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Ira’s Shakespeare Dream

Glenda Armand, illus. by Floyd Cooper. Lee & Low, $18.95 (40p) ISBN 978-1-62014-155-7

This gracefully told and elegantly illustrated story studies African-American actor Ira Frederick Aldridge, born in New York City in 1807. When a young Aldridge tells his teacher that he wants to perform Shakespeare at a theater that allows only white actors, the man (who is also African-American) replies, “You dream too big for a colored boy.” (An author’s note explains that while the book adheres to what is known about Aldridge, it also includes “some imagined scenes, people, thoughts, and dialogue.”) In what proves to be a crucial decision, Aldridge signs on as a cabin boy on a ship bound for South Carolina, where he is horrified to see slaves sold at auction. That sorrow and compassion remains with him as he becomes an acclaimed Shakespearean actor in England. Using oil washes and erasers to create his familiar hazy effect, Cooper (A Dance Like Starlight) integrates both natural and stage light to underscore Ira’s passion for his craft and his beliefs. Laced with Shakespearean lines, Armand’s (Love Twelve Miles Long) understated narrative gives Ira a gentle and inspiring strength. Ages 7–12. Author’s agent: Karen Grencik, Red Fox Literary. (July)

Reviewed on 05/01/2015 | Details & Permalink

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How Wendy Redbird Dancing Survived the Dark Ages of Nought

Lyn Fairchild Hawks. Lyn Hawks (lyn-hawks.com), $10.99 paper (284p) ISBN 978-0-9888837-2-7

It’s 2009, and high school senior Wendy Redbird Dancing has just moved from California to a small North Carolina town, thanks to her hippie mother’s latest whim (i.e. love interest). Between her mixed ethnicity (her father was Zuni) and her Michael Jackson obsession, Wendy is a perennial outsider. Bullied by a classmate, she falls in with two African-American kids at school who see her sarcastic wit and M.J.-inspired wardrobe as signs of levelheadedness. Wendy’s primary sources of solace are a promised trip to see Michael Jackson in concert in London and the attention she receives from her mother’s new boyfriend, but when that attention turns sexual in nature, she faces a crisis. In her first novel, Hawks creates a complex and passionate renegade in Wendy. While a number of traumatizing events arrive in quick succession and threaten to overwhelm the plot (though upsetting to Wendy, Jackson’s death ends up getting lost in the shuffle), it remains a compassionate story about finding the right people (and music) when you don’t fit in. Ages 14–up. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 05/01/2015 | Details & Permalink

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You and Me and Him

Kris Dinnison. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $17.99 (288p) ISBN 978-0-544-30112-2

By junior year Maggie is resigned to being the overweight girl who will never be an A-lister. But she doesn’t dwell on it (“I don’t sit alone in my bedroom playing Billie Holiday albums while drowning my sorrows in a carton of ice cream. Okay, once—maybe twice—a year, but not every weekend” she says as the book opens), and she has a great job at a record store. She also has a faithful best friend in Nash, who shares her taste in “teachers, music, art, literature, and boys.” Conflicts emerge when “new guy” Tom enters the scene, making Maggie’s and Nash’s hearts flutter. Maggie wants to stay loyal to Nash, but is it too much of a sacrifice? In this compassionate first novel, Dinnison adeptly portrays the rising and falling hopes within an unconventional love triangle. Maggie suffers some tough blows, causing her to take a hard look at herself and question the stereotyped image of a “fat” girl created by other people. Readers will follow her eagerly as she finds her voice and identity. Ages 14–up. Agent: Kerry Sparks, Levine Greenberg Rostan Literary Agency. (July)

Reviewed on 05/01/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Paperweight

