InWhat I Like About Me, sixteen-year-old Maisie Martin’s teacher requires students to keep a journal jotting down three things they discover about themselves each day of winter break and provide evidence. Maisie’s first entry is easy: her teacher is evil, the evidence is the dreaded journal. After Mum catches Maisie writing “blah blah blah” to fill the daily allotment, Maisie settles down, nicknames her journal “DJ,” and more heartfelt confessions begin.
Maisie frets her parents are divorcing because, for the first time, Maisie’s dad hasn’t accompanied them on their annual vacation retreat. To make up for his absence, Mum lets Maisie bring her along BFF. Anna is everything you want in a girlfriend plus she’s gorgeous—a fact Maisie’s years-long crush, Sebastian, soon notices. He’s brought his annoying pal, Beamer, again. The four teens hang together at the beach, except Maisie’s too body-conscious to wear a bathing suit or get in the ocean. It comes as a surprise to everyone (even Maisie) when Maisie decides to face her fears and enter the local beauty pageant following in the footsteps of a beautifully slim mother and older sister. Figuring she won’t be selected because of her weight, she’s amazed when they not only accept her entry but also want to feature her in an interview. But all is not as it seems.
I like how this book goes beyond typical beach fun delving into complications such as when your BFF and love of your life seem destined to get together, how to deal with being stuck with an annoying sidekick, and the reality of people being unable to see past your size. Maisie vents in her journal: “Imagine having a body you’re always uncomfortable in. Always. That moves when you want it to be still, and makes you want to be still even when you long to move.”
Such heartbreaking moments are offset with heaps of humor. Jenna Guillaume kept me laughing from the book’s first lines. When a bunch of boys go skinny-dipping, Maisie muses, “soon the pool was a veritable sausage soup.” The chapters open with Maisie’s “discoveries” running a gamut of emotions, many of them hilarious. Eventually, journaling leads to self-reflection and Maisie catalogues things she likes about herself.
Books are about characters and Maisie is awesome. I’d gladly follow her on to another book or two. Guillaume has a gift for capturing our fears and seeing a way past them. Family, romance, and friendship all play out in their levels of complexity. Learning how to accept and love yourself are the book’s most powerful messages. Get this YA debut for the teen in your life or for yourself. It’ll make you laugh, but I hope it also makes you pause a moment to consider at least one thing you like about yourself.
Find Jenna Guillaume on Facebook here. Get a discussion guide here. Click herefor an excerpt. Read a Q+A with Jenna Guillaume here.
(G.P. Putnam’s Sons BYR; $17.99 HC, available in Ebook, Audio, Ages 12+)
★Starred Reviews – Horn Book, School Library Journal
Sherri L. Smith’sYA book,The Blossom and the Firefly, depicts an interesting slice of Japanese World War II history. Hana, assigned fieldwork is, one day, buried alive during an air attack. After she is dug out, Hana feels a part of her died in that bombing. Adding to her despair, she is reassigned as a Nadeshiko Tai girl—a handmaiden to the dead—serving tokkō, the special attack pilots also known as kamikaze. When each group readies to leaves, she must smile and wave as they take their last flight hoping to honorably body-crash into enemy battleships.
I appreciate the unique story structure, based on the Eastern style of storytelling called kishōtenketsu. Instead of a plot with conflict, kishōtenketsu revolves around contrast or juxtaposition. In The Blossom and the Firefly, Hana’s first-person chapters are in the “now,” while Taro’s (her love interest) third-person chapters begin in 1928 during his childhood. About halfway in, the narratives synchronize. Utilizing these time lines, we are shown Taro’s backstory without relying on flashbacks.
The story questions whether it’s possible to live and love during wartime. Hana keeps coolly distant until stumbling upon a special connection with Taro. After the war ends, rebuilding entails mending emotionally and moving forward to embrace what’s left. Readers will feel what it was like to be a teen caught in a war-torn land, where it’s not whether you have lost a loved one, but, rather, how many. This young adult novel about a little known aspect of the war is both heartbreaking and uplifting.
