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This Song Is (Not) for You

Laura Nowlin. Sourcebooks Fire, $9.99 trade paper (240p) ISBN 978-1-4926-0290-3

In an insightful story centered on a quirky trio of teenagers, high school senior Ramona, a committed iconoclast, plays drums in a band with her best friend and crush, Sam. He feels similarly about her, but neither of them wants to risk their friendship on romance. Ramona and Sam are both auditioning for a local arts college when they meet Tom. He has just been dumped by his girlfriend and wants to keep his head down until graduation, even while he's pursuing a clandestine "public service art project" that involves "glitter bombing" various places around town. The three share perfect musical chemistry, forming "the most kick-ass, avant-garde, in-your-face experimental noise rock band on the planet," but their complex, interconnected romantic feelings threaten to interfere. Nowlin (If He Had Been with Me) captures the antsy energy of senior year and the desire to stand out while still fitting in as she alternates among the three observant narrators. Despite some obvious foreshadowing, the story offers distinctive characters who show maturity as they seek to create satisfying creative and romantic relationships. Ages 14–up. Agent: Ali McDonald, Rights Factory. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 02/05/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Kill the Boy Band

Goldy Moldavsky. Scholastic/Point, $17.99 (320p) ISBN 978-0-545-86747-4

Moldavsky's debut is a dark-humored, tongue-in-cheek novel with elements of noir. Teenagers Isabel, Apple, Erin, and an unnamed narrator have an intense friendship formed around their shared adoration of a British boy band, the Ruperts. Proud to call themselves "Strepurs" (Ruperts spelled backward), they follow the boys everywhere, hoping to catch a glimpse of them, even reserving a hotel room where they are staying. There, the girls come "to be in possession of [their] very own boy bander," when Apple tackles a Rupert (the "Ugly One") on her way to get ice, knocks him out cold, and drags him into their room. References to fanfiction and "feels" place the story firmly in the present, though boy band mania is far from a new phenomenon. A late revelation throws the circumstances into a different light, yet sympathizing with the protagonists isn't really the point. The story's strength is in its bitingly satirical look at the extremes of fandom and how reality can be an unwelcome intrusion into carefully constructed fantasy worlds. Ages 14–up. Agent: Jenny Bent, Bent Agency. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 02/05/2016 | Details & Permalink

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The Girl from Everywhere

Heidi Heilig. Greenwillow, $17.99 (464p) ISBN 978-0-06-238075-3

Debut author Heilig sets this swashbuckling time-travel adventure primarily in 19th-century Hawaii, when the islands were colonized but still had a king. Sixteen-year-old Nix Song is a resourceful and multilayered heroine who navigates a tall ship across enchanted maps that lead to particular moments and places in time—some real and some mythological, depending on the map. Her father, Slate, captains the Temptation through time, in hopes of returning to the days before Nix's mother died giving birth to Nix in 1868 Honolulu; when a map from 1981 fails them, they instead land in modern-day New York City. Nix lives under the shadow of Slate's loss, and their relationship suffers for it—not to mention that Nix's life may be at stake if Slate succeeds in saving her mother. Heilig's writing is richly immersive, and a mature exploration of complicated love, both familial and romantic, underlies the story. A riveting and far-reaching fantasy that crosses seamlessly across the centuries, posing questions about fate, loyalty, and belonging. Ages 13–up. Agent: Molly Ker Hawn, Bent Agency. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 02/05/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Pull

