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An Infinite Number of Parallel Universes

Randy Ribay. F+W Media/Merit, $17.99 (240p) ISBN 978-1-4405-8814-3

The summer before senior year, four longtime friends, who bonded over weekly games Dungeons & Dragons, are drifting apart. Math nerd Archie is upset about his father coming out as gay and his parents’ subsequent divorce. His crush, Mari, is distraught over her adoptive mother’s recent cancer diagnosis and is simultaneously contemplating contacting her biological mother. Meanwhile, Dante’s family and church shun him after they discover he’s gay, and Sam’s grades are dropping due to his obsession with his girlfriend, Sarah. When Sarah’s family moves to Seattle, Sam and his friends embark on a cross-country road trip so he can win her back; along the way they become more honest with each other and themselves. While debut novelist Ribay gives the story a distinctively diverse and nerd-centric cast, the structure comes across as disjointed, with the first half of the book shifting focus among the four main characters before transitioning to a more conventional setup in the second half. Some overdramatic moments during the road trip overstuff a narrative already brimming with personal problems. Ages 14–up. Agent: Kaylee Davis, Dee Mura Literary. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/28/2015 | Details & Permalink

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This Way Home

Wes Moore, with Shawn Goodman. Delacorte, $17.99 (256p) ISBN 978-0-385-74169-9

Growing up against the backdrop of Baltimore’s streets and basketball courts, 17-year-old Elijah is also desperately searching for the father he never knew. Basketball is Elijah’s way to something better in life, and his two best friends, Michael and Dylan, are by his side. During the summer after his junior year, Elijah goes to work for Banks, a mysterious Army veteran his mother knows, as he and his friends prepare for an important street basketball tournament. When tragedy strikes, Elijah is faced with increasingly untenable situations, including a showdown with a local gang, and must rely on Banks’s lessons to survive. Moore (Discovering Wes Moore) and Goodman (Kindness for Weakness) present difficult circumstances in an even-handed manner, while messages about friendship, hard work, and the importance of having—and following—a dream are an organic part of the story, delivered without preaching. Consequences arrive in a similarly no-nonsense fashion, standing on the strength of the story rather than literary acrobatics. Ages 14–up. Agent: (for Moore) Linda Loewenthal, David Black Agency; (for Goodman) Seth Fishman, Gernert Company. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 08/28/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Lies About Truth

Courtney C. Stevens. HarperTeen, $17.99 (336p) ISBN 978-0-06-224541-0

Stevens (Faking Normal) shows how a car accident affecting five teenagers is as damaging to their relationships as it is to their bodies. Sadie Kingston is trying to get back to a normal life after the accident left her with large scars on her arms, legs, and face (she names them things like Pink Floyd and Idaho, based on their shapes) and killed her close friend Trent. She also lost her boyfriend, Gray, and best friend, Gina, after they hooked up with each other. The only good to emerge from the tragedy has been a budding romance between Sadie and Trent’s younger brother, Max, which is endangered by Sadie’s shame about her scars, a secret she kept about Trent, and Gray’s inability to let Sadie go. Stevens uses the oft-seen plot device of a list Sadie works through in order to heal by the one-year anniversary of the accident, and the complications among the four living teens are tied up predictably. Still, many readers will enjoy watching a satisfying relationship develop between Max and Sadie. Ages 14–up. Agent: Kelly Sonnack, Andrea Brown Literary Agency. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 08/28/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Dangerous Lies