FIVE FEET APART Written by Rachael Lippincott With Mikki Daughtry and Tobias Iaconis (Simon & Schuster BYR; $18.99, Ages 12 and up)
In Rachel Lippincott’s superb novel, Five Feet Apart, with its PG13 film version releasing in March (starring Cole Sprouse and Haley Lu Richardson), we’re introduced to the growing love story of two teen cystic fibrosis (CF) patients. Stella has been a CF patient for most of her life. She seems complacent and at ease from knowing all the nurses, every corner of the hospital, and having a precise routine and arrangement for her medical cart. Her habits at the hospital seem invulnerable to change until she meets Will, a reckless newcomer who also has CF.
As is the rule, CFers must stay six feet apart from each other to avoid contamination. For Stella, being close to Will could cost her the new set of lungs she’s awaiting on the transplant list and the promise of a new life. However, with the couple spending more time together, the six-foot apart rule becomes challenging to maintain, even for rigid, routine follower Stella. But if they can never touch, can they still love each other from a set distance? Or can they safely bend the rules, take away one foot but maybe tread in dangerous territory? Will it make a difference?
Lippincott’s novel is an exciting emotional rollercoaster with elements of hope, fear, and love that intertwine seamlessly. Lippincott does a great job conveying the longing between the two patients. She also includes diverse characters and family relationships that are not usually portrayed in novels that I read. If you loved books like The Fault in Our Stars or Everything, Everything, then you will want to read Five Feet Apart. Maybe, like the main characters, you too will find it hard to remain five feet apart from this great read.
Reviewed by Rachel Kaufman
Rachel Kaufman is a current sophomore studying communications at the University of Southern California. She’s passionate about books and hiking with her dog, Scout. Rachel enjoys how books reshape her imagination of the world around her. Rachel knows firsthand how important books are in aiding children’s futures, working with a reading program, Reach Out and Read, by reading, organizing, and donating over 200 children’s books. In her free time you can find her either reading or thinking about what she might read next.
THREE SIDES OF A HEART: STORIES ABOUT LOVE TRIANGLES Edited by Natalie C. Parker (Harper Teen; $17.99, Ages 14 and up)
★Starred Review – School Library Journal
Christine Van Zandt recommends Three Sides of a Heart, a short story anthology featuring sixteen authors and an introduction by Natalie C. Parker who is also the editor.
This YA short story anthology, Three Sides of a Heart, gives us glimpses into love triangles from historical zombie featuring the Southern belle, her handsome betrothed, and her fierce female Negro Attendant (“Dread South” by Ireland) to futuristic (“Omega Ship” by Carson—with a let’s-talk-about-it ending) to a modern-day girl-on-girl kissing romance (“Lessons for Beginners” by Murphy). The common thread in this collection is its unique perspective of this theme referred to in the introduction as “reimaginings.” Settings as near as your backyard to far-off inhabitable planets will delight readers.
If the proverb “variety is the spice of life” is true, then Three Sides of a Heart is zesty indeed—and quite steamy in places. Of course, there are girls torn between good boys and bad boys (“Hurdles” by Colbert and “Waiting” by Tahir), and, more unexpected, the undead falling in love with the dying (“Unus, Duo, Tres” by Hagen). In “Vega” (Yovanoff), the city is a character. “Triangle Solo” (Nix), set on Mars, uses the boy/boy/girl triangle and a triangle, the instrument.
The sixteen authors in this well-crafted collection include Renée Ahdieh, Rae Carson, Brandy Colbert, Katie Cotugno, Lamar Giles, Tessa Gratton, Bethany Hagen, Justina Ireland, Alaya Dawn Johnson, E. K. Johnston, Julie Murphy, Garth Nix, Natalie C. Parker (who also writes the introduction and is the editor), Veronica Roth, Sabaa Tahir, and Brenna Yovanoff. Each author delivers a memorable bite-sized tale.
LOVE & OTHER TRAIN WRECKS Written by Leah Konen (Katherine Tegen Books; $17.99, Ages 12 and up)
★Starred Review – Kirkus,School Library Journal
This twenty-four-hour whirlwind journey in Love & Other Train Wrecks begins with Amarantha “Ammy” West and Noah Adler seated in the same Amtrak car. Their first impressions of one another are stiff and uncomfortable. Noah, eighteen, travels, pink roses in hand, to surprise his ex-girlfriend with fancy dinner reservations and a heartfelt poem. An optimistic, good-looking guy, he attempts to engage Ammy in conversation, but she bristles against his easy-going personality.
