ALAN Picks March 2017

ALAN Picks March 2017

The Lovely Reckless by Kami Garcia
Imprint, 2017, 384pp., $18.99
Social and Family Issues/Emotions and Feelings/Girls and Women/Realistic Fiction
ISBN: 978-1250079190

Frankie Devereux begins her senior year as someone completely different than the person she has always been. Instead of obsessively writing her Stanford admission essay, practicing piano, and kissing her boyfriend Noah goodnight after his Lacrosse match at their private school, she’s getting a DUI as a result of the PTSD she has suffered since witnessing Noah’s murder outside of a nightclub a few months before. The DUI means another big change for Frankie. She must now move from her mom and stepdad’s manicured mansion in the Heights to live with her dad, an undercover police officer, in an apartment where she will attend a public school and do community service in the Downs, a part of town where illegal street racing and crime is a part of everyday life.

As Frankie experiences flashbacks to the night of Noah’s unsolved murder, she also makes reckless decisions about her future, like not being able to resist Marco Leone, a mesmerizing bad boy who has traded AP classes for illegal street racing in order to do what he has to do to keep his family together. Caught between two worlds, Frankie must decide whether or not her past will define her and what she will risk for her future.

Kami Garcia has written Frankie’s story to read like a YA version of The Fast and The Furious. There are fast cars, crime, love, and betrayal that will keep readers turning the pages of The Lovely Reckless.

Reviewed by Elizabeth Peter, Flushing, Michigan

Things I Should Have Known by Claire LaZebnik
HMH Books for Young Readers, 2017, 320 pp., $17.99
Realistic Fiction/Teen Romance/Autism/LGBTQ/Stepfamilies
ISBN: 978-0-544-82969-5

Seventeen-year-old Chloe Mitchell has it all- the perfect boyfriend, a large social circle, good grades, and good teachers. However, she wants the same for her older sister, Ivy, who has autism. In order to help her sister jump-start her love life, Chloe works to set Ivy up with Ethan, a boy who is also on the autism spectrum. What Chloe doesn’t account for is that by setting up Ivy with Ethan, she has to spend time with David, Ethan’s brother, a loner in Chloe’s class. As Ivy and Ethan spend more time together, Chloe begins to see that David is one of the few people who truly understands the struggles she feels having a sibling with autism. While Chloe is working to set her sister up, she begins to question aspects of her own life, including whether or not her perfect boyfriend can truly ever understand her.

LaZebnik has created a classic matchmaker gone wrong storyline with a modern twist that keeps readers entertained until the last page. Chloe and David’s relationships with their siblings, who are on the autism spectrum, are heartwarming, engaging, and loving. Things I Should Have Known is a quick read that will leave readers hoping for more of Chloe, Ivy, Ethan, and of course, David.

Reviewed by Sydney King, Alcoa, Tennessee

A Darkly Beating Heart by Lindsay Smith
Roaring Brook Press, 2016, 261 pp, $17.99
Edo Period Japan/J-Pop Culture/Japanese-American/Paranormal/Self Harm/ Bisexual/ Siblings/ Bullying
ISBN: 978-1-62672-044-2

Following a family tragedy and years of bullying at home and at school, angry Reiko has been sent to Japan to spend a gap year with relatives. A visit to Kuramagi, an historical village from Edo period Japan, seems like the perfect place to stoke her anger and plot violent revenge against her ex-girlfriend, brother and all those who have hurt her. Reiko discovers that she is not alone in her anger when she stumbles upon a hidden makeshift temple and into the life of Miyu, a woman from 1862 Japan. Together Reiko/Miyu find love and plot vengeance. But when Reiko learns Miyu’s secret, she must do all she can to keep Miyu from bringing history to life.

Smith gives readers a glimpse into the history and culture of Japan through the eyes of Reiko, from nineteenth Century Shoguns to current J-Pop. Reiko is a realistic voice as her self-loathing, hatred and anger permeate the text. Smith keeps the story moving with a mysterious sense of foreboding, rewarding readers with an exhilarating plot twist that creates a very fast race to the finish.

Reviewed by Jane Kaftan, Sandusky, Ohio

The Cruelty by Scott Berstrom
Feiwel & Friends, 2017, 371 pp., $18.99
Crime/Mystery/Single Parent Families/Fathers
ISBN:  978-1-250-108180-0

Gwendolyn Bloom is adjusting to a new high school when her father suddenly disappears.  Federal agents inform Gwendolyn that her father is not a diplomat, as she thought, but works for the CIA. After a few days of searching for her father, CIA agents give up, explaining that the trail has gone cold. However, Gwendolyn refuses to believe her father is dead. With the help of her father’s former spy friends, she travels to France to search for him. Once Gwendolyn arrives in Paris, an Israeli woman teaches her combat and weapon skills. Eventually, Gwendolyn must go out on her own, working her way into a dangerous world of drug dealers, human traffickers and murderers.