Becca Fitzpatrick. Simon & Schuster, $18.99 (400p) ISBN 978-1-4814-2491-2

After 17-year-old Stella walks in on a murder, she moves from Philadelphia to rural Nebraska as part of the witness protection program. Leaving behind her boyfriend and drug-addicted mother, Stella tries to eke out a new life under the watchful eye of a retired cop. Over time, she takes a liking to the simple life and her new friend Chet, just as her past threatens to catch up to her. Fitzpatrick’s (Black Ice) brand of page-turning, plot-twisting suspense is conspicuously absent in a narrative that focuses more on Stella’s emotional turmoil than the threat of being hunted down. That may be why the climax feels more like a pit stop on the way to a happy ending. It’s inevitable that Stella will have to face her past, but a revelation regarding the depth of her lies is lackluster and the resolution too tidy. Essentially a feel-good romance masquerading as a thriller, with an unlikely ending in which the bad guys get what’s coming to them, and the good guys get their happily ever after. Ages 14–up. Agent: Catherine Drayton, Inkwell Management. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 08/28/2015 | Details & Permalink

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All the Major Constellations

Pratima Cranse. Viking, $17.99 (336p) ISBN 978-0-670-01645-7

A life-changing tragedy just before high school graduation leaves Andrew without the support of his two best friends as he faces a lonely summer navigating his family’s alcoholic dysfunction. Newcomer Cranse deftly portrays Andrew’s confused attempts to cope; the phrase “moving through darkness” repeats throughout the book. His longing for a place to belong leaves him unexpectedly open to new relationships, particularly with Laura, an enigmatic girl he has adored for years. The novel’s sympathetic portrayal of Laura’s fundamentalist Christian youth group captures familiar cliques and rivalries inherent in any teenage gathering, and respectfully conveys the members’ varied and complex religious experiences (most compellingly that of John, “a born-again surfer-dude warrior on the cover of a fantasy book,” whose faith condemns his sexual orientation). As Andrew, despite his agnosticism, participates in Bible studies, soup kitchens, conversations, and hikes, he wonders about personal experiences that feel surprisingly spiritual: “he’d felt—he didn’t know another way to describe it—moved.” Set in her native Vermont, Cranse’s compassionate debut astutely conveys the joys, heartaches, and angst of coming-of-age. Ages 14–up. Agent: Esmond Harmsworth, Zachary Shuster Harmsworth Literary Agency. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 08/28/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Lilli’s Quest

Lila Perl. Ig/Skurnick (Consortium, dist.), $12.95 trade paper (224p) ISBN 978-1-939601-53-7

In Perl’s final book, a companion to Isabel’s War (2014), the author tells the harrowing saga of Lilli, a Jewish refugee racked with guilt over leaving her family behind in Germany during Hitler’s reign. Assuming the identity of her younger sister, Helga, who is unable to leave Germany via the Kindertransport due to an injury, Lilli is taken to England, where she works hard in a no-frills farmhouse to earn her keep. Eventually, she travels to America to stay with her aunt and uncle; although life is easier in New York City (where she meets Isabel from the previous book), Lilli still faces obstacles, prejudices, and loneliness, while wondering about the fates of her loved ones. After the fighting stops, Lilli realizes that she may be the lone survivor of her immediate family and determines to find out the truth. Lilli emerges as a stoic, courageous heroine, who slowly learns to rely on strangers for support. Perl recounts her traumas in unsentimental terms, yet readers will feel close to Lilli’s sorrow as she forges ahead on an unfamiliar path. Ages 12–up. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 08/28/2015 | Details & Permalink

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How to Be Brave

E. Katherine Kottaras. St. Martin’s Griffin, $18.99 (288p) ISBN 978-1-250-07280-1

After spending months grieving the death of her mother, who died from complications associated with obesity, high-school senior Georgia decides it’s time to move on with life, fulfilling her mother’s final wish for her to try new things and be fearless. Honoring this request is a challenge for Georgia, who is self-conscious about being overweight, but with prodding from best friend Liss, she creates a “Do Everything Be Brave” list of goals. Set in present-day Chicago, Kottaras’s debut traces Georgia’s struggles and triumphs as she reluctantly sets out to accomplish 15 tasks, which include asking a cute boy on a date, jumping out of a plane, and learning how to draw like her mother. During the process, she makes a new friend, nearly loses an old one, gains insight into her mother’s artistic sensibility, and uncovers talents she never knew existed. Georgia’s Greek-American heritage offers a distinctive backdrop for the novel’s themes of emotional healing and self-discovery, while Georgia herself emerges as a realistically flawed and genuine protagonist. Ages 12–up. Agent: Courtney Miller-Callihan, Sanford J. Greenburger Associates. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 08/28/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Hardwired