Seventeen-year-old Ammy is escaping from the mess her life has become since her father left and her mother plunged into anger and anxiety attacks. Though Ammy’s trying to be supportive of her mother, she seems to hit it off with her new stepsister Kat. Attending her father’s commitment ceremony (before the divorce is even final) tests Ammy’s allegiance to Team Mom. Ammy surely doesn’t want to share any of her personal drama with an annoyingly friendly stranger like Noah.
When the Amtrak train stops due to mechanical error, Noah and Ammy, determined to reach their respective destinations on time, disembark into a snowstorm. GPS makes a bus station seem an easy walk, but, instead, the frozen trek filled with mishaps turns into an adventure of a lifetime.
All the while, Ammy and Noah contemplate their places in the world including what it means to make your own decisions and then face those consequences. Konen’s choice to write alternating viewpoint chapters works well to show what each character shares or conceals. The chapters are also fast-paced and consistently satisfying. As the attraction between the main characters builds, Ammy struggles to come to terms with how romantic relationships can hurt friends and family and how to handle those conflicts of interest. Falling (and staying) in love, while wonderful, isn’t necessarily easy.
WHAT LIGHT by Jay Asher (Razorbill; $18.99, Ages 14 and up)
What Lightby Jay Asher was released in October and was a perfect way to kick off the holiday season, but it’s also a book that keeps the holiday spirit going all year round. In fact, I’d say anytime is a great time to read a romance. It tells the story of teenager Sierra, whose family owns a generations-old tree farm and spends every December in California selling their trees to locals there. Her overprotective father keeps all the worker boys at bay, even though Sierra has no interest in a fleeting romance—that is, until she meets Caleb. Struck by his charming character and smile, Sierra’s feelings for him clash with her high standards for relationships as well as the rumors she hears about Caleb. He has a history that looms over him like the Ghost of Christmas Past, but Sierra tries to lighten the burden he’s carried with him for so long.
Sierra and Caleb share the instant love of Romeo & Juliet (though without the dramatic dual-sacrifice ending). In fact, the title, What Light, is a nod to Romeo & Juliet’s first meeting: “What light through yonder window breaks? It is the east, and Juliet is the sun.” However, the title becomes much more meaningful as the relationship between Sierra and Caleb unfolds.
Given that it is only 186 pages, and given Asher’s ability to instantly make me care about his characters so much that I need to know what happens next, it’s no surprise that I finished this book in one day. What was a surprise (and delight) was just how much my teenaged niece, new to Asher’s novels, loved the book as well. She had told me that she needed a book for her independent reading at school, and I immediately suggested this. She was going on a trip, and I told her it would be perfect for the plane ride. Upon her return, she messaged me immediately and said that she loved the book, could not put it down, and had never been so happy to be “forced” to read a book. She loved the bond between Sierra and Caleb and said, “It’s so cute…. I want this to happen to me.”
This story is one of family and friendship, understanding and forgiveness, love and loyalty, and, most of all, hope. My niece has been passing this book around to her friends, and I have been passing it along to those of my students who are avid young adult readers and enjoy a spark of love and hope in their lives. In a world that offers so much darkness at times, Asher’s latest novel offers us some well-needed light.
THE CROWN (THE SELECTION SERIES #5) by Kiera Cass (HarperTeen; $19.99, Ages 14 and up)
Since Kiera Cass’ The Heir left off on a heart-wrenching cliffhanger, we’ve been eagerly awaiting the next and final installment of The Selection series, The Crown. Princess Eadlyn faces the fear of possibly losing her mother, while having to step into very large and heavy shoes in the absence of her parents. As Maxon stays glued by his ailing wife’s side, Eadlyn must fill the role of both King and Queen while also continuing her Selection for the sake of her parents and her country. Eadlyn must also provide comfort for her younger brothers all on her own, as they are all still mourning the departure of Eadlyn’s twin brother, Ahren, after his surprise elopement to France. While the situation is extremely daunting, Eadlyn takes on these challenges, following in the strength of her mother, and blossoms into the woman she was always meant to be. She still struggles with whether love is actually possible for her, ever comparing it to the truest and deepest love her parents share, but she must find a way to do what’s right for herself, her family, and her people.
