Tag Archives: teen books

Indies Introduce: Far From You and The Vigilante Poets of Selwyn Academy

[Note: I was honored to be invited to the Indies Introduce Children’s panel last summer. A group of ten booksellers from all over the country read through middle grade and young adult novels by first-time novelists. We had regular conference calls discussing each book and eventually selected what we considered to be the ten best books by debut authors. Those books are now (woot!) being published and I’m excited to introduce them to the Eight Cousins community.]

Todays Featured Indies Introduce titles are Far From You by Tess Sharp and The Vigilante Poets of Selwyn Academy by Kate Hattemer.

FC9781423184621Far From You

Tess Sharp




Everyone thinks that Mina died because Sophie Winters was buying drugs. It’s true that Sophie is an addict; she started abusing painkillers after a car accident  when she was 14. Mina’s brother Trev was driving. But Sophie has been clean for 6 months, thanks to her aunt. And Sophie would never put Mina in jeopardy like that, not to mention that Mina would never allow Sophie to buy drugs under her watch. So what did happen that night that Mina died? Who shot Mina? Why did they frame Sophie? Why is everyone, including Trev, convinced that it’s Sophie’s fault? Part mystery, part love story, Far From You shatters expectations and deftly spins a story of loss, power, and love.


FC9780385753784The Vigilante Poets of Selwyn Academy

Kate Hattemer

Knopf Books


Ages 13+

Selwyn Academy has become the background for a reality TV show called For Art’s Sake. But there is something rotten and Ethan, along with three of his friends, are determined to discover what. In an age of constant marketing and self-promotion, The Vigilante Poets of Selwyn Academy investigates the nuances between art, commercialism, authenticity, performance, the spectacle, drama and ‘drama.’ It also looks at that moment when ideals and success collide. Highly recommended for teen book groups and high school classes. The Vigilante Poets will spark continuous discussion about one of our long-term philosophical debates: What is Art?

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Indies Introduce: Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender and Salvage

[Note: I was honored to be invited to the Indies Introduce Children’s panel last summer. A group of ten booksellers from all over the country read through middle grade and young adult novels by first-time novelists. We had regular conference calls discussing each book and eventually selected what we considered to be the ten best books by debut authors. Those books are now (woot!) being published and I’m excited to introduce them to the Eight Cousins community. Over the next few days, I’ll discuss each of the books. ]

Today’s featured Indies Introduce titles are Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton and Salvage by Alexandra Duncan.

FC9780763665661Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender

Leslye Walton

Candlewick Press


Ages 14+

The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender sparked a tremendous amount of discussion among our panel about book categories and readers’ ages. Some argued that this particular book was *not* YA (young adult), thus raising questions about what exactly YA is. In Ava Lavender, the main character is a teenager, but she doesn’t appear in the story until about 75 pages in. Ava does narrate the story of her youth, but is in her late 70s when she tells the story. The book, therefore, challenges the assumption that YA books are about teens. As far as content goes, there are frank references to sex — it is a story about three generations of a family after all. Finally, who are the intended readers. Ava Lavender, since it deals occasionally with middle age, married life, and parenting teens?   It is a cross-over book to be sure, but the more I heard people arguing that this particular book was *not* YA, the more convinced I became that it *was* YA. While I’m still struggling a bit to precisely explain why (one of the things I love about books is that they are elusive and defy easy summaries), I would argue that it has to do with the book’s tone. Ava, although a much older narrator, tells the story of her family and her youth in a very youthful way. And by youthful I mean that she doesn’t always get bogged down by the details. She doesn’t explain everything — often letting the reader fill in the gaps — and she doesn’t let emotions become overly burdensome. The story, as the title suggests, contains sorrows, but it is very light and free. Readers will walk away from this book feeling uplifted. The Stories of Ava Lavender is magical realism in the spirit of Isabel Allende (one of my favorite writers when I was a teen). The writing and characters are fantastically unusual. But it’s refusal to be pinned down in one particular category is precisely what makes this book worth reading.


