ALAN Picks April/May 2016

ALAN Picks April/May 2016

After the Woods by Kim Savage
Farrar Straus Giroux, 2016, 294 pp., $17.99
ISBN:  978-0-374-30055-5

Julia is a typical teenager occupied with her best friend Liv and their cross-country running. Daily runs take them all across town, but the day they find themselves in the woods with Donald Jessup changes everything, including their friendship. Julia tries to move on, being described as the miracle, the bravest girl you’ve ever met. Liv just moves on. A confused and traumatized Julia seeks closure through counselors, family, reporters, and even the mother of her abductor, when all she really wants is answers from the only other person alive that knows what happened, Liv.

Savage has created a mystery that unfolds one year after the abduction as Julia pieces together a long string of truths behind the moment that changed her life. After the Woods is a fast-paced read that leaves you questioning the bonds of friendship and the limits of forgiveness.

Reviewed by Tracy Brosch, Festus, Missouri

The Last Place on Earth by Carol Snow
Henry Holt, 2016, 300 pp., $16.99
Survivalists/Best Friends/Family
ISBN 978-1-62779-039-0

Daisy Cruz is studying the plague (bubonic, pneumonic, septicemic) in AP European History when her best friend, Henry Hawking, stops coming to class. His phone is disconnected, the newspapers are piling up in the driveway; she knows he’s gone. After sneaking into his garage, she discovers that his parents are preppers, ready for TEOTWAWKI—the end of the world as we know it. They think a new strain of plague, Madagascar plague, is the trigger. When she follows clues into the mountains to find Henry, she learns the difference between Orange County preppers and real survivalists.  And she questions whether her best friend is who she thought he was.

Snow gives the dystopian novel an intriguing twist, starting her story just before everything falls apart. She has her level-headed, independent, somewhat naïve protagonist confront increasingly challenging situations in believable ways. Romance takes second place to survival, and the characters’ language is appropriate for young teen readers, although they may miss some of the humor.

Reviewed by Nancy Barendse, Goose Creek, South Carolina

Underwater by Marisa Reichardt
Farrar Straus Giroux, 2016, 282 pp., $17.99
Trauma/Single parent families/ Romantic Interest/Recovery, Relationships
ISBN: 978-0-374-36886-9

After a school shooting, Morgan is too scared to leave her apartment, so she spends her days inside, completing online high school classes and watching television. She has severed ties with her friends and only communicates with her mom, her five-year-old brother, and a therapist. But when a cute boy named Evan moves in next door, Morgan realizes that she wants to fight to live a life that isn’t drowned by fear. By tapping into the power of writing and by opening herself up to a new relationship, Morgan ultimately finds the strength to leave the past behind her.

Through Morgan’s character, Marisa Reichardt has dared to imagine what it is like to live with the trauma of a school shooting. This book is important, not because it tells the story of horrific violence, but because it depicts the struggle to recover from violence and offers readers both hope and compassion.

Reviewed by April Brannon, Fullerton, CA

Speed of Life by J.M. Kelly
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016, 352 pp., $17.99
Twins/Sisters/Babies/Conduct of life/Family life/Social issues
ISBN: 978-0-544-74782-1

The close bond between twins is evident in the relationship between Crystal and Amber, who live in a poor, rundown area of Portland, Oregon, with their mother, who is preoccupied with gambling, and step-father, who is an alcoholic. Their goal of being the first in their family to graduate from high school is tested when one of them gets pregnant during their junior year. Now they are raising baby Natalie together, while staying in school and pooling their earnings from part-time jobs (Crystal works at a gas station/body shop and Amber washes dishes at a restaurant), planning to save enough for their own home. Life is challenging. Amber wants to drop out of school, but Crystal insists that she must stick to their plan. When Crystal, who loves working on old cars, especially the 1969 Mustang she and Amber have bought, learns about the auto restoration program at McPherson College in Kansas, she secretly applies knowing that it is the opportunity of a lifetime but that it also would upset the pact she has with Amber. Crystal is accepted into the program with a full scholarship, and must choose between following her dream of getting the education that will allow her to provide a better life for the three of them in the future or staying in Portland and following their original plan.

Readers will come to care about Crystal and Amber as they struggle together with school, work, caring for an infant, and growing up, while still having their own separate dreams for the future–all of which makes the resolution of their shared story more surprising.

Reviewed by Carolyn Angus, Mountain View, California

My Second Life by Faye Bird
Farrar Straus Giroux, 2016, 272 pp., $17.99
Reincarnation/Memory/Death/Family/Juvenile Fiction
ISBN: 978-0-374-34886-1

Ana has known since the day she was born that she lived once before. The first time around she was Emma. Emma with the doting parents that she still
missed. Beautiful Emma who died at the age of 22. Ana is just Ana, daughter of Rachel. This second life seems good enough until one day Ana comes
across an elderly stranger that she recognizes from her previous life who brings to mind the memory of a young girl drowning. Who was this girl? And was Emma responsible for her death?

Fearful of what she might find out about her previous self, but hopeful that it might involve a reunion with her first mom, Ana sets out to discover the truth about Emma and, in so doing, finds out some truths about family and what it means to love.

In her debut novel, Bird has created a fast-moving mystery that delves into the possibility of reincarnation and of living with memories from a former
life. Readers will sympathize with Ana’s desire to know more about both of her families and will likely not be able to put the book down until they know the truth about Emma and Ana.

Reviewed by Karen Brown, Spanish Fork, Utah

Girl on a Plane by Miriam Moss
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016, 288 pp., $17.99
Survival/Political turmoil/Young adult fiction
ISBN: 9780544783997

Fifteen-year old Anna is dreading going back to boarding school, knowing she will miss her family and her two younger brothers. However, all of that becomes irrelevant when Anna finds herself trapped on a hijacked plane heading to the Jordanian desert instead of England. Caught between the Palestinian guerrillas who have control of the plane and the British government, Anna and the other passengers are faced with their own mortality and the possibility that they may never go home again.

