Tag Archives: Young adult fiction.

Saving Hamlet

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.


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Filed under Fantasy, Grade 10-12, Grade 7-9, Historical Fiction

A Madness So Discreet

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.

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Filed under Fiction, Grade 10-12

Whisper If You Need Me

Whisper If You Need Me by Dina Silver, CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (October 12, 2015), ISBN: 9781517189082. Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS.

whisper if

Julia Pearl has major trust issues. She’s never gotten over the awful night when her fashion model mother came home disheveled and she witnessed the shouting match resulting in her father telling her mom to leave and never return. That was five years ago and she still has no satisfactory explanation. In addition, her mother messed with her head with a constant litany of warnings about what disasters might befall Julia on a daily basis.

Her father remarried a woman who had two children younger than Julia. While she likes them, she feels distanced from them and is unable or unwilling to trust her stepmother’s attempts to connect. It didn’t help her feelings of disconnection when she had a breakdown following Mom’s exile. Julia refused to go to school, certain some dire accident would befall her on the school bus. She’s been home schooled ever since, further fueling her isolation.

This summer, however, Dad and Stepmom put their foot down and she’s going to a summer camp for several weeks. No cell phone, no calling home, nobody to run in and bail her out. She falls asleep on the bus and has to be woken by Jack, nephew of the somewhat incompetent and mean (to Jack), owner of the camp. Julia might not sense them, but sparks fly between the two immediately. Since Jack is 19 and a counselor, any fraternization between them is forbidden.

You know right from the minute Jack sees her that they’re destined to be a couple. Getting there, however involves restraint on his part, Julia deciding to explode her comfort zone and make a new friend in zany free-spirited Emma, while accepting the challenge to sleep alone in the woods as part of a special wilderness program.

Watching her grow and learn to trust people, surviving a nasty prank by a jealous rival and finally learning what happened to her mother, make this a stellar blend of romance and coming of age. It’s definitely a worthwhile addition for school and public libraries.

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Filed under Fiction, Grade 10-12, Grade 7-9

That Time I Joined the Circus

That Time I Joined the Circus by J.J. Howard, Point (April 1, 2013). ISBN: 9780545433815. Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS


Lexi Ryan was blindsided several times. The earliest one happened when her mother left her with her musician father with no explanation. Next came the romantic relationship between her two best friends, Eli and Bailey that made her feel like a fifth wheel. The two most devastating events happened on the same night. She let her feelings for Eli overpower her common sense and her dad was killed by a drunk driver.

If all that wasn’t enough to shatter her emotionally, she soon discovered that her father apparently directed that any money he had was to be sent to Lexi’s absent mom, at least that’s what the lawyer handling her father’s estate tells her. Left with no money, no friends, loss of her place at the fancy private school and her apartment, Lexi does the only thing she can think of. She buys a bus ticket and heads south to find her mom and confront her about why she abandoned her.

All she has to go on is what the lawyer told her—that Mom was working as part of a traveling circus. When Lexi finds the circus, Mom isn’t there, but the possibility of a job and a place to live are. Despite having to deal with odd characters and animal poop, Lexi discovers that she feels pretty good as part of the show and when she breaks through the icy reserve around the owner’s daughters who are trapeze artists, she also discovers that family is a lot more than blood.

Her voyage is far from over. It involves falling in love, not once, but twice, pushing through a web of lies she believed were truth, as well as learning how to forgive other people. Following that journey makes for a very satisfying read.

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Filed under Fiction, Uncategorized

Julia Vanishes

Julia Vanishes by Catherine Egan, Alfred A. Knopf, 2016. ISBN: 9780553524840. Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS.


When she wants or needs to, Julia can make it so nobody can see her. For an orphan teen who works for a small gang as a thief in a dark alternate reality, that’s a very good talent to have. She’s obsessed with ‘cleansing,’ the government’s ritual drowning of witches in the river running through the city. It’s what happened to her mother years ago and the connection, while nearly impossible for Julia to explain, is strong. Her connection to her brother Dek and Wyn, the boy she loves, but can’t quite get to love her in return, are the other strong bonds in her life.

The story opens in an intriguing way, alternating between vignettes where people become victims of an unnamed and vaguely described monster who kills each one while removing the top of their heads, and Julia’s latest assignment—to work as a maid for a mysterious rich and elderly woman, Mrs. Och. She’s tasked with spying on everyone in the household and sneaking past locked doors to gather additional information. Whoever is paying her gang leader, Esme, for the information is paying well while being mysterious and vague about what they want or expect.