Alexandra Duncan

Greenwillow Books


Ages 13+

Salvage also defies easy categorization. The story takes place in the future. Earth still exists, but communities have moved to vessels and therefore sometimes becoming insulated and completely separated from the outside world. Ava’s community is — well we would describe it as backward. The disparity between the sexes is firmly implemented in her society’s structure. Women are caregivers, food providers, and mostly silent and submissive. Ava’s mathematical and technical knowledge must be carefully guarded, but she firmly subscribes to her inferior role. Her innocence and naiveté lead her to make a social blunder of such magnitude that she is sentenced to death by the the women of her society. Her escape to earth — near-future Mumbai — becomes a catalyst for self-discovery. Along the way she also learns more about her own family and how her ancestors’ decisions influenced her own experiences. Salvage isn’t for anyone who wants a quick book. It requires commitment; Ava’s journey isn’t always straight-forward. Nevertheless, the satisfaction of recognizing how much Ava has grown in the course of this novel is well worth the time.


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Indies Introduce: Half Bad and Death-Struck Year

[Note: I was honored to be invited to the Indies Introduce Children’s panel last summer. A group of ten booksellers from all over the country read through middle grade and young adult novels by first-time novelists. We had regular conference calls discussing each book and eventually selected what we considered to be the ten best books by debut authors. Those books are now (woot!) being published and I’m excited to introduce them to the Eight Cousins community. Over the next few days, I’ll discuss each of the books.]

Today’s featured Indies Introduce titles are Half Bad by Sally Green and Death-Struck Year by Makiia Lucier.

FC9780670016785Half Bad

Sally Green



Ages 12 +

In Nathan’s world, things are simple. White witches are good. Black witches are evil. But Nathan is different. Nathan is half-white. Half-black. Half-good. Half-bad. Nathan, then, is a threat to the Council of White Witches. They must contain the threat. They must keep control. They must, by any means necessary, stay in power. Because, after all, it is the ones in power who get to define what is good and what is evil. A fantasy book that explores social justice and explodes the binary tradition of white and black in the discourse of magic, Half Bad introduces a phenomenal new character, develops an innovated narrative, and demonstrates that black and white aren’t always black and white and things are never simple.

FC9780544164505Death-Struck Year

Makiia Lucier

HMH Books for Young Readers


Ages 12+

Although the Great War is still raging in Europe, for Cleo and her classmates, the real fear is the Spanish Influenza. When the epidemic reaches Portland, OR, through a series of random events, Cleo finds herself home alone. Noticing a plea for nurses at a local make-shift hospital for Influenza patients, she decides to volunteer. Some volunteers last a day, others only a few hours – being surrounded by suffering and death is too much for most adults. But Cleo’s own history compels her to return each day, to offer comfort and assistance to the patients who need it – patients who have been abandoned by others. Challenging readers to think critically about what each of us would be willing to endure when the people around us are dying, A Death-Struck Year is an incredibly well-researched and amazingly written account of an event in American History that is often marginalized. It offers a compelling story of a young girl who doesn’t know what she wants to do with her life, but is willing to step up during a desperate hour.

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Staff Review: The Coldest Girl in Coldtown


The Coldest Girl in Coldtown

Holly Black

Little, Brown Books for Young Readers


Available now

I’ve had an advance copy of Black’s The Coldest Girl in Coldtown sitting on my desk since June. I’m not a fan of the Vampire genre. I never read Anne Rice, or watched Buffy. I didn’t jump on the Twilight bandwagon (books or movies). I did read Dracula in grad school, but only because it was selected by my reading group. I don’t actively dislike vampires, I just prefer other supernatural creatures. But that’s not why I didn’t read The Coldest Girl in Coldtown earlier. I had heard it was great and having read other books by Black, I was sure that was true. It was mostly time. And obligations. But then the book was released in September and the reviews started coming out. First there was this review over at io9.com. The reviewer starts the same way I do here: ‘I’m not a vampire person, but . . ..’ The io9 review is smart and enticing. The Coldest Girl in Coldtown moved closer to the top of the must-read pile. More reviews came out and the book started showing up on “Best of the Year” lists. Arg. I started to accept that I was missing something really good. Then I read this review at PW, which included this question and Black’s answer:

This isn’t meant to sound hostile, but: after Twilight and a thousand imitators, why a vampire novel?

