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Wandering Wild

Jessica Taylor. Skyhorse/Sky Pony, $17.99 (368p) ISBN 978-1-5107-0400-8

Tal and her younger brother, Wen, are Roma-esque "Wanderers," moving between towns with a caravan of families and subsisting on the scams run on "markies." With 16-year-old Tal as the "compass" directing their movements, they have stayed out of trouble, even as their leader's son, Lando, is tightening the group's reins. Though Tal couldn't imagine leaving the Wanderer life, she knows that Wen is tired of roaming, and she cannot ignore the distance between herself and best friend Sonia or the impending arranged marriage between herself and a boy from another caravan. When Tal meets Spencer, a college-bound markie who recognizes her game, she must decide if he is worth staying in one place for, and what it will take to free herself from Lando's control. Taylor's debut novel is spiritedly paced, with tension increasing as Tal is pulled between her Wanderer identity and her romance with Spencer. Lively characters showcase the lore and traditions within the group, including the Spirit of the Falconer they believe protects them, as Tal is forced to make a decision that will affect all in her path. Ages 14–up. (May)

Reviewed on 05/06/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Places No One Knows

Brenna Yovanoff. Delacorte, $17.99 (384p) ISBN 978-0-553-52263-1

Yovanoff (Fiendish) weaves a sliver of the supernatural into this unlikely love story between Waverly Camdenmar, an increasingly disaffected mean girl, and Marshall Holt, a substance-abusing slacker trying to get his life on track. Waverly and her best friend Maribeth rule their high school, but Waverly's disenchantment with their ruthlessness surfaces as she starts spending time with her eccentric cross-country teammate Autumn, who challenges Waverly to be better, and Marshall, a loner classmate who doesn't apply himself because he's dealing with family problems. Yovanoff paints a dire, existential view of high school full of isolated, insecure characters secretly wondering "what is the point?" In an attempt to ward off recurring insomnia, Waverly takes to lighting a mysterious candle at night, entering a hypnotic state through which she physically visits Marshall, though only he can see her. Waverly and Marshall have distinct but equally perceptive narrative voices, and as Waverly struggles with the implications of bringing their secret relationship public, Yovanoff offers a multilayered exploration of human connections, particularly those that manifest in unpredictable ways. Ages 14–up. Agent: Sarah Davies, Greenhouse Literary. (May)

Reviewed on 05/06/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Shining Sea

Mimi Cross. Amazon/Skyscape, $9.99 trade paper (422p) ISBN 978-1-5039-3553-2

A young woman is entranced by the power of this sea in this paranormal drama from singer-songwriter Cross (Before Goodbye). Seventeen-year-old Arion Rush moves to the coastal town of Rock Hook Harbor, Maine, with her lighthouse-keeper father, leaving her mother and sister behind to sell their San Francisco home. Arion makes new friends and is soon embroiled in an intense love triangle with brooding Bo Summers and charismatic Logan Delaine. Furthermore, she discovers that Bo and his family are sirens, mythical winged creatures associated with the sea, who survive by feeding from humans. The more Arion is drawn to Bo, the more danger she's in, especially since someone with a grudge against his family seem to be targeting her. The premise is solid, though Cross draws heavily on oft-seen paranormal romance tropes to create a similarly familiar story. Cross's songwriting experience comes across in the poetic language and descriptive passages, but the pacing and plot suffer from a tendency to fast-forward through the more mundane moments; the scene breaks and time jumps can be jarring while the continuous emotional intensity is overwhelming. Ages 12–up. Agent: Danielle Burby, HSG Agency. (May)

Reviewed on 05/06/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Jerkbait

Mia Siegert. Jolly Fish (IPG, dist.), $14.99 trade paper (350p) ISBN 978-1-63163-066-8

Siegert pulls no punches in her debut, which opens as high school senior Tristan Betterby interrupts his twin brother Robbie's attempt to overdose on pills. The boys' parents conspire to keep the incident a secret, hoping to preserve his chances of getting drafted into the National Hockey League. In lieu of getting therapy for Robbie, they assign Tristan to keep constant watch on him, a decision both baffling and steeped in denial. Forced to share a room, the boys find they have more common ground (and more secrets) than either had guessed. Robbie's depression stems in part from being closeted about his sexuality. Tristan, who is straight, harbors dreams of being a Broadway star. Part coming-out story, part sports drama, part examination of homophobia, bullying, and parents who really don't understand, Siegert's novel offers additional unexpected swerves in the third act. While the messaging is often heavy-handed and some readers might think Siegert jumps the shark with a subplot involving kidnapping and telepathy, others will enjoy the genre-bending and go along for the ride. Ages 12–up. Agent: Travis Pennington, Knight Agency. (May)

Reviewed on 05/06/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Genius: The Game

Leopoldo Gout. Feiwel and Friends, $17.99 (304p) ISBN 978-1-250-04581-2

This exciting series starter from filmmaker and producer Gout follows the lives of three teenage geniuses: Rex, an ace coder and the son of illegal Mexican immigrants; Tunde, an impoverished, self-taught Nigerian engineering prodigy; and Painted Wolf, a middle-class Chinese girl with a talent for ferreting out corruption. Best friends who have only met online, they get caught up in the Game, an international competition run by 18-year-old CEO Kiran Biswas, "the biggest name in technology, cybernetics, futurism, and design." Painted Wolf discovers hints that Biswas's ostensibly humanitarian motives are suspect and that he may actually be working with a corrupt Chinese industrialist and a vicious African warlord. It's a fast-moving story that presents its protagonists with intriguing moral choices, and all three bring thorny personal problems to the contest, too. Maps, photographs, schematic illustrations, faux security footage stills, and other artwork further build out the teens' high-stakes, high-surveillance, and highly interconnected world, as well as their various technological innovations. The right sort of techie reader should be riveted. Ages 12–up. (May)