As the body count climbs, Julia discovers more of the mysteries at Mrs. Och’s home and begins to put puzzle pieces together. Readers are taken on a neatly crafted ride that involves more witches, three magical siblings locked in a monumental struggle, discovery of her own heritage and powers, as well as a desperate journey to save someone at the heart of everything.

While there is violence in the story, it’s central to the plot and hardly a deal breaker in terms of adding this book to either school or public libraries, because fantasy-loving teens will devour the book. It’s a dandy first entry in a planned trilogy.

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Filed under Fantasy, Grade 10-12, Grade 7-9

Teach Me To Forget

Teach Me To Forget by Erica M. Chapman, Merit Press, 2016. ISBN: 9781440594571. Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS


Ellery has reached that point…the one where looking ahead shows nothing good, looking back sucks and the pain of today is too much. She decides to kill herself with the cheap shotgun she conned a casual friend into buying for her. When she pulls the trigger, it misfires and, after multiple trigger pulls with it aimed at her, she blows a hole in the ceiling with the one shell she has. In the course of trying to return it and either get a refund or one that works, she goes to the wrong big box store and ends up being confronted by Colter Sawyer, a classmate who works there as a security guard.

He can tell right off the bat that she’s desperate and thinking lethal, but when he intercedes, Ellery can’t figure out why. Even so, she can’t ignore him even though she still plans on ending her life. Her guilt over her younger sister’s death and the dead feelings at home are too powerful to overcome, but she manages a facade.

Colter has his own secrets and a reason to do whatever he can to keep Ellery from succeeding, Add in her fixation with another male friend Dean who survived his own attempt at suicide and what happens after they talk about death, coupled with her own secret plans to make up for the abortive shotgun episode, make this a gritty, realistic read.

Partly a journey of grief , partly an uncovering of secrets, partly revelations about why both Colter and Ellery feel so much guilt and part love story, readers won’t be sure of the outcome until the last few pages. It’s one heck of a good read and realistic in terms of how scary and powerful planned self-destruction can be. It’s a worthy addition to any school or public library. I look forward to more books by this debut author.

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Filed under Fiction, Grade 10-12

You’re Welcome, Universe

You’re Welcome, Universe by Whitney Gardner, Alfred A Knopf, 2017. ISBN: 9780399551413. Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS.

youre welcome

Julia lives in a different world than most teens. She’s deaf, daughter of a lesbian couple who are also deaf as was the sperm donor. Her odds of being born deaf were pretty high. While she’s adjusted to some aspects of life, her deafness has left her feeling isolated in others and that, coupled with her secret addiction, is creating problems in her life.

When she gets frustrated over the principal at her deaf school failing to cover or remove the slur painted on a wall referring to her best (and really only) friend, she takes matters in her own hands and creates a mural to cover the offending words. After her friend rats her out, she’s not only expelled, her moms clamp down on her freedom, concerned she’ll do more tagging or illegal street art and get in more trouble. For Julia, this is akin to removing all joy and anticipation from her life.

She’s sent to attend what she calls a hearie school (a public high school), but fitting in, even (or in spite of) with Casey, the interpreter her moms have hired, is anything but smooth. She can’t read lips as well as she’d like and few of her teachers or fellow students know or care to use signing, so she starts feeling even more alone.

When she gives in to sneaking, stealing paint from someone she likes and wants to respect, and creating street art, she’s shocked to discover someone else almost immediately paints over it. While she sees it as a challenge, others are impressed at the synergy created by two street artists. As Julia tries to uncover who her rival is, she must navigate the tricky waters at home, at school and at her job cooking fries at McDonalds. It’s a tortuous path, one that sometimes leaves the reader borderline annoyed with her self-centeredness. However, if they take a moment to reflect on Julia’s passion, her social unease and isolation from mainstream teens, her thoughts and behaviors aren’t so odd. By the time you get to the end, you’re treated to an introspective and satisfying story of a girl navigating multiple challenges and discovering friendship and who she really is in the process.

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Filed under Fiction, Grade 10-12, Uncategorized

Zenn Diagram

Zenn Diagram by Wendy Brant, Kids Can Press, April 4, 2017. ISBN: 9781771387927. Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS.


Feeling alone or lonely isn’t unusual for teens, but for Eva Walker, those terms rise to a whole different level. Whenever she touches someone with her hands, the emotional/visual images she receives are so strong, she freaks out. Even her adoptive parents fall into that category. It’s been that way all her life and she’s been to multiple psychiatrists, therapists and doctors with no luck. She’s resigned herself to living a live of aloneness and using her freakishly good math skills to get a scholarship so she can eventually do neuroscientific research and maybe find a cure.