I think that’s a great question. I’ve loved vampires for a very long time. In eighth grade, I guess, my research paper was on vampires. I’ve read countless vampire books and in all the time that I have loved vampires they’ve either been so over that you’d be crazy to write a vampire book, or so popular that writing one would be a waste of time because there were too many of them. Eventually I said to myself, there’s never going to be a time when it makes sense to write a vampire book, so just write one.

In the moment I read Black’s response, The Coldest Girl in Coldtown moved directly to the ‘next book’ spot. I love the idea that if you have a story you need to write, then who cares about trends. I knew, from her response, that The Coldest Girl in Coldtown was a book with something to say. And now I’m kicking myself for not reading it back in June.

You can read about plot descriptions, expositions on why this isn’t “just a vampire book”, and persuasive essays on the book’s commentary about social media and celebrity culture elsewhere. Instead, I want to mention two parts that catapulted this book into “one of the best books I’ve read this year” category: the chapter headings and the allusions to carnival.

Each chapter includes a quotation about death from writers and poets such as Woody Allen, George Eliot and George Bernard Shaw along with ballads and folk proverbs. The quotations often connect either directly or tangentially to the action within that chapter, but each quotation is a reminder of humanity’s obsession — and infatuation — with death. It is interesting that most of these quotations are about death and beauty. Death and love. The first chapter heading is a quotation from Whitman, “Nothing can happen more beautiful than death.” The quotations set the tone for the book because they aren’t afraid. They are celebratory. In them, death is an adventure and respite, a lover and a seducer. Place and person. Death is home. Avoiding it. Striving for immortality. Those are the real tragedies.

Chapter 33 contains a quotation from Adrienne Rich: “A thinking woman sleeps with monsters”, which is somewhat of an anomaly in that the quotation does not directly reference death. The quotation is from Rich’s book Snapshots of a Daughter-in-Law (1963). The inclusion of Rich’s overtly feminist poetry in a story about vampires might seem obvious — yes, yes violent men prey on innocent women — but Black explodes all of those gendered cliches within the narrative itself. Tana isn’t passive. She’s definitely not a victim of male aggression, and , as noted by other reviewers, gender fluidity is a significant factor in this story. So how do we understand the Rich quotation, especially as it comes rather late in the book? If Tana is our guide for intelligent women, then we must acknowledge choice. Tana, as we have come to learn, thinks before she acts and she makes contentious decisions. She can’t control everything that happens to her — and certainly not the actions of others, but she carefully determines her response. If she’s sleeping with monsters, it’s by choice.

At this point in the story, though, the distinction between human and monster has become increasingly blurred. Scientists, according to the narrative, insist that not all vampires are monsters. Humans voluntarily become vampires, indicating that there is something appealing to humans and they aren’t strictly victims. Vampires in coldtowns maintain a degree of social ethics, feeding from tubes and shunts to avoid infecting humans and creating an overpopulation of vampires. Tana continually wonders about the dynamics between vampires and humans, exposing the reader to her unanswerable questions. By the end of the novel, Tana has challenged and dismantled the entire definition of monster, leaving it up to the reader to re-assemble it. In Black’s story, we aren’t dealing with humans and the ‘other’. We are slowly forced to face the horrifying truth that humans are capable of monstrosity. And goodness. We aren’t one or the other, we move between the two. We desire the chance to become the monster, even if for only a short time, we want to escape our own own humanity and that is more terrifying than any monster.

In one of the final chapters — and I don’t think this is too much of a spoiler, because it’s not plot related — Tana “finally understood how the wildness of the Eternal ball was the wildness of grief, the intoxicating dance of carnival, where one leaves oneself at home and becomes something else for a night, hoping that the old skin will still fit when one comes back to it in the morning.” Carnival is time out. Time outside of yourself. Time when people dress-up, wear masks, become someone else. Escape. The paradox of carnival, however, is that during that time, you aren’t someone else. You are still yourself, which begs the question, who is the real you? During carnival, do we put on masks or take them off? Black’s “intoxicating dance of carnival” reminds us that carnival, like death, is seductive.

Death, however, doesn’t let us leave; “To die is landing on some distant shore” (John Dryden, Chapter 15).

Death is our final home; “Call no man happy till he is dead” (Aescylus, Chapter 12).

“Nothing can happen more beautiful than death” (Walt Whitman, Chapter 1).

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