Loser Queen

Loser Queen by Jodi Lynn Anderson Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers (December 21, 2010). ISBN: 9781416996460.

loser queen

Based on a very interesting process (plot twists were voted on by online fans with the winner being incorporated), this is the tale of how Cammy Hall went from high school obscurity to top dog ranking and then crashed and burned. It all started after being humiliated when another girl caught her trying to change her clothes and showed her in her granny pants. The next thing Cammy knew, she had someone calling themselves the White Rabbit, texting or leaving notes that help her humiliate the girl who shamed her, then expose mean kids or do nicely anonymous things to teens like her who were picked on or felt bad about themselves.

The process mystifies everyone, gains Cammy popularity, but forces her to lie and strains her relationship with her best friend, Gerdi, a Danish exchange student who liked the U.S. So much she’s hung around for all four years of high school.

The lying and eventual exposure is costly to Cammy, but allows her to figure out what’s really important. The ending is a bit bittersweet, but I enjoyed the book and read it in one evening. Teens who like mystery, high school drama and revenge or who have experienced these, will like the book.

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

Sanctuary Bay

Sanctuary Bay by Laura J. Burns and Melinda Metz. St. Martin’s Griffin (January 19, 2016). ISBN: 9781250051363. Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS

sanctuary bay

Sarah Merson has the ability to remember everything…what she’s read, what she’s learned and most importantly, what she’s seen, even the murder of her parents when she was four years old. Bounced around in the Ohio foster care system, she’s mysteriously selected for an exclusive private school-Sanctuary Bay Academy, on an isolated island off the Maine coast. There’s a caveat, however. Once enrolled, students remain on the island until graduation, two years in her case.

She’s greeted warmly, first by two students who meet her at a floating wind generator, then when her roommates, Izzy and Karina, unfurl a huge banner welcoming her. Despite the greeting, Sarah has difficulty warming and trusting at first, partly because of her foster care experiences, but also because it seems everyone there is well off and she has nothing.

The plot cranks up quickly and involves secrets, lots of secrets-tunnels where Nazi POWs were held during WW2, an abandoned insane asylum on the other side of the island, her roommates disappearing at night and a secret society. All of these are part of an even bigger secret that fuels the remainder of the story.

I have a few problems, though. Before arriving, Sarah’s told they can access the web for research, but nothing can go out, no Facebook, email, etc, yet there are extremely smart students and millions of dollars worth of technology in the labs. At least one kid could have figured out a workaround and hacked the system. I also can’t buy the head of a quasi-govenment corporation bragging all their secrets to a couple teens when billions of dollars and who knows how many lives are at stake.

Even with my reservations, I liked the book and am looking forward to a more polished sequel.

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Filed under Grade 10-12, Fiction

How To Disappear

How To Disappear by Ann Stampler Simon Pulse (June 14, 2016) (Digital review copy courtesy of Edelweis) ISBN: 9781481443937. Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS

how to disappear

Both Nicolette Holland and Jack Manx have serious parental baggage in form of family crime connections. Her mom died not long after marrying her stepdad who has treated her like a real daughter. Now sixteen, she’s popular and a good student at her Ohio high school. Jack is also an honor student at a private school in Nevada. His father is dead and his mom is an environmental lawyer. His father was pretty abusive before he was killed by other gangsters. Don, Jack’s older brother, is in prison and is as unlikable as Jack is popular and well liked.

Neither teen is aware of the other until Nicolette sees something happen in the woods by her house one night and has to flee for her life. When Jack is forced into going after her after being threatened by his brother, it’s the beginning of an impossible to ignore chase, one that starts with Jack tracking her down, then forming an edgy coexistence, all leading to a slam-bang ending with a really crafty twist.

Yes, there’s strong language, a sex scene (well done methinks) and violence, but when you’re fearful for your life what else would one expect. This is a very well-crafted story with lots of tension and very appealing main characters and will be a good addition for public libraries.

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Filed under Fiction, Grade 10-12

Freeze Frame

Freeze Frame by Heidi Ayarbe, HarperTeen; Reprint edition (May 4, 2010) ISBN: 9780061351754. Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS.

freeze frame

Losing your best friend hurts, when you lose him twice, as Kyle does, its so painful his mind refuses to allow him to remember what really happened the second time. He and Jason were besties, living less than a block from each other. Jason longed to become an artist, drawing ever more detailed comic characters. Both his little brother Chase and Kyle were drawn as super heroes, Chase as Kite Rider and Jason as Freeze Frame. Kyle’s dream was to become a movie maker and he was obsessed with watching videos and trying to dissect them so he could understand how directors worked.

When Jason started hanging out with new friends, Kyle didn’t know how to deal with it. On the surface, the friendship was still solid, but the less time they spent together, the more he started hurting inside. Jason comes over for a weekend visit and something terrible happens in the shed behind the house. Kyle snaps out of a shocked daze to see blood everywhere and Jason lying on the shed floor. He can’t remember exactly what happened. One thing does become clear to him. Jason is dying and he’s responsible.