Meg Haston. HarperTeen, $17.99 (304p) ISBN 978-0-06-233574-6

Books about teenagers with eating disorders are numerous (as are teens with eating disorders); Haston’s contribution to the genre stands out for the complexity of its characters and for small, telling details that demonstrate just how difficult recovery can be. Seventeen-year-old Stevie has been restricting her eating since her mother deserted the family; Stevie’s father is in no shape to challenge her, and though her brother, Josh, tries to reach out, Stevie ignores him. Then Josh dies in an accident that Stevie believes is her fault. When her father finally sends her to rehab, a furious Stevie takes comfort in the red bracelet that marks her non-compliance. Haston (the How to Rock series) expertly renders Stevie’s scorn and suspicion, and it’s tempting to root for her badass defiance—except that it will kill her. As Stevie slowly comes to trust her therapist and care about the roommate she initially dismissed as chubby, readers will instead look for her to give up the illusion of control and find a way to accept the weight of her past and face the idea of a future. Ages 14–up. Agency: Alloy Entertainment. (July)

Reviewed on 05/01/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Forever for a Year

B.T. Gottfred. Holt, $17.99 (432p) ISBN 978-1-62779-191-5

Carolina Fisher is a newly minted high-school freshman with big hopes for the year ahead. Trevor Santos is a jaded transfer student from California, who isn’t interested in anything his new Illinois school has to offer—until he meets Carolina. Writing in the teenagers’ alternating perspectives, debut author Gottfred captures the starry-eyed exhilaration of first love (and nervous first explorations of sex) with tenderness and humor. Wearing her heart and her insecurities on her sleeve, Carolina is exuberant in her joy about Trevor (“I said I liked a boy to his face. And he said he liked me. What did this mean? I must know what this means or I will die”), while Trevor’s self-delusion that he isn’t falling hard for Carolina and his reflections on the looming family problems they both face are just as honest and realistic. In short, Gottfred’s characters actually sound, think, and act like real people, not the polished, best versions of themselves. Readers will need hearts of steel not to fall for this love story and its two storytellers. Ages 14–up. Agent: Jill Grinberg, Jill Grinberg Literary Management. (July)

Reviewed on 05/01/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Don’t Ever Change

M. Beth Bloom. HarperTeen, $17.99 (368p) ISBN 978-0-06-203688-9

Little motivates high school senior Eva other than writing. “Nothing around here inspires me,” she complains when a teacher gently suggests that her writing lacks depth. Although Eva’s classmates and life in general bore her (something that bothers even her closest girlfriends), she determines to listen to his advice, so that her writing will benefit. She signs on to be a camp counselor and approaches this task, and her young charges, with a mixture of bemusement and the desire to transform them into smaller versions of herself; at one point, Eva passes out journals to the girls, who just want to play. The premise leaves the book wide open for self-reference, and Bloom (Drain You) takes advantage of those opportunities (“Even if sometimes I veer pretty close to being an Unlikeable Character, I’m at least aware of that fact,” Eva muses). Even so, Eva’s quizzical, observant, and slightly distant approach to her surroundings tends to sap the story’s momentum as Foster, a sweet fellow counselor and fellow writer, and Eva’s older sister, Courtney, do their best to help Eva shift her judgmental attitude into a more openhearted one. Ages 14–up. (July)

Reviewed on 05/01/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Dream Warriors

D. Robert Pease. Evolved Publishing (evolved-pub.com), $2.99 e-book (280p) ASIN B00LLUGAP2

In this fanciful adventure, loosely inspired by the Biblical story of Joseph, Pease (the Noah Zarc trilogy) begins a series about a young man destined to change the world. Whenever 15-year-old New Yorker Joey Colafranceschi falls asleep, he journeys to a dream world, where he is sucked into a conflict between the immortal Pharaoh and the mysterious Ammon; Pharaoh wants to destroy the waking world, while Ammon wants to prevent this catastrophe. Both use armies of dream warriors to do their bidding, people who, like Joey, can manipulate the dream world. Caught between a newfound loyalty to Amman and an attraction to the Pharaoh’s alluring daughter, Joey becomes a pawn in both worlds. When he comes into possession of the ancient Stoat of Dreams, Joey discovers that he can take control of his destiny. Pease’s convoluted plot features several twists, but coincidences weaken the overall story. A rushed pace further hampers the more interesting aspects of the concept, which nonetheless seems like a setup for the book’s groan-inducing stoat/coat pun, one that’s at odds with the more serious aspects of the narrative. Ages 13–up. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 05/01/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Silver in the Blood