Anne Riley. Spencer Hill, $9.95 trade paper (424p) ISBN 978-1-63392-045-3

In an entertaining if sometimes convoluted adventure, teenager Rosie Clayton discovers her connection to a secret society, the Servators, that uses an ability called "Pulling" to turn back time to fight crime and prevent disaster. An American who has traveled to London with her family to be with her dying grandfather, Rosie witnesses a woman being mugged—and then the scene repeats; the second time, a Servator named Albert intervenes and saves the woman. Rosie is determined to learn more about the Servators, who are engaged in a war against the evil Mortiferi, people corrupted by infernal magic. Learning that her troubled brother may already be under their sway, Rosie and her new allies, including the enigmatic yet attractive Albert, work to thwart the Mortiferi's plans. Riley (Voyage to the Star Kingdom) offers up an intriguing premise but undermines it with slow pacing and an overstuffed blend of time travel, sorcery, demons, and black magic. Readers may find the initial concept of Pulling more enticing than the many other components that come to fill the story. Agent: Emma Patterson, Brandt & Hochman Literary Agents. Ages 12–up. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 02/05/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Firstlife

Gena Showalter. Harlequin Teen, $18.99 (480p) ISBN 978-0-373-21157-9

Showalter (the White Rabbit Chronicles) addresses religious extremism, conformity, and war in this first book in her dystopian Everlife series. Seventeen-year-old Ten, short for Tenley, lives in a world where two Everlife (afterlife) realms, Troika and Myriad, fight to win over souls, using torture and bombs to force citizens' conversion. Ten has been locked in an asylum for refusing to choose sides. She is a particularly special soul, and both Troika and Myriad send their best and most attractive young men to persuade her that conversion to their realm is paramount, often using romance as a seduction tool. Troikan parallels to Christianity are apparent through the use of numerical symbolism, a divine trinity, and an emphasis on one's Everlife over one's Firstlife. Showalter's rapid plot shifts and action sequences can be disorienting, and Ten's struggle to protect her future and her individuality within the grip of an oppressive society fall in line with genre conventions. Yet the story's use of religion as a framework is fresh and layered, giving the novel an epic sweep. Ages 12–up. Agent: Deidre Knight, Knight Agency. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 02/05/2016 | Details & Permalink

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The Abyss Surrounds Us

Emily Skrutskie. Flux, $11.99 trade paper (288p) ISBN 978-0-7387-4691-3

Seventeen-year-old Cassandra Leung has been preparing her whole life to train Reckoners, genetically altered beasts raised to defend the Southern Republic of California's fleet against pirate vessels. Cas's first mission to guard the cruise ship Nereid sounds easy enough, but it quickly turns into a disaster. Her Reckoner, "a big dumb turtle four times the weight of a blue whale," dies, leaving their ship vulnerable, and Cas is taken captive on the pirate ship Minnow. While onboard, she is forced to raise a stolen Reckoner to do the pirates' bidding while learning how to survive among corrupt crewmembers and the merciless captain, Santa Elena. In her debut novel, Skrutskie creates an intriguing fantasy world full of floating cities, ruthless monsters, betrayals, and unlikely friendships. Her dynamic characters come from a slew of ethnic backgrounds, further contributing to a rich landscape. Cas's descent into pirate life is as unexpected as it is full of action, and her journey to find her place on the ship should keep readers riveted. Ages 12–up. Agent: Thao Le, Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 02/05/2016 | Details & Permalink

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The Key to Extraordinary

Natalie Lloyd. Scholastic Press, $16.99 (240p) ISBN 978-0-545-55274-5

In a folksy tale laced with supernatural mystery, Lloyd (A Snicker of Magic) poetically conveys the depth of 12-year-old Emma's emotions as she embarks on a quest to uncover a legendary secret. Except for the times when Emma is overcome by "the Big Empty," a feeling she gets when she misses her recently deceased mother, she is an ordinary girl. Still, there are things in her Blackbird Hollow home that are extraordinary, like flowers with magical powers, the haunted graveyard just beyond her house, the tantalizing "Boneyard Brew" served in her grandmother's cafe, and The Book of Days, which records the "destiny dreams" of her ancestors (interspersed through the story). When her grandmother, plagued by money worries, considers selling the family business, Emma is determined to save the cafe by finding treasure, reputedly buried in the graveyard. The book's evocative setting and cast of eccentric minor characters will draw readers into Emma's world—one warmed by friendship, love, and hope—to share in her discovery that the most valuable treasures lie within. Ages 8–12. Agent: Suzie Townsend, New Leaf Literary & Media. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 02/05/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Miracle Man: The Story of Jesus