I recommend rereading the last few chapters of The Heir before reading The Crown to remember all the Selection candidates and Eadlyn’s feelings for each one. It reintegrated me back into the palace and Eadlyn’s life, allowing me to be wholly invested in her once again. I waited an entire year to read this book, and Kiera Cass did not disappoint. She gave me everything I wanted in an ending and allowed me, as a devoted reader, to lovingly say goodbye to these characters. I’m sad it’s over and will likely read the entire series again, just to experience it one more time.
Reviewed by Krista Jefferies
Click here to get more info about Kiera Cass. Read Krista’s review of The Heirhere.
THE LOVE THAT SPLIT THE WORLD Written by Emily Henry (Razorbill; $17.99, Ages 12 and up)
The Love That Split The World by Emily Henry is an extraordinary and intriguing tale with a mystery and love story wrapped in one.
Natalie Clearly is a teenage girl with a promising future ahead of her, but she struggles with both her present and her past. She grapples with her identity as an adopted child and as a Native American child, always looking for where she fits into the world and how she fits into her family. She also battles hallucinations and nightmares that have plagued her since childhood and have caused her own parents to believe she needs therapy.
Throughout Natalie’s childhood, an all-knowing character she has come to call “Grandmother” has continually visited her, telling her cryptic Native American tales that hold clues to the answers she’s looking for in life. While she believes Grandmother is merely a hallucination, she also trusts her implicitly and must decipher her stories and the clues embedded in them to figure out how to handle situations she faces.
Grandmother gives Natalie one of the most pivotal messages of her life: “You have three months to save him.” Natalie is not sure if that means her father, her brother, her first love Matty, or the mystery man Beau who has blinked into her life. She begins to see “the wrong things,” as details of her town and the people in it that aren’t quite the same. It’s like she’s seeing a parallel universe, consisting of a boy named Beau, whom she falls deeply in love with and then wonders if he’s the one she’s supposed to save.
The author dabbles in time travel, alternate universes, and a cryptic web of intrigue that is mystifying and intense. Also intense is the passion between Natalie and Beau, completely love struck and tuned into each other in a heated teenage romance that seems far beyond their years. But in a world in which time travel is possible, so is genuine teenage love at first sight that could last the ages.
The storyline has a Time Traveler’s Wife sort of feel as Natalie races against the clock to be with Beau and save the ones she loves. While the author gives a glimmer of closure in the end, I would have liked much more, but such is the case with any good love story. With the debut of the riveting The Love That Split The World, which you’ll want to add to your summer reading list, Emily Henry joins the growing list of my must-read YA authors.
GLASS SWORD Red Queen; Volume number 2 by Victoria Aveyard (HarperTeen; $19.99, Ages 14 and up)
Glass Swordby Victoria Aveyardis the next installment of her riveting series Red Queen. The story picks up right where we left off in the previous book. Mare and Cal are now fugitives, having fought their way out of their own executions. Maven, now king after using his mother’s power to force Cal to kill his own father, is in pursuit of Mare and Cal aided by his entire army and a society of Silvers, who have been manipulated to believe in his lies. Mare realizes that the only way to win this fight is to find others like her, those they call “new bloods.”
Aveyard brings in a little bit of an X-Men feel as the “new bloods” are slowly found. They are Reds with Silver abilities but are stronger than the Silvers themselves. They learn how to control and use their powers while preparing for war against Maven. However, Mare is constantly torn between her need to save others, her own self-doubt, and the betrayal that surrounds her. Two things are always constant in this book, lives are always at stake and you never know whom to trust. As Julian, Mare’s former teacher and Cal’s uncle, said repeatedly in Mare’s lessons, “Anyone can betray anyone,” and this mantra remains true as the story progresses.
Mare is searching for the new bloods, but Maven is too, so every venture out to find them is a risk of her life and that of her team. Maven sets trap after trap in order to catch the new bloods and, more importantly, to try and catch Mare. Throughout the novel, the relationship between Mare and Cal is ever intriguing, but it’s not clear what their future holds. This book is hardly predictable, but the one entirely foreseeable element is betrayal, right up until the end. It will be tough to wait an entire year to see what happens next, but I will be on the edge of my seat, eagerly awaiting the next book and what is sure to be an exciting conclusion.