What unfolds after this is painful to read at times, while sucking you in a bit more on almost every page. It made me feel intensely for Kyle. He doesn’t question his responsibility, but his guilt and grief lead him to numerous choices and actions that upset others and make those who care for him question what’s going on in his head. Lost hardly begins to describe how he feels and every time he attempts to recreate the events, switching from movie director to movie director, he ends up in freeze frame at the critical moment.

It takes his promise to protect Chase from bullying at the elementary school, the friendship of Mr. Cordoba, a most unlikely high school librarian, the friendship of Kohana, another teen who understands the role of outcast better than almost anyone and numerous talks to Jason in the graveyard for Kyle to put the pieces together. The result is healing, not only for him, but for almost everyone affected by this tragedy.

It’s an excellent book for teens who have, or are grappling with guilt or remorse as well as those who like a book that hits the reader with an emotional body blow.

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Filed under Fiction, Grade 10-12

Six Feet Over It

Six Feet Over It by Jennifer Longo, Ember (January 12, 2016) ISBN: 9780449818749. Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS.

six feet

Leigh resembles a soft boiled egg that was dropped, but not cracked. Rigid to all appearances, but a whirled mess inside. Born two months early, her preemie status has been used to belittle her feelings time after time. When older sister Kai became sick with leukemia, things got worse. Money dried up, attention got refocused and the lack of both caused her to retreat further into her messy shell of doubt and guilt.

When Kai gets better and Leigh has finally made a real friend in Emily who moved to Mendocino with her mother, Leigh and Emily make plans to go to girl scout camp together, but those are derailed by Leigh’s parents.

Next stop for the family is in another inland California town, where their father, Wade, has bought a graveyard. Leigh not only has to start over in a new school, she’s lost her only friend and is stuck three (often more) afternoons a week handling sales of graves, headstones and funerals because Wade, while full of grand plans, is nearly useless when it comes to the death business. In fact, Leigh becomes more and more trapped by the whole death phenomenon.

When Dario, an illegal immigrant, arrives, he’s a breath of fresh air, willing and able to spiff the place up, dig graves and comfort the bereaved. Despite her near terror of getting close to anyone, Leigh connects with him and in the process, learns to speak Spanish fairly well, but still resists his daily encouragement to do new things.

Elanor and her older brother Balin homeschoolers whose parents own Rivendell, a combined flower shop and funky lawn ornament establishment, enter Leigh and Kai’s lives, but in markedly different ways. Kai is attracted to Balin, while Leigh is terrified (for reasons clear in the book) of making another friend even after numerous overtures by Elanor and nudges from Dario.

How everything shakes out so Leigh is able to feel like a kid instead of an ancient emotional prisoner, makes for a great read. This is an excellent first book and will appeal to many teens, especially those where turmoil and grief are part of their family dynamics.

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

Underwater

Underwater by Marisa Reichardt, Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR) (January 12, 2016). ISBN: 9780374368869. Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS.

underwater

Violence at any age does a number on people. Violence, coupled with guilt is even worse, but add in the stress of being part of a financially with a mentally ill parent, as well as having a perfectionist streak and you’ve got a perfect storm. Meet Morgan. She did something intended as an act of kindness on the last day she went to school and has been unable to forgive herself or anyone else since.

School shootings are sadly common these days, but what do we know about the effects on the surviving kids? In Underwater, the author introduces us to someone who thought she could handle the aftermath of a massacre at her school, but the longer she tried to get on with life, the more her world shrank until it consisted of her family’s apartment. She gave up her best friends, competitive swimming and life in general, rerunning scenes from the horrific day at school in between her online classes.

When Evan moves into the adjacent apartment with his mother, Morgan is conflicted. He looks hot, but kind, a combination she’s not used to. He won’t let her ignore him, in part because of a connection they have that she never knew about. She’s also working with Brenda, a therapist with a tough exterior, but a compassionate and understanding interior who hints at having similarities to Morgan.

When her kindergartener brother gets a part in a school play, his eagerness to have her attend the performance creates a whole new level of stress. In addition is the pain and uncertainty generated by her father’s own PTSD and alcoholism after five tours in military war zones. He’s vanished again and this hurts because Morgan has lots of memories of how great he was when she was little.

It takes love, kindness and some real pushing by Evan and Brenda in order for Morgan to finally look at her role in the tragedy and what she can do to regain her life. The process isn’t easy and seldom follows a straight line, but neither does real life.

Marisa has done a wonderful job of using the events of that day as well as other aspects of each characters’ life to show readers successive layers in order to keep them in the moment and hooked on what happens next. This is a great book for both school and public libraries to have in their collection.

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Filed under Fiction, Grade 10-12

After The End

After The End by Amy Plum, Harper Teen reprint edition, 2015. ISBN: 9780062225610. Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS.

after the end

Juneau is the heir to what her clan considers the role of shaman. The current one, Whit, has trained her in the ways of connecting to what’s called the Yara, a universal force that permeates all things. The adults fled to a remote region in Alaska beyond Denali after what they have told the children was World War III. Juneau is out hunting when she hears the frightening whump of a helicopter. While she’s been told that civilization has been destroyed, save for a few of what the elders call brigands, she’s heard this scary sound a couple times before, so she abandons the caribou she killed and back to her village.

