdy, artistic and Jewish, the other burly and a jock. They bonded when Kevin’s family moved into the house next to where Alex lived, sharing chicken pox, teen insecurity and jokes as they grew older. A year ago, they got motorcycles. One fateful day, Kevin talked Alex into skipping and going biking. Alex watched as a drunk driver hit Kevin’s bike and he died.
The guilt and grief of losing his best friend overwhelmed Alex, so much so that he cut himself off from the world, gave up on school and scared his family. Scared them so much, they forced him to go from his home in Stillwater to a wilderness camp for troubled teens in southwestern Oklahoma.
The last thing Alex expects to meet is someone like Rachel. She’s sweet and insightful, doesn’t seem depressed and won’t let him blow her off. The more he’s around her, the harder it is for him to stay angry and sad. When her evil ex-boyfriend, Danny, attacks her, Alex discovers them and fights Danny off. It’s a turning point in his painful journey back to life.
Readers will figure out early on what the unspoken connection between Kevin, Alex and Rachel is, but that hardly matters. Watching the two teens connect and figure out what they mean to each other is the important part. Teens who have suffered a devastating loss, like a really nice romance or who like stories with strong emotional components are going to like this one a lot.
In a Perfect World by Trish Doller, Simon Pulse (May 23, 2017). ISBN: 9781481479882. Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS.
Caroline Kelly is pumped for the summer between her junior and senior years of high school. She’ll be working at Cedar Point Amusement Park with her best friend Hannah and should have plenty of time to spend with her boyfriend of three years, Oliver.
Everything changes in a heartbeat when her mother gets a long desired opportunity to open an eye clinic in Cairo, Egypt. Since Dad works a two week on, two week off schedule on an east coast barge, there’s no way Caroline can stay put, so it’s off to Cairo, not only for the summer, but for her senior year. Doing so means breaking up with Oliver as well as losing her best friend, at least temporarily.
Despite understanding her Mom’s need to do this and having a solid family behind her, the change is really hard at first. Caroline’s upset and often angry at the way men look at her on the street and the language difference, not to mention the extreme heat and poverty, are unsettling. She’s also required to be driven most places by Mr. Elhadad, the man hired by her parents. When he becomes ill and is temporarily replaced by his teen son Adam, Caroline not only has an intriguing new opportunity to explore Egyptian culture and history, but realizes that despite language and religious barriers, there’s something real developing between them.
Reading how that plays out, especially against the political and family backgrounds makes this not only a mesmerizing experience, but one that does an impressive job of portraying how teen attraction can work in a sea of opposing forces. Trish Doller does a great job of exposing readers to a different culture and the challenges spending time in it poses, not only for Caroline, but for her family. It’s darn good romance that also allows readers to absorb cultural differences and challenges without preaching or overselling. It’s an excellent choice for school and public libraries.
Traitor to the Throne by Alwyn Hamilton, Viking Books for Young Readers (March 7, 2017). ISBN: 9780451477859. Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS.
One hallmark of a good second book in a series is the ease with which a reader can slip into it. When the world, plot and characters are as complex as they are here, finding it easy to re-enter this world speaks highly of the story.
At the end of the first book Amani was intent on freedom and exploring her relationship with Jin. What she finds here is the loss of both for much of the story. Awakening from the effects of her bullet wound would have been enough trauma for most, but Amani isn’t like the majority of women in her war torn world. As soon as she’s able, it’s right back to fighting, using her Demdji powers to help free prisoners. Unfortunately, she soon becomes one herself and after being betrayed by a family member, is trapped in the sultan’s harem.
What happens there, who is an ally and who is a betrayer, not to mention what happens among the ever shifting alliances between the varied warring factions, makes for a gripping and often brutal read. While this is an excellent fantasy, it’s not for the faint of heart and will leave readers hungry for another installment. Prospective readers are encouraged to read Rebel of the Sands first in order to get full benefit from the story.
Defy The Stars by Claudia Gray, Little, Brown Books for Young Readers (April 4, 2017). ISBN: 9780316394031. Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS.
Imagine you’re a seventeen year old orphan, living with a foster family who send you thinly veiled messages to the effect that you’re an imposition on them. The only saving grace is the fact that their daughter is your best and maybe only friend. This would be a difficult enough situation on its own, but Noemi Vidal’s life is anything but normal.
She lives on one of three worlds colonized after Earth flirted with near destruction and hers, Genesis, is at war with the others because it shut off immigration. In twenty days, she’ll be among 150 young soldiers making a suicide run to disrupt the wormhole gate connecting Genesis and Earth.
During the practice run, they’re ambushed by superior vessels from Earth. Her best friend is seriously injured and Noemi takes her to what she believes is an abandoned vessel. When she arrives, however, she discovers an advanced robot named Abel who has been in limbo inside for years. He was abandoned by his creator, the man responsible for inventing the many types of robotic entities that do everything from medicine and gardening to fighting.
Abel is different, but just how different isn’t immediately apparent to either of them. What follows in a long and extremely satisfying read, is a mix of space adventure and self-discovery. Abel struggles with very human feelings and Noemi with feelings of guilt, doubt and growing awareness that the way she saw the universe might not be so cut and dried as they search the other inhabited worlds, make unexpected friends and realize the wariness between them has become something far scarier and unexpected.
This is a terrific book for teens who love science fiction and strong female protagonists. There’s a sequel happening and when it does, it will be very welcome. This is a great choice for all libraries to own.
Riding Chance by Christine Kendall, Scholastic Press (October 11, 2016). ISBN: 9780545924047. Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS.
Troy is adrift and in danger of falling into that trap created when grief is compounded by lack of a caring parent to turn things around. His mom died not long ago and his father is still too wrapped up in his own loss and sorrow to intervene. When Troy gets the blame for a cellphone theft that should have been dropped on Lay-Lay, the crime-spree-in-the-making on his Philadelphia street, he’s less than thrilled at the community service assigned to him and his best friend Foster.
As often happens, what initially seems like a punishment and a total downer, becomes a whole new way of looking at life with some amazing skills attached. The boys are assigned to an equestrian program in the large city park not far from their homes. Troy’s initial impression is that horses are uncomfortable and smelly. However, he’s interested right off by Alicia a very pretty girl who is his age and is already quite comfortable with the horses.
It turns out they have something in common-grief and loss. Winston, a former professional polo player who runs the program, is Alicia’s uncle and took her in after her parents died. Despite his initial unease around horses, Troy soon realizes that when he’s with them, especially Chance, the horse he’s assigned to ride and care for, he feels more alive and at peace. In fact, there are times when he’s grooming her or riding when he feels almost like he did before his mother died.
Despite his growing comfort with Chance and a realization by almost everyone involved that he’s a natural around horses and has great potential as a budding polo player. Troy can’t lose his hard edge. That’s sharpened by an encounter outside his house with police that goes badly, as well as his inability to be open with anyone about how he really feels. This increased mistrust and alienation threaten his newfound love of horses and excitement about becoming a member of the polo team. It takes the adults around him and Alicia, as well as his best friend confronting him, coupled with a very frightening incident at a polo exhibition for Troy to realize that he’s not much different than those around him.
The dialect takes a chapter or so to get comfortable with, but after that, the story becomes a seamless and engrossing read. I finished it in less than two hours. Both adults and teens/tweens will really identify with the way Troy feels, how he’s his own worst enemy and the way he comes through a better person. A great book for inner city schools and libraries, but a really good one for any library where diversity in the collection is important.