Reviewed on 05/06/2016 | Details & Permalink

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As Brave as You

Jason Reynolds. S&S/Atheneum/Dlouhy, $16.99 (432p) ISBN 978-1-4814-1590-3

Reynolds (All American Boys) aims for a younger audience with the story of Genie and Ernie, two Brooklyn boys spending a month with their grandparents in North Hill, Va., while their parents try to mend a frayed marriage. Eleven-year-old Genie is most concerned about the lack of Internet access: how will he look up answers to the questions that constantly come to him? Ernie, nearly 14, is happy enough when he meets Tess, a neighbor who gives them the lowdown on North Hill, but neither brother has any idea that their stay will involve picking peas in the hot sun and, for Genie, keeping secrets—both his and those of his blind grandfather. Genie's efforts to fix his mistakes (including accidentally killing one of his grandfather's beloved birds), his realization that the Web doesn't have all the answers, and Grandpop's struggle with guilt and forgiveness after he pushes Ernie to participate in a dangerous family tradition create a multifaceted story that skillfully blends light and dark elements while showing children and adults interacting believably and imperfectly. Ages 10–up. Agent: Elena Giovanazzo, Pippin Properties. (May)

Reviewed on 05/06/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Waiting for Augusta

Jessica Lawson. Simon & Schuster, $16.99 (336p) ISBN 978-1-4814-4839-0

In a story set in 1972 in a South pushing back against integration, Lawson (Nooks & Crannies) delivers a complex and often touching exploration of father-son relationships. Ben Putter's recently deceased father, a passionate golfer who never went pro, seemed perpetually disappointed with his shy son, who lives to draw and paint. When he starts speaking to Ben from the urn that holds his ashes, Ben—in an act that goes against everything in his nature—sets out to scatter the ashes on the 18th hole of the Augusta National Golf Club, 400 miles away, accompanied by a runaway named Noni who has her own, unexplained, reasons for needing to get to Augusta. Their journey follows a few predictable lines—taking on fake identities, hopping freight trains, and truck stealing—and some atypical ones, such as Ben expertly butchering a pig. Throughout, Ben and his father have the conversations they couldn't when his father was alive. Ben and Noni are believable characters whose contrasting personalities play well against each other, but the story's magical elements mix uneasily with its strong foundation of realism. Ages 8–12. Agent: Tina Wexler, ICM. (May)

Reviewed on 05/06/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Swing Sideways

Nanci Turner Steveson. Harper, $16.99 (288p) ISBN 978-0-06-237454-7

Steveson debuts with a empathic summer-of-change story in which panic-attack-prone Annabel transforms from a skinny, anxiety-ridden bookworm into a healthier, stronger, and braver girl. She and her parents are spending the summer at their lake house, as usual, but Annabel's therapist has insisted that she have an unstructured schedule with plenty of independence, instead of living by her controlling mother's spreadsheets. Befriended by the local hermit's free-spirited granddaughter, California—who explains that she is visiting to help her grandfather recover from his chemotherapy treatments—Annabel renames herself Annie and throws herself into "the Freedom Plan" with a vengeance. Before long, however, she is in over her head, involved in California's questionable adventures, lying to her parents, and sneaking out at night (to tend to a sick, abandoned dog). Steveson sets up a promising portrayal of intriguing dynamics in both families, but Anna's transformation happens so rapidly as to not be entirely believable, and late-arriving revelations make the ending seem of a different spirit than the rest of the book. Ages 8–12. Agent: Al Zuckerman, Writers House. (May)

Reviewed on 05/06/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Jurassic Classics: The Prehistoric Masters of Literature

Saskia Lacey, illus. by Sernur Isik. Quarto/Walter Foster Jr., $14.95 (40p) ISBN 978-1-63322-098-0

Classic authors meet dinosaurs in this idiosyncratic mashup. Lacey profiles six prehistoric predecessors to well-known authors (William Shakespearasaurus, the Brontësaurus Sisters, Edgar Allan Terrordactyl, etc.), with glued-in minibooks providing ultra-abridged versions of the authors’ works (“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a dinosaur in possession of a large territory shall attract many mates,” begins Jane Austenlovenator’s Pride and Prejudice). Balancing out the quirky fictitious profiles are ones featuring the actual authors (Dickens and Twain round out the half dozen writers). But while Isik’s cartoon portraits are entertaining, Lacey’s decision to make the lives (and literary output) of the prehistoric “authors” closely echo that of their real-life counterparts is more confusing than funny, and leaves much of the book feeling repetitive. It’s a nifty idea that doesn’t live up to its potential. Ages 7–11. (June)

Reviewed on 05/06/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Ever After High: An Enchanted Pop-Up Scrapbook

Matthew Reinhart. Little, Brown, $19.99 (10p) ISBN 978-0-316-37718-8

Reinhart turns his attention to the multimedia Ever After High franchise, starring the teenage sons and daughters of fairy tale characters, which includes books, webisodes, an animated series, and a line of dolls from Mattel. Three main characters—Apple White, Raven Queen, and Madeline Hatter—appear as large pop-up figures; pulling a tab lets readers “dress” Apple White in her “thronecoming” gown, while another tab reveals Raven’s not-so-nice mother, the Evil Queen. Elsewhere, readers can use a cardboard key to unlock a pop-up Storybook of Legends, and background information about other characters and the question of whether they will embrace their fairy tale destinies appears throughout. Reinhart’s talents and attention to detail are evident, though the book’s scope and content are fairly modest. Ages 6–up. (June)

Reviewed on 05/06/2016 | Details & Permalink

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