When she arrives, everyone is gone and the dogs have been killed. Whit was supposedly on a retreat to a cave, but when she arrives there she realizes he hasn’t been there for months. Her ‘reading’, a way she sees distant events and connects with other clan members, tells her that both Whit and the rest of her clan have been abducted, but Whit’s near the sea while her father and the others are much further away. This realization is the beginning of her odyssey, one where she intends to find and free her clan.

Meanwhile, in Los Angeles, Miles has been kicked out of his private school and is working in the mailroom at his father’s pharmaceutical firm. He was headed to Yale before getting expelled. When he overhears his father talking about a valuable girl who is on her way to Seattle, he decides to go and find her as a way of redeeming himself. That girl is Juneau.

When their paths cross, it’s the start of an uneasy alliance that finds them equally frustrated and disbelieving, but the longer they’re together, the more Miles realizes Juneau’s telling the truth and the stronger their attraction becomes. There’s a lot of action, a need for readers to suspend a bit of belief, a0 neat budding romance and a cliffhanger ending. It was good enough for me to order the sequel immediately.

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

This Way Home

This Way Home by Wes Moore with Shawn Goodman, Delacorte Press (November 10, 2015). ISBN: 9780385741699. Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS.

this way home

Seventeen year old Elijah Thomas lives for basketball, but dreams that someday he’ll be playing and look up to find his long absent father watching with approval. Thus far that hasn’t happened, but he, along with best friends Michael and Dylan mesh well together on the court and have reached a level where they’re going to try winning the $3,000 prize in the summer tournament. Most everyone else is bigger and older, but Elijah is their secret weapon.

When Michael gets them expensive new shoes and specially designed jerseys with the local gang’s logo, Elijah’s bothered by what’s likely involved in expected payment. So is his mom who talks him into not wearing the new items for the final tournament game. In the meantime, Mom also got him a job doing chores for Banks a crotchety middle aged army veteran whose daughter, Kerri, is extremely pretty and smart. The two of them click, even though she keeps telling him that their meetings are not a date.

When retaliation comes, Elijah is angry, his mother terrified, while Banks and Kerri are willing to help. How this plays out makes for a decent read. This is a book that will appeal more to urban and inner city kids, but the plot is strong enough to hold the attention of teens liking a story with suspense and interesting characters.

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Filed under Fiction, Grade 10-12

Arrows

Arrows by Melissa Gorzelanczyk, Delacorte Press (January 26, 2016), ISBN: 9780553510447.

arrows

Being a teen undergod should be enough pressure, but when your dad’s Cupid and you’re on your first mission with two love arrows and you’ve already been a tad careless and clueless, it’s the perfect setup for disaster. Meet Aaryn who’s in Wisconsin outside a dance with his girlfriend Phoebe, also a cupid in training. Their mission is to smite two couples with the golden arrows and create two perfect romances. Phoebe’s arrows do the trick, but after Aaryn hits Karma Clark, he realizes to his dismay, that the arrow destined for her boyfriend, Danny, is a dud. The cupids agree to lie about the mistake because the consequences they’d face aren’t pretty.

Fast forward a year. An audit picks up the mistake and Aaryn is sent back to fix things, or face really unpleasant consequences, but there’s no arrow this time, making things a lot more challenging. In the meantime, Karma’s given birth to a daughter and is desperately in love with Danny while trying to balance motherhood, school and her nearly derailed dream of becoming a ballet dancer. Danny, however has become a lying, self-centered and immature jerk, incapable of being either a boyfriend or a dad. Aaryn finds the challenge at first impossible, but the more he’s around Karma, the fuzzier his mission becomes.

This is a book where you know early on the destination, but it’s the journey to arrive there that’s enchanting and mesmerizing. Aaryn and Karma are great main characters, worth rooting for even at those times you despair of things turning out well. I’ll leave it to future readers to find out for themselves if that happens. Teens liking a new twist on romance or who have been desperately in love that wasn’t returned will really like this book. I’d recommend it for any school or public library.

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

Their Fractured Light

Their Fractured Light by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner, Disney-Hyperion (December 1, 2015) . ISBN: 9781423171041. Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS.

their fractured

Gideon, AKA The Knave of Hearts and Sofia Quinn are the final pair of players in this last installment of the Starbound series. Both want to end the evil spawned by LaRoux Industries, but in different ways. Sophia wants to kill LaRoux, while Gideon wants to expose the corruption with his and others’ hacking skills. The situation is complicated by a giant misunderstanding between them that isn’t uncovered until the story is steaming along.

When the protagonists from the first two installments, Lilac LaRoux, Tarver Merendsen, Jubilee Chase and Flynn Cormac become involved, the story speeds up and involves not only a monumental disaster, but a cliffhanger regarding the decision the Whisperers have to make about humanity.

There’s love, distrust, carnage, intrigue, more intrigue and a dandy ending in this book. It’s an excellent conclusion to an outstanding series. Please do not cheat yourself by reading this if you haven’t read the first two in the series. Your experience will be far less satisfying if you do.

Teens who love well crafted plots, dystopian fiction, love stories and plenty of action will devour this book. I look forward to more great books from this team.

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