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(Don’t You) Forget About Me

Kate Karyus Quinn. HarperTeen, $17.99 (352p) ISBN 978-0-06-213596-4

Gardnerville is “equal parts monstrous and miraculous,” a place where no one gets sick, where no one is allowed to leave, and where every four years, its teenagers kill themselves and others in fits of dreamlike madness. Flowers grow like weeds across the town, and the people who move there are seeking paradise: “No sickness, no disease.... These are the perks of living in Gardnerville, but they do not come for free.” Skylar Gardner is mourning the absence of her older sister, Piper, who led some of the town’s children to a watery death four years earlier and now lives in a reformatory. Skylar’s voice is alternately despairing and cynical; like nearly everyone else in town, she exists in a near-constant drug-addled state, with flower-based drugs helping calm residents’ demons. Quinn (Another Little Piece) is a gifted writer, her prose requiring perseverance and attentiveness. Understanding the rules of Gardnerville and what keeps its cycles of madness turning is like deciphering an intricate puzzle or being locked in a dream—sometimes nightmarish, sometimes beautiful, and sometimes like one long, strange hallucination. Ages 13–up. (June)

Reviewed on 04/18/2014 | Details & Permalink

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17 First Kisses

Rachael Allen. HarperTeen, $9.99 trade paper (352p) ISBN 978-0-06-228134-0

While high school senior Claire Jenkins and her beautiful best friend, Megan, have a long history of supporting each other when it comes to family, they tend to compete over guys. After a handsome soccer player named Luke moves to their small town, Megan gets him first, much to Claire’s dismay and anger. But Luke keeps paying attention to Claire, and soon he’s breaking up with Megan, and Claire is risking their friendship to keep her romance with Luke a secret. Between chapters, debut author Allen includes flashbacks to Claire’s past kisses (dating back to second grade), though these sections are really about revealing the evolution of Claire and Megan’s friendship and a past family tragedy. While the flashbacks are informative and entertaining, they can frustrate the forward momentum of the novel; additionally, Allen sometimes skips over weeks’ worth of events with a few lines, making the story occasionally feel disjointed. As Claire struggles to understand if and when a boy might be worth risking a friendship, readers should find it easy to relate. Ages 13–up. Agent: Susan Hawk, the Bent Agency. (June)

Reviewed on 04/18/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Take Back the Skies

Lucy Saxon. Bloomsbury, $17.99 (400p) ISBN 978-1-61963-367-4

The narrative voice in Saxon’s YA debut hovers in an in-between stage. On one hand, 14-year-old Catherine Hunter is blushingly caught up in “silly things like hormones and attraction.” On the other, she’s the kind of middle-grade heroine who can pass as a boy by putting on a baggy shirt, as well as turn her hand to engineering or pickpocketing with equal ease. The slide in register between wide-eyed ignorance and knowing innuendo can be awkward, but for younger teens, the breathlessly paced adventure aspect of the novel will carry the story of a privileged heroine who stows away on a smugglers’ skyship and persuades the not-so-motley crew to help her save her country. Sprinkled with popular elements of dystopia, steampunk, and noble love, the plot sparkles. The characters—spunky Cat, brooding Fox, the bromance pair of Ben and Matt—are types straight out of teen-friendly TV series like Firefly and Gilmore Girls. More books in this universe are promised, and Saxon has set up the world of Tellus well to support many rollicking tales. Ages 12–up. (June)