Based on a real life hijacking the author experienced as a young teen, Girl on a Plane captures the fear and loneliness of a young girl faced with things outside her control. Written in almost poetic prose, Moss takes the reader on the journey with Anna as she finds herself struggling to comfort herself and the two boys she befriends, all while feeling horribly homesick. Readers will find themselves caught up in Anna’s first-person narrative, rooting for a happy ending to this harrowing event.

Reviewed by Joanna L. Anglin, Covington, Georgia

Terror at Bottle Creek by Watt Key
Farrar Straus Giroux 2016 213 pp., $15.99
Survival/Single parent families/Contemporary
ISBN:  9780374374303

Thirteen-year-old Cort lives with his father on a houseboat in the swamps of lower Alabama. An expert guide in hunting the area’s wildlife, Cort’s father has raised his son to be familiar with the land and its inhabitants. As a powerful hurricane makes landfall, Cort finds himself in a race for his life. Alone and in charge he is pitted against time and the elements as he struggles to get himself and his companions, sisters Liza and Francie, to safety.

Key provides readers with yet another riveting survivalist story set in remote Alabama. Readers will remain on the edge of their seats throughout this fast-paced, gripping tale. Cort’s desperation is palpable as he battles both the forces of nature and his own inner storms. Key’s latest novel will make a terrific read aloud for upper elementary teachers and librarians

Reviewed by Cathy Blackler, Walnut, California

Burning by Danielle Rollins
Bloomsbury, 2016, 346 pp., $17.99
Juvenile detention homes/Supernatural/Horror stories
ISBN: 978-1-61963-738-2

After refusing to testify against her boyfriend, seventeen-year-old Angela is placed in Brunesfield Correctional Facility for girls. While there, she bides her time working alongside cellmates Issie and Cara in the cafeteria, listening to audiobooks of YA literature, and lamenting her own absence in younger brother Charlie’s life. When a new girl is unexpectedly admitted, she is immediately placed in Segregation, reserved for the most violent offenders, and the residents react with dread. The twist?  Jessica, the new inmate, is just ten years old.

Shortly after Jessica’s arrival, Angela is introduced to Dr. Gruen, who promises the underprivileged girls education and leadership opportunities in her SciGirls program.  With only three months remaining on her sentence, Angela’s scheduled release is in jeopardy due to the actions of a sadistic male guard named Brody. Dr. Gruen advocates for Angela, however, agreeing to keep her on schedule as long as she befriends new inmate Jessica and reports her experiences. Angela soon learns that Jessica is a pyretic, possessing the supernatural ability to set and control fires telepathically. She also suspects that Dr. Gruen’s interest in Jessica may be more than scientific. When burned and blackened bodies are discovered, all signs point to Jessica, but a darker force may exist inside the correctional facility.

Rollins mostly avoids the familiar clichés and stereotypes associated with women’s prison facilities, opting instead for subtle social commentary on the limited educational resources and improvement opportunities available to incarcerated adolescent girls.  While diehard horror readers may not find enough chills, there’s plenty of dark imagery and tense action, particularly in the climactic escape from Brunesfield. Ultimately, Burning proves that real horror is not spawned from supernatural sources but from human evil.

Reviewed by Michael Anthony, Reading, Pennsylvania

Gutless by Carl Deuker
HMH Books for Young Readers, 2016, 336pp., $17.99
Sports & Outdoors/Football/ Social & Family Issues/ Bullying
ISBN: 978-0-544-64961-3

Starting high school is hard enough. For Brock Ripley, it just got harder. His father is unwell, his mother is overly cautious, and his new best friend, Richie Fang, has a target on his back. An average chess and soccer player, Brock gets the chance of a lifetime when his speed and good hands make him the perfect wide receiver for popular quarterback Hunter Gates. But conflict between the team’s star athlete and Richie has him torn. With an itch to prove himself and show off some strength, Brock must learn what it means to be a good friend the hard way.

Deuker, a seasoned sports fiction writer, shares Brock’s story with straight forward writing. Leaving breadcrumbs in the midst of sports jargon along the way, we learn that trouble is never too far behind. Readers will find themselves caught up in the play-by- play action, waiting anxiously for the win. Hearts will pound through the final chapters as readers inch closer to the finish. Will Brock put himself on the line to show everyone where true courage lies? Or will he be Gutless?

Reviewed by Katlynn Bennett Succasunna, New Jersey

Girls Like Me by Lola StVil
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, October 2016, 310 pp., $17.99
Social & Family Issues/Bullying/Friendship/Stories in Verse
ISBN: 978-0-544-86814-4

Overweight Shay Summers feels lonely and ostracized after losing her dad to a car accident and continual bullying by the most popular girl at school. She finds comfort in writing, books, food, and her two best friends, Dash and Boots, both of whom are troubled by their own life-altering struggles. When Boots suggests that she check out a popular website visited by many of the other students at her school, Shay has no idea she’ll find her soul mate. Everything seems perfect until she discovers that the boy she’s been texting with is the most popular boy at school…and he asks to meet her!

Girls Like Me, by Lola StVil, is a funny and charming collection of Shay’s poetry, brilliantly capturing both the hilarious and heart-breaking experiences of high school as she experiences love and loss. Through Shay’s revelations of deep insecurities, the fierce loyalty she feels for her friends, and the witty sarcasm that brings her writing alive, every reader can find a friend.

Reviewed by Brita Beitler, Wheaton, Illinois