The Cruelty goes beyond the traditional spy novel to portray a strong, young adult character, who rediscovers her identity in the midst of fighting for her life and discovering the truth about her father. Bergstrom’s debut novel is suspenseful and will capture readers’ imaginations and interest until the climactic ending.

Reviewed by Ann Marie Smith, Odessa, Texas

Teen Hyde (High School Horror Story #2) by Chandler Baker
Feiwel & Friends, 2010, 257 pp., $17.99
Horror/Revenge/Drugs/Sexual Assault/Murder
ISBN: 9781250058751

Teen Hyde is the second book in the High School Horror series, and as readers will discover, Cassidy has experienced some losses in the previous book. Her friends think that she has been depressed for long enough and are trying to help her get her life to get back to normal. Little do they know that she is experiencing a trauma that they do not even know about. Cassidy tries to pretend that she is okay on the outside, but she cannot work through these issues on her own. At a party, Liam offers her some Sunshine, the latest designer drug. Sunshine helps her feel good again, helps her forget. Every morning she knows that something is wrong but she doesn’t want to go back to life without those pills. Is Sunshine helping her cover up her trauma, or is it actually helping her to exact her revenge on those who have hurt her?

This thought-provoking twist on the Jekyll and Hyde story is a fast-paced read that deals with retribution and the repercussions of finding unhealthy ways to deal with hurt.

Reviewed by Cheryl North, Baltimore, Maryland

After the Fall by Kate Hart
Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 2017, 321 pp., $17.99
Social and Family Issues/Realistic Fiction

Raychel and Matt have been friends since childhood. But things are changing. Matt, a senior, has joined every club he can and is looking forward to college. Kayla, a junior, is spending much of her free time partying and drinking. Since childhood Matt has been her main support and rescuer when she finds herself in trouble. At school, Raychel is pursued by Carson, a boy who has assaulted her. Unable to share what has happened to her, she lives with the damaged reputation that Carson spreads. In the meantime, Matt and his family share their home and lives with Raychel. Matt’s mother, Mrs. Richardson, is even able to counsel Raychel when she finally reveals her assault. However Matt’s feelings for Raychel are changing. He sees her more and more as a girlfriend, but he doesn’t have the courage to tell her. Simultaneously, Andrew, Matt’s younger brother, gets closer to Raychel. Before the couple can tell Matt about their new relationship, tragedy occurs.

Kate Hart’s novel takes an honest view of the lives of teenagers on the edge of adulthood. The feelings, the changes, the mistakes are all examined with sensitive honesty. The ending is not neatly tied up. Tragedy and grief do not resolve easily and yet the reader can see a positive future for the main characters. A novel for mature readers due to some sexual content, violence and language.

Reviewed by Margaret Pickett, Lexington, Massachusetts

Into White by Randi Pink
Feiwel & Friends, 2016, 288 pp., $13.40
Social & Family Issues/Racism/Prejudice/Empathy/Discrimination/Teen Fiction
ISBN: 978-1250070210

Toya Williams is a black teen who attends a mostly white high school in Montgomery, Alabama, and is bullied by both black and white students. She is embarrassed by her bickering parents and the “Empty Castle” where they live. Her greatest ally is her bookworm brother Alex, but she thinks the only answer to her problems is to be white. One night she prays to Jesus to be white and her greatest wish is granted. Although the change is invisible to her family, the rest of the world sees her as blonde, blue-eyed Katarina. She discovers what it is to be in the popular white clique, and it isn’t everything she dreamed. She learns that being white at her school means living up to unrealistic expectations of physical perfection. She experiences classmates making casual racial slurs, popular guys sexualizing her, and her beloved older brother betraying her. Toya’s journey eventually helps her find her inner beauty as well as her voice to speak out against injustice.

Pink explores racism, classism, as well as sexism by focusing on the bigotry and prejudices still prevalent in our world today. She offers a window that allows the readers to learn about the complexity of race and diversity. She eloquently addresses the nuances of black culture, especially when describing the interracial discrimination often faced by people of color. She blends humor with reflection, filtering her observations of serious issues through Toya’s conversations with Jesus to create a story with an ultimately hopeful tone. Readers should be aware there is an attempted rape scene that the author employs to address the emotional trauma and classist injustices associated with reporting such actions. She juxtaposes stereotyped portrayals of characters with distressing interactions to offer cursory lessons about identify, self-image, and acceptance.