Trisha Leaver and Lindsay Currie. Llewellyn/Flux, $11.99 trade paper (264p) ISBN 978-0-
7387-4226-7

This disjointed novel, based on real genetic research into the “warrior gene” (supposedly linked to a tendency toward aggression), imagines a government program that tests teens and removes those who have the gene from society. Lucas’s older brother. Tyler, wound up at a facility in Vermont and eventually killed himself. Now Lucas is incarcerated, judged guilty on genetic evidence until proven innocent. When the power fails during a storm, a van carrying some of the boys to another facility crashes, killing everyone except Lucas and his friend Chris. The boys then meet a group of “terrorists” determined to close down the facility. Leaver and Currie, whose previous books include Creed and Sweet Madness, initially inject some tension into the story, particularly during the gruesome crash scene, but the story meanders from that point, with a lot of yelling, running around, and people occasionally getting killed, mostly off-stage. While the premise has potential, this story doesn’t make the most of it. Ages 12–up. Agent: (for Leaver) Kevan Lyon, Marsal Lyon Literary Agency; (for Currie) Kathleen Rushall, Marsal Lyon Literary Agency. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 08/28/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Calvin

Martine Leavitt. FSG/Ferguson, $17.99 (192p) ISBN 978-0-374-38073-1

In a thoughtful story presented as a single, extended letter, Leavitt (Blue Mountain) explores the impact of mental illness through the experiences of a 17-year-old diagnosed with schizophrenia. Calvin is obsessed with Bill Watterson and his comic strip, Calvin and Hobbes. It makes sense: he used to have a best friend named Susie and a stuffed tiger named Hobbes, and now Hobbes has returned as a full-fledged, uncontrollable hallucination. Calvin figures that if he can just get Watterson to create a strip depicting the fictional Calvin as a healthy teenager, he’ll be fine as well, so he sets off on a perilous journey across a frozen Lake Erie from Canada to Cleveland. He’s accompanied by Susie, who may or may not be part of his delusions; either way, she’s the voice of reason as they meet an assortment of oddball characters on the lake and delve into philosophical matters. Funny, intellectual, and entertaining, it’s a sensitive yet irreverent adventure about a serious subject. Ages 12–up. Agent: Brenda Bowen, Sanford J. Greenberger Associates. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 08/28/2015 | Details & Permalink

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I’m an Alien and I Want to Go Home!

Jo Franklin, illus. by Marty Kelley. Clarion, $16.99 (192p) ISBN 978-0-544-44295-5

When Daniel’s snarky older sister tells him that he’s actually an adopted alien, the sixth-grader finds evidence to support her claim: he towers over his family, no baby pictures of him exist, and a meteor reportedly struck town the day he was born. Disgruntled, Daniel asks his best friends Eddie and “Gordon the Geek” to help him return to his home planet. Their efforts include attempting to cryogenically freeze Daniel in the bathtub and sell their Halloween candy to fund a trip to Russia, where he hopes to hitch a ride on a spaceship. Things really pick up once the kids concoct a madcap scheme for Daniel to phone home, à la E.T., triggering a string of disasters that culminates in Daniel’s parents’ kidnapping. Kelley’s pencil cartoons (not all seen by PW) easily tap into the story’s oddball sense of humor, while Daniel’s dry narration has an engaging sense of humor, making the book a good choice for newly independent readers. Ages 10–12. Author’s agent: Anne Clark, Anne Clark Literary Agency. Illustrator’s agent: Abigail Samoun, Red Fox Literary. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 08/28/2015 | Details & Permalink

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