In the meantime, she gets some emotional sustenance from her three year old quadruplet siblings. Little kids are safe to touch because they run on simple emotions, not the massive, dark fractal images she gets from teens and adults. Eva also uses her talent to assess struggling math students. Her rule is that prospective tutoring candidates must bring their calculator to the first session. She can handle the diminished fractal images gleaned that way and these usually tell her in what areas the person is struggling. It’s a good way to earn money for college and to help with family finances, because her adoptive dad is a minister and sometimes funds are tight.

On the day she starts tutoring two new guys, her life changes, but it takes a while for her to realize all the ramifications. The first, Josh, happens to be someone her best (and really only) friend, Charlotte is crushing on. Despite reservations after what she sees in his fractal, Eva helps her bestie by having her appear at a couple sessions and that’s all it takes. Guy #2 is Zenn and when she discovers she can touch him without anything scary happening, it rocks her world. Those changes involve pain, joy, a huge sacrifice, rebellion at home and her discovering that some of the things she believed about her deceased parents deadly accident weren’t as she thought. This is an excellent book, one that many teens will savor and is well worth adding to any library. I really love the epilogue as it makes for a perfect ending.

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Filed under Fiction, Grade 10-12, Grade 7-9

Optimists Die First

Optimists Die First by Susin Nielsen, Wendy Lamb Books (February 21, 2017), ISBN: 9780553496901. Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS.


Things can get really messed up in families that lack meaningful communication. While everything can seem functional on the surface, when a tragedy happens, everything can go off the rails quickly, leaving everyone in their own web of grief, denial, or craziness. Meet Petula De Wilde, a sixteen year old who is currently so boxed in by her phobias and trauma-induced OCD, she barely exists. When something horrible happened, she started isolating and shutting down. Several years later, she’s pushed away her best friend, can’t do a class presentation without her brain filling with so many awful possibilities that she collapses, or has an emotional meltdown and finds herself part of YART-Youth Art Therapy.

It’s an interesting group; Petula, Alonzo-talented, but shunned by his family because he came out, Koula-who struggles and frequently fails to recover from her addictions, Ivan-locked inside grief and anger because of what his mother did and the newest member, the bionic giant, Jacob.

New guy won’t let her be, hanging with her and asking questions until there’s a tiny crack that he manages to open wider and wider. His skill with a video camera and scripting is the gateway that starts Petula on a scary, scary road, one that leads through the Forest of Fear and Pain, with a side trip to betrayal, but when she (and everyone else in YART) comes out on the other side, the emotional sunshine there makes every awful, agonizing moment of the journey worth it. Too bad Jacob got lost on the journey. Want to find out why? Get the book.

This is an excellent look at how guilt and grief, especially in the absence of parental support and intervention, can chew up a teen and spit them out an emotional mess of yuk. It’s a worthwhile addition to libraries where issue-oriented fiction is an important part of the YA collection.

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Filed under Fiction, Grade 10-12, Grade 7-9

Black Flowers, White Lies

Black Flowers, White Lies by Yvonne Ventresca, Sky Pony Press, 2016. ISBN: 9781510709881. Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS.


Life for Ella Benton has always lacked something-her dad. He was killed in a traffic accident before she was born. Despite never having seen him, she feels a very strong connection, even believing he’s somehow watching over her and that the number eight, or multiples of it are lucky (his birthday was on the eighth of August)

When her mother decides to remarry, She’s okay with the idea, although realizing that having her new step-dad Stanley living in their apartment will take some adjustment. He has a son from a previous marriage, Blake from whom he’s been estranged for most of his son’s life, Since the wedding was agreed upon, Stanley has been trying to make amends and rebuild a connection with Blake.

When his son comes to stay for the wedding and a while after during the honeymoon in Europe, Ella is initially pleased. It will be nice to have someone around during Mom’s absence, but then things start going off the rails. Strange handprints appear, her best friend, Grace starts acting secretive and denying things Ella believes happened. Blake tells her mother told Stanley that Ella’s dad didn’t die as she believed, but in a mental hospital and then gets faxed records supposedly showing his admission to such a facility. Ella begins hearing strange noises and things begin vanishing. As the number of odd events increases, she’s no longer certain about people or events and begins questioning her own sanity. Is it possible that she inherited her father’s mental illness?

Readers will find the constant twists, intrigue and red herrings all blend to make for a dandy psychological thriller. They may put some of the puzzle pieces together, but will have great fun doing it. This is a nice choice for both school and public library collections.

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Filed under Fiction, Grade 10-12, Grade 7-9