REBEL OF THE SANDS Written by Alwyn Hamilton (Viking BYR; $18.99, Ages 12 and up)
Join the rebellion!
Rebel of the Sands is an amazing journey through a fantastical world that YA author Alwyn Hamilton has so vividly created. On the cover the main character, Amani, is described as “…more gunpowder than girl.” Well, that was just enough to get me interested, and I’m so glad that my curiosity paid off big time. This is a terrific book!
Amani is living in a town she is dying to get out of. Every day spent in Dustwalk is a day further from her dream of leaving. Amani is amazingly quick and precise with a gun though, and after meeting a handsome stranger at a shooting contest, her life quickly takes a turn towards adventure. Amani’s idea of a better life consists of reaching the town that her deceased mother’s sister lives in, but this girl of the desert has a much bigger life ahead of her. She has a role to play that only she can take on.
In the world that Hamilton has created, the dreams are big, the stakes are high and first beings called immortals are rumored to still roam the earth. There are stories that maybe even djinn are still working magic in the desert. Amani has heard some wild stories in her time, but I don’t think that any of the stories she has heard will ever quite measure up to the one that she gets to live. This adventure tale had me so hooked that I was determined to read it in one day. It’s true, I simply couldn’t put it down. Rebel of the Sands has so much to offer: romance, handsome strangers, girl power, gun powder, shooting contests, secrets, magic, fairy tales, politics. I’d call it a mix of the Wild West meets the Middle East, show downs meet genies in a wonderful, exciting re-imagining of two different worlds united by a desert life. It definitely lives up to the hype it is receiving, and a sequel is in the works! Yay! If you are a fan of Rae Carson’s books or frankly any book where a downtrodden girl finally gets to live her dreams, then this is a great book for you.
Alwyn Hamilton is an amazing author. Awesome just rode into town and I think she’s not going anywhere! What a debut book! Rebel of the Sands is such a gripping read that I think if you start reading it, someone you love will try to get you to take a break. Don’t listen. While you know you love them, it’s okay to love this book a lot, too. Make plans for sandwiches and snacks before diving into this novel because it’s truly one book you won’t be able to put down!
Madeline Whittier has read more books than you, but she hasn’t been outside her house for as long as she can remember. The protagonist in Nicola Yoon’s #1 New York Times Bestseller, Everything, Everything, lives an air-locked, filtered existence, with no outings and virtually no visitors, because she’s “basically allergic to the world.” She has Severe Combined Immunodeficiency, or “bubble baby disease.” While she could have grown to be a weird or bitter eighteen-year-old, it’s clear from the funny drawings and comments with which she annotates her life that she has remained sweet, optimistic and thoughtful.
Since Madeline’s father and brother were killed in an accident when she was a baby, Madeline and her mom are almost everything to each other. Then Olly moves in next door, with his all-black wardrobe, his parkour litheness, and his off-the-wall sense of humor. Madeline realizes she won’t really have everything unless she can leave her germ-free house and be Outside with Olly.
I enjoyed the unusual format of the book, its short chapters that don’t necessarily follow each other, the hand-written notes and drawings. Appropriate as well as charming, the format reinforces how Madeline feels about herself: “If my life were a book and you read it backward, nothing would change.” Before Olly, her “life was a palindrome — the same forward and backward.”
That being said, eventually sequence matters, and the real “Book of Maddy” — Everything, Everything — is different if read backward. In the interest of not giving away too much, I won’t tell you the questions the book made me ask beyond “What would it be like to be a bubble-baby?” But rest assured Yoon’s novel provokes other thoughts as well, about the nature of love, and risk, and life itself.