Reviewed on 04/18/2014 | Details & Permalink

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My Faire Lady

Laura Wettersten. Simon & Schuster, $17.99 (352p) ISBN 978-1-4424-8933-2

Rowena Duncan is nursing a broken heart—she caught her boyfriend, Kyle, cheating. She’s also an artist, and to avoid running into him over the summer, she gets a job painting faces at a Renaissance Faire located deep in the woods; living there is part of the gig. There are too many knights in shining armor to resist, quite literally, since everyone is required to dress, speak, and interact as though it really is the Renaissance. Rowena almost kisses Christian, the hottest knight around, even as sweet, friendly Will is hanging on her every word; she also has trouble getting away from Kyle and his new girlfriend. Wettersten provides a playful, fresh setting for her YA debut, and summer fun abounds amid the jousting, mead-drinking, and evidence that chivalry is indeed not dead. Rowena’s kind heart, good sense of humor, and efforts to fit into this unfamiliar new world of Faire folk will endear her to readers. Though the novel’s romantic triangle is predictable, Wettersten’s light touch and solid characterizations make it a satisfying read. Ages 12–up. (June)

Reviewed on 04/18/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Body in the Woods

April Henry. Holt, $16.99 (272p) ISBN 978-0-8050-9852-5

Three Oregon high school students help the local police by volunteering with Portland Search and Rescue in this fast-paced kickoff to Henry’s Point Last Seen series. Alexis is sweet and suffering (her mentally ill mother requires lots of care). Ruby is smart, socially awkward, and obsessed with true crime. Nick has a hero complex; he wants to impress girls with his police work. While searching for an autistic man in the woods, they find the body of girl their age. Ruby is sure it’s the work of a serial killer, and she enlists Alexis and Nick to help find the culprit. Henry (The Girl Who Was Supposed to Die) is well within her wheelhouse with this tense mystery, which can read a bit like a throwback to “teen detective” novels from decades past. The author’s expertise at plotting a murder mystery and knowledge of police procedure are evident as the novel moves through all the expected moments of a TV crime drama, building to a violent confrontation. Ages 12–up. Agent: Wendy Schmalz, Wendy Schmalz Agency. (June)

Reviewed on 04/18/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Nine Open Arms

Benny Lindelauf, trans. from the Dutch by John Nieuwenhuizen, illus. by Dasha Tolstikova. Enchanted Lion (Consortium, dist.), $16.95 (264p) ISBN 978-1-59270-146-9

Twelve-year-old Fing narrates the adventure of her family’s 1937 move to the house at the end of Sjlammbams Sahara, in a fictitious Dutch town based on Lindelauf’s childhood home. Initiated by yet another business venture (this time, cigar-making) launched by Fing’s ever-optimistic father, whose mottos include “First believe, then see,” and “the opposite of worrying,” the family’s latest move brings Fing’s four older brothers, two younger sisters (dramatic Muulke and timid Jess), dreamy father, and gruff, swivel-eyed, story-telling grandmother, Oma Mei, into a house that “seemed to be bursting with voices, quarrels, footsteps, squeaking doors, creaking windows,” peculiarities, and secrets. Strong female personalities include the long-dead “Nienevee from Outside the Walls,” whose unfortunate son, the button-eating Oompah, still haunts the town fringes and pulls the family’s heartstrings. Lindelauf’s masterful rendering of fraught yet loving sisterly ties, snappy dialogue, graveyard mysteries, and “traces of a tragical tragedy” from generations past combine to humorous and poignant effect in this gripping tale of eclectic families and inveterate wanderers in search of a welcoming home. Ages 9–up. (June)

Reviewed on 04/18/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Absolutely Almost

Lisa Graff. Philomel, $16.99 (304p) ISBN 978-0-399-16405-7

Half-Korean 10-year-old Albie is being forced to switch from his private New York City school to P.S. 183. His new school gives him more specialized attention, but it also means dodging a name-calling bully and making friends other than his buddy Erlan, whose family is starring in a reality TV show. Because of Albie’s academic struggles (especially in spelling and math), his mother hires Calista, a college art student, to tutor and spend time with him. Albie isn’t happy about these and other developments, and his matter-of-fact observations are often both humorous and poignant: “I didn’t think the book was for babies at all, because for one thing babies can’t read,” he thinks after his mother tells him he’s “way too old” for Captain Underpants and hands him a copy of Johnny Tremain. Graff’s (A Tangle of Knots) gentle story invokes evergreen themes of coming to appreciate one’s strengths (and weaknesses), and stands out for its thoughtful, moving portrait of a boy who learns to keep moving forward, taking on the world at his own speed. Ages 8–12. Agent: Stephen Barbara, Foundry Literary + Media. (June)

