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Snowy Bear

Bonnier/Little Bee. Bonnier/Little Bee (S&S, dist.), $5.99 (12p) ISBN 978-1-4998-0163-7

Snowy Bear, a young polar bear, conquers his fear of the dark with some help from his grandfather. Already too scared to leave his cave at night with the wind howling outside, Snowy Bear is even more terrified when a strange shadow appears at the entrance to the cave: "Tears trickled down his cheeks and made puddles on his paws." Luckily, it's only Granddad, who takes Snowy Bear outdoors, where "stars glinted like diamonds, and the moon glowed a soft, dreamy gold." Snowy Bear's newfound confidence comes quickly and easily, but the gauzy (unattributed) paintings capably show that the night can be plenty "magical," especially in the snowy north. Ages 3–6. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/31/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Wolf by Wolf

Ryan Graudin. Little, Brown, $18 (400p) ISBN 978-0-316-40512-6

In a story that imagines what might have followed had the Axis powers triumphed, a Nazi doctor’s concentration camp experiments turn Jewish-born Yael into an Aryan beauty, inadvertently allowing the 17-year-old to manipulate her appearance like a shapeshifter: “The girl who was no one. Who could be everyone.” After joining the resistance, Yael takes the form of national darling Adele Wolfe in a cross-continental motorcycle race on a mission to get in the same room with Hitler and end his rule. Graudin (The Walled City) crafts another fast-paced, enthralling tale of sacrifice and dogged determination as she fuses alternate history and spy-thriller suspense. During each leg of the sprawling race, Yael searches for allies—deciding whether to trust Felix, Adele’s twin brother, or Luka, the girl’s onetime love interest—and attempts to maintain her cover. Simultaneously, she struggles to maintain a grip on herself and her past, which is peeled back layer by layer in exquisite flashbacks. A provocative rumination on self-preservation, the greater good, and the boundaries that keep heroes from becoming as cruel as those they fight. Ages 15–up. Agent: Tracey Adams, Adams Literary. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 07/31/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Romancing the Dark in the City of Light

Ann Jacobus. St. Martin’s/Dunne, $18.99 (288p) ISBN 978-1-250-06443-1

In her debut novel, Jacobus explores difficult topics including depression, alcoholism, death, and the reckless behavior that can accompany them. Summer Barnes is obsessed with death, reading up on near-death experiences and watching burial ceremonies online. Her father died of alcohol-related causes, she has been kicked out of four schools, and now she is living in Paris with her mother, trying to finish high school. She’s desperate to find a reason to keep on living and thinks that falling in love might help. Enter Moony, a hopeful boy recovering from a near-death accident, and Kurt, a mysterious man who pulls Summer further into her dark place. Summer can be bright-eyed and hopeful, her thoughts and dialogue funny, at times, despite the stubborn curtain of despair that hangs over her every move. As Summer struggles with alcohol dependency and contemplates suicide, readers will grit their teeth in the hope that Moony will win the romantic tug-of-war with Kurt in time to help Summer see the light at the end of the tunnel. Ages 14–up. Agent: Erzsi Deàk, Hen & Ink Literary Studio. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 07/31/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Rest of Us Just Live Here

Patrick Ness. HarperTeen, $17.99 (336p) ISBN 978-0-06-240316-2

Having written both exquisite fantasies and heartbreaking contemporary stories, Ness (More Than This) forays into satire, and mostly succeeds, poking fun at the Chosen One trope—imagine a novel about Bella and Edward’s classmates wrestling with exams, college admission, and unrequited love, with all those vampire/werewolf shenanigans as backdrop. Siblings Mikey and Melinda know something sinister is happening when the “indie kids” start dying in mysterious ways. Zombie deer and eerie blue pillars of light suggest apocalypse (again) in their remote town in Washington State, but they are busy trying to survive familial dysfunction (their father is an alcoholic, their mother a power-hungry politician) that has worsened Mikey’s anxiety and given Mel an eating disorder. Their diverse circle of friends includes Henna (Mikey’s crush) and Jared who is (secretly) part god. Each chapter opens with an ominous (and hilarious) synopsis about the imminent showdown between the Immortals and the hipster clique, and while the payoff after all the supernatural and emotional buildup is minimal, this is Mikey’s story to tell and he’s not trying to save the world, just himself. Ages 14–up. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 07/31/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Death and Life of Zebulon Finch, Vol. 1: At the Edge of Empire