Reviewed by Cindi Koudelka, Wenona, Illinois

The Lost Girl of Astor Street by Stephanie Morrill
Blink, 2017, 352 pp., $21.99
Historical fiction/Mystery/Romance/Grief
ISBN 978-0-310-75838-9

Eighteen-year-old Piper Sail lives with her brother and lawyer father in Astor, an upper-class district of Chicago, in the 1920s. Piper’s best friend Lydia worries about her parents’ decision to send her away for medical treatment. She confides to Piper that she has decided to express romantic feelings for a man socially inferior to her. This is their last conversation. The next day, Lydia is missing. Piper plunges into a fervent investigation that leads her into seedier parts of Chicago and into the hands of people who test her trust.

Morrill’s delicate language draws the reader into the Roaring Twenties while considering a number of contemporary issues such as feminism, grief, and human trafficking. Though Piper is a seemingly perfect protagonist, independent and strong, she’s entirely human. She must juggle budding butterflies for a young detective and cope with family matters, all while investigating Lydia’s bewildering departure.

Presented with an array of creepy suspects as well as swoon-worthy love interests, Piper does not let societal pressures stop her from uncovering the truth of Lydia’s disappearance, one that will keep readers turning until the very last page of Morrill’s bittersweet and heart-racing read.

Reviewed by Tita Kyrtsakas, Tecumseh, Ontario, Canada

Hideout by Watt Key
Farrar Straus Giroux Books for Young Readers, 2017, 311 pp., $16.99
Young Readers/Fiction/Adventure
ISBN: 978-0-374-30483-9

Twelve-year-old Sam has experienced a traumatic and embarrassing event at school that he doesn’t ever want to repeat. Due to his embarrassment, he doesn’t want to ask his parents or other adults for advice. Instead, he decides to separate himself from his one friend, Grover, as he tries to work through the event and find his own strength to move forward. When an abandoned boat with blood streaks is found drifting down the Mississippi bayou near his house, Sam uses his own new boat, the Bream Chaser, to explore the bayou in an attempt to solve the mystery of the abandoned boat and what might have happened to the boat’s missing owner. He wants to do something brave and forget his earlier embarrassment.

On his path to solve the abandoned boat mystery, Sam wanders upon a new mystery involving a boy living alone in the bayou. Davey seems to be a puzzle and Sam becomes his friend. Unfortunately, Davey is not forthcoming about who he is and Sam finds himself making decisions that aren’t exactly brave or totally honest. When Davey’s relatives show up at the broken-down cabin in the bayou, Sam must find the strength within himself to not only keep from getting caught up in their activities, but also to help Davey.

Watt Key has created a coming-of-age adventure full of suspense that will have readers questioning whether or not they would make the same choices in order to help someone they consider a friend. Hideout is a twist of decisions and fate on a Mississippi bayou where dangers are not only found in the wildlife, but also with unexpected characters and the choices made. Sam is a character who matures quickly and finds a way to solve a mystery, while also doing everything he can to do what he thinks is the best.

Reviewed by Carri Randall, Greenwood, Indiana

Klickitat by Peter Rock
Harry N. Abrams, 2016, 240 pp., $17.96
Social & Family Issues/Self Esteem and Reliance/Siblings/Realistic Fiction
ISBN: 978-1419718946

Fifteen-year-old Vivian and her older sister Audra are close, but Audra is changing and Vivian can’t figure out what is going on with her sister. She moves differently, has odd books in her bedroom, speaks cryptically, and there are mysterious handprints on her walls. As Vivian watches her sister, she is also struggling with her own inner world. She is on medications for an unnamed disorder, and when things get overwhelming for her, she needs to be in a confined space. The girls’ parents find their own ways to try and raise these two adolescents, but the pressures of work and the escape of a ham radio take both parents away from most of what is going on with the girls. One day Audra disappears. Vivian is convinced that she isn’t far away, but she isn’t sure how to find Audra or communicate with her. Mysterious writing appears in Vivian’s journals and other clues indicate that Audra is watching her. Eventually, the two girls reconnect and Audra persuades Vivian to join her on a new journey through life with a young man named Henry, hidden away from society, using survival skills to take care of their needs.

In simple, yet compelling prose, this book winds its way around elements of familial connection and detachment, talking with the dead, homelessness and living off the grid. The Portland area locations and many of the details connect directly to Rock’s earlier adult novel, My Abandonment (2010) which was based on a real event in Portland where a man and his daughter lived for a number of years in a large park in Portland. Klickitat creates a realistic and sad story set in the dark, wet Northwest; with a setting that felt as authentic as its characters.

Reviewed by Laurie Mathews, Seattle, Washington