Sunday, May 29, 2011


Paranormalcy by Kiersten White (NY: HarperTeen, 2010).

Like many sixteen-year-old girls, Evie likes the color pink, shopping for clothes, and teen television drama. But unlike most teenagers, Evie has to spend a lot of her time capturing paranormal creatures for the International Paranormal Containment Agency (IPCA) because she has the unique ability to see beneath the glamours paranormals use to deceive humans. She's lived at the agency's headquarters since she was found abandoned on the streets at age 4, and she's fashioned a sort of home for herself with a best friend (who happens to be a mermaid) and a mother-like figure (the head of the agency, Raquel), plus assorted paranormal creatures.

Upon returning from a routine bag-and-tag, Evie goes to debrief with Raquel, the head of the agency, but immediately notices that she's not talking to Raquel but some guy glittering beneath the surface. She tases the guy and he gets carted off to a containment cell, but she's become interested in him. What is he, for instance? How does he take on other people's appearances? Why was he spying on the agency? Evie's questions, and Raquel's reluctance to tell Evie anything, lead her to spending time with the guy, Lend, and she soon finds herself liking him and wanting to help him escape.

Simultaneously, a spate of paranormal killings erupts, and no one knows who or what is killing the paranormals. Evie has been having nightmares, and not just about her old boyfriend, a beautiful faerie named Reth, though he seems to be involved in the mystery somehow, too. Can her murky past and the current situation have some connection?

Paranormalcy is an exciting read with lots of action and a spirited heroine who deftly balances her normal and paranormal sides. Parts of the plot are somewhat convoluted, but overall the novel reads well enough that I will look for the next installment, Supernaturally (due out in July). Recommended for teens, age 13 & up. Some sexual situations, but nothing graphic.

Hex Hall

Hex Hall by Rachel Hawkin (NY: Disney Hyperion, 2010).

Hecate Hall, aka Hex Hall, is like juvie for delinquent Prodigium--witches, warlocks, werewolves, fairies, and other assorted creatures, or monsters as the pamphlet Sophie Mercer reads refers to them, correctly translating the Latin. She lands there (her twentieth school!) for a prom spell gone awry; honestly, she thought she was helping pitiful Felicia Miller--how was Sophie to know that the boy Felicia wanted would plow his Land Rover into the gym? In addition to confronting all these things she's never encountered before--including a vampire roommate, who turns out to be really nice--Sophie misses her mom. Sure, her mother has kept her isolated from others of her kind all her life, but she's been a constant. Unlike Sophie's father, who left before she was born. He never told Sophie's mother he was a warlock until she was pregnant, and Sophie's mom has been learning as much as she could. But it's not really enough to help Sophie deal with the likes of Hex Hall, including the mean girls who want to force Sophie into their coven because they need four dark witches, and one of their number died last term, apparently from vampire wounds! While Sophie's roommate has been officially exonerated, she's still being carefully watched and the other students regard her as the most likely culprit. Add to that Sophie's crush on the cutest guy on campus, a warlock named Archer, more dead students, plus a full term of detention cataloging weird magical items with Archer, and Sophie is hugely uncomfortable.

It turns out there's a lot more that Sophie's dad hasn't told her or her mother, so along with her rude introduction to the ways of prodigia (that's the plural form of prodigium, btw), she gets a dose of family history plus the usual caldron of teen angst generated by living in close quarters with hormone-ridden adolescents. All of this makes for an entertaining read, especially since Sophie is as indomitable as she is humorous, traits she needs in spades to cope with the hand she's been dealt.

Romance, mystery, action, paranormal creatures--lots of great ingredients here, and Hawkins delivers an excellent story with something for everyone. I was a little disappointed with the ending (can't mention specifics without spoiling the novel!), but hope that the next installment will straighten that out. Highly recommended for ages 13 & up. Language, sexual situations (nothing too graphic), violence.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Will Grayson, Will Grayson

Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan (NY: Dutton, 2010).