★Starred Review – Publishers Weekly -A New York Times bestseller -Kids’ Indie Next List Pick (Summer 2015)
Sarah Dessen’s many fans won’t need to be cajoled past the slow start of her new YA novel, SAINT ANYTHING (May 2015, Viking; $19.99). New Dessen readers, however, should know that the beginning is there to provide contrast, like the black-and-white opening of the Wizard of Oz movie. The detached vibe reflects how main character Sydney Stanford’s home life feels until she meets the Chatham family. The Chathams and their restaurant Seaside Pizza are full of warmth, acceptance, and music, and the pace of the book picks up as soon as the family appears. Layla Chatham becomes Sydney’s new best friend. Since she has a big sister who is a skating-star-turned-drug-addict, Layla understands what it’s like for Sydney now that her brother Peyton is in prison. Peyton was the Stanford family’s “Golden Child” before he drove drunk and crashed into a pedestrian.
Layla invites Sydney to join her group of friends, which includes her brother Mac. They all hang out at Seaside after school, eating pizza and practicing retro pop covers for an upcoming band showcase. Sydney feels herself falling for Mac, despite Layla’s warning that she can’t abide her friends dating her brother. But how can you draw a line between friendship and romance when you meet the right guy? The times Sydney and Mac find to be alone — usually while delivering pizza in Mac’s not-so-reliable old truck — are some of my favorite moments in the book. I enjoyed reliving the sweet excitement of a potential new relationship. I also related to Sydney’s discomfort when her brother’s friend keeps popping up to hang out with her, especially when her parents aren’t around. It’s hard to ask for help when an older guy creeps you out for reasons you can’t name and therefore can’t report.
The heart of the book for me centers on Sydney’s feeling of guilt about the young teen, David Ibarra, her brother Peyton injured. Sydney learns everything she can about David’s life before and after the accident. A friendly, caring guy nicknamed “Brother,” he’s going to be in a wheelchair for life, and Sydney feels like she’s the only person in the family wanting to make amends. Her mother, Julie, only thinks about Peyton and how the aftermath of the accident affects him. As a parent, I laughed out loud as Julie, stuck in helicopter-parent mode, tries to organize families of Peyton’s fellow prisoners as if she were the president of a prison PTA. I was touched, though, when Sydney and Peyton start talking on the phone, finally getting to know each other as individuals outside of their family roles, ready to take responsibility for their own lives.
SAINT ANYTHING is peopled with teens who feel real, none of them perfect and all of them passionate about something, whether music, school, or French fries. The book is a comfortable place to hang out even while facing uncomfortable situations with the more caricature-like adults. I recommend this book to fellow fans of quiet YA, those of us who’d like to peek inside a house when delivering a pizza, trying to figure out what life’s like behind that half-open door.
In yet another riveting tale that falls somewhere in-between the Dystopian and Fantasy genres, we see The Hunger Games, The Selection, and Divergent collectively mirrored in Victoria Aveyard’s Red Queen, particularly in the unbalanced caste system, a displaced protagonist, an alluring romance, widespread uprising, and unbridled betrayal.
Mare Barrow is a young girl working to survive in a society with two castes, the silver-blooded elite and the red bloods who serve them. The Silvers are the upper echelons of society with superhuman powers, but perhaps the most important ability they have is to keep the Reds in their place. Mare gets mistakenly drawn into the walls of palace life where she discovers that she, too, has powers of her own. What she really wants, however, is the power to take down the Royals who keep her family and the rest of the Reds nearly starving and struggling to survive. While one of the most difficult things to endure is leaving her family and worrying about their safety, Mare finds that what’s even harder is discovering who she is and whom she can trust.
While some parts were a bit predictable, others had surprising little twists that kept me quickly turning pages to see what would happen next. I found myself rooting for Mare Barrow and the Reds, and I’m looking forward to Aveyard’s next installment of this colorful saga.
Kiera Cass has captured the hearts of readers worldwide with her #1 New York Times bestselling Selectionseries, and she continues to keep us captivated with her fourth book in the series, The Heir. The collection itself has become widely known as The Bachelor meets The Hunger Games with a bit of Cinderella mixed in.
Books 1-3 center around Prince Maxon and his endeavor to find a wife, who will be his queen once he becomes King of Illéa (essentially the United States post war). One of the 35 contestants is America Singer, a young lady of a lower caste than most of the other girls. While the others are vying for a place in the palace as well as in Maxon’s heart, America resists because, while a life with Maxon would mean raising her family’s status, it would also mean denying her true love whom she must leave behind. America soon discovers, however, that a life with Maxon is exactly what she wants and more than she could have dreamed of, and she must fight to the end to attain it.