Daniel Kraus. Simon & Schuster, $18.99 (656p) ISBN 978-1-4814-1139-4

In this morbidly fascinating story, first in a two-book saga about a young man who refuses to stay dead, Kraus (Scowler) deconstructs the idea of the bildungsroman. Zebulon Finch is born in Chicago in 1879, murdered in 1896, and inexplicably reanimated 17 minutes later as a walking dead man without the need for food, drink, or sleep. In a verbose, grandiose manner, Zebulon shares the details of his exploits and misadventures over the next few decades, and hundreds of pages. As he endures the life of a traveling sideshow attraction, suffers the horrors of combat during WWI, ekes out a living during Prohibition, and falls prey to the seductive charms of pre-WWII Hollywood, he drops in and out of contact with a motley cast of characters, including his daughter. Zebulon’s lack of motivation leads to a meandering, dismal narrative filled with dire insights into the futility of life and the dark side of human nature, where even the most innocent end up corrupted and ruined. Zebulon himself describes it best when he labels his adventures “a fable without a discernible moral.” Ages 14–up. Agent: Richard Abate, 3 Arts Entertainment. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 07/31/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Future Perfect

Jen Larsen. HarperTeen, $17.99 (320p) ISBN 978-0-06-232123-7

Larsen’s 2013 adult memoir, Stranger Here, detailed her own experience with having weight-loss surgery; in her first book for teens, a high school student must decide whether she will do the same. Ashley is beautiful and popular, has a loving boyfriend, and is valedictorian of the best high school around. But Ashley is also fat—something that doesn’t bother her at all, but that her grandmother believes stands in the way of a successful future. Each birthday, Ashley is wracked with anxiety as she awaits her grandmother’s inevitable present: a homemade coupon for something Ashley desperately wants (a shopping spree, a trip to Paris) in exchange for losing weight. On Ashley’s 17th birthday, her grandmother offers to pay for Ashley’s Harvard education if she will undergo weight-loss surgery. A drawn-out lead-up to Ashley’s grandmother’s yearly wager and digressions about Ashley’s friends cause the plot to drag, but when Larsen focuses on Ashley’s struggle to make her decision regarding surgery, as well as her pride in her natural shape, the novel is a moving, empowering read. Ages 13–up. Agent: Cheryl Pientka, Jill Grinberg Literary Management. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 07/31/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Fault Lines

Brenda Ortega. CreateSpace, $7.99 paper (184p) ISBN 978-1-5088-8148-3

Fourteen-year-old Dani Burkhart’s life is falling apart. Her parents are divorcing, they are moving out of the house she grew up in, and she has to find a new home for the puppy they can’t afford. Though Dani knows that her neighbor Mr. Reiber, aka Creeper, isn’t directly responsible for her problems, she still believes he’s “the jerk who tugged the loose string that started unraveling [her] life.” After a few successful vandalism acts against him, Dani is arrested after taking the heat when her younger brother accidently breaks Mr. Reiber’s window. Chapters that alternate between past and present allow readers to see how Dani got to such an unhappy place and whether she can pull herself out of it. While Dani’s grandmother comes across as a bit too saintly, Dani’s angry reactions to the changes in her family and social life are fully believable. Ortega (The Twelfth of Never) resists the pressure to tie up everything with a bow, and she avoids turning Dani’s choices into a lesson for readers. Kids going through similar situations will find Dani a relatable and non-judgmental voice. Ages 12–up. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 07/31/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Detour