One Will Grayson lives in Evanston, Illinois, has doctor parents, and an exuberant best friend named Tiny (who is anything but). Tiny is always in love, and he's gay. Will is not gay, and he has two main rules for his life: keep quiet and don't care too much. When he doesn't obey these rules, things tend to go wrong for him. Tiny wants to push Will outside of his comfort zone, but Will resists.

The other Will Grayson lives in Naperville, which might as well be another state. His parents are divorced, he has to work at a crappy job, he's taking anti-depressants, and he really doesn't care for his one friend Maura. He'd much rather talk online to Isaac, with whom he believes he's in love, though he really doesn't want to admit to anyone that he's gay.

Told in alternating perspectives by the two Wills, this novel deals with all the issues teens obsess over--friends, love, sex, parents, school, the future, etc. The characters are compelling and the plot moves along well. I enjoyed the way the lives of the two Wills come to intersect and how well drawn the emotions are. This is a fabulously readable novel. Don't miss it! Highly recommended for ages 14 & up. Language, sexual situations, alcohol.

Four Seasons

Four Seasons by Jane Breskin Zalben (NY: Alfred A. Knopf, 2011).

Thirteen-year-old Allegra Katz has played the piano as long as she can remember, encouraged by her musician parents. She's enrolled in the Pre-College Division of the famous Julliard School, plus she goes to a select, private school for gifted students. She practices four hours a day--not nearly enough according to her piano teacher, Miss Pringle--and studies for her classes the rest of the time. Her best friend Opal asks her to go shopping, sleep over, and other fun stuff, but Ally just doesn't have the time, with the constant pressure to practice for upcoming competitions and juries. Every season seems to bring its own unique pressures, and this year Ally is wondering if it's too much for her. She can't imagine NOT playing the piano, but the relentless stress is starting to wear on her.

Ally is an entirely sympathetic character, and Zalben has crafted her story well. The insular world of music prodigies forms a fascinating part of the story, but Ally's situation could apply to any of the areas in which children compete these days. Highly recommended for ages 11 & up. No sexual situations, language.

Prom and Prejudice

Prom & Prejudice by Elizabeth Eulberg (NY: Point, 2011).

In this re-envisioning of Austen's classic novel, Lizzie Bennett is a scholarship student at a high-end girls' prep school called Longbourn Academy. Jane is her kind-hearted roommate, and Charles Bingley and Will Darcy are boys at Pemberley Academy. Aside from Jane and Charlotte, another scholarship student, Lizzie avoids her mean-spirited classmates who tormented her from the day she started at Longbourn simply because she's not rich. Jane likes Charles and is hoping he'll ask her to prom, which is a hugely important social occasion for juniors at Longbourn. Lizzie and Will clash from the start, with Lizzie assuming Will is as snobby as his classmates, especially when she overhears him remarking to Charles about her scholarship status.

Prom & Predudice is a fun, lightweight read, with very little of the social satire of its original, which is fine, since getting a date for prom and finding a husband are entirely different matters. Recommended for ages 13 & up.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Carrie Pilby

Carrie Pilby by Caren Lissner (2003; NY: Harlequin Teen, 2010).

Carrie Pilby is a nineteen-year-old Harvard graduate living alone in New York City and trying to gain the social skills she never learned. She skipped three grades and trusted her father's "Big Lie" that she would finally meet people like herself in college. Instead, she had a brief affair with a pervy English professor and became disgusted with her fellow students' twin obsessions: liquor and sex. So she's left in her current predicament of needing to learn how to connect with people. She has a therapist—her father insisted on this—and he outlines some tasks to help her that include: joining an organization and going on a date. If all of this sounds fairly mundane, it would be if not for Carrie's uniquely hilarious, and naturally introspective, perspective on herself, people around her, and her own issues. For instance, because she feels most people are immoral, she approaches her tasks as a way of proving this point. Thus, she joins a church but mainly to demonstrate that it's a cult, and she finds a date in the personal ads with a guy who wants to cheat on his fiancĂ©, so she can rat him out to the fiancĂ©. Circumstances lead her to learn that not everything is as black and white as she assumes—that there's lots of gray space that she must learn to navigate.