Book 4, The Heir, is set twenty years later and tells a similar tale through Princess Eadlyn, daughter of King Maxon and his bride, Queen America. Though Eadlyn is also resistant to the Selection from the start, like her mother had been, she begins to learn that perhaps love is possible in the most unlikely of circumstances, and maybe happily ever after is meant for her after all. Much like her parents did in the past, Eadlyn faces much political and personal turmoil during the selection process.
Cass leaves us on the edge of our seats at the cliffhanger ending of this book as we await the fifth and final volume of the series, which is due to be released in the spring of 2016. These books will draw in readers of all ages. In fact, they were recommended to me by my 14-year-old niece, an avid reader who said these were her favorites of any books she’s ever read. Though there are more than 20 years between us, I too was enchanted by this ongoing saga, so much so that I read all four novels in just three days! Though I am disappointed that I have to wait months to read its conclusion, I will be much more disappointed when it’s over.
(St. Martin’s Griffin, $18.99, Ages 12 and up) Review and Interview by Ronna Mandel
Avie Reveare is an average teen in a not so average world. Like most teens, she loves music, hanging out with her friends, and is especially close with her best friend Dayla, and a childhood pal, Yates, whom she may or may not be falling for (also typical of a teen).
The time is now and Avie is living a well-off life in Pasadena, California. However, this being dystopian fiction, author Linka has had to create a believable America unlike our present one. This one is still reeling from the aftermath of Scarpanol, a synthetic hormone that was used in beef and ended up killing fifty million women ten years earlier. The end result – young girls are a protected commodity, contracted for marriage often by the highest bidder.
Females have been losing their rights since the Scarpanol tragedy and the Paternalist movement, which threatens to control them entirely, is causing many teenaged girls to flee to Canada. When Avie’s father accepts a marriage contract offer for his daughter from Jes Hawkins, a massively rich Paternalist running for governor and one of the sleaziest characters I’ve seen in print recently, she realizes she too must make a run for the border. Readers soon learn that escaping the clutches of a wealthy, well-connected wannabe politician, is a lot easier in theory than in reality. Avie, with the help of Yates, is forced to go underground, but in doing will she rise to the occasion, get involved in a cause she’s tried to avoid or succumb to the emotional and physical consequences of escaping her forthcoming marriage?
With A Girl Called Fearless, Linka’s created a page turner for teens that will pull them into her world immediately and keep them reading because they’ll care about Avie and what happens to her; the urgency of her situation tenable. Teen vernacular is captured perfectly, and Linka’s use of song lyrics and the anger behind them is also employed successfully in the storyline.
“Better Learn My Name” By Survival Instincts … I’ve got a hundred names, But it all comes out the same I’m someone’s prize possession Not a person. An obsession
Is it the end of the world as Avie knows it or can something good come from all the malice boiling just below the surface of everyday dystopian life? I recommend getting this YA novel as a gift this holiday season for that teen who might otherwise be attached to a cell phone for the next two weeks.
Q & A With Catherine Linka:
What is your book about?
A Girl Called Fearless and its sequel, A Girl Undone, are about Avie, a junior at a girl’s school in Pasadena who comes home from school one day and finds that her dad has “Contracted” her to marry a man twice her age who she’s never met. The book is set in Los Angeles today, but assumes that ten years ago, synthetic hormones in beef killed most adult women in the US, so teenage girls have become the most valuable and protected commodity in the country. Avie must choose whether to get married or run for freedom in Canada.
We’ve seen a lot of strong girl characters like Katniss from Hunger Games and Tris from Divergent. How does Avie compare?
I wanted to write about a girl who’s not a superhero style character. Avie’s a typical teenage girl suddenly thrust into a situation that tests her to the max. She doesn’t think of herself as “Fearless” even though her friend Yates likes to call her that. I felt it was important to show young readers that many of us don’t know what we’re capable of until we are pushed to our absolute limits. At the end of book one, Avie says, “I am fearless,” because she has survived.
Authors tend to put themselves into their characters. How are you and Avie related?
