The Replacement by Brenna Yovanoff
Mackie should not have lived long enough to become a teen. Most replacements–put into cribs when babies are taken for sacrifice– die fairly soon and are buried in the unconsecrated part of the cemetery. But Mackie’s sister and parents loved him anyway and unconditionally (not hard to imagine why most families wouldn’t) and he has loved them back. Now, however, his allergies to blood, iron, and church are wearing him down and he has to make contact with his own kind in the dark, damp tunnels to gain time.
With this contact, he soon comes up with an idea to stop the sacrifice of babies—to change the deeply troubled way things have always been for something better. This is today’s version of the common story of humankind’s vulnerability to evil: through unconditional love, the dark and scary can produce a hero who is willing to do anything to save us all.
This pleasing note of optimism comes from a novel that can only be classified a gothic horror thriller laced as it is with blood, cruelty, and decrepitude. From a novel about the saddest aspects of human life—loss and frailty—comes a novel about the best aspects of human life—genuine, deep caring for more than ourselves.
Both teen genders will like this book. It is well-told, the characters gain our sympathies, and there is more to it than scariness.
The Fox Inheritance, by Mary E. Pearson
This is the sequel to The Adoration of Jenna Fox as reviewed earlier. It follows the two friends who were in the same car crash that killed Jenna Fox. While Jenna’s parents had been able to salvage enough of her to bioengineer her back into life, Locke and Kara had only their minds preserved for 270 years. Now they have been brought to life by an evil genius who wants to use them as floor models for a business that offers a new life to those about to die.
While Adoration reads like a psychological or medical thriller, Fox is much more of an action page-turner. Kara and Locke must escape their creator into a world void of anybody they know and vastly changed. A cross-country chase ensues with spy technology and real goons on their trail. They seek Jenna, who is still alive, and resolution to the question of who they are now.
Both books are both thought-provoking and exciting to read. Girls from middle school on up will like both books and boys will certainly like the second one, so it’s worth a chance to start them with the first one.
Strings Attached by Judy Blundell
For many years, author Judy Blundell wrote under a pen name as a writer for hire. Then, a few years ago, she wrote a book simply because she wanted to write it. Her agent read it and suggested she put her own name to it. That book, What I Saw and How I Lied won the National Book Award in 2008. In March of 2011, she published her second book under her own name–Strings Attached. Both books are narrated by a teen girl seeking mental and physical independence from dysfunctional adults in a dark atmosphere full of anxiety, post-WWII. In both, the girl fumbles in her perceptions of truth, wises up, and makes the hard choices.
While the first book takes place mainly in Florida, the second one is set in New York where small town Kit Corrigan aims to make a splash on the big stage. However, it is much harder than she expected and she agrees to accept help without fully questioning why the help is offered. Inevitably, the true reasons unfold…
For teen girls tired of the same old genres–fantasy, paranormal, dystopia, teen angst–these noir thrillers are a refreshing change. The setting in post WWII enhances the mystery and highlights the timeless theme of yearning for independence followed by loss of innocence. The author’s extensive story-writing experience and her thorough research of the time period make an entertaining and satisfying read. Suitable for and of interest to girls from eighth grade on up.
Matched, by Ally Condie
Dystopias typically exist in a future world where some kind of organizational force tries to control a population whose flaws nearly destroyed life in a previous time. That organization and that control, however, tend to painfully crimp the human spirit. In Matched, the first book in a trilogy, the Officials attempt to control every aspect of an individual’s life: what they eat, what they wear, who they marry, where they live, where they work. By doing this, they intend to eliminate disease, strife, and unhappiness.
But, of course, it doesn’t work. The individual’s desire for freedom is stronger than the desire for bland happiness, as it turns out, and as we all know too much power in the hands of the few tends to corrupt. In Matched, a seventeen-year-old girl has been officially “matched” with her intended husband, but there seems to be a catch–a second intended has somehow slipped into the picture which conspires to cause her to question the life the Officials have arranged for her. Once that question arises, the desire to make her own choices and pay her own dues can no longer be corraled.
For a dystopic novel, this story has an unusual sweetness. There is a lot of kindness and genuine caring among the characters. The depiction of two young people falling in love is very tender; the conniving of the Officials almost takes a background role. I think middle school girls who like books about relationships will want to read this book and the theme of independence and making your own choices is strongly appealing to young teens. It is not a challenging read by any means and may appeal even to reluctant girl readers.