Carrie is such a wonderful character I hated for this novel to end. Her analysis of the college social scene is horrifically honest yet spot on. While her situation merits sympathy, she's not pathetic because she has such a strong sense of her own self-worth, and she's willing to bend a bit by the end of the novel. Kudos to Harlequin Teen for reissuing this excellent YA read (originally published in 2003). Highly recommended for ages 14 & up, especially socially awkward overachievers. Sexual situations, language, alcohol.


Bumped by Megan McCafferty (NY: Balzer & Bray, 2011).

Bumped plunges the reader into an odd dystopian world where a virus affects everyone at age 18 and renders them infertile. This means that teen pregnancy is not only required, but glorified—and aggressively pursued by parents! Yes, parents push their girls to get pregnant and even turn it to their financial advantage. Girls do not dream of marriage but rather bumping (i.e., having sex and getting pregnant) with "reproaesthetical" sex partners, generally arranged by conception contractors for surrogate parents.

The narrative switches between the perspectives of Melody and Harmony, identical twin girls who were separated at birth and grew up in very different environments. Melody's parents, wealthy New Jersey college professors, have spared no expense to make her into a desirable match who will produce an ideal baby, or preferably multiple babies, for some lucky parents who will pay top dollar for her progeny. Harmony, on the other hand, has lived in Goodside (in Pennsylvania), a religious enclave separate from Otherside, where Melody lives. People in Goodside marry young and reproduce, and they want to convert all the sinners in Otherside. Indeed, Harmony ventures out of Goodside to find her long-lost twin and save her.

McCafferty creates a wholly believable dystopia in Bumped, complete with its own ridiculous language and social customs that totally mock present day values, including those of religious fundamentalists. In some ways it's reminiscent of Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale in that respect, but it's different in its criticism of consumerist culture (there it's more like Westerfeld's Uglies trilogy). Because the reader is catapulted into this world, it seems very confusing at first, although Melody's character in particular is realistically drawn with familiar teen concerns about family, friends, and boys, even given her extreme situation. Harmony's character is less fleshed out and more reliant on stereotypes, yet she becomes more real as she spends time in Melody's world. McCafferty is facing the eternal dilemma that good is a whole lot less interesting than evil, and the middle space yields the greatest potential for an engrossing story. Despite the bumpy start, Bumped is well worth reading.

Recommended for ages 13 & up. Sexual situations (not graphic).

Thursday, May 12, 2011

What Happened to Goodbye

What Happened to Goodbye by Sarah Dessen (NY: Viking, 2011).

Mclean Sweet welcomes the change that a new town and new school bring her, and this is her fourth town and school in two years! She enjoys trying on different personality types--cheerleader, prep, drama junkie--using a different variation of her middle name in every town. Ever since her parents' divorce, Mclean has felt disrupted, so the moves help her avoid her own feelings and assume those of whoever she's reinvented herself as. She particularly wants to avoid her mother, whom she not only blames for the divorce, but sort of envies for having reinvented herself.

Now, though, in Lakeview, Mclean's kind of been trapped into being herself. Maybe it's the guy next door, Dave, who is himself so genuine and trusting, or maybe it's that she likes the people she's been meeting. Whatever it is, she finds herself not only making friends but getting involved in ways she hasn't in her previous towns. And that includes dealing with her feelings about the divorce and her mother's role.

Mclean is a wonderful, realistic character, definitely not a type, and Dessen casts her into a position with which many readers will identify--honest self-discovery. Mclean has channeled a lot of anger over the divorce onto her mother, and their interactions add a lot of interest to the plot. Mclean's father, though, clearly has his own issues, and those become clearer as Mclean rethinks her position. The restaurant setting, especially the restructuring imposed by Mclean's father, informs the plot significantly, as does the civic project of creating a scale model of the town in which Mclean finds herself involved. Mclean's developing relationships with Dave and other people underlie the novel's attention to the importance of forming ties--instead of always avoiding or severing them, as Mclean has opted for in the past.

Superb novel, highly recommended for ages 13 & up.