Well, I’m obviously not a sixteen-year-old girl, but Avie and I share a strong sense of what is fair and just. Avie’s been insulated from what is happening in the world around her, until she is Contracted to marry a man who is running for Governor of California. As she starts to see how the Paternalist politicians are manipulating men’s and women’s lives, she feels she has to act somehow. She can’t sit back and do nothing. I couldn’t sit back and do nothing, either.
What has surprised you about the reaction to A Girl Called Fearless?
One thing I never anticipated was getting emails from readers as young as eleven and as old as eighty-five. Younger readers seem to enjoy the story’s action and adventure, while older readers see the historic and political parallels between Avie’s America and the real world. And I never expected guys to read the book or enjoy it. Never! I’ve also been surprised that both grandmas and teens have thanked me for showing Avie choosing to wait instead of having sex.
We heard there’s a possible TV series?
Yes, the books have been optioned and a series is in development. It’s fascinating–and a tiny bit scary– to see how a book is taken from the page to the screen, because the author has very little control. But the lead screenwriters are geniuses, so my fingers are crossed things will come out well.
What was your biggest challenge when writing the first novel- was it creating a believable epidemic, believable characters or something else altogether?
The biggest challenge was initially the book felt like two books–before Avie leaves Los Angeles and after. I united the halves by making the businessman that Avie is Contracted to marry into a candidate for Governor of California from the Paternalist Party. This strengthened the political theme and heightened the stakes.
You sure seemed to have had fun writing the role of Avie’s skeevy intended, Jes Hawkins – was he one of the easiest to write?
I adore writing villains. They can have big, bold personalities, and it’s much easier to create a villain who possesses positive character traits than it is to write a hero and give him enough flaws to make him believable.
In addition to Avie and Yates, there are so many interesting characters in your novel – her teacher, Ms. A, a priest, Father Gabe, her gynecologist, Mrs. Prandip and her underground connection Maggie. For me though, my particular favorites were those living in the rebel enclave of Salvation. Were you inspired by anyone or anything in real life when you conceived of this community?
When I wrote Salvation, I wanted to give voice to a part of America that values self-sufficiency, personal responsibility, religion, and freedom from government control. I was inspired by stories of frontier settlers, but I also read books and blogs written by survivalists who wanted to be off the grid.
Without a plot spoiler, can you give us a tease about what we can expect in the sequel,A Girl Undone?
Avie faces some tough decisions. At the end of A Girl Called Fearless, she makes a promise, but keeping that promise puts her life at risk. The first book was about Avie discovering her inner strength. A Girl Undone is about choosing between what is best for her and what’s best for the country.
Despite the publishing industry saying that they’ve moved on to other genres, dystopian themed stories remain extremely popular with teens. To what to you attribute this? What’s the appeal?
I think the publishing industry gets bored with genres faster than readers do, but that said, I believe “dystopian” stories are popular because they are high stakes action/adventure stories. In many ways, they are monster stories where the monster is government or technology out of control.
How do you differentiate sci-fi, fantasy and dystopian fiction for parents who want to know what types of books their kids are reading?
When people think of fantasy, they often think of Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings where magic inhabits an Earth-like world. The conflict is often between those who practice good magic and those who use magic for evil.
Sci-fi differentiates itself from fantasy by offering a world transformed by advanced scientific technology, and the action often takes place away from planet Earth. Dystopian is usually set on Earth in the future, and involves a catastrophic event or technology fail that dramatically changed the society or government. The themes of both usually involve survival, or freedom from totalitarian control.
What is your current WIP?
Right now I’m reviewing the typeset pages of A Girl Undone that are due next week. I am also working with my publisher on how to make available a novella I wrote about Sparrow, a character from A Girl Called Fearless. We are considering putting it on Wattpad where readers could try it out for free.
Disclosure: I happen to know Catherine Linka who has reviewed many books for GRWR, however this did not influence my opinion about her novel.
Meet Catherine Linka on her Thank You Sciba Book Tour. In appreciation for the support of indie booksellers this year, she can be found signing her debut novel, A Girl Called Fearless, and hand selling children’s and YA books at the following stores. She’s the best at helping you find the perfect gift! Be sure to pick up several copies of her book.
12/18 Once Upon a Time, Montrose, CA
12/19 Flintridge Bookstore & Coffeehouse, La Canada, CA