Revolver by Marcus Sedgwick
Yes, this is a page-turning thriller centered on a fourteen-year-old boy and a really, really bad guy who threatens him and his sister and has quite likely taken the life of both his parents. And on a Colt Single Action Army, 1873 model revolver. The setting: a lone cabin across a frozen lake from a hard scrabble mining town in the bitter cold of the artic north.
But it is also a story about the gifts parents give their children to help them survive when they are on their own. In this case, Sig’s parents gave him very different gifts: his father gave him knowledge of the real world so that Sig could be able to survive whatever harshness he might encounter; his mother gave him a concern for the health of his own inner spirit so that his soul could survive the same. As it turns out, Sig will draw on both of his parents’ gifts to create a third option when his choice becomes to take a life or lose his own.
As such, this novel reads ninety percent thriller and ten percent fable. In fact, by the end, I was somewhat reminded of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. Written, of course, for young adults of today. Though this story features a male protagonist and a revolver, I think both genders would enjoy it from middle school on up. However, the bad guy is convincingly bad–his violence explicit and his sexual predation implied–which makes it more appropriate for the older, better-read teens.
Star Crossed by Elizabeth C. Bunce
This is Elizabeth Bunce’s second novel and the first in a new series. I loved her first book, A Curse Dark As Gold, an intriguing interpretation of the Rumplestiltskin folktale, and I eagerly looked forward to her next book. A genre, fantasy series, usually less favored by me, Star Crossed nevertheless delivers on many of the same levels: a strong, resourceful, true-hearted heroine; a diverse cast of interesting characters; vivid description; and the entertainment of life’s deeper questions.
Set in a fantasy world that atmospherically parallels eastern Europe in the late middle ages, this tale is narrated by a girl who has had to make her way into a hostile world at a very young age. She is on a singular mission—to stay alive. She becomes a very good thief, forger, and spy. But a near brush with death from a failed caper at the beginning of the story propels her into a mountain castle. Here she will sit out a snowbound winter with a cast of characters at the center of a budding rebellion.
Celyn, as she calls herself, is afraid of nothing. She uses her talents to find out everything there is to know about the castle and its inhabitants, slowly flushing all mysteries into the light. The reader comes along on her journey, flinching at her every daring move, as each of the characters slowly but inevitably reveals the clarity of their position in the central conflict.
Celyn is tough, resilient, and clever; she knows and protects good whenever she sees it. Readers of all ages who have enjoyed the Bloody Jack books will also like this book. The plot is tightly wovern and requires the reader to pay attention and work things out, but there is nothing inappropriate for the youngest of accomplished readers.
Neil Gaiman is an excellent author. Each of his words seems to be so perfectly placed that they exactly convey their intended message and nothing more. I recently saw the quote, “Focus on the essence, not the filler” and, it reminded me of how Neil Gaiman writes. It has taken me a while to write a review for his latest book, The Graveyard Book, because while I recognize his exceptional artistic mastery, his dark genre is not generally my cup of tea.
For example, the opening scene of the book is the ruthless murder of a small boy’s entire family. The toddler escapes purely by accident. I know, I know as Lois Lowry so eloquently explains in The Willoughby’s, all of the great stories are about winsome orphans. The problem is that Neil Gaiman is such a good author that somehow it seems more traumatic than say Barbar, Cinderella, or even Lemony Snicket. However, while there are some suspenseful elements after the opening, there is nothing as graphic or scary as the first few pages.
This is yet another example of a story about a deserving orphan, this time he just happens to be raised by ghosts in a graveyard. And, although I am generally not drawn to anything goth or dark, it is hard to resist this exceptionally well told story. I have not given this to my daughter yet, but if I do, I hope she takes away the message that the dark and light parts of life do not always appear as you would expect them. And, in fact, it is sometimes quite the opposite. In this case, the ghosts in the graveyard are kind, nurturing and are raising a boy who will help keep the world safe. On the other hand, the true evil ones are the major donors at important charities. It is important for my daughters to learn that someone who has twelve eyebrow rings and wears only black can be just as good or better than the most clean cut looking person. In fact, I think I need to remember that sometimes too.
Children who consider themselves as outsiders will love this book. It has also just the enough of an edge to give it the power to capture what might be a reluctant reader. However, I wouldn’t recommend it to children younger than 4th grade who have well developed imaginations. When your child is old enough, this book ironically does convey a message of love and hope that this ‘clean cut’ mom is a total sucker for.