Friday, May 6, 2011


Wither, Book One of The Chemical Garden Trilogy, by Lauren Destefano (NY: Simon & Schuster, 2011).

Sixteen-year-old Rhine Ellery has only four years left to live. A virus activated by the genetic engineering that produced one generation of superior adults has doomed subsequent generations to an early death--at age 20 for females, and 25 for males. Scientists in Manhattan racing to find an antidote have been destroyed by a faction that believes the human race should be allowed to die out, though other researchers continue to seek a solution. Meanwhile, orphans are increasingly left to fend for themselves, and girls are often snatched off the street by Gatherers who take them to the homes of rich men to dwell in polygamous marriages and reproduce in case a cure is found.

Kidnapped Rhine finds herself far away from her twin brother and forced to marry Linden in a group ceremony with two other girls, who become her sister wives. Although Rhine becomes his favorite, once his first wife has died, and she's living in relative ease compared to the poverty of her previous home, Rhine can only think of escaping to be with her brother again. Her father-in-law, a ruthless doctor obsessed with finding a cure before his own son dies, rules the household, manipulating everyone within it, even lying to his own son and performing gruesome experiments in his single-minded quest.

Withered is an excellent dystopia, peppered with potent social criticism. Rhine's relationships with her hapless husband, her sister wives, and the young attendant with whom she wishes to escape are all well drawn and enfolded in the captivating narrative. Highly recommended for ages 14 & up. Intense and sexual situations.


Spellbound by Cara Lynn Shultz (NY: Harlequin Teen, 2011). [Reviewed from Kindle ARC provided by publisher via]

Sixteen-year-old Emma Connor is hoping New York's Vincent Academy will give her a fresh start since she knows no one except her cute cousin Ashley, who's promised not to tell anyone that Emma's kind of a tragedy magnet. First her twin brother died, then her mother, and then her abusive, alcoholic stepfather nearly killed her in a car accident that has left her with physical scars on her arm and emotional scars that make her want to remain anonymous. But Emma feels compelled to respond in kind to the scornful comments of a mean girl, Kristin, who feels threatened when the boy she wants (who is a total player and whom Emma immediately loathes) hits on Emma--so she's not exactly anonymous for long. Luckily, a green-eyed hottie named Brendan snorts at her comeback and then backs up her fake story about a fictitious Philly school she had to leave for family reasons. Emma feels an immediate and strong attraction to Brendan, though she doesn't know why, and he pretty much ignores her after that first day. But she can't stop thinking about him. And weird things start happening, like lights start burning out, and she's having vivid dreams in which she doesn't look like herself, though she's always wearing the charm necklace with the medieval crest that her twin brother gave her before he died.

Emma's friend Angelique, who happens to be a witch, helps her learn more about the charm, and Brendan can't seem to make up his mind if he likes Emma or not, which drives Emma nuts! Meanwhile, Emma's dreams are becoming more intense, and she discovers that any romance she might have with Brendan is cursed! Is there any hope for them at all?

Spellbound provides the perfect blend of paranormal and romance. Emma is a wonderful, witty protagonist, and she and Brendan make a great couple as they battle for their love against the curse that seems to doom it from the start. Shultz masterfully plots the story, so this novel is one fabulous read. Buy a copy for yourself and your favorite middle or high school librarian! Highly recommended for romance aficionados, ages 13 & up. Sexual & intense situations, alcohol.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011


Intertwined by Gena Showalter (NY: Harlequin Teen, 2009).

Sixteen-year-old Aden Stone has always heard voices in his head. He's not schizophrenic, though he's been in and out of institutions all his life. The voices are real, and they belong to four distinct souls who have been trapped in his body as long as he can remember. Not only do they talk to him, but they all have special talents: raising the dead, predicting the future, traveling through time, and possessing another person's body.