Jessica Day George. Bloomsbury, $17.99 (368p) ISBN 978-1-61963-431-2

Teenage cousins and New York heiresses Dacia and Lou have always wanted to visit their mothers’ extended family in Romania, but during an unexpected trip to Bucharest their strange and secretive relatives reveal a shocking truth: they come from a long line of shapeshifters. In an enticing gothic romance, George (the Twelve Dancing Princesses series) paints a vivid portrait of fin de siècle Europe, highlighting its architecture, fashion, etiquette, and fascination with the supernatural. With the ability to transform into the Claw (wolves), the Wing (bats), or the Smoke (mist), the Florescu family has protected the infamous Dracula family for generations. Now, Dacia and Lou are supposed to lead a coup to put devilish Prince Mihai Dracula on the throne. Between chapters, diary entries and letters provide further insight into wild Dacia and timid Lou’s evolving characters. George’s well-crafted tale will keep readers rapt as these two best friends deal with the ramifications of refusing to commit murder and treason, navigate romantic suitors (Dacia has several), and come to terms with their newfound abilities. Ages 13–up. Agent: Amy Jameson, A+B Works. (July)

Reviewed on 05/01/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Show and Prove

Sofia Quintero. Knopf, $17.99 (352p) ISBN 978-0-375-84707-3

It’s 1983, and best friends Nike and Smiles are working as camp counselors at a church in the South Bronx. This summer, there’s friction, since Smiles transferred to a Manhattan private school, leaving Nike behind. As they approach senior year, Smiles realizes how his education has changed him, wrestling with what W.E.B. Du Bois called “double consciousness”—a foot in two worlds, an outsider in both. Nike’s problems are less philosophical: neighborhood gangsters are after him, and he’s in love with a girl who keeps him at arm’s length, something the stylish break-dancer isn’t used to. The boys take turns narrating in a Bronx patois (“I couldn’t ruin my fly outfits with those fugly Sasquatch rentals with the fat orange wheels and matching toe stop,” says Nike, who brings his own skates to a roller rink), and Quintero’s (Efrain’s Secret) novel brims with crises of the day: budget cuts brought on by Reaganomics, war in the Middle East, AIDS, and the crack epidemic. Readers who settle into its rhythms will find a compelling story about how impossibly hard it can be to simply grow up. Ages 12–up. (July)

Reviewed on 05/01/2015 | Details & Permalink

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No Such Person

Caroline B. Cooney. Delacorte, $17.99 (256p) ISBN 978-0-385-74291-7

Jangling suspense juxtaposed with cozy details of family life keeps thriller master Cooney’s latest zooming along. While spending the summer at their family’s home on the Connecticut River, easy-going 15-year-old Miranda Allerdon and her driven, med-school-bound sister, Lander, witness what appears to be a freak water-skiing accident. Miranda is one of the few bystanders to see that the boy driving the motorboat seemed to intentionally maneuver the water-skier he was towing in front of a giant barge. Ignoring Miranda’s suspicions, Lander is smitten with the motorboat driver and begins dating him. Miranda’s talents get a chance to shine when another apparent accident, chillingly teased in the opening pages of the novel, thrusts Lander outside the boundaries of her carefully planned life. An unexpected romance for Miranda provides a sweet counterpoint to the novel’s knife-edge mayhem. Viewed in isolation, some of the plot twists edge toward the incredible, but Cooney’s knack for distinctive characterizations grounds the story firmly in the familiar world, while the third-person narration strikes an enticing balance between intimacy and cool detachment. Ages 12–up. (July)

Reviewed on 05/01/2015 | Details & Permalink

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