Reviewed on 04/18/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Minnie and Moo: Hooves of Fire

Denys Cazet. Creston (PGW, dist.), $15.95 (208p) ISBN 978-1-939547-08-8

The bovine stars of several picture books and early readers (and the 2003 chapter book Minnie and Moo and the Seven Wonders of the World) make a raucous return as hosts of the “First Annual Hoot, Holler, and Moo Talent Festival.” Take-charge Moo announces that she and Minnie will judge the show, explaining, “Scores will be based on whim, impulse, and passing fancy.” A long chain of performances makes up most of the book: early on, Elvis the rooster hogs the stage and croons, “I’m a Cocka Doodle Dandy/ That doodles up the sun./ No one starts the day/ Till I say it’s all begun,” while the Poulettes, a troupe of cheerleading chickens, lay eggs onstage (“We were motivated!”). Minnie’s trademark worrying is warranted, as her suspicions that hyenas, weasels, and coyotes are up to no good are comically validated when they organize a port-a-potty race and get their paws on the show money box. Cazet’s b&w illustrations pump additional energy into this loony down-on-the-farm story. Ages 6–11. (July)

Reviewed on 04/18/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Dog Days of School

Kelly DiPucchio, illus. by Brian Biggs. Disney-Hyperion, $16.99 (40p) ISBN 978-0-7868-5493-6

It’s an entire week of Freaky Friday when Charlie’s wish to forego school and live a dog’s life results in a magical swapping of places with his pet, Norman. The dream sours when they both encounter the “long, boring, awful” aspects of the other’s existence (grooming appointments, stories about cats) and discover that bad behavior has its consequences no matter your species. DiPucchio’s (Crafty Chloe) tight, straight-faced prose (“On Friday, Norman ran into some trouble with the scissors and the glue”) is a great read throughout, but just as Gromit is funnier and more intriguing than Wallace, the humor and interest scales of this story tip very much in favor of Norman, who Biggs (Everything Goes) draws as a sort of kidney bean with droopy ears. Norman takes to kid life like he was born to it, creating a strikingly realistic hydrant out of clay and passing out after trying to finish a “triple hot-fudge banana sundae with extra whipped cream.” Reach for this one when the realities and routine of school require a little comic perspective. Ages 6–8. Agent: Steven Malk, Writers House. (June)

Reviewed on 04/18/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Mogie: The Heart of the House

Kathi Appelt, illus. by Marc Rosenthal. S&S/Atheneum, $17.99 (40p) ISBN 978-1-4424-8054-4

This cheering story is based on a real-life Labradoodle that resides at the Ronald McDonald House in Houston. Though this “ball-chasing, tail-wagging, moon-howling pup” is too frisky to make the grade as a service, search-and-rescue, or show dog, Mogie finds his raison d’être after wandering into a “very special house in the heart of the Big City.” There he befriends Gage, “once a ball-chasing, race-running, back-flipping boy,” who is now in a wheelchair. Rosenthal’s (Bobo the Sailor Man) loosely drafted illustrations showcase Mogie’s devotion to Gage, while Appelt’s homey, emphatic tone (“Give that dog a puddle and he’d splash”) will ring familiar to readers of The Underneath and The True Blue Scouts of Sugarman Swamp. When Gage, much recovered, leaves for home, Mogie adopts another needy patient. Kids will find the narrator’s question, “Who wouldn’t love a dog like that?” very easy to answer. A warm tribute to a remarkable dog and to the workers at Ronald McDonald Houses, which will receive a share of proceeds from book sales. Ages 4–8. Agent: Holly McGhee, Pippin Properties. (June)

Reviewed on 04/18/2014 | Details & Permalink

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