John Hendrix. Abrams, $18.95 (40p) ISBN 978-1-4197-1899-1

Using dynamic visuals with the force of a graphic novel, Hendrix (McToad Mows Tiny Island) explores the adult life of Jesus, focusing on his relationship with his disciples, several miracles, his betrayal, death, and resurrection. Drawn as a lanky, bearded figure of simple grace, the "Miracle man" travels among villages, curing the infirm, feeding the hungry, protecting those in peril, and gathering a loyal following. Yet "not everyone liked the miracles, or the Miracle Man," writes the author. Hendrix enhances pivotal moments through his customary use of bold, hand-lettered text, giving dramatic visual power to the godly force behind Jesus' words. "Be still!" he shouts, calming a raging storm with words that are themselves a torrent of thunderclouds and lightning bolts. Hendrix moves from a desolate scene of Jesus carrying a heavy cross to a mournful image in the immediate aftermath of his crucifixion; the resurrection unfolds with a whisper-light touch. It's an emotional and approachable account of the gospel that should have broad Christian appeal. Hendrix explains his approach to the project in an illuminating endnote. Ages 8–12. Agent: Rebecca Sherman, Writers House. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 02/05/2016 | Details & Permalink

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The Quickest Kid in Clarksville

Pat Zietlow Miller, illus. by Frank Morrison. Chronicle, $16.99 (40p) ISBN 978-1-4521-2936-5

In 1960, African-American runner Wilma Rudolph won three gold medals in the Olympic Games. In a story about teamwork and determination, Miller (Sharing the Bread) imagines the children Rudolph might have inspired. Alta lives in Rudolph's hometown of Clarksville, Tenn., which will be honoring the runner's victories in an upcoming parade (an author's note explains that the parade was the first major non-segregated event in Clarksville's history). Alta adores Rudolph and considers herself to be Clarksville's fastest kid, until she meets Charmaine, who has a brand-new pair of running shoes and boasts, "I'm faster than anyone." Several one-on-one races later, Charmaine's strutting confidence continues to irk Alta, whose family can't afford new shoes. But the girls overcome their initial prickliness in order to race—together—to the parade with a celebratory banner in tow. Working in watercolor, Morrison (Little Melba and Her Big Trombone) gives the girls abundant personality as they size one another up with laserlike glares. Miller does the same, narrating from Alta's no-nonsense point of view. Ages 5–8. Author's agent: Erin Murphy Literary Agency, Ammi-Joan Paquette. Illustrator's agent: Lori Nowicki, Painted Words. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 02/05/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Midnight Madness at the Zoo

Sherryn Craig, illus. by Karen Jones. Arbordale, $17.95 (32p) ISBN 978-1-62855-730-5

Craig debuts with a rhymed counting story that assembles a five-on-five basketball game as it makes its way to 10. The players are various zoo animals, squaring off after the visitors have left for the day. The premise doesn't quite live up to the "madness" suggested by the title, and while Jones's handsome illustrations include some playful touches (a tiny frog attempts to guard a polar bear), their gauzy softness and the animals' sometimes static positions don't really create a sense of madcap athletic action. Craig's sturdy rhymes are faithful to the rhythm she establishes, and the occasional use of basketball jargon (defined in a glossary, included along with supplemental activity suggestions) adds welcome dashes of irreverence: "Now seven ballers speed up play./ One side takes up the press./ A player goes to make a jam./ It's seal's turn to impress." But because each rhyme introduces a new player, there's always a mismatch between the number of animals being counted and pictured on page, and the occasional presence of three zebra referees can add to the problem. Ages 4–8. Illustrator's agent: Maggie Byer-Sprinzeles, Byer-Sprinzeles Agency. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 02/05/2016 | Details & Permalink

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