S.A. Bodeen. Feiwel and Friends, $17.99 (304p) ISBN 978-1-250-05554-5

Bodeen (The Raft) explores the limits of borrowing in this tongue-in-cheek homage to Stephen King’s Misery. Bursting on the YA fiction scene as a powerhouse teen author, haughty Olivia Flynn enjoys the perks of her bestseller success—an expensive car, a cute online boyfriend she has yet to meet, and adoring fans—after years of being the target of bullies. When an accident on a secluded Oregon road leaves her captive to a controlling woman named Peg and her psychotic daughter, Olivia must overcome hunger, injuries, and Peg’s lecherous cousin, Wesley, in order to escape. Peg’s ominous hints as to why Olivia has been taken (“You have to figure it out. You have to remember. Or it doesn’t mean anything”) and Wesley’s probing questions concerning Olivia’s boyfriend are overly transparent, leaving little mystery despite the fast-paced and suspenseful story line. Though flat dialogue can detract from the tension created, Bodeen’s nod to Misery and the twin themes of intellectual property and publishing trends are thought-provoking as Olivia’s horrific experience helps transform her from narcissistic writer to well-rounded college student. Ages 12–up. Agent: Scott Mendel, Mendel Media Group. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 07/31/2015 | Details & Permalink

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I Don’t Know How the Story Ends

J.B. Cheaney. Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, $16.99 (288p) ISBN 978-1-4926-0944-5

When 12-year-old Isobel’s mother takes her daughters to California for the summer to stay with her sister, the family gets a rapid introduction to Hollywood’s burgeoning motion picture industry. It’s 1918, Isobel’s physician father has been aiding soldiers in France for months, and the worry is eating at her. But she is quickly swept up by Aunt Buzzy’s adopted son and his cameraman, who are obsessed with making a film that will catch the eye of (real-life) director D.W. Griffith. Their weakness is script writing, which turns out to be Isobel’s strength, and her younger sister, Sylvie, is quite the actress. Cheaney (Somebody on This Bus Is Going to Be Famous) offers a zippy coming-of-age romp featuring cameos from film stars like Charlie Chaplin and Mary Pickford, as well as lovely descriptions of a blooming Hollywood (“The house suddenly bulged with young men and ladies whose wild hair and flashing eyes and reckless laughter broke the evening into sharp, bright little pieces”). Readers will be absorbed as Cheaney’s characters embrace their creativity and find comfort through the art of film. Ages 10–up. Agent: Erin Buterbaugh, MacGregor Literary Agency. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 07/31/2015 | Details & Permalink

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House Arrest

K.A. Holt. Chronicle, $16.99 (304p) ISBN 978-1-4521-3477-2

Twelve-year-old Timothy is spending a year under house arrest after stealing a wallet to pay for medicine for his sick baby brother, Levi. To avoid juvie, he must reflect on what he did in a court-ordered journal, in addition to weekly visits with a probation officer and psychologist. Holt (Rhyme Schemer) establishes Timothy’s voice via episodic free verse poems that showcase her finesse with the form, persuasively expressing his many emotions. For example, he’s angry with his father for abandoning them (“I wish I could drive/ away, away, away./ But even if I could, I wouldn’t./ Because there are people to take care of./ People you left behind”), worried about Levi’s health, hopeful that he can help his mother and brother, and developing feelings for his best friend’s older sister. Touches of humor lighten the mood, and Holt’s firsthand knowledge of the subject (her own son had trachea problems, the acknowledgments reveal) adds depth to this poignant drama without overwhelming it. The focus remains on Timothy’s journey to overcome his troubles, though if the ending is any indication, he has a ways to go. Ages 10–up. Agent: Ammi-Joan Paquette, Erin Murphy Literary Agency. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 07/31/2015 | Details & Permalink

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