Now he's landed on the D and M Ranch in Crossroads, Oklahoma, a last chance facility for troubled teens, and he's determined to act as normally as possible. But lately he's been having visions of a beautiful, dark-haired girl, who he's sure somehow can save him from the endless tumult of his life. In fact, the first dark-hair girl he meets, Mary Ann Gray, miraculously acts as a buffer between himself and the four souls, and he enjoys the peace he finds whenever he's with her. Then a second dark-haired girl enters his life, vampire princess Victoria, who has been attracted to Crossroads by a mysterious magnetic confluence that has suddenly emerged there. Aden and Mary Ann are both in danger as they seem to be the source of this powerful force, and Victoria's werewolf guardian Riley begins watching over Mary Ann as well. Soon they realize that all manner of supernatural creatures are converging on Crossroads, and they will have to work together to help themselves--and save humanity!

This novel has a fascinating premise--a boy with four souls trapped within him who is seeking a way to release them. This alone would have made the story interesting, so it's a shame that Showalter felt compelled to add in not just vampire and werewolf love interests for Aden and Mary Ann, respectively, but all manner of nasty ghouls, goblins, witches, fairies, etc. Even without the heated descriptions of ripped werewolf abs, Showalter dips dangerously into the Twilight realm, but the pretty vampire stuff--as well as the cloying quarrels over relative attractiveness and blood lust--needlessly drags the story down. Twilight fans will undoubtedly enjoy Intertwined, yet the novel would have been better without pandering to them.

Recommended for teens, 14 & up. Sexual & intense situations, violence, alcohol, drugs, language.


Abandon by Meg Cabot (NY: Point, 2011).

Meg Cabot reimagines the Persephone story in this modern rendering about a girl, Pierce, who dies at age 15 and then returns to life. The first chapter explicitly retells the Persephone myth and Pierce insinuates that she has had a similar experience. Nonetheless, her tale is confusing, largely because the plot is pointlessly convoluted. Instead of starting with the story of her near death and proceeding from there, the story begins with Pierce complaining about being forced to move with her mother to an island off the coast of Florida and how much she hates being asked about her near-death experience (NDE, as she helpfully abbreviates it) and then weaves back and forth between her actual NDE and the immediate aftermath to events further in her past when she visited the island and then to events during the two years leading to the move to the island. The oddest part of the story is not that she doesn't realize that the hunky guy she meets in the underworld is some kind of death deity, but that when she does realize it, she continues to act as though it's perfectly fine to have the hots for a death deity. As if he's just some hot guy. In other words, the trademarks of a Cabot teen girl--mild ditziness with a bunch of lust and a dash of angst--seem rather ridiculously out of place in this story.

If you can get around that roadblock, you'll probably like this story as it involves a girl trying to figure out a complex situation with supernatural overtones while she frets over her love life. Otherwise, you can just adopt a line from Dante that's not helpfully quoted in a chapter heading, but rather implied by the title: Abandon hope all ye who enter here.

Fine for ages 13 & up. Intense situations, sexual situations, alcohol.


Stolen by Lucy Christopher (NY: Chicken House, 2010).

16-year-old Gemma narrates this novel that is in the form of a letter to the man who abducted her, telling the story of her kidnapping from her point-of-view. It is an amazingly compelling story, fraught with contradictions, the most obvious ones being her feelings of hate--and love--for her captor, Ty.

As Gemma tells it, she gets annoyed at her parents at the Bangkok airport and dashes off to get coffee on her own, but she doesn't have the right kind of money, and Ty ends up buying her the coffee--and slipping some drugs into it. Gemma ends up in the middle of nowhere--the hot, wild Australian outback desert--alone with Ty. And it turns out that he has planned the whole thing, indeed, has been planning it for years. He first saw her when she was a kid playing in the park, and he's been watching her ever since, till at one point he starts believing that taking her away from her well-to-do London life to live with him will benefit her. He never rapes her and even declares that he loves her. Despite her intense fear and desire to escape, Gemma develops a certain amount of sympathy for Ty as well.

Both Gemma and Ty are complex characters, and Christopher masterfully spins the narrative so neither is wholly repulsive or attractive. It's an astonishing feat, really, and one of the most unique novels I've read in a long time. Highly recommended for teens, ages 14 & up. Language, intense situations.